I’ve known Rachel Khong as a food writer for years. As part of the Lucky Peach masthead, she taught me about pho, barbecued-chicken pizza, and the perfect egg yolk. So can you blame me for expecting Goodbye, Vitamin to be the kind of book you need snacks to read? And it is, of course. The protagonist, Ruth, is always cooking. Food is the main way she takes care of her family, which seems to be falling apart. Her father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, her brother won’t help out, her mother is angry at everyone, and Ruth’s fiancé seems to be backing out. This isn’t a happy setup. Yet, somehow, Goodbye, Vitamin becomes a happy book. It’s painful in the way of a Jami Attenberg novel – this is the real world, and the real world hurts – but it’s fundamentally a book about love. Love and food, that is. What more could you need?
We all know the summer-in-the-city clichés. Open fire hydrants, ice cream trucks, the sexy kind of sweat. There’s a bit of that in Another Brooklyn, sure, but the true heat in this book is emotional. Jacqueline Woodson writes friendship better than just about anyone. It only takes her a second to show how much her characters adore each other, how loyal to each other they are. Woodson is a poet as well as a prose writer, and she knows how to make a few words pack a punch. You’ll want to linger over each scene, and when the book is done, you’ll be tempted to go right back to the beginning. And why not? It’s the start of summer, and there’s something about Another Brooklyn that makes you feel like you’ve got all the time in the world.
There are plenty of coming-of-age novels in which intelligent young women wrestle with their sexuality, or identity, or demons. The Idiot is the first novel I've ever read in which an intelligent young woman wrestles with her own intelligence. Selin, the protagonist, has complex friendships and a love interest and so on, but at its heart, The Idiot is about Selin observing her own relationship with language. Not surprisingly, Batuman’s language is itself a treat—sly and playful, Wodehouse-funny, as smart as I’ve ever read. Selin starts the novel with the Socratic knowledge that she knows nothing, but by the end of The Idiot, I knew one thing: I want to read every book Elif Batuman writes, and in the meantime, I’m already excited to reread this one.