Summer Reads

This is not everything I should be reading. I have a huge list of things I want to read next, books I'm eagerly awaiting, and so on, but these are the books I've gotten around to so far this summer that I wanted to recommend. A little of everything…

Memoir

Sonali Deraniyagala’s The Wave: Spare and devastating, but keep reading. I couldn't put the book down because of the agony and direct attention to the author's tragedy of losing her husband, two children, and parents in the tsunami of 2004, which hit the town in Sri Lanka where she was on vacation (She is also from Sri Lanka). But keep reading. The honest places she ends up are so fulfilling and utterly earned; this is a “how to live” with no schmaltz, pedal-to-the-metal book.

Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Adopted and raised by a deeply troubled mother, Winterson finds her soul in the library, in women, and in her own scrappiness. Honest, and one of those books I am glad I know own. A reader’s love affair with books, a working-class honest manifesto, a continual complication.

Mary Pipher’s The Green Boat: This begins as a study in the psychology of how humans deny and freak out in the face of environmental collapse. Sounds awful and harrowing, right? Her point stays with you–we are in trouble–but she weaves it with an affirming memoir of her own transition to environmental activism through reading a book by Bill McKibben, starting a group in Nebraska to oppose the XL Keystone Pipeline, and living every day the best she can. I was deeply touched by her wisdom in melding environmental writing, memoir, and psychology.

Emily Rapp’s Poster Child and The Still Point of the Turning World: Poster Child is Rapp's account of growing up with a disability, but it is an essayistic memoir full of reflection, turning and re-seeing old moments, and tracing how they shaped her. The Still Point of the Turning World is her account of her son's affliction with Tay-Sach's and dealing with the reality of his impending death. Count on Rapp to say it as real as she can.

Liz Stephen's The Days are Gods: A woman moves from LA to rural Utah to find a connection to the land. Beautiful writing, a gripping narrative, and a thoughtful reflection on place, relationships, and motherhood (among many other subjects).

Poetry

Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke. A book of poems about boxer Jack Johnson (1878-1946). That’s right: poetry about a boxer, and not only that, but poems so tightly packed and light-footed that you forget you’re reading poetry and forget you’re reading highly researched and crafted narrative, interspersed with letters and interviews from others (including his lovers Hattie and Belle) in Johnson’s swaggering, hard-working, Shakespeare-quoting, luxury-loving, complicated life to flesh out his character. Matejka pries what makes this powerful and conflicted man tick by triangulating from multiple perspectives. “The day Jack Johnson doesn’t go faster/ than another man is the day you should/ plug your ears because the trumpets/ are coming directly.” Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems: I learned about him when he passed away through the poetry of his that friends posted on Facebook and fell in love with his work. Direct, heart-propelled, a loner with minimalist tendencies loves and loses and loves and loses, and loves Pittsburgh and the broken world.

Fiction

Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings: I’ve already raved about this on Facebook, but seriously, I can't remember the last time I loved a novel this much. The characters of six kids who meet at a summer camp are so deftly drawn, and it's impossible to describe how the author gets the details and insights of real life so clearly on paper. I'm buying copies of this to give away.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending: A novel you won't want to put down. Slim and immediately urgent, one that stayed with me after reading it. The ending is devilish. Read it with a friend to talk about what actually happened. Thanks to my friend Edrik for recommending it. That's it so far!

 

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