"That's the kind of connection we can form with a stranger--even without their knowing--just by seeing a particular book in their hands. Life happens alongside the act of reading--a story is forever mixed with where were were and what we were doing while we were reading that book."
Judging a Book By Its Lover
I have had the awesomely lucky fortune to have HarperCollins send me several books to review on my blog recently! (Seriously--most awesome thing ever and something you should genuinely be jealous of? Yes.) These books came at a perfect time where I'm just in that mood to sit down and read for hours while biting into a crisp green apple (the joys of which I will not experience this fall due to my current status of "braceface").
And you're in luck too, because the books that they sent me were wonderful and I can't wait to share them with you! So without further ado, the last two books I've read have been:
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Do you remember your seventh grade reading class where you were forced (mostly against your will, which is saying something for a nerdy, bookworm-y seventh grader) to read Mythology by Edith Hamilton and pretty much everyone hated it because it was old and "boring" and it was more fun to write notes to your friends about what boys were cute? Then in the 11th grade, you got to take Astronomy because your high school had a planetarium and the whole first half of the class was about constellations? And of course, you devoured The Odyssey in college, not realizing how cool Greek mythology was even though you'd been exposed to it so much.
Right. You know what I'm talking about.
Well, when I saw that the book was The Song of Achilles, I got kind of excited. Since the days when Mythology was a torture, I've come to appreciate the myths in all their awesomeness. And frankly, even if you don't appreciate mythology or know anything about it, The Song of Achilles is an excellent read. The story is told from the perspective of Patroclus who was a prince before he accidentally killed a boy and was exiled to live in Phthia where the prince Achilles took him under his own wing. The two become inseparable and later, lovers. In Greek mythology, Patroclus and Achilles are portrayed as brothers-in-arms, and Miller seeks to develop that story from an intimate point of view. Miller does a wonderful job of getting you invested in the characters--they have flaws just like anyone else though they are royalty and gods, and their love is strong, powerful, and everlasting. By the end of the book, I was in tears (and my boyfriend was sick of me talking about it).
Miller knows her stuff, too--the interactions with the gods, the Trojan war, the details of the stories go to make the whole novel alive and make it feel so very real. The tale is lovely enough, but Miller's telling is especially provoking. Also, if you get the paperback edition from Ecco, there are interviews in the back as well as character glossaries and fun facts. This actually really helps if you read it over a long period of time, though it's a pretty quick and engrossing read, so that shouldn't be a problem! (For a preview of the book and some of the background info on the mythology, see Miller's website here.)
Judging a Book By Its Lover by Lauren Leto: Confession. I have several loves in my life and one of these loves is books that are about books and reading. The book-world is my world. I belong there, and I love being completely (or mostly completely) in the know when I read a book about how it feels to read and what snobs readers can be (which I completely understand myself to be). Leto helped to co-found the popular (and hilarious) site Texts From Last Night and this book is basically that kind of hilarity for readers everywhere. Arranged as basically short essays on topics such as how to snag a date at a book store, the rules of reading in public, the lament of the loss of community based on reading that the e-readers have brought, I sincerely laughed out loud (on the Metro, of course, which is one of her "don'ts" for reading in public) because so many of her insights were dead on. For instance: one section is all about what your kid will turn out to be like as an adult if you read them [this book] as a child. My mom read me Madeline (which I loved and is still one of my favorite books of all time). Leto writes that those who are read Madeline as a child will turn out to be "Horrifyingly obedient, to the point where you can be reassured that even if you traveled out of town for a month and left her alone, your teenage daughter wouldn't dare throw a party or look twice at the liquor cabinet." Have you met me?! I mean, this is spot on stuff, here, people.
One of the more meaty and interesting parts of her book is the section called "How to Fake It" where she gives small tidbits that can help you if you get in a jam and feel the need to lie about having read something. Split into "Basics" (info about the author, fun facts), "Essentialography" (the author's most famous/popular books), and "Details" (basically fun facts to impress your friends with), this chapter charms if you've read the author (and lets you feel like you're in on the joke) and has some good information if you haven't (did you know that Kurt Vonnegut called semicolons "transvestite hermaphrodites?").
The book is a very quick read (I read it in 3 days) that charms, even though it can sometimes be a little pretentious. But let's get real here: who doesn't love a little pretention? As a reader, I think that Leto perfectly captured what it means to be a reader, which is being quite unlike anything else. For me, it also made me appreciate the fact that my parents encouraged me (well, they never complained at least) to carry a book everywhere I went, took me to the library when I was a kid, and introduced me to the land of imagination and wonder at such a young age. I am a lucky kid, I can tell you that.
Judging a Book By Its Lover comes out on October 2 and The Song of Achilles is out now! So hit the library or the book store if you're looking for something new to read to start off your Fall right!
PS--As a side note, I just have to say publicly, GO NATIONALS!!! :)