Off-Topic: Good Books

5 Aug

It’s officially August. Soon enough, the air will be turning a little bit cooler, the streetlights turning on just a little bit earlier, and the crazy ice cream man who parks his truck in front of your neighbor’s house and plays “Moon River” for hours on end is coming around just a little bit less. Summer, before we know it, will be on it’s way out.

Of course, while we dab the remaining calamine lotion on the last of this year’s mosquito bites, we remember that it’s not only the humongous flies that are dying…summer romances all across the nation are coming to an end. Like Danny Zuko said, “It turned colder, that’s where it ends. So I told her we’d still be frie-e-ends.”


Danny and Sandy may have driven off into the sky in a cartoon car but for those of us without the awesome animation techniques, September will mean saying goodbye. In honor of young summer lovers, here are a few other romances that were fated to come to an end. Keep these books in mind and at hand when you visit used books stores. They will make great gifts for yourself or your friends.

1. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

This isn’t your typical star-crossed lovers read. Oscar is an obese Dominican-American, science- fiction- readin’- and- writin’ “ghetto nerd”. The story deals with Oscar’s inability to cultivate relationships with the ladies, even given the history of the Dominican men in his family who were all Casanovas. He eventually falls in love with a woman who can lead to nothing but hard luck. The narrators switch people, sometimes Oscar’s sister, sometimes his college roommate, etc.; and threaded all throughout the novel is the history of a family curse that spells doom for all who mess with it. I found Oscar a little frustrating at first, as did his family members, and I had trouble sometimes with the Spanish words Diaz placed in the text; but in the end I thought it was a seamlessly written, soul-filling/crushing book.

Note: Want to pair this book up with a classic and compare? Try Cyrano de Bergeracby Edmond Rostand, also a beautiful tragic story about an unconventional guy who falls in love with someone he shouldn’t.

2. Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

This novel combines history, romance, suspense, and scandal. It’s the 1600s and, in Amsterdam, a young woman, Sophia, and the rich older man her family married her off to decide to have a portrait of themselves painted to preserve their name since the young wife has not yet been able to conceive. The painter is a mysterious young man and Sophia is drawn to him as he paints her. Parallel to this story, Sophia’s maid finds herself deserted by her own lover and in a “complicated position”. A thrilling and dangerous situation is in store for them all. Short chapters tell the story from the perspective of the book’s various characters. This is one of those books that you race through because you’re so hopeful the lovers will end up together and you think that maybe if you get to the end of the book in time, the ending will turn out the way you want. A passionate and fervent read.

3. Atonement by Ian McEwan

Forget for a moment that you’re as irritated by Keira Knightley as I am (I pictured Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling when I was reading it, just for spite) and pick up this novel. The premise: It’s 1935 and bratty tween Briony (maybe they should have made this role for Keira) wants to put on a play for her family, but it falls apart when her cousins get bored. So she’s peeved and while she’s brooding, she sees her teenage sister Cecilia being seduced by the help’s son, Robby. This act and other coincidences set her imagination running and Briony ends up accusing Robby of a crime committed later that evening. Flash forward to the future: Briony’s white lie has upheaved lives, including those of Robby and Cecilia. McEwan successfully conveys such strong emotions: guilt, passion, anger, betrayal and it is easy to fall into this story and its players.

4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

There is no better book to kick off the impending fall season than the gloom and doom Wuthering Heights. Blustery weather, lovers kept apart, madness, it’s got it all. The plot is too complicated to be summarized in a blurb, but it’s that complexity and the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine that is so delectable about the book. This is a readable classic and, even if the language was difficult, it would be worth it to wander through this tale of two childhood friends and unrequited lovers over the generations.

5. Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Talk about your doomed romance. A teenage girl in colonial Latin America is sent to a convent because she is believed to be possessed by demons or have rabies (the two are really so similar). Her mother, addicted to several vices, couldn’t care less; her father realizes, perhaps too late, that he was not part of his daughter’s life when he had the chance. At the convent, the young girl both fascinates and horrorfies people and the young priest who is sent to exorcise her ends up falling in love with her. As is true Marquez fashion, the author intertwines images of love with images of the grotesque and he does it beautifully. This is actually based off of a true tale of a marquise who died of rabies and was buried in a tomb that Marquez saw opened 50 years later.

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One Response to “Off-Topic: Good Books”

  1. yolaleah August 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    I love love love The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. What a great suggestion 🙂

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