Traditionally, I kick off summer on Memorial Day with a summer reading list and an even bigger stack of great books. But this year, I am having so much fun during the Summer of Jenny, I didn’t start with a list or a stack. Instead, I just kept buying stacks (and stacks) and didn’t really make time to read any of the great books I bought.
On the first official day of summer in June, I decided it was time to get to work. I dusted off the many stacks, organized the titles, and read three books in three weeks!
Here is a quick list of what I have read and will read this summer. I would love for you to join along and let me know what your think!
All That Is – James Salter
All That Is is an excellent example of why I hate blurbs. The blurb reads like a wartime love story. Nope. That is not at all what this book is about.
It is about life. A man’s life. And yes, he served in the war and fell in love, but the novel covers his entire life. Those two events, while interesting are definitely not the sum of his whole life.
Salter tells the story of a man’s life, his careers, his relationships, his disappointments, and achievements. Extremely well-written, relatable to all. A great read.
A Few Short Sentences – Verlyn Klinkenborg
Loads of encouragement (and hopefully a confidence builder) for continuing to hit publish. Written in the style of poetry, Klinkenborg teaches, encourages, and grants permission to express yourself on paper. I assume this also applies to the computer screen.
Great American Essays
I like to have a book of short stories on my nightstand to read when I just can’t get locked into another hour of reading. This season, I am rotating in this book of essays that includes well-referenced essays that I should have probably already read by this point in my life. No time like the present, right? So, I am slowly working through these essays and I love it.
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Selected as the best book of 2013 from my local Community Bookstore, I am about 200 pages in and can’t really describe it except to say I can’t put it down.
Life after Life is the story of a girl who continuously dies and is reborn. Sounds terribly morbid, but it is an amazing story of a dynamic young woman living in England during the Great War. She lives a little longer each chapter and the anticipation for learning about her next choices and how those decisions affect her is incredibly intriguing.
Life After Life reminds me of Choose Your Own Adventure books from elementary school. But this time, she makes the decisions and you are along for the ride. She walks down the lane – bad decision. In her next chance, she doesn’t go for that walk. The book opens with her entering a cafe in 1943 and shooting a German solider. I have to know how she ends up there…and you will too.
One More Thing – B.J. Novak
I am sure you watched “The Office” and noticed the intern, Ryan. You may not know that he is B.J. Novak and was a member of the writing staff before he was cast as the intern. His collection of short stories is smart, interesting…and just a little frustrating because as you read you will think, “why didn’t I write that?”
One More Thing opens with a rematch of the tortoise and the hare – so smart. I also loved the Grisham story about a misunderstanding related the title of his most recent best-selling book.
Last night, I read a story about Elvis and a story about the man who wrote the world’s most famous math problem.
The Husband is definitely ready for me to finish this book because he is getting a little tired of me giggling at these twisted stories while he is trying to fall asleep. Overall, a very entertaining read!
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra
Last week, I visited one of my favorite bookstores, BookHampton. On the front table was a paperback marked as “great for book clubs” – a quote that usually repels me faster than seeing “now a major motion picture” on the cover with a picture of a movie poster instead of the original book cover art.
But for some reason, I picked it up and flipped it over. Printed on the back was another statement that usually makes me quickly return the book to its place on the table. The New York Times Book Review called the novel “a 21st-century War and Peace,” which might be the most intimidating comparison for any reader (or author for that matter).
But I opened the book to about page 100 (which I do with any book I purchase to make sure I can comprehend the author’s style) and I found one of my new favorite phrases – the “just-in-case” suitcase.
Wait. I need a “just-in-case” suitcase!
Since I was a kid, I have always had a pile of belongings to grab in case of emergency. None of the items were particularly practical. As a kid the pile included a teddy bear, a blanket, and my first doll. Now the pile is heirloom jewelry and my phone – which, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t work in a true emergency anyway.
I was intrigued. Who has the “just-in-case” suitcase? Why does he/she need it? What’s in it? What is going on? I needed to know more.
So, I flipped to the blurb, which reinforced in my hated of blurbs. The blurb starts
“In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight year old Havva watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to the family home.”
Where? Um, I don’t know much about that area of the world and how uplifting, right? But the blurb did answer my question about who owned the suitcase, so I decided to buy the book.
The setting is Chechnya and it does take place during the war(s) that seem to plague that part of the world, but that is NOT what the story is about.
Like Salter’s All That Is, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is about life – the lives of ordinary citizens trying to live while dangling in the middle of opposing forces like they are the flag in a terrifying game of tug of war.
I read the 380 page novel in three days. The storytelling is superb. The prose is remarkable. At times I was so overwhelmed by the specific, yet relatable, descriptions of the characters’ humor and despair, I would pause, sigh, look up at the sky, give thanks, and then open the book to keep reading.
And don’t be intimidated by the philosophical sounding, intimidating title. I promise the title will make sense. After reading the book, that phrase makes more sense than a “just-in-case” suitcase, which I still need to go pack.
So, that is the roundup for what I am reading this summer! If I am lucky, I am going to read even more! I would love to hear what you are reading, so drop me a comment or a note or tweet, so I can keep adding to that stack of books!