We spent the winter and spring diligently parsing stacks of books, both forthcoming and previously released, recommended to us by friends, colleagues and customers, and from all of this we have emerged with a new Turnrow 20 list ... books we can't wait to tell you about.
If you're looking for some consistency in this list, it may be one thing above all else — compulsive readability. It seems to be the chief criterion for inclusion on this list. Of the dozens upon dozens of books we read and admired or lost or forgot, these 20 held our complete attention, providing the quintessential reading experience. Like the gambler on a streak, the churchgoer in ecstatic revelry, or the surfer climbing and holding the perfect wave, we were fully engaged in these books, preferring, if even for a brief time, to live in the world of their pages than the real world. It's a great feeling, and we hope one or more of these fine titles grabs and holds you under a similar spell.
1. The 500 by Matthew Quirk
This fresh debut thriller reminded us of The Firm with rougher edges and a modern political bite. It's distinguished by fine writing and a memorable hero, Mike Ford, a street-smart law student plucked from Harvard by a prestigious D.C. lobbying group who wield their political influence through back channels. Smart and action-packed for fans of the summer blockbuster.
2. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Not your typical coming-of-age novel, this is the story of a middle-school student who wakes one morning to find that the Earth's rotation has slowed. Time loses its meaning as the days grow increasingly longer, but there is no postponing everyday, earth-bound problems. A wonderful, off-kilter and memorable debut.
3. Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn
We’re overjoyed to see the new reprint of a nearly lost classic children’s book from 1967, the imaginative story of a clever young inventor who strikes out from his home, where his parents and siblings disapprove of his tinkering, to construct his own house in a quiet meadow. Soon the town’s other precocious children turn up for their own custom houses, and a village of creative kids takes root.
4. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
A classical comedy bursting with stories, smart humor, sophisticated romance and outstanding writing. This is ideal summer reading, a book you'll dive into and not want to come up until its fifty-odd years of love affairs, both misbegotten and written in the stars, are finally revealed.
5. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
After their battlefield heroics in Iraq are captured on camera by Fox News imbeds, the young soldiers of Bravo Squad become national celebrities. We join them on Thanksgiving Day as special guests for the Dallas Cowboys home game where they have been choreographed into the halftime show. A mind-bending satire with explosive prose and precision storytelling. Signed copies available.
6. Grace by T. Greenwood
It takes only a paragraph or two to get so emotionally invested in Greenwood's heart-wrenching family drama that you’ll be on edge until it's finished.
7. Home by Toni Morrison
Morrison mellows with age, and those who struggled in lit class with her early work will enjoy sipping from the cool, trancelike prose of her latest novel, which tracks a Korean War veteran's return to the States as he battles a segregated society and his own memory to reach his ailing sister.
8. The Instructions by Adam Levin
Gurion is a ten-year-old genius who thinks he's the Messiah. The only problem is he's stuck in detention. Like David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, it may look like a book that would eat up all your summer reading time, but Levin's ambitious debut novel, full of worlds and wonder and comedy and tragedy, reads fast and entertains thoroughly.
9. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
This shining Southern debut weaves three voices into a morality tale about the corruption of faith and the power of forgiveness. Cash orchestrates a moving drama around classic themes that echo great works like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. Signed copies soon.
10. The Lower River by Paul Theroux
A newly divorced man at the peak of mid-life crisis gives it all up and returns to the source of his life's happiest time — two years he spent building a school and befriending natives in a Malawi village during his Peace Corps days. What he finds in his idyllic Africa some forty years later is at first merely heartbreaking, then creepy and unsettling before all goes to hell. A tense, intoxicating novel by one of our best travel writers.
11. The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat by Thomas McNamee
Delta native and foodie icon Craig Claiborne is given just deserts in this vibrantly written biography. As food editor for the New York Times, Claiborne refocused American palates toward finer and more eclectic fare. Not surprising, his Delta upbringing adds ever more flair and demonry to a fascinating subject. Signed copies available.
12. A Million Heavens by John Brandon
We flipped for Brandon’s last novel, Citrus County, and we're treated to a new and off-kilter view of the world in his new novel, which follows a chorus of characters in the New Mexico desert, all linked in various ways to a coma-bound young music prodigy.
13. Octopus by Guy Lawson
If you love The Fall of the House of Zeus and Michael Lewis' tales of economic excess, you have to read this bizarro true story of hedge fund manager Sam Israel and his dark descent into creative accounting and computer trading. In a last-ditch effort to cover his astounding losses, Sam enters "the Upperworld" with an ex-CIA contact who claims to have access to a shadow market where only the world’s most elite and powerful trade. We think this will be the book everyone is talking about by summer's end.
14. Office Girl by Joe Meno
We always look forward to a new book by Joe Meno and weren't disappointed by this unassuming novel about an ordinary guy and girl just trying to make it through a typical and lonesome Chicago winter. Odile and Jack work in adjoining cubicles at a sales call center, and with honesty and odd humor, Meno has made their mundane interactions and grasping attempts at romance meaningful.
15. The Paris Directive by Gerald Jay
This debut, set in the Dordogne region of France, introduces Inspector Mazarelle, a former Paris detective who must use his city wiles to solve the murders of four American tourists. The novel is distinguished by its narration, which lets us see the story through various eyes, including Mazarelle, a New York attorney whose parents were murdered, and the cunning German hit-man who botched the job.
16. People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
An attractive young British woman goes missing in Tokyo after a date with a client from her hostess club, where young women entertain Japanese businessmen with conversation and relatively chaste attention. The investigation into her disappearance, her ultimate fate, the man responsible and the culture at large all comprise this layered look at modern evil, which is more in line with In Cold Blood than tabloid scandal.
17. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
British journalist Ronson seems to be a magnet for madness. After a series of strange encounters and coincidences, he sets out to learn more about psychopathy, interviewing mental patients, doctors, Scientologists, a military death squad commander and a possibly psychotic CEO with Mississippi ties. His findings may shock and disturb, but his writing is hilarious and completely entertaining.
18. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean
We recently took another look at this classic short novel about a Presbyterian minister who teaches his sons about life through fly-fishing in Montana waters. The prose is so perfect and illuminating that you can dip in anywhere, like rich scripture, and snatch some new insight, whether it be about life, art, spirit, family or fishing.
19. Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
These are stories for anyone, told plainly with streetwise eloquence about people you know, caught in the kinds of everyday, unexpected situations that define our lives. His art lies in crafting something so simple that has such a deep, echoing effect.
20. Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
For solid fun and something fresh to trade with girlfriends, plug into this smarter than average beach book about modern marriage with all its add-ons and aggravations. Any wife and mother who keeps her grasp on sanity through texts, tweets, emails and updates will relate to Alice, who takes a fresh look at her bland marriage via an online experiment.