Category Archives: summer reading conclusion

Summer Reading Recap…in late September.

It seems like every year I have a month where my blog gets away from me.  This year it lasted for two.
August was spent working on another writing project, spending time with some favorites in North Carolina and East Hampton. My family drove in to celebrate my grandpa’s 85th birthday and we got to go to the beach and wander the city.  I got to catch up with some favorite former students who just left for college, five years after I knew them as 7th and 8th graders. September was school starting celebrating the shower and nuptials of a kindred spirit for a few weekends and attempting to get some normal rhythms back in my life.  Now it’s almost October.  Happy fall reading, y’all. May you have many afternoons spent with a hot beverage and a good book.

A few of these books I wrote about in July and I’m hoping I’ll write about all of them someday.  I feel like I’m not giving these books their due, but for now, here is this year’s list (and here are the ones from summers past):

A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears: a fascinating historical fiction mystery with the backdrop of the beginning of world financial markets

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson: a coming of age in the straight edge culture of the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1980s

Broken Colors by Michele Zackheim: the fictional account of an artist dealing with her brokenness across the two world wars into near-present in England, Italy, Paris and the American southwest

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (as always)
Love and Death by Max Wallace and Ian Halperin: two journalists look into the death of Kurt Cobain. A great read for anyone who misses the 90s or is looking for a reason to revisit Nirvana and Hole.

Broken Harbor by Tana French: her 4th book based on the Dublin Murder Squad. I loved her other books, but this one was a bit disappointing

Infinite Jest: a very general response to a very specific novel.

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I read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace from June 1st-August 8th this summer, with just a 3 day break to read My Name is Asher Lev and a chapter each morning on the porch of The Summer Book while I was in Kentucky. I reread Anne of Avonlea right after to let my brain recover/not commit to anything super literary while trying to unpack this brick of a book (that I am thankful to never have to carry in my purse ever again).  All that to say, my summer reading looked very different from my usual devouring of books.  It was as if I were in a committed dating relationship with Infinite Jest.  I was talking with a colleague before school ended whose boyfriend had read the book and when he was half way through said: “Oh, I get it.  The infinite jest is that I am still reading this book.”  There were many times I felt the same way.

The main conclusion that I came to after finishing its 981 pages of tiny type narrative and 96 pages of even smaller type footnotes is that it is the kind of book that needs to be read twice.  (Crap.) Though I’m sure there are geniuses out there who could keep track of all the characters connections (see poster below by Sam Potts) and narrative threads (see digram below by in their minds while reading, but I was not one of them.  I’ve probably spent 5 or 6 hours so far researching the book and reading essays and taking notes with post it flags and feel like my understanding is still shallow at best.  I can retell the basic plot lines, but the craft that went into this book is like nothing I have ever seen and there is a part of me that is itching to start over and read it with a much deeper understanding.  Chances of that happening in the near future, though, are slim to none.  I wish I could take a graduate school course on this book with a brilliant but not condescending instructor.

created by Sam Potts 

created by jonny.snsy.de

What I loved about this book is exactly what makes it so difficult to read: its intricacy and its depth–it is an artistic, critical work that forces the reader to be active: to ask questions, to do the mental gymnastics it requires, to step up and work hard to figure out what on earth is going on even when there will not be a definitive answer.  He address things from the nature of entertainment to the consumerist nature of the United States to depression to personal drive to personal recovery.  There is no way that I could address the book as a whole in a single blog post.  The retell alone would be absurd–and it is almost as if each piece of the puzzle that is Infinite Jest needs to be singularly treated and then juxtaposed with every other piece.  I start back at work tomorrow, so obviously that’s not going to happen.  What I’ve decided to do is respond to a few pieces of the book that I think are relevant to everyone, without giving a lot of context.  The book is filled with fleeting conversations and observations that the reader could ruminate on and discuss for hours–which is overwhelming in such an enormous book. But taken in very small chunks could be fodder for your next cocktail party conversation. People have those, right?

Summer Reading Conclusion.

Somehow September started and I barely noticed.  Then I found myself in my classroom at school trying to set up my library before the kiddos arrived and I realized summer was indeed over. Interestingly enough, last summer’s reading conclusion was written on a 65 degree August day. Today, the high is 94 degrees and I’ve got a hurricane looming over my labor day weekend flight to the homeland. 

The biggest clue to summer ending for me is that I find myself needing/wanting to read 5 books at once.  It is a habit I typically grow out of during my season of freedom because I am able to spend so much time reading, that I finish books pretty quickly.  Here’s how it went this year:

I read almost all of the books on my list! I think this is due in part to the fact that I was traveling, which forced me to plan. These included:

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirevsky
In the Woods by Tana French
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larrson
March by Geraldine Brooks
Stuart Little by E.B. White (children’s)
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (young adult)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (young adult)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (young adult)

I picked up a few along the way, borrowed from a friend and my mom (and two I broke down and bought):

American Pastoral by Philip Roth
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Alexie Sherman (young adult)

Final conclusions: Favorites: March and rereading The Summer Book. Also, despite (almost) always having a book on hand, I found myself missing my bookshelves and some randoms I wanted to reread on lazy days at home (Harry Potter, especially).  Also, my books weighed too much and took up too much space in my carry on.  It was the only time I have ever wanted an e-reader of some sort.  Scary. Anyway, cheers to the fall and the craziness that my reading life is sure to become (which is the subject of my next post!)

Last day of August. Summer reading update.

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Good things: drinking tea. wearing a hooded sweatshirt on a 65 degree August Monday morning. the windows wide open.

I just checked my list of books I wanted to read this summer and checked off *one* of them. Ha. This is not to say I didn’t read this summer, but my plans went awry…

Here’s what was actually read this summer: a mix of old and new young adult, old and new literary fiction, a few guilty pleasures, one new absolute favorite*

Rereads. I couldn’t help myself.
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Charlotte’s Web
Anne of Green Gables
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
The Summer Book
Pride and Prejudice

New Reads
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Evening
The Elegance of the Hedgehog*
The Savage Detectives
Trail of Crumbs
Hurricane Song

Even though school doesn’t officially start until after Labor Day, this week is going to be filled with prep work. I still get beginning of the school year anxiety, but I confess that I am kind of excited to meet the 90 kids I will be spending at least 1500 hours with over the course of the next 9 months. And. I love that my job is to get kids excited about reading and writing. I love asking kids what their absolute favorite book they have ever read it. And yours?

Summer Reading Conclusion.

One thing I have realized about myself this summer is that I function better as a person when I have a schedule. Otherwise, I wake up around nine and before I know it, it’s noon and I can’t really explain what I have spent the whole morning doing. This summer, I had high hopes of being employed. I planned my travel (or lack thereof) around it, and was actually looking forward to working in the morning and doing writing projects in the afternoon. Since I wasn’t employed, any hopes of a schedule fell to the wayside. And after I stopped stressing about not having a job, I found that my motivation to be productive had waned completely. Or, it could have been writer’s block? Either way, I did spend a lot of time reading, though.

I wanted to highlight a few of the books that I read. They’ve been sitting next to my bed in a pile, signifying that I needed to write about them. But, we all know that didn’t happen. But anyway, here are a few:
1. Rape a Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates: The title of this book is provoctive and potentially offensive enough that I avoided reading this one on the subway. However, it was much less offensive inside the actual pages. Oates writes part of the book in the second person from the voice of a twelve year old girl who witnesses the violent rape of her mother. This was actually the most thought provoking part of the story for me: “You were Bethel Maguire everybody called Bethie. Your childhood ended when you were twelve. Always you would think if.” It is simulataneously a tragic coming of age story as well as a portrait of judgement.

2. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu: I initially read about this in the New York Times Book Review, and it really did live up to the praise it received. Though it was slow moving at times, this is an incredible story of an African immigrant, Sepha, in Washington, DC. The title comes from an excerpt from Dante’s Inferno:
Through a round aperature I appear,
Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.

Sepha and his friends continually ask the question–both out loud to each other and to themselves in their minds–How did I end up here? Sepha then asks a question that I think is one all people ask at one time or another: “Where is the grand narrative of my life?” (page 147). In his quiet search for meaning amidst life’s heartbreaks, he runs across another poet’s words that completely capture the heartbreaking and hopeful essence of this story:
We have come this far, to find we have even further to go
The last traces of a permanent twilight have faded and given way
To what we hope is nothing short of a permanent dawn.

3. Amulet by Roberto Bolano: I picked this book up last spring at the Book Expo of America, having no idea what a gem it was. I read it early in the summer and then began seeing Bolano’s name everywhere. A Chilean writer, his work has only recently been translated in English. The story is set in a tumultuous Mexico City during the 1960’s, the main character Uruguayan ex pat, slightly crazy lover of poetry. She is one of the most interesting characters I have met…and hard to completely understand as she slips in and out of lucidity. But you can’t read her and not feel moved if you are a lover of language and art: ” Dust and literature have always gone together..I conjured up wonderful and melancholy scenes, I imagined books books sitting quietly on shelves and the dust of the world creeping into libraries…” Art and words are her hope, and the voice that Bolano pens is original, highly creative and beautiful.

Now I’m wishing that I actually took the time to write about each of these individually, but I’m considering myself lucky if you made it to the end here. Other notables included Middlesex (completely thought provoking), The Brooklyn Follies (fun because it’s set in my neighborhood), Looking for Alaska (young adult), Breaking Dawn (I will eventually write about this 4th and last novel in the Twilight saga) and The Same Kind of Different as Me (a great read for anyone who grew up in a middle to upper middle class church…tells the amazing story of a wealthy couple and a homeless man whose lives changed as they began to understand and know one another.)

Ok! I’m done! I feel sufficiently energized to start posting regularly again:)