You’re Spending Labor Day on a Hiking Trail

Love a “Man Called Ove” or meta mysteries

Hi friends,

Well, last week was a lot. Watching the footage out of Afghanistan right now is crushing. I have nothing helpful to say, but I do have some comforting book recs if you find yourself needing a break from the world around us.

As a reminder, Summer Reading Bingo cards are due on September 10. If you need a last-minute recommendation, let me know and I’ll try to help. You can submit your cards here. Everyone who enters a card will be placed in a raffle for a gift certificate to the independent bookstore of their choice. I’m looking forward to seeing what you all have been reading this summer.

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And now, what to read if…

You’re Planning a Hike for the Long Weekend

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I was impressed and shocked last week to read about a five-year-old Virginia boy, Harvey Sutton, who recently completed a full-length hike of the Appalachian Trail. He’s one of the youngest people ever to hike the 2,100-mile trail stretching across 14 states.

Despite the best efforts of some outdoorsy friends, I am not a hiker, but I still adore Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. It’s a modern-day classic — moving, funny and educational all at once — and if you’re a big enough reader to subscribe to this newsletter, you’ve probably read it or had it recommended to you dozens of times. If you still haven’t picked it, now is the time.

The book combines a memoir of Bryson’s attempt to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail with an exploration of its history and ecology. He documents how the trail was built in the early 1900s and the plight of chestnut trees attacked by blight. Bryson applies his signature wit and humor to the educational aspects of the book, ensuring that it never feels like a textbook even though it could serve as one. And, while many books are described as “laugh out loud funny,” A Walk in the Woods actually delivers the laughs, particularly as Bryson writes about his hiking companion and the many people they meet along the way.

“Eleanor Rigby” is Your Favorite Beatles Song

All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle

Mike Gayle’s All The Lonely People is perfect for fans of A Man Called Ove or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, telling the story of a curmudgeonly loner slowly reentering the world.

All The Lonely People follows Hubert Bird, a Jamaican immigrant living in the U.K. During their weekly phone calls, Hubert tells his daughter in Australia about his idyllic retirement and the activities he does with his friends. The catch? It’s all a lie. Hubert spends his days alone in his apartment, with his cat as his only companion. But when his daughter announces a surprise visit, Hubert sets out to build the life — and make the friends — he’s been describing for years.

I listened to the audiobook of All the Lonely People* and found it delightful. Hubert is a charming protagonist, the kind of character you want to root for, and narrator Ben Onwukwe brings Hubert’s sense of humor and innate goodness to life. The friends Hubert eventually makes are warm and joyful, giving the book a cozy feel, even when it gets dark. The book does include a twist about three-quarters of the way in that some readers will find unearned, but I thought Gayle stuck the landing. As Kirkus noted in its review, “A little manipulative and a lot sentimental but sweet and charming enough that some readers won’t mind.” I’m in the sweet and charming camp.

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You Always Read a Book’s Acknowledgements

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

The acknowledgements are actually one of my favorite parts of books. I love reading about all the people who helped an author bring the book to life — whether through copy editing, graphic design or emotional support.

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths is essentially a murder mystery about acknowledgements. As a group of acquaintances (including a former monk, a former BBC announcer and a Ukrainian bitcoin enthusiast) clean out the apartment of a recently deceased mutual friend, Peggy, they discover dozens of mystery novels that thank Peggy in the acknowledgements. After Peggy’s apartment is broken into — and one of the authors who thanked her in his books is murdered — her friends begin to suspect her death wasn’t as peaceful as they had believed.

The Postscript Murders reminded me of two of my recent favorite mysteries. It features a group of oddball sleuths who slowly become friends while solving a murder, in the vein of The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and has the meta structure of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (which I wrote about here). I’ve been meaning to try one of Elly Griffith’s mysteries for a while and I’m so glad I finally did. I’m looking forward to working though her backlist now.

*I received a free copy of the All The Lonely People audiobook from Libro.FM in exchange for an honest review.

Two programming notes:

  • On Thursday, I’ll be sharing an Q&A featuring Danya Kukafakfa, a literary agent and author of the literary thriller Girl in Snow.

  • Because of the Labor Day holiday — and the wedding of two dear friends (!!) — I’ll be in your inboxes on Tuesday instead of Monday next week.

What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.

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