by Donna Kafel and Deborah Hersh
July 30th is International Friendship Day. Here are a some books that celebrate that special bond we have with the people we choose to have in our lives.
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler. Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan. Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery. This is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, and the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder. Meet twenty-two ordinary guys who gather each fall to reenact what ESPN has called the most shocking play in NFL history: the November 1985 play in which Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins had his leg horribly broken by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. Over the course of a weekend we follow the men as they choose roles; spend a long night of the soul revealing their secret hopes, fears, and passions as they prepare for the game; and finally enact this strange and yet oh-so-American ritual. This moving and very funny tale is filled with pitch-perfect observations about manhood, friendship and middle age.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. The friendships endure through adulthood and into late-middle age as their lives alternately intersect, diverge and reconnect. Wolitzer explores the differences in their fates, in what their talents become and the shapes their lives take in this treatise on talent, fate, friendship, and the limits of all three.
The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. This sequel to The Space Between Us continues the story of Bhima, now bereft of her position as servant in the present-day Mumbai household of Serabai Dubash and desperate to find some way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya. Bhima’s fortunes take an unexpected turn for the better when her path intersects with Parvati, a bitter, taciturn older woman. The two acquaintances soon form a tentative business partnership. As they work together, these two women seemingly bound by fate grow closer. Discovering her first true friend, Bhima pieces together a new life, and together, the two women learn to stand on their own.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote tells the story of a Spanish gentleman who, obsessed with the chivalrous ideals found in romantic books, decides to take up his lance and sword to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked. Seated upon his horse and accompanied by the pragmatic Sancho Panza, Don Quixote travels the roads of Spain seeking glory and grand adventure. The adventures and friendship of this sane madman and wise fool has haunted readers’ imaginations for nearly four hundred years.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Caldwell. In this moving and powerful memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gail Caldwell relates her mid-life coming-of-age story, and her extraordinary friendship with the author of Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp—fellow writers, AA members, dog lovers, and observers of life. In her signature exquisite prose, Caldwell mines the deepest levels of devotion and grief in this wise and affecting account about loving and losing her best friend.
Leonard: My Fifty-Five Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner first crossed paths as actors on the set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Little did they know that their next roles, in a new science-fiction television series, would shape their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for five decades, how they saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows as well as recounting anecdotes and untold stories of their lives on and off set. Shatner also gathered stories from others who knew Nimoy well, to present a full picture of a rich life. As much a biography of Nimoy as a story of their friendship, this is a uniquely heartfelt book written by one legendary actor in celebration of another.
The Penny Poet of Portsmouth: A Memoir of Place, Solitude and Friendship by Katherine Towler. The author reflects on her friendship with Robert Dunn, a brilliant poet who spent most of his life off the grid in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire expertly capturing the story of a rare individual who charted an entirely unorthodox life that challenged the status quo in every way. This memoir of a shared journey and a portrait of an abiding friendship is also a meditation on what writing asks of those who practice it, and on the nature of solitude in a culture filled with noise and clutter.
Text Me When You Get Home: the Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer. “Text me when you get home.” After joyful nights out together, female friends say this to one another as a way of cementing their love. It’s about safety; but more than that, it’s about solidarity. This book is a mix of historical research, the author’s own personal experience, and conversations about female friendships across the country. A celebration of the evolution of female friendship in pop culture and modern society.