Love, murder, politics and diplomacy: Here’s what the staff of The Chronicle is reading this summer

Love, murder, politics and diplomacy: Here’s what the staff of The Chronicle is reading this summer

“Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide”

by Michael B. Oren

Random House, 2015

377 pages — $30

For those who know me it will come as no surprise that the book that tops my reading list this summer is “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide” by Ambassador Michael Oren. No book this summer has generated as much instant controversy and opining as this one. This is because the Iran nuclear deal, still tentative as we go to press, is one of the world’s top political controversies, and this book by a participant was rushed to publication to be thrown into the debate. As a political and news junkie, I want to know what he has to say in the full book – much more so than what his detractors and defenders have to say as they commented before they had even read the book, and now with their carefully selected quotes from the book, possibly out of context.

Michael Oren is first and foremost a very fine historian of the Middle East. I read and thoroughly enjoyed his first two insightful books, “Six Days of War” and “Power, Faith, and Fantasy.” I have heard him speak and have had some limited interactions with him when he was the Israeli ambassador in Washington. Even if he, later in life, entered the realm of diplomacy and politics, he remains a person of integrity and keen understanding. I want to know his perceptions of his years in Washington and what has transpired in the U.S.-Israel relationship. I want to know if he has retained his historian’s eye or has become a political advocate. And I want to know more about how the system really works and how we, as American Jews, might be able to help.

 — Jim Busis,


“The Women”

by T.C. Boyle

Penguin Group, 2009

451 pages — $16

This summer, I’ve been less a reader of books than a bailor of them. No sooner did I get my hands on “Words Without Music” and “Ally,” new memoirs by the minimalist composer Philip Glass and Israel’s former ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, I surrendered them to book reviewers. I bought Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” and gifted the book by the physician-philosopher to my mother for her birthday. But I not only got, I kept, T.C. Boyle’s “The Women,” about the life and many loves of Frank Lloyd Wright. Touring Fallingwater last weekend, perhaps America’s most famous house by America’s most famous architect, I was struck by the cold logic of its geometry — the hard, right angles, the parallel, perpendicular and intersecting lines. One would think a highly ordered, disciplined man had designed it, a Buddhist perhaps. But the more I read about Wright — his arrogance, quickness to anger, foolish optimism (Fallingwater came in five times over budget to the dismay of his Jewish client, Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann Sr.) and chaotic love life, the more I realize what an intriguing contradiction he is. “Every great architect is — necessarily — a great poet,” he said with characteristic lack of humility. Wright was a complex man, just the way I like my characters — in fiction, nonfiction, in journalism and up close.

— Geoffrey W. Melada,

interim editor

“The Goldfinch”     

by Donna Tartt

Little, Brown & Company, 2013

775 pages. $20.

I have been captivated by novels about art and art museums since I was a child introduced to E.L. Konigsburg’s “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” right through Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” So, while the length of “The Goldfinch” (775 pages) was an initial deterrent, I knew it was only a matter of time before I downloaded Donna Tartt’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a boy, his mother, a terrorist attack in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a prized painting from the Dutch Golden Age.

It’s worth noting that despite praise from the likes of Stephen King and longtime New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, the novel was panned by The New Yorker critic James Wood, who criticized its tone and story as belonging to the genre of children’s literature. But some of the best tales of the 20th century were told through the voice of a child or an adult looking back at her childhood, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“The Goldfinch” had me hooked from its introductory Camus quote: “The absurd does not liberate; it binds.” Tartt is taking on a lot here — philosophy, mystery, adventure — but she writes in a relatable voice and knows how to tell a story. It’s hard to put down.

— Toby Tabachnick,

senior staff writer

“Love in the Time of Cholera”

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

English translation published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1988

464 pages — $23

Many years have passed since I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s most famous novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and although I cannot remember much about the plot, I remember loving the telling of it.

Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” my first summer read this year, is set on the Caribbean coast of South America in the late 19th century to early 20th century. Marquez is a natural storyteller. The writing and story flow beautifully here, typical of Marquez’s style, pulling the reader along. Also interesting, Marquez, a former journalist, is not always subtle about his politics.

The story explores Marquez’s fascination with love’s trajectory over a lifetime, and in the midst of extraordinary circumstances, including a cholera outbreak and devastating poverty. There are two main characters, and their relationship evolves over time, but that is not the only story. All the characters, rich and poor, together expose the facets of love.

Do not let all the love talk fool you: This is not a sentimental tale. It is a story, well-told, that just happens to be about love.

— Angela Leibowicz

community/website editor

“The Likeness”

by Tana French

Penguin Books,

Reprint edition (May 26, 2009)

466 pages — $16

In Tana French’s “The Likeness,” an entry in the Dublin Murder Squad series, a girl who closely resembles one of the squad’s detectives, Cassie Maddox, is found dead. Cassie’s boss instructs her to impersonate the dead woman in order to discover how she was killed. This necessitates her to move into the house the mysterious doppelganger shared with four roommates, whom Cassie feels strangely drawn to, and the line between reality and fiction becomes dangerously blurred.

Often, detective novels are gripping because the reader wants to know whodunit. What sets French’s book apart is that not only is the plot incredibly intricate, the writing is lyrical and poetic. This is not a dime-store detective novel but an intense psychological thriller that will astound you until the very end.

— Masha Shollar, intern