Booked: Back to School Picks

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Before things get too substantive in your classes, here are a few great reads to distract you from the gunner on your left and the checked-out 3L on your right. Need a few more? Check out my new book blog at


The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl (Algonquin Books)


I’m beginning to think books are the answer to the void that has been lingering in my life since the last great American RomCom was released in 2003 (that would be “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, if you’re interested). Sherl’s novel has all the makings of an excellent romantic comedy – quirky characters, inventive situations hovering just on the border of plausibility, and witty dialogue. He couples this with larger questions that provide depth to an otherwise adorable novel.

Evelyn Shriner and Godfrey Burkes live in an otherwise-recognizable Baltimore where people can pay to see 20 minutes of their future with the romantic partner of their choice. Godfrey’s potential-fiancé wants to check their future before she commits, while Evelyn breaks up with her boyfriend after seeing them bicker over cheese. Godfrey and Evelyn’s friends have romantic complications of their own from this recently-developed technology, and it’s clear society is still working out some of the kinks.

“The Future for Curious People,” like many see-the-future tales, begs the question: if you could know would you want to? Is what you see inevitable, or can you take steps to change it? If you can, should you? Sherl’s twist of focusing on brief glimpses with romantic partners reinvigorates these debates. His writing is fresh, and my e-copy is full of bookmarked passages that were just plain fun.

Verdit: Affirmed. If you like your books light and funny with an edge, this is the novel for you.


The Furies by Natalie Haynes (St. Martin’s Press)


Like “The Girl with All the Gifts” from my summer reads, “The Furies” tells the story of the relationship between a teacher and a student, shadowed by the presence of Greek tragedy. That’s where the similarities end, though the books make interesting counterpoints to read in concert.

Alex moves to Edinborough to escape a personal tragedy that occurred in London. There, she teaches drama at the Unit, a school for troubled students who have been kicked out of their original schools. Her class of five 15-year-olds, a uniquely difficult bunch among a school of troubled students, expresses an interest in studying ancient Greek plays. Mel is the most engaged of these students, really diving into and connecting with the texts in such a way that Alex can’t help but be proud of her.

The story wanders in time a bit as Alex speaks with lawyers, reconstructing her time with her students at the Unit and looking into what led up to a certain tragic event. Pieces fall into place throughout the novel as the reader is slowly let in on what happened and what is happening in the “present” with the lawyers. Despite finding out what occurred, Haynes leaves a certain degree of ambiguity around motive and mental state that turns this simple, fast read into a compelling tale.

Verdict: Affirmed. I read it over 24 hours, and could have easily done so in one sitting had I been given a large enough chunk of time. A fast, intriguing novel that will let you brush up your knowledge of Greek plays and ponder just what makes relationships veer into dangerous territory.


The Roommates: True Tales of Friendship, Rivalry, Romance, and Disturbingly Close Quarters by Stephanie Wu (Picador)


We’ve all had roommates. Many of us still do, and most of us have plenty of stories about the people we’ve lived with. In this collection, Stephanie Wu shares them all from the positively pleasant to the downright disturbing.

Meet a woman who shares a beach house in New Jersey with 30 other people every summer. A woman who lived with a married couple and their baby for cheap rent in NYC. A missionary who lived for months with a woman in Russia, only to find when she bumped into her again that the woman did not recognize her in the slightest. A freshman in college whose roommate is a burgeoning taxidermist. Stories of substance abuse and psychotic breaks are interspersed with stories of awesome roommates, like the founders of the DC-based salad chain Sweetgreen who launched their business as roommates at Georgetown University (a story familiar to all from my alma mater, but perhaps new to some of you).

At times, the tellers’ biases poke through with a line here and there that made me cringe in its lack of understanding. Then again, living with other people is stressful even before throwing mental disorders and cultural differences into the mix, so I won’t judge to harshly.

Verdict: Jurys out. The eclectic mix of true stories isn’t for everyone, and the writing is serviceable, but not splendid. This book is best to buy as a gift to your friend being tortured by his or her roommate to show them it could be worse – at least, the roommate isn’t keeping dead hamsters in the fridge!


California by Edan Lepucki (Little, Brown and Company)


Colbert fans may have heard of this novel when he made it his poster-book-child in his ongoing “war against Amazon,” due to current Hachette-Amazon negotiations. As fascinating and controversial (at least in the book world) as that ongoing dispute is, it’s not the topic of this review. But I am thrilled it also brought this fantastic book into the public eye.

“California” is the debut novel from Edan Lepucki. This tale of a young couple venturing into the wilderness after ruin and disrepair have fallen on Los Angeles is more than a simple post-apocalyptic tale, although it tells that story expertly. It also explores themes of marriage and family, the meaning of home, and what people are willing to give up for safety.

Freda and Cal could be any of us, just minding our own business until the world falls apart. Left with only each other and the hope of a new baby, they must decide how to navigate this new, scary world and the perils and pitfalls hidden within their own relationship.  The couple encounters a rich cast of secondary characters that harbor their own thoughts about safety and decisions about how to live their lives. Each decision that is made in this book is ripe for a book club discussion. I know I’ll be mulling over this one for days to come.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the like, or a solid marriage drama. Plus, bonus points for discovering an author at the start of a promising career.

Disclosure: I received e-copies of The Roommates, and The Future for Curious People, from the publisher in exchange for my honest review through NetGalley.

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