The Center for Fiction in Fort Greene provides all the things you would expect from an institution devoted to literary fiction: readings, a bookstore, classes and workshops, to name a few. Its most surprising offering, though, is the therapeutic service it calls “A Novel Approach.” Designed for bibliophiles who have entered an unfamiliar or difficult chapter in their lives, like a move abroad or a parent’s passing, it’s often given as a gift. The recipient spends 45 minutes discussing his or her reading preferences and particular circumstances with the Center’s director, managing director or librarian, who then plot out the best books to reflect upon the situation over the course of a year.
A Novel Approach could work equally well as group therapy, I thought, so I asked the Center’s librarian Allison Escoto to create a summer reading list that would engage distracted readers like me, who take eons to finish a book but binge on all other media. She selected 12 novels that could cure this modern affliction, filled with beautifully told stories that are guaranteed to transport you from your scatterbrained present into the worlds of richly drawn characters from various countries and eras. It’s a reading list designed to get you back into the rhythm of reading at a time of year that practically begs you to turn off your phone, tune out the news, and get lost in a book.
Here is her prescription for a year of blissful reading that will carry you through to next summer:
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
A smart and irreverent story of a millionaire taking a bus trip across America in search of an old flame and some meaning after his life falls apart. What could be more transportive than a road trip?
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Spanning the art world of Chicago in the 1980s and present-day Paris, Makkai’s beautifully written novel is a compelling story of family, loss, and the power of art. Makkai’s masterful prose will inspire nostalgia and enlighten.
She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore
Travel back to the nascent days of Liberia in the 19th century with this remarkable debut novel. Part historical novel, part speculative fiction, this vivid story encompasses three very different parts of the world and a cast of main characters that will draw you in to their story.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
This modern fairy tale about three generations of women and a very mysterious recipe for gingerbread is an inventive story about family history that will engage you from the beginning. The award-winning Oyeyemi has a gift for creative and compelling storytelling and this enchanting tale is no different.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson
Recruited by MI5 to transcribe conversations between British Nazi sympathizers and a secret agent, Juliet Armstrong suddenly finds herself at the center of a life-or-death mission. Switching between 1940 and 1950, Atkinson weaves an engrossing tale in her singularly masterful style and Juliet’s story is sure to bring you along for the ride.
Mem by Bethany C. Morrow
This remarkable, inventive debut novel is a great blend of historical and speculative fiction. In 1920s Montreal, a scientist discovers a way to extract memories from people and implant them into “mems,” doppelgangers that exist only to carry those memories and relive them. An insightful novel that will have you thinking about memory, identity, and what it means to be a person.
Euphoria by Lily King
This exquisitely written historical novel will transport you to 1930s Papua New Guinea amidst the lives and loves of three anthropologists. King’s immersive writing will place you directly at the center of this beautifully written story.
The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis
The sweeping story of an immigrant’s path through the South America of the early 20th century. Leda is newly arrived in Argentina with no one for support and no means for supporting herself. She disguises herself by dressing as a man and playing tango on her violin at night for money. The lyrical prose in this novel will invite you into a lush world of music, dance, and coming-of-age.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
This is a transformative collection of interconnected short stories all taking place against the backdrop of Russian life during various times throughout history. The rhythm and pacing that Marra uses to tell these complete stories is certain to carry you along with the richly drawn characters and their simultaneously life-affirming and devastating lives.
The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
A sophisticated, evocative novel that tells the story of four friends on the brink of joining the fight during the early years of WWII. The lives of the four characters are then followed over the course of decades, through the many societal upheavals of the 20th century. Through elegant, insightful prose, Hollinghurst has crafted an enthralling story that will keep you wanting to read more.
Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
Escape to different worlds in this remarkable space opera series by rising star Nnedi Okorafor. The Binti series follows the story of Binti as she journeys away from her home and family to attend a prestigious university on another planet. Along the way, Binti encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles with the strength drawn from her roots. This is an enchanting Afrofuturist story of an unforgettable character and tells a great story of leaving home to search for your path and coming back home to find it.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A pharmacologist takes the journey of a lifetime in search of a missing field team. Taking place against the lush background of the Amazon, the truly compelling story Patchett has written is filled with mystery, rich description, and equal parts adventure and contemplation. This will keep you reading!