Moody thrillers, memoirs, manga: We read a lot of books. Here are some of our favorites
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Moody thrillers, memoirs, manga: We read a lot of books. Here are some of our favorites

The news business means working with lots of words. Reading, writing and reading (did I mention reading?) are nonstop parts of the job. So for journalists, if a book makes a lasting impact, it has to be really special. These books, selected by our Connecticut Public colleagues for the summer of 2024, are just that: Thrilling reads spanning everything from historical memoirs to manga, with a healthy dose of fiction, too. Because, let’s face it – we all need an escape from reality. Here are the titles they shared.

Fiction | Nonfiction | Manga

Fiction

“A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan

A novel that weaves together interconnected stories about a group of characters whose lives intersect in unexpected ways. Set in various locations and time periods, the narrative explores themes of time, music, technology and the passage of time. Through its innovative structure and rich character development, the book offers insights into the complexities of human relationships and the impact of choices over time.

– Martha Castillo, associate social media editor

“James” by Percival Everett

This book has been dubbed a “retelling” of Mark Twain’s literary classic, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” But it is so much more than that. It’s a recentering of the enslaved Jim (well, James) – and a masterpiece in its own right. My favorite part? How Everett plays with language! In “James,” he uses it in creative, soulful, accessible and subversive ways.

– Meg Dalton, deputy director of storytelling

“Mrs. Caliban” by Rachel Ingalls

This novella published in the 1980s to little fanfare. But now it’s a cult classic. Who wouldn’t love a book about an unhappily married woman who falls in love with a 6-foot-7-inch frog-like creature named Larry? If you like surreal, funny, deeply human and beautifully written stories, this is for you!

– Meg Dalton, deputy director of storytelling

“Trout Fishing In America” by Richard Brautigan

“I remember mistaking an old woman for a trout stream in Vermont, and I had to beg her pardon. Excuse me, I said. I thought you were a trout stream. I’m not, she said.”

My favorite book, I usually re-read this novella every year, usually in the summer. It’s a weird and fantastical trip through the American West filtered through the uniquely strange mind of an author who sees “trout stream” as sold by the yard in a department store, who describes a man as ordinary by clarifying that he’s “not a three-legged crow on the dandelion side of the mountain.” (I may or may not have named my dog Trout Fishing In America. OK, I definitely did.)

– Chris Polansky, general assignment/breaking news reporter

“The Code of the Woosters” by P. G. Wodehouse

Pretty much anything involving Bertie and his incomparable gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves (I believe the inspiration to the defunct search engine), is a good time.

– Matthew Long-Middleton, senior editor

“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

I found this one deep in my library – it came out in 2013. It gives you that most wonderful experience of stepping into a world you couldn’t have imagined and don’t want to leave. This one is in the Polish and Syrian neighborhoods of New York in the early 1900s. Magical beings from the old world are doing their best to pass as humans, dealing with the loneliness of being the only ones of their kind. You wait a long time for the woman made of clay and the man made of fire to meet, but the intensity continues well beyond that moment. Happily, there’s a sequel.

– Cori Princell, managing editor, New England News Collaborative

“The School for Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani, Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

This recommendation comes with a twist: Find the audiobook versions on your library app and listen to them read by Polly Lee. We’ve driven miles with our children listening to this series, with the occasionally wicked delight hitting us all at different levels. The author enjoys playing with dichotomies – good/evil, boy/girl, new/old – and the characters are splendidly developed through Lee’s many voices.

– Cori Princell, managing editor, New England News Collaborative

“The Searcher” by Tana French

If you’re a fan of moody, psychological thrillers, you’ll love this one! The book follows a retired cop who moves to a remote Irish village to escape his past. His solace is interrupted when a boy from town goes missing and no one in the village seems to care.

– Chloe Wynne, producer, “The Wheelhouse”

“Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

I’ve never read anything like it! The story follows three video game creators as they navigate the ups and downs of their 20s and 30s. Through her main characters, Gabrielle Zevin masterfully explores love between friends — platonic, passionate and sometimes a little messy.

– Chloe Wynne, producer, “The Wheelhouse”

Nonfiction

“Fate Is The Hunter” by Ernest K. Gann

Modern aviation is a fairly (forgive the wordplay) pedestrian affair. We board a plane, fly where we need to and get off. But at the dawn of commercial flight, aviation was much more dramatic. Detailing Gann’s years as a mid-20th century pilot, this memoir is filled with terrifying descriptions of life in the cockpit. From flying into fog-filled fjords to nursing a plane past massive crackling thunderclouds, Gann’s writing is a reminder that in the early days of aviation, skill mattered. But luck – or fate – was the ultimate hunter, which some of the best aviators couldn’t escape.

– Patrick Skahill, digital editor

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty’s memoir gently takes the reader through her time working in a crematory. Doughty, a death advocate, internet personality and founder of “The Order of the Good Death,” is owner of Clarity Funerals and Cremation of Los Angeles. She dives into how she became interested in what most people find morbid or macabre and how American culture’s divorce from death acceptance is hurting us all.

– Janae Spinato, associate social media editor

“The Road to Freedom: Economics and the Good Society” by Joseph E. Stiglitz 

Stiglitz makes a case for upstream policies that uphold economic freedoms for all. The book is a compilation of Stiglitz’s ideas on the failures of neoliberal economic systems at the state – and on the individual levels. In deconstructing systems put forth by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Stiglitz’s words mirror that of Amartya Sen, who in his 1999 book, “Development as Freedom,” wrote: “There is a deep complementarity between individual agency and social arrangements.” In addressing systemic poverty and the lack of access to nutrition and health care, Sen said: “We have to see individual freedom as a social commitment.”

– Sujata Srinivasan, senior health reporter

“Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time” by Andrew Forsthoefel 

This memoir recounts the author’s journey across America on foot, covering 4,000 miles. Along the way, Forsthoefel meets various individuals from different walks of life, listening to their stories and gaining insights into the diverse tapestry of American experiences. Through his encounters, Forsthoefel reflects on the power of human connection, empathy and the transformative nature of listening.

– Martha Castillo, associate social media editor

Manga

“Full Metal Alchemist” by Hiromu Arakawa

The story follows the journey and misadventures of two alchemist brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are searching for the philosopher’s stone to restore their bodies after a failed attempt to bring their mother back to life using alchemy. The story can be heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, and the art is engaging and entertaining.

– Catherine Shen, host, “Where We Live”

“The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún” by Nagabe

The story of 6-year-old Shiva, who was abandoned to the “outside” of a medieval-like town when a destructive curse turned people into skull-faced monsters called “Outsiders.” She was found by an Outsider and they live together as a makeshift family. But both “Insiders” and “Outsiders” are starting to look for Shiva for some reason, and that makes the Outsider who found her very nervous. This slow-paced story really allows me to stop and enjoy the art. It’s very atmospheric and I want to frame so many panels into wall art!

– Catherine Shen, host, “Where We Live”

“The Savior’s Book Café Story in Another World” by Kyouka Izumi, Oumiya, Illustrated by Reiko Sakurada

This super sweet series tells the story of Tsukina, a single, 30-something office worker who was offered the chance by a fantastical being to go to another world and become its magical savior. She refuses at first. But when she eventually shows up to the other world, she uses her magical powers to create a cozy little book café. Her first customer is a soldier who loves reading as much as she does. But when trouble strikes, Tsukina might have to do some heroic things after all! This is such a transportive series. It made me want to just curl up with a good book with all the snacks!

– Catherine Shen, host, “Where We Live”