Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Book Blitz

For some reason, I often have a hard time selecting fiction to read. While at the same time, when I hear of a book that sounds good to me, I find excuses not to get it--I don't want to pay the hardcover price or I don't want to wait in the library queue for a copy to become available.

I finally had enough of this nonsensical behavior, and ordered through interlibrary loan a whole bunch of books I'd been juggling on a "want to read" list in my head. I figured that since most of them were recent releases, it would take a while to get them, and they would be staggered over the next few months. Wouldn't you know, they all came practically at once.

What ensued was a reading blitz. I didn't so much devour these books as inhale them. It's been a long time since I've been sucked into a really good book such that it makes me want to sneak away and read at all hours of the day and neglect my normal duties (like sleep), but somehow I ended up with a whole pile of them. Here's a quick run-down of the list and what I enjoyed about each book.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. Motherhood, family relationships, marriage, and the sixth sense all come together to make Sisterland a fun and compelling read. I very much enjoyed the characters in this book, especially the twin sister of the narrator, Vi. I was thrown off a little by what I thought was an unrealistic reaction by the husband to the wife giving away their life savings times two, but I was totally surprised by the ending and enjoyed the story and the premise very much.

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. Jennifer was a fellow student of mine in my grad school program, but I didn't know her well (we never had a workshop together) and I had no idea she was writing this book until she read an excerpt at our final readings. Prayers for the Stolen is a heart-wrenching story about the tragic costs of drug and human trafficking in Mexico told from the engaging point of view of the main character, Ladydi. Beautifully written to make this hard-to-face subject easy to read.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein. A two-part narrative of a girl sent to the midwest on one of the orphan trains of the early 20th century and of a modern-day foster child. Another story that has its heart-wrenching elements--some humans can be really awful to other humans--but is also a compelling story with engaging characters that make you want to keep reading.

Room by Emma Donoghue. Oh my god. I guess the theme of this list is heart-wrenching stories. This one came out a few years ago--the story is written from the point-of-view of a five-year-old boy who has lived his entire life in the garden shed where his mother has been held captive as a sex slave. An amazing narrative voice and a story that rockets from start to finish. My heart was in my throat the whole time I read. One of the most resonant pieces of this very moving book I found was the reaction to people on the "outside" to this captive woman's experience and how they judged her parenting choices. 

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I have to admit that I never finished reading Eat, Pray, Love. I got hungry in Italy but bored in India. Yet I was intrigued by the premise of Gilbert's latest book: a 17th century lady natural obsessed with moss. I loved reading about Alma's education and development as a naturalist (especially in light of taking a foray into that field myself), but the book turned out to be so much more: love, family, relationships, science, social mores of the time. I really loved every minute of reading this book (my time ran out on my library copy and I couldn't renew it because someone had it on hold, so I kept it two extra days for twenty cents so I could finish it. Shh. Don't tell the librarian).

Euphoria by Lily King. I've just started this book, so I won't say much, but just a few chapters in I'm enraptured. It takes place in New Guinea early last century, and the main characters are anthropologists (I think I read on the fly that it's based on Margaret Mead, her husband, and a friend of theirs). Super intriguing and lovely lush writing.

Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker. Finally, a book of poetry. I came to Rachel Zucker from this great Symposium of Sentiment (a subject dear to my heart). I would have liked to read her memoir, but this was the only book in our library system. I need to read poetry slowly, rather than inhale it (or my brain just shuts down), so I've been savoring one poem at a time here and there. Some are a bit abstract for my concrete brain, but others I've found so moving and meaningful (many about fertility and motherhood, which of course I connect with).

So. Lots of good stuff here. I think I'm famished for novels after two years of reading almost exclusively short stories (which are much slower reads, despite their length, don't you think?). Some trends I noticed--almost all of the novels are in first-person POV (except Signature of All Things and Orphan Train which alternates between first and third). It seems like the literary magazines I've read lately publish mostly first-person stories. Is this the trend? The other trend is that half of them are historical fiction (Euphoria, Signature, and Orphan Train which is half historical and half contemporary). Is this an actual trend or just an accident of what I happened to pick up? Should I be writing historical first-person POV stories?

What good stuff have you been reading this summer?


  1. I'm in the middle of a memoir, Paradise Imperfect, by Margot Page, which I think you'd really like if you haven't read it already. Recently finished The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, which I think you might also like. Both involve some natural history along with the storytelling. But the book that really knocked off in the past few months was A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It is wrenching and it is AMAZING.

  2. Knocked MY SOCKS off, that is! Oops!


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