June has been a month of very late nights of reading. The next morning I regret having stayed up until the wee hours, but sometimes I just cannot put a book down and several of those that I read this month fit that bill.
If you are looking for reading inspiration this summer, my local bookstore, BookBar, sent out a BINGO board for summer reading called "Summer Reading (Without Walls) BINGO". I lived for summer reading challenges growing up and this was similarly inspiring. After back and forth communication with a particularly well-read friend, I've honed in on my selections for the grid and am excited to read a few books that I wouldn't otherwise pick up. The categories that are trickiest for me are poetry, graphic novel, and literary criticism. Will anyone else join in? If so, what are the categories that are outside your reading comfort zone? I've included the BINGO board below.
Back to what I read in June:
The Bright Hour - This memoir written by Nina Riggs is about living with, and eventually dying as a result of, breast cancer. It's a heartbreaking, beautiful book. I was particularly drawn in by the way she writes about motherhood. One of my favorite passages is when Nina writes about what she'll lose when she dies and is thinking of her sons: "I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them." This reminded me of When Breath Becomes Air, which I also recommend, but for me The Bright Hour was more poignant because of the focus on her role as a parent. After the book was published, the author's husband, John Duberstein, wrote a piece on Cup of Jo that is well worth reading.
Celine - This is my first Peter Heller novel and I absolutely loved it. The novel's main character is a fiery, WASPy private detective in Brooklyn who is asked to investigate the disappearance of a man over 20 years ago. The characters are well-written, complicated, and flawed, but you'll be rooting for them and drawn into the mystery. It turns out Peter Heller lives in Denver and I'm going to hear him speak about the book at Chataqua in October. I highly recommend Celine and I'll be reading The Dog Stars, which he also wrote and was recommended to me, in July.
This is How It Always Is - Wow, this novel blew me away. It's the story of a family with five children, the fifth of whom is born as a male but very early on identifies as a female. This was my first foray into a novel with a main character who is transgender and it was so interesting to read about the family dynamics, the way in which the family handles how they talk about their daughter outside of their home, and how their daughter's transition affects everyone. This isn't autobiographical, but the author does have a transgendered child, so she writes from experience (she wrote a Modern Love column if you want to read more). This is How It Always Is is fantastic.
Option B - One aspect of reading on my Kindle that I dislike is that it's much harder to return to a book and review passages I enjoyed. I found myself highlighting numerous sentences in this book and Sheryl Sandberg talks about grief in a helpful way, offering real world examples and addressing common mistakes people make when handling grieving friends and family. I could share so much of her advice (and perhaps I will in a separate post), but one that really rang true for me was the "ring theory" from psychologist Susan Silk. This theory is that you write down the names of the people in the center of the tragedy and draw a circle around them. Then draw a bigger circle around that one and write the names of the people who are next most affected. Keep drawing circles based on people's proximity to the crisis. What results is a "kvetching order" -- and the rule is that wherever you are in the circle, offer comfort in and seek comfort out. From my own experiences with grief, this absolutely held true. Option B didn't blow me away, but I found myself nodding throughout the entire book because her advice is spot on and thus I recommend this book.
Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage - This is a haunting memoir about a marriage and how it morphs over time, how each person in a marriage gives and takes, and about what you learn after many years spent with the same person. After seven months of spending every day with Rob and recently celebrating nine years of marriage, I find myself feeling very introspective about our marriage and I loved reading this and felt it was insightful, funny, poetic, and sometimes quite sad. One observation about marriage that she references comes from Donald Hall:
Third things are essential to marriages, objects or practices or habits or arts or institutions or games or human beings that provide a site of joint rapture or contentment. Each member of a couple is separate; the two come together in double attention. Lovemaking is not a third thing but two-in-one. John Keats can be a third thing, or the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or Dutch interiors, or Monopoly. For many couples, children are a third thing. Sometimes you lose a third thing.
I really enjoyed Dani Shapiro's memoir and recommend it (it is a quick read as well).
Everything I Never Told You - This is the story of Lydia and her family, a mixed-race family living in Ohio in the 1970s. Lydia has died (you find this out immediately so I'm not giving anything away) and the rest of the book is a piecing together of what happened, why, and how her family's history and dreams and actions impacted Lydia's life in unexpected ways. It's sad to see how Lydia's family crumbles as you turn the pages, but this was a really good read.
At Home In the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe - A dear friend, LH, tipped me off to this book about a woman traveling the world with her family. Parts of it resonated so much with me given that we are doing the same thing. As our return home is imminent at this point, I particularly loved this passage: "We are Westerners, and certain social mores feel familiar to us: queuing in line, assuming the store hours are the same as those printed on the door's sign, leaving strangers alone in their parenting choices. It has been good for our sea legs to swim in these waters, but we are ready to float for a little while. I want to catch my breath. I want to be in the West." The other interesting aspect of Tsh's book is how differently they approached travel, but even so I found myself relating to much of her book.
My Brilliant Friend - I may be the last person to finally read the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan quartet of novels about two friends in post-war Italy. I enjoyed this and will definitely read the rest of them, but I'm waiting for them from the library, which means I'm not so engrossed that I have to download them immediately. This is definitely a good beach read.
Elin Hilderbrand Books - How is it that I have just learned about Elin Hildebrand's books? Elin writes about life on Nantucket where she lives year-round. The characters are sometimes endearing, always interesting, and inevitably there is drama around the corner. However, these aren't overblown, cheesy, or predictable (occasionally they are, but that seems to be the exception). If you are looking for chick lit this summer, give one of her books a try. In the past month, I've read eight (Barefoot, The Castaways, The Matchmaker, Here's to Us, The Rumor, Winter Street, Winter Storms, and Winter Stroll) and I think The Matchmaker and The Rumor may have been my favorites, but they are all easy, fun romps into the charming world of Nantucket (where I have still never been). I need to slow down or I'll read everything she has written by the end of the July and have nothing to look forward to! NPR recently did a story on Elin in which she described her books as having a "driving narrative" that keeps you reading, which is spot on.
If you decide to embark on the Summer Reading challenge, please let me know what you'll be reading, especially for the obscure categories. I'm always looking for inspiration.