AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The end is near. Well, not really, but in Gabrielle Zevin's favorite novel, "Golden Days," it sure seems like it is. Zevin is an author and screenwriter best known for the film, "Conversations with Other Women."
With one foot in Hollywood, it's fitting that her favorite book takes place in Southern California. She recommends "Golden Days" for our series, You Must Read This.
GABRIELLE ZEVIN, BYLINE: Forgive me, Facebook. I don't always like to tell people what I like. I know this is a flaw in my character. I've always been this way. When I love a new band, I dread the moment they'll hit "Saturday Night Live." When I love a book, I avoid reviews and especially the comments beneath reviews. I just don't want to know when people dislike what I adore. But make no mistake, I do adore Carolyn See's novel, "Golden Days." It's a slim, messy, sexy, ridiculously ambitious book about the end of the world.
The setting is California, mostly in the 1980s, but with occasional dips into the surrounding decades. When we meet our narrator, Edith Langley, she's a chunky teenager in a modest 1950s Los Angeles neighborhood. By the end of the book, she's a survivor in a post-apocalypse Malibu.
In between, Edith is a discontented Betty Draper type, a new age devotee, a banker, a single mother, a student, a teacher, a journalist and a precious gem expert. In other words, your typical California every-woman.
In its last quarter, "Golden Days" becomes an entirely new kind of story. I read it as a college sophomore. And, for me, this genre shift was a revelation. Could a novel really start out contemporary realism and end up speculative fiction? Of course it could. If you think about it, life isn't necessarily confined to one genre. You're born and you're a bildungsroman. You get cancer and, just like that, you're science fiction.
I read "Golden Days" because it was assigned for a Literature of California class. Otherwise, I might have quit reading at chapter two when Edith takes an elaborately described motivational seminar, but I would have missed the point. Without the familiar world at the beginning of the novel, the extraordinary world at the end wouldn't be nearly so affecting.
"Golden Days" was not a book I would have picked up on my own, but now I understand that your friends only know what they know. They only like what they like. And how do you know what to read unless someone who knows what they're talking about tells you?
For me, I needed to be told, to be put on the scent of something good or at least something different. I've kept this novel a secret for 15 years, but I'm telling you now, you must read this.
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CORNISH: Gabrielle Zevin is the author of the book, "All These Things I've Done." She recommended Carolyn See's novel, "Golden Days."
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CORNISH: And I'm Audie Cornish. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.