By Marvin Olasky
Summertime, and the reading is easy. On the following pages four WORLD writers recommend their favorite light reading, including popular history books, travel books, detective novels, and a couple of literary choices. Then comes a profile of best-selling nonfiction writer Lynn Vincent and two pages of reading suggestions from other staff members.
But first, here’s some of what I’ve enjoyed from 10 p.m. until midnight, my daily reading time. The best novel I’ve read recently is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Grand Central Publishing, 2017), a moving multigenerational saga of Koreans in Japan that provides a positive view of Christianity. (Note: Some bad words occasionally flow out of the mouths of bad characters.) Born in South Korea, Lee came to America at age 7, studied history at Yale, and came out 10 years ago with Free Food for Millionaires, a realistic novel centering on Korean-Americans in New York City.
If you’re heading to the beach and want epic fiction that will last you for a vacation, try Herman Wouk’s sweeping World War II novels, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance: adventure and romance without pornography. Wouk, born in 1915, published those in 1971 and 1978, so they reflect a mature wisdom—and he’s still alive, with May 27 marking his 102nd birthday.
If you like Flannery O’Connor, you may also like Tim Gautreaux’s Signals: New and Selected Stories (Knopf, 2017). I worried that his emphasis on grotesque Cajun people and places might leave Northern readers with a sense of superiority rather than an awareness of our common need for redemption—but the last two stories in the collection, “Welding with Children” and “What We Don’t See in the Light,” are perfect. Another short story collection, What’s Left Out by physician Jay Baruch (Kent State University Press, 2015), includes tales by what he knows well, life within hospitals and clinics.
If you like spy novels, I recommend Charles Cumming, David Downing (his World War II series), Alex Dryden, Mark Henshaw, Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, Jason Matthews, and Daniel Silva: None of their novels overflows with objectionable elements, but the main characters are in an occupation where violence is inevitable, sex is sometimes weaponized, and some words resemble grunts. So, round up the usual caveats.
That also goes for detective fiction that typically features moral heroes in corrupt societies: Since it’s harder to find more corruption than Russians have put up with for a century, you might try novels by Martin Cruz Smith, Tom Rob Smith, and William Ryan set in Moscow or thereabouts. Qiu Xiaolong looks at Chinese society similarly. For more about these books, see “Down Moscow’s mean streets” (WORLD, April 18, 2015) and “Down Berlin’s mean streets” (May 17, 2014).
I’ve just read my first spy novel by Alex Berenson, who has a series of 11 starring John Wells, a maverick CIA fighter against Islamic terrorists. Wells curiously becomes a Muslim in an early book, but comments like this from his girlfriend are rare in contemporary fiction: “I’m barely in the door, say I’m pregnant, the first thing the tech says, Is this baby desired? Like, You like this sweater or should I put it back on the shelf? … This baby desired? Is that really the relevant question? This baby’s a baby. I guess some women say no.”
Berenson also brings us into the brain of a French spy chief who had often gone to interments at Père Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris. A hand grenade is about to put him there as a victim, not a mourner: “His last thought, not a prayer. For like so many French, he was a rationalist, an atheist. Even now, God didn’t come for him. Instead … All those trips to Père Lachaise, I never guessed at the evil in this world.”
After this look at life-and-death novels, you might enjoy Angela Lu’s look at books that generate more laughs.
Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.