I have been reading up a storm lately. It started when I spent 8 days without Internet access. Now my volunteer commitments have slowed. So I can read, read, read!
I knew I’d have lots of reading time in Sussex so I brought 3 print books and 2 e-books. While I was there, I bought another 4 books, and read 3 of them! I have a soft spot for Waterstones. Their selection doesn’t overlap much with Chapters back home, so it’s fun to browse.
Here are some quick recaps. If you would like a great summer read, skip down to David Nicholls’ Us!
Ammonites and Leaping Fish: a Life in Time – by Penelope Lively
I haven’t read Penelope Lively’s novels. I picked this up because it promised to be a sharp-eyed examination of what old age feels like. The first part of the book is just that. She also delves into how the world events of her time influenced her outlook on life. Later she writes about how her memories sustain her, and she outlines how reading has been continually important to her. The book is more a compilation of essays than a memoir. I liked it, but the section on old age was far more interesting to me than the rest.
Some Assembly Required: the Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen – by Arin Andrews
Most of you know I am the parent of a genderqueer 22-year-old, so I couldn’t wait to read the first published memoir of a trans teen. A co-writer kept the prose humming along! When I picked up the book, I didn’t know Arin had a lot of TV exposure for being part of a trans couple. His story is especially gripping because he had to deal with hatred from a fundamentalist upbringing and community. I think the teen voice rings true.
Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light – edited by Penelope Rowlands
Recommended: Not especially
Loads of short accounts of what it’s like to move to Paris. All of the writers wanted to be there and wanted to “live the Parisian Life” with varying degrees of success. The tales focused on mid-20th century and I wished there were many more recent ones, but I can go to blogs for that! I especially enjoyed the essays by writers who reflected on diversity or lack thereof (Janet Macdonald, Edmund White).
What We See When We Read – by Peter Mendelsund
Recommended: Yes, for literary types
A fascinating look into the worlds we co-create with the author when we read a book. The author goes deep into how little novelists really tell us about characters and setting, and how much we read into books based on our own memories. You’ll be amazed! Fully and cleverly illustrated.
Moon Palace – by Paul Auster
This was literary storytelling – a long, wordy tale about a young man in NYC, his struggles with mental health and his interactions with a MPDG and an irascible old man. I liked the family mystery at the heart of the story, but in general, I don’t love books whose only purpose is storytelling. Maybe my reading of it was shallow, but it didn’t leave me with anything to think about.
H is for Hawk – by Helen Macdonald
Recommended: Not for most
I was expecting an uplifting glorification of nature and wild things. I was surprised by the extreme darkness of this book. The author wrote it after a disabling period of grief and depression following her father’s death. Her own story was contrasted with that of the author TH White, who also trained birds of prey, and who is depicted as living under a dark cloud of internalized rage. I think the ending of the book almost cancels out her experiences. (I won’t do a spoiler, but you can email me if you want me to explain!)
Jules et Jim (read in English) – by Henri-Pierre Roche
Recommended: See the movie instead
I would have liked this when I was 20 and reading Henry Miller, Philip Roth and Leonard Cohen. The story begins joyfully as Jules and Jim live the high life in Belle Epoque Paris. They pursue women who live in the fast lane like they do, but they have “marriageable” women on the side, whom they expect will wait for them. Jules marries Catherine (aka Kate or Kathe) who personifies the goddess figure that both Jules and Jim desire. She leads them down a spiralling path of selfishness, cruelty, betrayal and…of course, all the erotic fulfilment they seek. As the book progressed, I developed an aversion to the character and to the feminine archetypes she represents. Jules and Jim’s relationship as best friends and soul mates is clearly superior. I found the book very trying but I am glad I watched the film afterwards: it condensed the book and made it come alive: I adore the part in which Kate writes and sings a song about herself!
Us – by David Nicholls
I loved this book! Of everything I’ve read lately, this is the one I’ll be touting for summer reading. A prim, orderly guy marries an artsy type and finds his marriage is falling apart after their child grows up. He develops a grand scheme to keep them together, ignoring his communication difficulties. The book has the best ending ever – not what I expected at all. If you liked Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, you’ll love this book. I have the author’s previous book, One Day, on my reading pile right now.
Say You’re One of Them – by Uwem Akpan
Recommended: for the brave reader
Five short stories/novellas about children facing unspeakable horrors in African countries. They show the resilience of children, and while perhaps true to life, they also perpetuate the idea of Africa as a dark continent with nothing but blood and conflict. Generated much discussion in my book group.
Read Bottom Up – by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham
Recommended: for light reading
Released to much fanfare, this was the book that would finally show how romance develops through email and text. I know that many new relationships start just like this (although more texts, fewer emails). That depresses me. The female character puts up with a lot of crap while living in hope. Realistic, but not encouraging. And this from a blogger (me) who met their mate online!
Not My Father’s Son – by Alan Cumming
I put off reading this for a while because it dealt with childhood abuse. I’m glad I toughed it out, because the story of how the author moved past his horrific childhood was truly inspiring. The book also includes lots of celebrity gossip (just for fun) and ultimately shows how some can turn their lives around, with or without family support. I like how Alan’s life is so intentional.
As always, you can see what I’m reading now on Goodreads. ( I recently added next year’s book club titles to my To-Read page). I love book recommendations – tell me what you’re reading!