Rebecca Rosenblum: Good Books for Hard Times

Rebecca Rosenbaum's debut novel, So Much Love, is a stunner, and it's recently been nominated for the 2017 Amazon First Novel Award. And while it's a heavy book, in her list with us Rosenblum shares the books that helped her along the way by providing a little levity. These are, as she tells us, good books for hard times.  

***** 

I wrote a very serious, very dark book and it took six years. I read a lot of different things for different reasons during that long challenging period of writing—for research, for inspiration, for reminders of what I was striving for—but I read a lot for fun. These are some of the books in that last category. These are all fiction—my preferred reading matter—and though not all were originally intended for grownups, all can be enjoyed by us. These are all good books—the word funny isn’t a pejorative in my world—but those that take on serious issue do so with a lighter hand and some skip right over the serious issues and go straight for the silly. Apply as needed.

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Mongomery

I’ve never felt that Stephen Leacock is quite my jam, but I do agree that Canadian literary humour began in small-town pastoral. For me it’s that little red-headed girl from the Island that provides the purest fun in Canadian letters. The melodramatic apology to Mrs. Lynde, the fear of a ghost story she told herself, the time a mouse drowned in the pudding sauce but Anne forgot and Marilla tried to serve it to company! If you’ve read it you are laughing; if you haven’t, no explanation will do it justice.

*

Noise, by Russell Smith

A smartly observed book about young people running around the city being worried about poetry readings and lifestyle magazines and sex. It’s a novel with fantastic dialogue, all-too-believeable idiotic behavior from almost all the characters, and the kind of perfectly seeable physical comedy that reads at breakneck pace but is almost impossible to write. The climax of the book involves a scene of the main character scaling the side of a building and then tumbling back down it that is as perfectly choreographed as a ballet or Three Stooges sketch. I wish I’d written it.

*

The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood

This is the book I recommend to people who claim not to “like” Margaret Atwood. Honestly, Atwood is such a various author that most anyone can enjoy one or two books in her vast oeuvre, but this one is the wackiest and while certainly not light on feminist metaphor, it’s quite easy to “get” and even easier to enjoy. From the travails of suburban baby showers to horrible roommates to the very best parody of obnoxious grad students I have ever read, this novel has enough heart that you care what happens to poor long-suffering Marian—the allegedly eaten lady of the title—but not so much you don’t thrill to see her blow up her own life in quite satisfying manner.

*

The Rajapaksa Stories, by Koom Kankesan

A wildly funny and very strange political satire about the former president of Sri Lanka doesn’t sound possible, and yet it exists. This book touches on some stuff that is pretty heavy, as a book about political leader who presided over his country in civil war must do, but it also has a fair share of gleeful silliness, recipes, and touches of sci-fi. A deeply strange book that is a surprising joy to read. I loved this book and was genuinely startled that I did.

 *

True Confections, or How My Family Arranged My Marriage, by Sondra Gotlieb

Another hilarious book about a woman struggling with food and marriage? Maybe it’s a thing. This one is set in 1950s Winnipeg in the Jewish community and is a lovely portrait and loving parody of that world, along with the eternal anxieties of teenagers: family, romance, clothes, and snacks. A lot of the snacks sound fairly dreadful, but the book is still a treat.

No Coins Please, by Gordon Korman

This is a middle-grade novel about a group of 11-year-old boys going on a cross-country camping trip with two 18-year-old counselors. It already sounds zany, but also most of the boys are slightly dorky and one is a money-making genius. No Coins Please has Korman’s standard implausible and mad-cap hijinks, and is just a stellar example of his best work: every gag a worth a chuckle, every weird kid somehow a little bit loveable. Which is sometimes everything I want in a book. 

May 15, 2017
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