Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Catching Up From Summer Insanity

"There is always room for at least two truths."
Colum McCann

I think my summer can be summed up in the fact that I haven't updated the blog since MAY! What?! So much for trying to stick to my goal of one post a month... oh well. This summer was crazy hectic with going to five weddings within three months of each other, trying to figure out my then-new job, and lots of wine festivals, baseball games, and summer fun! But don't think that means that I stopped reading... no sir. If anything, I read more with all the travel!

I think it would be too much for me to write about every single book I read, so I decided that I'm going to give you the highlights from this summer's list and then at the end, I'll list the other books I read. I will say that I did really hit a lot of disappointing reads this summer, but I think it was just a rut because recently, the literary gods have been smiling upon me.

Enough with the chit-chat--let's get to it. Here are the best books I read this summer:

Transatlantic by Colum McCann: Every single time I read something by Colum McCann I am always amazed and then want to sit down and read it all again. His new book did not disappoint. If you have been reading this blog or have ever talked to me about books, you know I love a good story where various, seemingly disparate stories all influence each other in the end--and no one does that like McCann. The story starts with the two men to make the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic who are supposed to deliver a letter that does not make it to its destination. The stories that follow include one of Frederick Douglas's trip to Ireland, Senator George Mitchell's visit to a war-torn Ireland, and an Irish woman who escapes to America. Though the stories only slightly touch each other in the telling, their relationship in the end is astounding. Written in his usual beautiful, lyric, and heart-punching prose, McCann reminds us that each decision and move we make does mean something.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: Another thing I love is a good war story, and Fountain delivers with this one. Protagonist Billy Lynn is part of a squad who performed amazing feats in Afghanistan and they are being honored at an NFL game on Thanksgiving Day. The whole book takes place during this one day, but Lynn's mind is elsewhere: still at war, with his family, with his fellow soldier who died. The squad leader is trying to get their amazing story sold to a producer so a movie can be made, and it is here and in many other creeping places that Fountain weighs in on mass media, the notion of fame, and yet also the tragedy of war. The characters seem very real and the writing is great.

Dear Life by Alice Munro: Chances are that you have heard of this one recently, as Munro just won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. If you are a fan of short stories, then you have certainly read some of her work, and if you read The New Yorker, then you've basically read this entire book already (so many of the stories were ones I'd already read over the past few years in the magazine!). Each story has a very raw, real sense to it. Though the stories aren't connected in any tangible way, Dear Life is held together by its severely frank tone and the Munro's amazing ability to delve into the real essence of life. I loved the last section which is a set of essays that are semi-autobiographical and talk about Munro's life growing up--it was fascinating.

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt: I am not usually one for mysteries, but this suspenseful novel caught me by surprise. In the early 1980s, the Cold War is "raging" and two 10 year old girls living in Washington, DC are becoming fast, though unusual friends. Sarah's home life is horrible, and Jennifer seems to lead the perfect life. One day, the girls decide to write a letter to the premier of the Soviet Union to ask for peace, but only Jennifer receives a response. Jennifer is invited to the Soviet Union, her story becomes world-famous, and the girls friendship is strained. When Jennifer's plane crashes with her and her family on it, Sarah is devastated. Ten years later, Sarah receives a letter which implies that Jennifer is still alive and that the death was faked. Sarah goes to Moscow and the story becomes very interesting. I loved the sense of suspense that Holt captures, but also how realistic she portrays friendship.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: Obviously this was not the first time I've read this book, but it was the first time that I listened to it. With so many travels this summer, Traber and I found ourselves trying to find more things to listen to together on road trips, and this one was my suggestion since he'd never read it. If you don't know anything about this book, please go get it now. I know it's a "children's book" but it's really a book for all time. I was constantly reminded of how much I loved and felt a kinship with Claudia, why I love museums, and why I love reading. I mean, tell me that you don't want to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan: I have loved every one of Sullivan's books that I've read, and based on how I flew through this one, I'd say I loved it too! The book follows four different couples each in a different stage of married life, and throughout the story, we are treated to snippets about Frances Gerety (a real woman) who is one of the main people responsible for the prominence of engagement rings in our society. The individual stories are wonderful and really do surprise you at points and the tying in of Gerety's story is brilliant, making the reader consider the many ways that individuals think about marriage, love, and commitment. I loved this one, and if you enjoyed any of her others (Maine and Commencement), you'll enjoy this one too.

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown: I saw this in a bookstore in Seattle and immediately went to Kramerbooks when we got home and bought it. In very short, often illustrated snippets, Brown glances over things that make a person an adult. Placed into themed chapters ("Love," "Cooking," "Money," "Get a Job," etc), Brown doesn't go into super-detail about how to do some of the things that she recommends, but it did get me thinking about some things that I should be doing in my late twenties.  I always love these little self-help books (for some reason, I always read them in late summer) and this one was fun--I laughed out loud several times, realized that I'm not as bad off as I thought, but also thought about what else I can be doing financially, around my house, and in my personal life to make it even better than it is now. A super-fun read, especially if you're just out of college or trying to figure things out in your 20s and 30s.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Oh my God. Have you read this book? I devoured it. I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns but I don't think I loved them like I love this book. The story centers on one action: that of a recently widowed, poor man with two children and a new wife who sells his six year old daughter to a wealthy couple who cannot have children. The girl is brought up to never know her origins, but she is always aware that something is missing. Each chapter is told by a different character whose life is touched in some way by this act, and it's so beautifully brilliant that I couldn't put it down or stop thinking about it. Though in turns heartbreaking and hopeful, it is constantly engaging and awe-inspiring. So good.

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron: I have just finished re-reading all of Harry Potter in about two weeks (I know), and I was so happy to have something this lovely to come down from my Harry high on. I am a HUGE Nora Ephron fan (I can quote all of You've Got Mail by heart and every time I think of "What I Will Miss" and "What I Won't Miss," I get tears in my eyes) so by extension I also enjoy Delia Ephron. After Nora died a few months ago, Delia wrote this book of brilliant, rambling, hilarious essays which, as only an Ephron can, made me laugh on one page and then cry on the next. Delia talks about collaborating with Nora and being her sister, she writes about her mother (and how she can't write about her), and about her dog (which, while I don't like dogs so much, was hilarious because she knows how she sounds when she writes about it). I zipped through it in a few hours and loved every second. I mean, she writes a whole essay on how "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is to blame for being on "walkabout" in her 20s and giving her false ideas about love (but about how much she loves it). How could I not love this book?

The other books I've read between my last post (with short descriptions) and now have been:
  • The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley (weird)
  • World War Z by Max Brooks (better than I expected)
  • The Astor Orphan by Alexandra Aldrich (forgettable)
  • The History of Us by Leah Stewart (sweet)
  • Season of '42 by Jack Cavanaugh (not the best basball book I've read, but not bad)
  • The Lion Is In by Delia Ephron (silly, but fun)
  • The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls (engaging)
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (was disappointed I didn't like it more...)
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (I wished I liked it)
  • The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma (pretentious.. so I enjoyed it)
  • Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig (good Western.. not as good as The Bartender's Tale)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (always a a good re-read)
  •  All seven Harry Potter books (as amazing as ever.)
I'm sorry it's been so long since my last post--I wanted to tell you all about what I've been reading, so I tried to make the intro short here... hopefully I won't have to catch up so much next time and can regale you with long-winded stories about why I love reading or how fall simply can't make up it's mind to come or not or, frankly, how is it November this week?! I am halfway through The Twelve Tribes of Hattie right now and am LOVING it, so I can't wait to finish it and get back to you!

I hope that fall is treating you well with apple pies and crunchy leaves and bouquets of sharpened pencils (see? I told you... Nora is everywhere).

Keep Reading,