Not many books can boast that they are both the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and an endorsement from O: The Oprah Magazine! The Pulitzer jury called the eponymous character of Olive Kitteridge (Random House, $14) “blunt, flawed, and fascinating”; Oprah called Olive, naturally, “deeply empathetic.” I’m not sure that I would like to have Olive in my family—she may be a little too cantankerous—but I would enjoy spending an hour having coffee with her once a week. A well-seasoned Maine crone, she’s direct and to the point more often than she should be, but her perceptions are sometimes funny and usually accurate, and they can also be deeply heartfelt. Elizabeth Strout said she chose the form of thirteen interconnected stories because Olive was such a strong personality that she would overpower a novel. In these stories Olive occasionally appears as a bit player, but wherever she was, I wanted more of her.
While Michelle Obama is the stylish first lady du jour, and Hillary Clinton has become the most politically successful post-White House first lady, there’s no doubt in my mind that Laura Bush is the most subtly complex. Long before Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife (Random House, $15), women of all political stripes were fascinated by Mrs. Bush’s subdued political presence and the imagined inner workings of her marriage to our former president. Sittenfeld’s fictional portrait of the first lady’s life from childhood to the East Wing is by turns hilarious and unsettling, executed with empathetic ambivalence and teeming with the kind of rich details that make the reader wonder, could things have really happened that way?
The Ten-Year Nap (Riverhead, $16) is a book that should probably be read while reclining—though that alone isn’t what makes it a great summer read. At first it appears simply to be a book about stay-at-home moms in New York City, a subject, in all honesty, I did not think I’d find interesting. In truth, the book is much more than that. It’s not just about mothers, it’s about all women and the choices we make. Meg Wolitzer gently weaves together a story of marriage, friendship, and fidelity and keeps it all intimate and interesting. This book is poignant and thoughtful without being heavy-handed or preachy.