Summer ’15: the book report

room with a view

For me, each year is divided into two parts: summer and not-summer. Summer, to me, is the stretch of sunny days between Memorial Day and Labor Day; not-summer is the remainder. Summer is Wiccan, loose and roaming. Not-summer is Presbyterian, the time to hunker down and be serious.

Even during the years between my own schooling and that of my children, each year’s markers were the same, Memorial Day an opening to a certain kind of freedom, Labor Day its close. I relish summer. I love fireflies and popsicles and sandals and farmers markets. I love the way my skin feels in the warm sun, the green grass under my feet. Basil. Zinnias. Bees. The way the air smells right before the surprise summer thunderstorm. Summer is my season.

As I wrote last year, the one thing I did not enjoy about summers during my youth was assigned summer reading. My son, much the same as his mother in so many ways, also dreads this annual requirement. My daughter, a voracious reader, wants to dispense quickly with the required stuff so she can get to the things that interest her, namely books about teens dying early deaths or surviving dystopian misery. A few years ago I decided to add to my summer reading list one book from each of their lists, thinking I might have two two-person book clubs, at least for the short 100 day summer spell. This summer the boy-child & mom book club read Flowers for Algernon; the girl-child & mom book club read Looking for Alaska. Yes, I used both books to talk to my children about sex. As a result, neither of them wants the book club project to continue; but I am undeterred. Also I like knowing what they are reading.

Curious to know what else I read, and perhaps what I bought but haven’t yet started? Here’s the full list, complete with short notes that either will or will not seem helpful:

  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. One of my most favorite books of all time, ever, probably because the only reason I believe in God is because I believe in physics, which I’m certain sounds exceptionally strange. Anyway, the writing in this book is exquisite, the characters magnificent. Note that not all of my friends loved this book; in particular, my friend Harriet, who is very well-read and interesting and intelligent, strenuously disagrees with the book’s great acclaim. This is, as my mother would have said, why they make chocolate and vanilla.
  • Dead Wake, by Erik Larson. The true story of the sinking of the Lusitania, told in typical spellbinding style by one of the masters of this genre.
  • Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. The true story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, told in typical spellbinding style by one of the masters of this genre.
  • Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Read this book only if you have middle-school-aged children in your life (in which case you really should read it, because they will).
  • The Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll. Do not waste time or money on this book. Do. Not.
  • Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. A beautifully written, impossibly sad story that I loved and would read again.
  • The Hunting Dogs, by Jorn Lier Horst. My introduction to this Norwegian police mystery book series, which reminds me of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, devoured with delight last summer and the summer before. As you’ll see, I followed it up with the other two that have been translated into English.
  • Closed for Winter, by Jorn Lier Horst. See above.
  • Dregs, by Jorn Lier Horst. See above.
  • Belfast Noir, Stuart Neville, editor. A fun collection of short stories for anyone who likes Irish noir.

And here’s what’s on my bedside table, yet to be opened:

  • Hold Still, by Sally Mann. I can’t bring myself to start reading this, and I cannot explain why. The end.
  • Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson. I’m addicted, and I know it.
  • City of Bohane, by Kevin Barry. Given to me by an Irish friend who was delighted by how much I loved the Tana French series.
  • In the Kindgon of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides. No, it isn’t just because he’s a Memphian (like me) who lives in Santa Fe (where my husband grew up). Hampton Sides is in the same league, to me, as Erik Larson. They are both masterful storytellers and talented writers in whose hands nonfiction reads like Tom Clancy novels.
  • Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission, by Hampton Sides. See above.
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics, by Daniel James Brown. When five very different friends recommend the same book, I buy it.

So how about you, my reading friend? Are you a summer reader? What did you read that you enjoyed (or didn’t)? Inquiring minds want to know, especially as this summer counts down the final hours to its close.

Happy week.

29 Comments

  1. Emilie

    Everything you mentioned about summer I love, but isn’t it awesome to read snuggled up in a blanket with a warm cup of tea in the colder months, too?
    I love your book choices – I also fell in love with Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Such a beautifully written novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s quite a report. Sadly, over here the list of books in the to read pile is longer than I like. No time like the present to get going.

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  3. Now, you know that summer starts in April and ends in November. 🙂 I discovered a Natchez writer called Greg Iles. He was pretty good, but he was involved in a horrific traffic accident. He lost a leg and was in a coma for 6 or 7 weeks. As he recovered, he decided raise his level of writing and production. He wrote a trilogy. Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree. About 800pp each. The third book is still being written. He says it will be shorter. The first two books are exceptional. He mixes southern myth, with history and a lot of conspiracy. And, the good guys don’t always win.

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  4. Deirdre Bray

    I don’t associate books with seasons because I have never gone anywhere without a book since I can remember. Boys in the Boat is an all time favorite, as is Winter Dance by Gary Paulsen and Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy. WinterDance is an account of Paulson’s participation in the Iditarod race in Alaska. Full Tilt is Murphy’ s account of her trip from Ireland to India by bicycle, a fulfillment of her childhood dream. Luscious writing. May be out of print. Also Shadow Divers in which some present day sport divers discover an unidentified Uboat off the coast of New Jersey. Erik Larson’s books are old friends. I was hesitant about Dead Heat, but if you liked it, I should try it. Love Tana French-just how much talent should one person be allowed to have-though I thought her latest was a little dark, even for her. My current favorite detective series is written by Louise Penny about Inspector (eur?) Gamache. Looking forward to reading the Horst Series. Cheers!

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  5. Deirdre Bray

    What moderation? There’s nothing moderate about it!

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  6. I read the Mann book last night on a plane and was thinking of sending you a message to inquire if you’d read it. Give it a go. She can really write. And what stories! A friend of mine loathed it, but I think that despite some school years in TN and NC, she (being from Chicago and now residing on the West Coast) just doesn’t get the true darkness in our Southern souls.

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  7. I just finished The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore and Guests on Earth by Lee Smith. Loved them both. Guests on Earth is centered around the Highland Hospital, a mental institution where Zelda Fitzgerald was treated (and also Lee Smith’s father and son). Based on fact, but a fiction book–really captivating.

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  8. All the Light We Cannot See was my favorite read this year. Yes, exquisite. The Boys in the Boat was on my list of favorites that I blogged about last December. One book I read in spring that sticks with me is City of Thieves by David Benioff. It’s raw historical fiction but I liked the story and the writing. Be warned: I recommended it to my uncle who panned it, claiming it was depressing.

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  9. I’m going to have to read more Erik Larson! I loved Devil in the White City. I read it this spring right before I visited Chicago for the first time. I think the experience piqued my interest in history and architecture. Hence, the topic of my first blog post! Woohoo! Thanks for the book list, and keep up the good work. -Carol

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  10. I’m going to have to read more Erik Larson! I loved Devil in the White City. I read it right before my first visit to Chicago this past Spring. It definitely piqued my interest in history and architecture which led me to start blogging! Thanks for the book list though and keep up the good work! -Carol

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  11. I recently read Looking for Alaska and All the Light (that was a beautiful read). I will take your titles to heart since we seem to have a similar taste in books. May I suggest The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer? It’s a heavy read on WWII but exquisitely written.

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  12. […] it’s been fun sharing book recommendations from my recent post about books. It’s been so fun, in fact, that I decided to create a page dedicated just to books – […]

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  13. All The Light We Cannot See has shown up on more than one recommendation list now. I think I will read it and possibly recommend it to my book club! It seems to be right up their ally! 🙂
    I am always looking for a good book. Have you ever heard of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern? It is one of MY all time favorite books!
    I have made note of them all. Thanks so much for the list!! 🙂

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  14. Lillian

    Although I normally do not read sci-fi, Alice gave me her copy of The Martian. WOW. It was terrific. It is a plausible story told in an amusing way. Boys in the Boat is a favorite,too. I like just about all on your list.

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