This was a banner year for me in the summer travel department. And combining summer reading with summer travel meant packing enough print books and e-books to get me to Europe, down The Rhine, through London, over the Ohio countryside, and still be still turning pages in the high desert of New Mexico.
Thanks to Meg Wolitzer’s article The Second Shelf which mentioned authors new to me, and a TBR list accumulated during the busy part of the year, assembling a pile of books was no problem. Rather, the challenge was choosing what to read next. And not gobbling my literature. I gladly let cathedrals and castles cut into my summer reading time but, back on familiar ground, I depend on my reading journal to serve as a literary speed bump. Journaling about each book’s particular genius, before diving into the next novel prevents racing through one’s reading pile and comes in handy when it’s time to pass on recommendations:
The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen involves a family struggling with intimate problems, characters so pitch perfect–all ages and genders–that they might walk off the page, into my house, and catch me fussing about who would feed the pets while I was packing for Prague, (my departure stress was nothing compared to what the characters in the novel were dealing with).
Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta tells the story of a woman who changes her identity, living as a fugitive after a radical protest goes wrong in the 1970s. I meant to read this book several years ago when it was first published. Good news: it’s still out there, and it provided rather interesting company while cruising down the Rhine with family members. How well do I really know my mother and my brother?
Julian Barnes is an author I’ve been wanting to read and The Sense of An Ending rewarded my interest. Part coming of age story, part psychological mystery, I started reading on the transatlantic flight home and turned the last page in Customs line. Easy to recommend, this slim book has characters and plot and English boarding school.
The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls grabbed me on page one and didn’t let go. How did this woman raised by dumpster-diving parents end up wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue? Fortunately my Kindle was fully charged because I read it while power was out for three days in storm-ravaged Ohio. Still, my temporary deprivations were nothing compared to her childhood.
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, a novel about an affair, dazzled me with insights and observations and left me thinking about the book for days afterward. I loved the somewhat controversial ending. Reading this book in the Ohio countryside, where trees and fields and summer seem to go on forever inspired enough thoughts to fill seven pages of my journal.
Everything You Know by Zoe Heller is the wickedly funny story of a very bad man (earlier in life he went to jail for murdering his wife). I read this novel during a brief refueling stop at home and laughed out loud several times–at the book as well as the stories about what took place in my house during my absence–dark humor. I am determined to read more by this author.
I couldn’t wait to read Alys, Always by Harriet Lane, a novel featured on the cover of a July NYT Book Review. Set in Highgate, a London neighborhood I’d just visited, about a woman who insinuates herself into someone else’s family, (the subject of my own last novel), Lane writes in the literary sweet spot: complex characters as well as satisfying plot. Returning to London–while in New Mexico–was fun, too.
Also, while in New Mexico I traveled between Sewanee and the Far East, reading The Foreign Student by Linda Choi, an unusual romance with flashbacks to the Korean War. Why haven’t I heard of this author? And how many other wonderful writers are publishing books I’ll never read simply because I don’t know about them?
My sons have summer reading, too, and we’ve spent many starlit evenings outside with a flashlight, swaddled in blankets, reading aloud. This year it was My Antonia and I would think the younger ones have heard it enough times to ace their summer reading quizzes.
Just two books left in my summer reading pile and I’m hoping there is enough August to finish them before getting swept back into the busy routine. Good news: Only nine months left till next Summer Reading season starts.