It’s been a busy time for Viet Thanh Nguyen since winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last month. His novel The Sympathizer, which we awarded a Kirkus Star and named one of the best books of 2015, has been a succes d’estime since its release, and now, by a happy accident, it is a book of the moment thanks to a couple of developments: President Obama’s visit to Vietnam, and discussions among military leaders of cooperation there meant to curtail Chinese influence in Southeast Asia. Nguyen has been making the rounds of the talk shows and op-ed pages, with a notable appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air, in which, responding to a question from Terry Gross, he calls The Sympathizer “my lonely, small effort—not even lovely and small. Many Vietnamese-American artists and writers are doing very similar things to try to get Americans to understand that Vietnam is a country and not a war.”
If Bill Gates is reading The Sympathizer, he’s not letting on. Instead, reports the Washington Post, he’s reading Neal Stephenson’s grandly ambitious sci-fi novel Seveneves, which we also praised. It figures on Gates’ recommended summer reading list, the only novel to so appear, alongside two sweeping works of history, a book on the Japanese economy, and a pop treatise on mathematics, all matters near and dear to the hearts of policy wonks. One mathematical effect of Gates’ recommendation on the math book, Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong, is that it’s now out of stock at the publisher.
Summer reading is beach reading, and at the present rate of climate change, Greenland is going to have some mighty fetching beaches underneath all those erstwhile glaciers. One book to read there is Mathias Storch’s Singnagtugaq, the first novel to be published in the Greenlandic language. That happened 101 years ago, whereupon the novel, with its understandably small audience, faded into obscurity. It has just been reissued by, fittingly, the International Polar Institute. Read it alongside Kim Leine’s superb novel Prophets of Eternal Fjord, an overlooked masterpiece released two years ago.
Is there any songwriter so adept at compressing worlds of emotion into a couple of verses and choruses than Paul McCartney? We’d be hard pressed to name a living competitor of such graceful economy. In the newly published Paul McCartney: The Life, it takes biographer Philip Norman more than 600 pages to nibble at the edges of the question of why the onetime cute Beatle has proven so successful over the last six decades. That fact affords novelist John Crace the opportunity, in a recent number of The Guardian, to venture a not so gentle but funny compression of his own, distilling Norman’s findings into about 700 words. Read it and—well, rock on.
We almost used the word “eponymous” in the previous entry, which would have earned us the dubious distinction of being passed over for the next to-read item in Robert Cottrell’s long list—much longer, at any rate, than Bill Gates’. Along with that word, The Browser editor adjures, “toxic,” “complex,” and “trigger warning” send up red (if not unread) flags. Other readers chime in with their pet-peeve words on Tyler Cowen’s always entertaining economics blog Marginal Revolutions, in which he invites thoughts on when it’s okay to stop reading and move on to the next thing.
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.