I cannot actually claim to do any beach reading or lounging-by-the-pool reading. Nevertheless, summer seems to demand a different kind of reading. Is it chick-lit, or as I call it, light reading (because men’s light reading is just called Humour)? Or is it 1000-page epics that can, at last, be read on lazy summer days when it’s too hot to cook or clean? Maybe that is what binge-watching is for.
My usual reading pattern is to read my book club titles monthly (and read ahead so I don’t have to cram), to fit in some recent bestsellers as they trickle in from my library holds list, and to allow space for whatever strikes my fancy.
June didn’t have summery weather so I am saying my summer reading started in July. The first book I read was my book club selection, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I know everyone loves this book. I liked it, but didn’t love it. The book is packed with brief descriptions of sensory impressions, highlighting the experiences of the central character Marie-Laure, who is blind. The plot is exciting. I understood the trajectory of the character Werner, but I felt he was thrown under the wheels of the bus of history, as it were. I felt that the author wove in an important concept – that the times in which you live determine the outcome of your story – but Werner turned into a cog in the gearset of WW2 while Marie-Laure did not. Maybe that was the author’s point, that war takes away your individuality and turns you into just a role. Food for thought, but unsatisfying. I couldn’t help but compare All the Light to The Book Thief which I felt was much more compelling and packed more of an emotional wallop.
Every year I read a few graphic novels – some for my own interest, and some to catch up on what teens at the library are reading. In the latter category, I read the first volume of Tokyo Ghoul, by far the most popular manga and anime among the teens this year. Link warned me I wouldn’t like it because it was too violent! (Of course, Link cosplays a character from the series). In this manga series, Tokyo is inhabited by human-flesh-eating ghouls who outwardly appear to be human and live among people. Our “hero” Ken survives a ghoul attack but he has been turned into a half-ghoul who must eat human flesh to survive. He desperately wants to continue living in the human world but needs help from the ghouls to satisfy his need for human flesh. He is tortured by self-loathing but his appetites get the better of him. This is pretty strong horror stuff intended for 16+ (the anime has a Restricted rating). It is not my cuppa tea but I totally get why teens love it. The feeling that you are alone in the world, that no one understands you, that your urges are abnormal, that you are harming the ones you love…all classic adolescent themes.
I chose two light novels for the summer (so far). The Assistants by Camille Perri was a real winner. It follows the path of a typical chick-lit novel, with a cookie-cutter protagonist, an admin assistant who works for a media tycoon. It has all the usual single-office-girl tropes. However, I felt this novel was a cut above, and was also a clever social satire with a lot of heart. I am not just saying that to defend my reading of chick-lit – which needs no defense (I love a good Wendy Holden or Marion Keyes). The book starts when Tina “accidentally” pays off her student loans with company funds and is blackmailed into doing the same for a coworker. The book has themes of personal and professional ethics, guilt and loyalty, and it actually made me think. Yet at the same time, it would appeal to fans of Shopaholic or The Devil in Prada. I loved the pop culture references and only had to look up one (the name of a watch, of all things – I thought I knew watches!)
The other light read was The Rosie Effect by Graham Simsion, a follow-up to The Rosie Project. It had its moments but didn’t compare to the original (and I was irked that Rosie was especially unsympathetic).
I also read a light nonfiction, Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar. I like books about the experiences of people from India who immigrate to North America – I am always wowed by the ability to synthesize the two cultures (or rather, multiple cultures) which are so unalike. Mr. Nayyar focuses on his early life and introduction to acting, and the book is full of humorous tales of family and friendship. He throws in some motivational quotes. It is an endearing read. I would have liked to read about his experiences on the set of Big Bang Theory and his experiences of racism in America (and issues of racism in the show itself) but he has left himself plenty of space to write another book.
I just finished another memoir, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. This was a fascinating look into the career of a paleobotanist (yes, really). She deeply explores the impact of gender on research funding, and also delves into the mindset of being a scientist when girls are not supposed to have that kind of brain. I also learned a ton about plants. It made me not even want to eat them any more (just kidding!) She and her colleague, Bill, have a crazy ride of a career in Georgia, Maryland, Norway, Denmark, Nunavut and Hawaii (!?) The book was ticking along scientifically when – wham – something personal is dropped into the mix that we didn’t know about. Loved it!
I’ll end with two nonfiction books that had a big impact. I got my hands on Anti-Bias Education, a newer edition of The Anti-Bias Curriculum. This was a groundbreaking book on creating an inclusive, social justice-oriented environment for young children in preschool and nursery school. While it was intended as a guidebook for early childhood educators, I couldn’t recommend it more highly for parents, teachers, librarians, coaches, and anyone who works with children of any age. If you ever wondered what to say when a child says, “Is that man ever fat!” or “Does the brown on her skin wash off?” please read this book.
I finally read The Chairs Are Where the People Go, an entertaining book of short essays about city life. It captured the sense of being one with the teeming masses while carving out little islands of intimacy and involvement. The author, who runs workshops on improv and charades among other topics, broke his isolation when a nearby bar kept breaking the noise curfew and he had to step up and become publicly involved in a community issue. This led to him taking a stand more often and developing an advocate’s voice. I loved that he is not a black-and-white thinker. The stories were not about defeating the enemy but about finding ways to coexist. A perfect book for anyone new to city living, urban planning or community work of any kind, especially if just getting your toes wet. Inspirational! Also very personal and funny. Recommended for fans of Freakonomics.
There are 3-4 more weeks of summer so lots more reading awaits.
What have you been reading?
I like your recap. I especially relate to the concept of “Everybody loves this book, but I don’t.” I am often disappointed by reads that are supposed to be So Enlightening and by titles that are Guaranteed To Make You Cry/Think/Twitch/Get-Involved/Change/Insert-Command-Verb-Here.
Two of the books that *have* caused crying/thinking/all-that-jazz for me this summer:
Monster of God by David Mamet
The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell
The former is a fascinating delve into the history and culture and belief systems that impact our ecosystems in the form of man-eating predator extinction. The latter is a fiction-based-in-fact look at structural religion, power and responsibility, and the many facted forms of Love.
Neither is a “new” title, but the texts were new to me and I loved them both.
I like the looks of both of your choices – I looked them up on Goodreads. I quite often have a non-majority opinion about books: a lot of it has to do with what is deemed to be women’s reading and women’s roles in books – the same things I have issues with in real life! I am thankful there are so many young, new feminist writers.
My usual pattern for summer reading is to pick one big tome (things like “Lord of the Rings” and “War & Peace”) intermingled with a lot of light reading. I’m a bit behind this summer as it has been very, very hot and humid here in Toronto and the A/C has broken down a lot on the subways so I haven’t had the concentration needed to read!
I have managed books 5 and 6 in the Louise Penny series, finished “Deceptions” by Kelley Armstrong (just in time for “Betrayals” to arrive in the bookstore a couple of days ago), almost finished the non-fiction “A Crack in the Edge of the World” and I’ve also started “The Nest” but so far it’s not grabbing me.
I have Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” to get to next in the fiction pile and “The Fellowship” in the non-fiction pile – it follows the literary lives of the “Inklings”, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barrels and Charles Williams – it
is a large, hardcover book so not for the commute.
I’d love to join a book club but haven’t had much luck finding one.
You are doing great! The Inklings sounds really good. I would like to give The Goldfinch a try, too. David Copperfield is on my to-read list, but I will have to be very intentional about it – reading it will not just “happen.”
It took me two tries to get through All the Light We Cannot See. It just didn’t grab me and a little over half way through I put it down. It took me over a year to pick it back up again, but I’m glad I did because I thought the ending was powerful. So, not a favorite book, but it ended up with a higher score than I might have given it earlier.
I’m pretty much sticking with mysteries this summer. It’s hard to concentrate on even an otherwise good book when it’s hot and sticky. Right now I’m reading China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Quan, a fun, fluffy novel about the Chinese super rich. Next up is Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 (VB6). After that? Tokyo Ghoul sounds interesting so I might give it a try.
BTW – A Crack In the Edge of the World is fascinating (and convinced me, money aside, that I didn’t want to live in San Francisco). The Goldfinch is a good read, but I still think Tartt’s The Secret History is her best work, followed by The Little Friend.
Have you read Murakami’s IQ84? Reamde by Neal Stephenson is an absolute page turner. Good non-fiction reads are The Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher about American photographer Edwin S. Curtis, and The Boys In the Boat, about the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team. I know, both are about Americans, but they’re interesting stories.
I need to stop – I could go on about books forever.
I looked up VB6 and will be reading it soon – I am a vegetarian at home but sometimes eat meat or fish if it’s served to me elsewhere. I don’t call myself a vegetarian in public any more because I am not strict enough by some people’s standards, but I have an overwhelmingly plant-based diet.
I have read 1Q84 – it was unforgettable – certain scenes creeped me out but I try not to hold that against the author or the book! Reamde sounds right up my alley and it will go on my to-read list. Thank you for convincing me I should read The Secret History before The Goldfinch!
I have a weird tendency to dig my heels in when it comes to wildly popular books like All The Light… so I haven’t read it (also, to be honest, Europe in WW2 doesn’t really float my boat as a topic even though I love books set in London during WW2). And I was also enormously disappointed by The Rosie Effect, having loved the first book.
I also like books set in London during WW2, especially on the home front. I do like some European WW2 fiction if it isn’t from a militaristic or macho perspective.
I don’t always admit how much popular fiction I dislike because it makes me seem like a book snob, but I am – I suppose I do so much reading that I have a broad base for comparison, and a lot of books come up short. On the plus side, the general public is more knowledgeable about books than ever before, and bestsellers are getting more highbrow (i.e. they have subtleties) which I embrace. I don’t judge anyone who reads strictly for entertainment, but I usually ask more of what I’m reading – it doesn’t have to be life-changing, but I do want to be able to think when I read! Well, OK, 90% of the time.
I really love your description of ‘All the Light You Cannot See’. I really loved the vivid, descriptive language but you’re right…there was something vaguely unsatisfying about the characterisation. I’m glad you pinpointed it: that Werner does seem a much more flat character than Marie-Laure. I ended up wanting to love the book but not actually loving it.
I’ll definitely look up the Anti-Bias Education. I have a form group who are delighting me with their determined, 12 year old efforts not to be typecast in any way. Last week, one or two refused to shade a bubble on a standardised test for either ‘Male’ or ‘Female’. They love to challenge and think. Deep-down though, I think most are quite conservative but play-acting a bit of a role. I love to ‘call them out’ when they revert to being very traditional the week after refusing to shade their test bubbles 😉
I kept trying to figure out if Werner was intentionally a flat character because the war sucked the life out of him, but I don’t think that was it.
Anti-Bias education is from 2010 and it includes info on kids with LGBTQ parents, and info about sexism, but barely mentions transgender or non-binary children. That topic didn’t really “trend” until after 2010 so I will count on it being in the next edition! It’s great that some of the kids in your school are willing to play against type, even if it’s part-time 🙂
I am one who loved All the Light. I thought Werner was quite believable as a young person formed by his times. Comparing it to Book Thief, comparing anything to Book Thief, is a bit unfair as that is such an amazing, unique book. So inspired!
I often admit to be a book snob. In fact wear that badge with pride. Doesn’t mean I don’t read trash or popular books but I can’t see why everything has to be spelled out or stylistically so poorly done.
I feel conflicted about Werner. I do think the author created a credible scenario with what happened to him. But it was hard to read about him emptying out and blowing away, as it were. Of course such things can and do happen. It’s just that the events of the plot didn’t lead me to think it would go in that direction, so it was an unwelcome twist. I know not every person or every character can have a happy ending, but I was left without hope, and I find good literature usually leaves me either with hope or with much to ponder, whereas Werther kind of faded away and didn’t leave me with anything to grasp.
My pet peeve in books is explaining everything instead of trusting the reader to figure it out, as you say.
I guess I have family experience of the just fading away. My mother’s oldest brother did just that. Lots of reasons. All because of the political views of the time and the war.
My feeling was that it seemed true to life but didn’t make such good literature. Not all lives make a good story. (Mine doesn’t, actually!)