My Summer Nightstand Pile of Books in Review

For better, or for worse, I will share what I read this summer with the Hopkins community. Due to my faulty memory, I must rely on my Goodreads “read” list and other trusty clues…such as my overdue notice from Mr. Gette.

Assuming I marked books “read” in Goodreads as I actually completed them, this is also more or less the order in which I completed my summer reading from mid-June through August. There is rational behind [nearly] every reading choice. Even the terrible one, which is the first.

*deep, yogi breathing*

Here we go:

1. Inferno, by Dan Brown

Yes I jumped at the opportunity to read the new Dan Brown book. Yes it was terrible. Yes it was a waste of my time. I read it on my very first beach trip of the summer (which is only a kind-of excuse). He should have quit when he was ahead-ish . Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself – the Calarco Library has a copy!.

2. The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

For those of you who love dystopia (*raises hand*), the roles of women in dystopian worlds (*waves hand in circles*), trilogies (*jumps up and down in chair*), overlapping plots (*waves both hands furiously in an air traffic controller fashion*), and mad scientists and the impact of their genius/craziness (*abandons all decorum and shouts ME!*), you MUST read Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. Between kindles and books, the Calarco Library has a copy/version of all three installments – Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam (coming soon). If you want to read more about Atwood, the MaddAddam trilogy, and her other works, check out the articles/posts that were published by Bookriot.com on Margaret Atwood Day.

3. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

I am a member of what I can confidently dub The World’s Best Book Club. We skipped a meeting mid-summer and instead read two books for our meeting in September. As you read further down the list, you will probably quickly identify the second assigned book. McLain’s historical fiction novel reveals the 1920’s Paris ex-pat/literary/art scene through the eyes of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. McLain was staunchly loyal to archival materials and correspondence between Ernest and Hadley, as well as their communications with their friends and associates. I love this book because the historical accuracy is rewarding – I spent an entire layover in 1920’s Paris instead of Chicago-O’Hare. Hadley’s voice is sometimes lost and overwhelmed amidst her husband’s – which is sometimes frustrating, but also revealing of how Hadley may have felt while married to Ernest. A worthwhile check-out from Calarco for anyone who is fascinated by Paris, the 1920’s, and/or Hemingway.

4. Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

Premise – genius. Plot – hilarious. Characters – unbelievable but likeable. Messages RE: social issues – commendable. Writing and overall grade – eh. Reading Beauty Queens made me realize why some books that are widely considered Young Adult (YA) Fiction are major flops for me. Overwriting. Bray’s multi-narrative story would be great if she would just stop writing so many damn internal monologues for the characters. I found myself skimming several “pages” (kindle version) of the story because, “I got the point, Libba. I understand what that character feels, thinks, wants for breakfast, etc.” I think the writing was playful and interesting, but Bray could take it down a couple notches and stop assuming that teenagers (or anyone) cannot possibly understand her characters unless she explains every last thing about them.

5. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

I still have no idea if I like this book – honestly. I cared about the story, about Wolitzer’s incredible interwoven exploration of why some achieve greatness and some reside in mediocracy. And then she of course asks you, “Wait, who is an interesting? What and who is mediocre?” I also appreciated the realistic portrayal of lifelong friendships – things change and people definitely do not stay the same, and often the “nevers” happen and the “always” fades into the background. Did I care for the characters? Ehhh….but worth the hype and definitely enjoyable for anyone who enjoys reading about the late 1970s/80s and New York City.

6. Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

Of course I read this book in high school for American Lit – as did anyone who went to public high school in the late 1990’s or early 2000s (and maybe they still do). For those who don’t know the story of Chris McCandless or the writing of Jon Krakauer, read it. For those who have read Wild before, read it again. For those who think McCandless was an arrogant, naive kid, read this article published by The New Yorker a few days ago. This was the best book I read this summer, and in fact all year. Sometimes it pays to re-read.

7. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth

Bray, take a leaf out of Danforth’s book – this is YA fiction that is compelling without being over-written. Danforth takes the common YA “orphan” storyline and combines it with the less-common (but thankfully increasingly prevalent) “wait, am I gay?” character. What makes this more than a writing formula is Cameron Post herself. In the hands of a less-talented author, Cameron could have come to be nothing more than a character representative of the audience Danforth is trying to reach. But Danforth’s Cameron is real. This is only enhanced by Danforth’s choice to place the story in the midwest and creating circumstances that allow the reader to view the Ex-Gay movement through the believable lens of Cameron’s perspective.

8. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson

Again and again I make the mistake (or awesome choice?) of reading Bill Bryson in public, where I receive cautionary looks and complaints regarding my roaring laughter. For anyone who has read Bryson, you won’t be surprised to learn that he is not an ace hiker. You will be regaled with tales of his misadventures along the Appalachian trail (with his sidekick/buddy Katz) and simultaneously steeped in the history of American wildlife and national parks. A great choice if you are experimenting with your first summer of hiking (*bows head and shyly raises hand*).

9. A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

The second installment of my summer book club series and also a “check” on the literary classics list. Overall assessment – I could have skipped the entire book excepting the story of Hemingway’s cross-country automobile trip with Fitzgerald. A drunk, a drunk who doesn’t think he’s a drunk, hypochondria, a broken convertible top that just possibly can’t be fixed (Zelda), bad weather, bath thermometers – if it was made into a 21st century comedy film starring Zach Galifianakis, it would get a favorable review.

10. Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (or The Beatles?)

Hi, have you met Haruki Murakami? Because you should – you really should. Whether you are introduced through Kafka on Shore, 1Q84, or this very book, you should get around to meeting him. Narrator Toru Watanabe is in love with a girl who does not love him, and he must struggle between living in the very real world of 1960s Tokyo and lingering in the shadows of Naoko’s unstable unreality. A+ for scoffing the protest movements as shallow and hypocritical, and an A++ for prose, characters, musical references, and deciding to become a writer during a baseball game in the 1980’s, Haruki Murakami.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (whose reading habits will be in the toilet until Breaking Bad ends)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s