Sybil Baker’s Summer Reading

Lavinia Ludlow follows up her lively debut, alt.punk, with the equally visceral Seven Stroke Seven (Casperian Books). Ludlow, a musician, writer, and book reviewer, writes bracingly of the behind-the-scenes lives of struggling musicians in Northern California. Seven Stroke Seven follows Lilith, a drummer in a by-name-only band in the Bay Area, struggling to break into the music scene before she turns 27. Ludlow’s millennials contend with intermittent and unstable employment, substandard housing, minimal health insurance, and starvation. Throw in dysfunctional co-dependent relationships (Lilith’s s mother makes Joan Crawford look like Mother of the Year), and Ludlow’s gritty social satire reflects a world that seems dystopian but is actually bracingly realistic.

I have been looking forward to Jodi Paloni’s debut linked collection They Could Live With Themselves (Press 53) and it did not disappoint. Paloni (we both earned MFAs from the Vermont College of Fine Arts) is on the committee for the Brattleboro Literary Festival and has established herself as a fine reviewer and writer of fiction. I find that I don’t have a lot of time these days for fiction that doesn’t allow an expansive compassion for its characters, and from the first story I knew that Paloni would not disappoint. She writes about characters from the fictional town called Stark Run, Vermont, with intimacy, awareness and insight.

As a writer, Eileen Pollack’s essay “Why Fiction Needs More Women Scientists” in Literary Hub was a call to action, inspiring me to include a female scientist protagonist in my next project. As a fan of her fiction and nonfiction, I was looking forward to her novel, A Perfect Life, about a woman scientist who struggles to find the marker for a neurodegenerative disease that runs in her family. For people who enjoyed Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, I recommend this novel, which deftly combines a woman’s determination to a find scientific breakthrough with the ethical dilemmas her research poses to those she loves.

Finally, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian has been on my to-read list since I first read Porochista Khakpour’s insightful review of the novel (actually a three-part connected novella) in the The New York Times. Since then, the novel has won the Man Booker International Prize and continues to receive almost universal acclaim, for good reason. The Vegetarian is compelling, disturbing, and inspiring. The novel was published in South Korea in 2007, the year I left the country after having lived there for 12 years, and yet in 2016, the novel, recently translated by Deborah Smith, feels fresh and new. I’m looking forward to reading more translations of Han Kang’s work.