red notebookI read a lot of fiction — a lot! Blame it on endless subway delays and plane trips. And I love to make book recommendations but, over time, I’ve come to realize that you’ve got to know your audience. Some fiction requires patience and some books are not so easy to read even if, in the end, they’re great.

I could tell you, for instance, that “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami in a wonderful book that blew me away but you might hate it. Why? Because, like most Murakami books (and right now, he’s my favorite author), “Kafka” is a surreal adventure story that does not play by the rules of logic. And that, I’ve discovered, does not appeal to a lot of people. For different reasons, I feel I cannot recommend another series of books I’m reading — “My Struggle” by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’m on the fourth book of his fictional memoirs with two more to go. All are about Karl Ove’s life in Sweden and Norway. There are a lot of tough names of towns and people that are very strange to Americans. I find it fascinating — sort of a look into someone’s brain — but a lot of people say, who cares about this guy’s life? Well, I do but you either do or you don’t.

It’s not “fair” for me to recommend these two books but I do have two books I think you’ll really love and they’re perfect for summer. They are both by the same French author and have been translated into English. They’re very short — easy to carry around — and they are romantic and very clever. That’s what gets me about them — their ingeniousness. The basic stories could have been mush in someone else’s hands but this Antoine Laurain guy really knows what he’s doing.

First up is “The Red Notebook.” A woman is mugged and the thief takes out all her ID and money and tosses the expensive bag away where it’s found by a bookstore owner. Inside is the woman’s red notebook or journal. The bookseller reads it and becomes obsessed with finding her and returning the bag to her. Simple story but it’s tres romantique and, as I said, very clever.

I enjoyed “The Red Notebook” so much that I read “The President’s Hat” another Laurain book in the same format — short, clever and romantic. Here’s the basic plot. A businessman going nowhere fast winds up sitting next to President Mitterrand (back in the 1980s) and picks up the president’s hat when Mitterrand leaves without it. The hat brings him great luck as it does to everyone who touches it. Does that sound like a gimmick? Maybe but read the book and you’ll be enchanted.

These books are beach reads but so much better than anything out there, particularly those endless chick lit books with neurotic heroines. Both of these Laurain books are set in Paris and, for my money, you can’t find a more satisfying, easy read.

Want one more suggestion? Read “Leaving Story Avenue; my journey from the projects to the front page” by some guy named LaRosa. 🙂


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