Why read? Why invest time—always a scarce commodity—in the written word? There are probably as many reasons as there are readers: to learn about new places; to challenge (or confirm) preconceptions; to experience other cultures, times, worlds; to be enlightened, entertained, or diverted. But mainly, for the story.
Here are some stories to consider for your personal reading list. Best of all, they’re not one-offs: each is the latest in its author’s long list of books. If you like these, there are lots more where they came from.
Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2017)
In the tradition of her earlier linked-story novels—one of which, Olive Kitteridge, won a Pulitzer Prize—Anything Is Possible demonstrates Elizabeth Strout’s extraordinary skill at dissecting the depth and complexity of quotidian human relationships. Taken together, these nine short stories set in the Midwest are a coherent, engrossing universe of people behaving both badly and well in a series of overlapping contexts.
The author stacks emotions and perceptions, fully immersing the reader in her characters’ interior worlds, separating and then reweaving details of their lives in deeply satisfying ways. In another Strout trademark, characters from earlier collections reappear here, notably Lucy Barton and two of her siblings from My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016).
As in all of her books, reconciliation, or at least its possibility, hovers in the background, sought even by characters who aren’t always aware of needing it. elizabethstrout.com
The Late Show by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Co., 2017)
Turning from the secrets of the human heart to secrets of a more nefarious kind, Michael Connelly has just published The Late Show, a police procedural set in a gritty and gridlocked Los Angeles. This time, however, the detective at the center of the action isn’t obsessive, wild-card cop Harry Bosch, but rather, Renée Ballard, a young woman who challenged the LAPD’s old-boy system and paid for it by being reassigned to the Hollywood Division night shift, aka the “late show.”
Ballard is both ambitious and intelligent, so having to turn over cases to others when dawn breaks makes the punishment even more galling. One night, she’s called out on two cases that she finds she can’t let go of in the morning: a brutally beaten transgender prostitute and a woman killed in a nightclub shooting that left four others dead as well. It’s clear to her that no one is going to invest much energy in either, so she figures out a way to keep them for herself. Flying quietly under departmental radar, Ballard pursues answers the way a cat pursues a mouse, focused to the point of compulsion.
Connelly’s a master of context—the Los Angeles he describes in his books resonates with first-hand knowledge—and complicated plot lines. He constructs his puzzles with many pieces, yet puts them together most satisfyingly at the end. The Late Show is the latest in a long line of must-reads for those drawn to the mystery/suspense genre. michaelconnelly.com
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017)
Venice (Italy, not California) is home ground for Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series, which now numbers 26 books featuring the intelligent and pragmatic, Venetian policeman. In constructing her plots, Leon has incorporated everyone from opera singers and wealthy aristocrats to shopkeepers and illegal immigrants. The two constants, however, are death and Venice. This ancient and beleaguered island-city is as much a character in Leon’s novels as any individual, and Brunetti deeply loves it despite its many challenges (rising water and tourists among them). He’s also a master at slyly navigating a ponderous Italian bureaucracy, a skill that also drives the stories.
In Earthly Remains, Brunetti’s determined to make the most of a solitary forced vacation by reviving his passion for rowing, reading classic works by Petrarch, and savoring the tranquility of the countryside. Those plans are disrupted, however, when the older man who had been taking him out on the water and teaching him about bees goes missing and is later found dead. Was what seemed to be an accident really a murder? And if so, why would anyone want this man dead?
As Brunetti follows a trail closely hemmed in by a thicket of old secrets, it becomes clear that in this case, the environment is as much a victim as the victim himself. donnaleon.net
Susan Tasaki is a San Francisco Bay Area–based editor who considers most things to be interruptions to her reading life.