Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Summer Day and Catch-Up

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?

-You've Got Mail

Today was a Summer day. I mean, obviously it was summer, but this morning was the perfect temperature and humidity level to make you remember those mornings when your mom decided it was late enough that you could strike out on your bike and speed down the street and the evening sky was just cloudy and hazy enough to be interesting. Not every summer day feels like that (especially here in DC) and the fact that the oppressive heat has been on a (probably short) hiatus and the day just felt like Summer and frankly, it's just been a long day, made me want to sit and watch the sky change to dusk while drinking a glass of wine and talk about books. So I'm doing the next best thing and blogging about books while drinking a glass of wine in my (mostly) clean apartment while glancing at the sky every once in a while. So don't mind me if I drift a little...

It's been a while since I've kept you truly abreast of what I've been currently reading. What with my post about good summer reads (which deserves 2 more promised installments at some point) and my post about my 25th year goals (which continue to progress), I've been ignoring the fabulous things I've been reading (unless of course you see me in person, then it's generally my topic of choice). Summer is the perfect time to really focus on reading for many reasons, but one reason always sticks out to me: everyone else is doing it too! Most other seasons are so busy and crazy that people don't have time to read, and unless your like me, who has to have a book in the queue at all times, summer often offers the perfect opportunity to delve into something amazing. Therefore, there are so many more people to talk to about books.

Sorry, enough blathering... on to the good stuff.

Here's what I've been reading since the end of May:

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa: My boyfriend Traber was actually the one to suggest this book, and we read it together which was really fun and interesting. It is translated from Japanese so the language is silky and intricate and really on point. The story is told from the perspective of a woman who works as a housekeeper in Japan and is assigned to a man who forgets everything on a daily rotation. So when she comes to clean his house each day, she has to remind him who she is. The man was a math professor and has this love for numbers and the image that you get of him is so interesting because in order to remember things, the housekeeper pins notes to his jacket. The housekeeper has a son who is young and who comes with her to the man's house each day and they form a strange sort of family. If you know me at all, you know that numbers are really not my thing at all, but the way that the professor explains his love for numbers was beautiful. Traber is more of a numbers kind of guy, so it was fun to talk about math and what we each got out of the book. I believe that there is a movie that is based on the book, but I'm not sure that I'd want to see it because the language was so wonderful.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown:  A friend had told me to read this a while ago and it kind of got pushed back in my mind. But then one day I was desperate for something to read and ended up stranded due to rain at Kramerbooks, so I grabbed it and subsequently devoured it. If you were an English major, I think you'd especially appreciate the book, but if you weren't you'll still enjoy it. The story is about three sisters who were raised by their father who has dedicated his life to studying Shakespeare and their mother who was scatterbrained. The sisters are in their late twenties now and dealing with the problems they face in their lives. One sister is in a relationship that will take her homebody self away from home, one sister is adrift in doubt about herself and what she wants to do with her life, and the other has made poor professional and life decisions. After facing reality, they all end up under their parents roof at the same time though they aren't thrilled about it. I think this book really affected me because I am one of three sisters (with a bro thrown in there too, of course) and the complicated, strange, but wonderful bond of sisters is one that rivets me and helps me survive. The sisters are all named after Shakespearean characters (which is super fun) and can quote Shakespeare out of thin air. A great story of family and how much we rely on it even though we don't always realize it.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: I will admit that I was super hesitant about this book. Over Memorial Day weekend, Traber and I drove to the Dirty E for the Ox Roast and being the nerds we are, we wanted to listen to a book on tape. I tried to get him to listen to The Great Gatsby, but I didn't want to die in a fiery car wreck, so we turned it off and he turned on The Art of Racing in the Rain.  The story is told from the point of view of a dog (strike number one in this girl's mind--I HATE talking animals--they freak me out. Really.) and honestly, listening to books on tape has never been my thing. I don't listen well enough and I always feel like I'm missing something. Well, I was wrong. It doesn't happen very often, but I was dead wrong. This book is beautiful. Really. Honestly, I'm so happy to have listened to it because I can't imagine a better way to savor the whole thing. The narrator even sounded like a dog would if he spoke! The dog, Enzo, tells the story of his life from when his owner Denny bought him from a farm to his own death. Denny marries, has a baby, and goes through a lot of horrible things when his wife gets sick, but it's this hopeful, promising story about life and death and reincarnation and the love that you can truly have for a person. Please do yourself a favor and pick it up. Warning, you will cry (I literally could not help the tears from rolling down my face) and if you have a car ride or something that needs some sound, I recommend the audiobook. It's lovely and perfect.

Home by Toni Morrison: I've been looking forward to this book since I saw Toni Morrison at the National Book Festival last year. So worth the wait. I know that not everyone likes her style or "gets" her, but I could read her all day. I get her. The story is about a black man who comes home after the Korean War and his sister. They grew up in the South and have to deal with the repercussions of being black in that time period. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot that happens, but the prose is exquisite (as one can expect from her) and what does happen is subtle and brilliant. I have always been interested in African American history and I feel like this is a time period that doesn't get much play in history books, so I really appreciated her take on it. It's a quick read and one that might open  your eyes a little.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon: This is the secret that no one knows: my mother gives pretty great book recommendations. She's not the biggest reader, but she has a great methodology for knowing what I like: she judges the book by its cover. You can laugh, but some of the greatest books I read in high school and college particularly were inspired by my mother's discerning eye as she labeled and processed books. She sort-of-recently started getting into books on tape (which, as I already said, I'm not a huge fan of), so I like to hear about what she's listening to. And I'm always intersted in seeing how things translate into spoken word. Anyway, she recommended this book because she loved it when she listened to it and as she said, "It's just a beautiful story about a beautiful girl." So I read it and I really enjoyed it. The story takes place in the late 1960s and follows several characters: a woman who has metnal problems who is institutionalized and becomes pregnant, the man she falls in love with who is deaf and confined to the institution because no one knows what to do with him, and the old woman they meet when they escape, who ends up raising the woman's daughter. It's a lovely story about the interconnectivity of human life, how wonderful life can be when we help each other, and how important it is that we do things for the people in our lives that they may not even realize we're doing. Like Marcia says: "It's a beautiful story about a beautiful girl."

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: I'll be honest with you: I was in a reading rut. Sometimes it just happens that I can't figure out what I want to read, so I end up binging on New Yorker issues I have to catch up on. I was in a rut like this a few weeks ago, when my roommate handed me this book. It took me about 75 pages to get into it, but once I was, I was hooked. This is a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about two cousins, one born in the US who has a distinct mind for business and comics and the other born in Czechoslovakia who studied magic and escaped the Nazi regime with hopes to bring his family to the States. The boys start their own comic, The Escapist, which they expand upon and grow up with. The book is long (over 600 pages) but Chabon knows where to startle, excite, and prod you into loving these characters. It's a wonderful story that touches on family, ambition, identity, love, trust, and comics. It's so many things woven into one and it works so well.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: Check another one off my 25 list, folks, cause took the number three spot from my to-read-before-I-die list for this year. I'll be honest--I was kind of disappointed. I know that it's a classic and that many people have it on their "top" lists, and I can dig that, I really can. The book is about the dystopian world that has become ultra-violent and awful. Alex is the anti-hero who does lots of raping, killing, and enjoying general debauchery all the while speaking a crazy slang language (very distracting for me) and thinking he's awesome. I see what Burgess was trying to do with this whole thing, I really do, but it all felt very rushed and unsatisfying to me. If you've read it or seen the Kubrick film, you know about the brainwashing, and I just wasn't feeling all that affected by it. I will say it's a movie I now do not want to see because I don't feel like I could handle the violence. I'm glad I read it (if only so I can just say 'horrorshow' now as my own little joke to myself), but I was less tahn impressed. I expected something grander.

And that's it--I finished A Clockwork Orange yesterday and am on to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez. Though waiting close behind in the wings is Nora Ephron's  (Mother of us all) I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections which I picked up because hearing about her death really stuck with me (hence the quote at the top). So many people wrote so many lovely things about her and it made me really think about the kind of person I want to be. I also have Crazy Salad in the queue so I'm excited about that. I mean, how could you not love something that comes from the pen of the person who wrote You've Got Mail?!

In other book news, I found this article from The Millions about books that are coming out in the second half of 2012: gotta be honest and say that I almost passed out when I saw that Richard Russo, Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros, and Emma Donoghue are coming out with new books! Is there anything you're excited to start soon or waiting to come out?!

Well, it's sufficiently dark now and I've enjoyed a glass and a half of wine, so I think it's time for me to sign off. I hope your Summer days have been lovely and relaxing and full of good reading.

Happy Reading,