Tag Archives: summer reading

Summer Reading Survey Results 2016

So Long Sweet Summer

Courtesy of Meg Bisson, Katie Slater Photography

Hello and welcome to another exciting year at Hopkins! Here in Calarco we’ve got new textbooks waiting to be pulverized, fresh notecards itching to become memorization rectangles, and librarians gazing wistfully at beautiful summer photos instead of shelving books.

Three years running,  we librarians asked you to tell us about the best part of your summer – that’s right, summer reading. A whopping 198 of you responded, recommending 139 different books. There was a lot of turnover this year – two of the top three books from 2015 (Paper Towns and To Kill A Mockingbird) weren’t mentioned at all. In fact, no John Green books were recommended for the first time since we began this survey.

 

2016-summer-reading-inforgraphic

What is it about The Da Vinci Code? Is it the ciphers, the fast-paced thrills, Tom Hanks’ rumpled (no, not rugged) good looks? Whatever the “it” factor, The Da Vinci Code is Hopkins’ most recommended book of Summer 2016! Seven respondents wrote that it was “exciting,”  “incredibly suspenseful,” and that it “keep[s] you at the edge of your seat.”

Almost as popular were The Great Train Robbery and The Apothecary, both of which benefited from being assigned books. Other favorite books (or movies) were Emma Donoghue’s Room and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather – perhaps because of their film counterparts. David Levithan’s Every Day and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood were the other two unassigned books to make appearances on the “most read” list.

This was the first year we asked for your thoughts about your favorite book(s). In doing this, we discovered that even faculty and staff enjoy ALL CAPS. Please see some of our favorite commentary below.

The Godfather

It was AMAZING. I went in thinking it would have a pace similar to other books of its time, with lots of description and thoughtshots. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it moved like an action film, and it kept me going despite the length.

The Girl on the Train

Unreliable narration is key. What made this book so excellent was how you couldn’t trust anyone — even the protagonist with her flawed memories.

House of Leaves

House of Leaves was the weirdest book I have ever read and it invokes mild paranoia.

Americanah

This was an amazing book about African immigration. As a child of to Nigerians I found many similarities with their struggles. When many people think of Nigeria or Africa in general, they may think of thick jungles, aboriginal tribes, and no electricity. It is seen more as a charity case. This books lets you in on the lives of the people. The struggle to make it to America and become something. The stress of stereotypes and myths continually reminding them that they do not belong. The fear of coming back to their homeland and catching “Americanah.” And international love. How years and miles cannot erase true bonds. Wow. I wrote more than you probably wanted. Sorry about that.

[editorial note: no such thing as saying too much about a book you love]

The Apothecary

I thought that this was a great book and I could not put it down. I also would have never chosen this book if it was not required.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It was great because it was kind of like a lot of kids dreams written out on paper. (Running away from home with your friends.)

An Officer and a Spy

It’s a great account of the Dreyfus Affair and is riveting from start to finish. My Dad forced me to read it, and when I finally gave in and started reading it, I was hooked.

[editorial note, again: good job, anonymous Dad]

Below you will find a list of every book recommended this year. Thanks to all of our respondents, and happy reading!

 

Summer Reading Survey Results 2015

Hello everyone, and welcome back: to Hopkins, to the library, and to the Calarco Library Blog!

Once again, the librarians sent out a summer reading survey to the whole school, asking you to pick one book out of everything you read this summer – required or not – as your very favorite. We received about 250 responses from students, faculty, and staff, which proves just how much you like reading. Or us. Or how accustomed you are to filling out surveys.

You continue to read a large variety of books: nonfiction, fantasy, sci-fi, mysteries, classic novels, contemporary fiction, poetry, and John Green.Untitled Infographic

Last year, The Fault in Our Stars was by far and away Hopkins’ favorite summer read with 15 votes. The playing field is a little more even this year, with the top three books getting 6 mentions apiece. John Green continues his domination of the YA landscape with Paper Towns. Next, proving that the Pulitzer committee knows what they’re talking about, we have All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. And rounding out the top three is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Whether it’s the release of Go Set A Watchman, its status as a required summer reading book, or if Mrs. Riley just answered the survey a bunch of times, the story of Scout and Atticus remains popular.

Other popular books include:

5 votes: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

4 votes: The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton; Looking for Alaska, by John Green; and Watchmen, by Alan Moore (shout-out to my adviser group!)

3 votes:  And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie (+1 “All the Agatha Christie books on the list”); The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, by Mark Haddon; Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee;  and Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

We’re exceedingly pleased that most respondents (133 of you!)  read 5 or more books this summer, although we have some questions for the two seniors who admitted to only reading two books. Let’s hope at least one of them was The Tragedy of Arthur.

Book Survey Recommendations

Below is a spreadsheet of all the Summer Reading Survey favorites. Any items made available by the Calarco Library are color coded: blue = regular book, yellow = kindle book, green = both.

Remember, just because summer’s over (boo!) doesn’t meant reading is (yay!). Stop by Calarco Library for a book or Kindle – maybe one recommended above!

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows and James Gette, who both recommend The Alienist, by Caleb Carr

Summer Reading 2015!

JG: It’s almost summer! Time for sun, sleep, and – of course – reading. Last summer I read a lot, but it was mostly within my comfort zone; lots of sci-fi, mysteries, and YA. This year, I’d like to stretch myself a bit.

So here are the rules for the self-imposed summer reading challenge:

1. Read from the Hopkins Summer Reading List

2. Fulfill the Summer Reading requirements: three books I haven’t read before, plus the books for my grade. Since my advisees will be 10th graders next year, I’m going to read along with them.

3. No genre books. No fantasy, sci-fi, mysteries, or graphic novels. There is nothing wrong with reading and loving these kinds of books, but I read them all the time, and the point of this is to try something new.

So what am I going to read?

I’ve read The Great Train Robbery before (as a 10th grader), but it’s been long enough that I plan to re-read it.

After this, the list gets a little murkier. I plan to read one classic novel, one work of contemporary fiction, and one nonfiction book. Here’s the short lists:

There. Nine options which will condense into three books (though I can read more if I want to!), plus the two grade-required books for a total of 5.

…That’s not enough.

So here’s the other books I’d like to read this summer. No restrictions. Which means ghosts, murder, and explosions.

  • Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie.
  • The Shadow Throne, by Django Wexler.
  • The Alienist, by Caleb Carr (yes, this is on the Summer Reading List. But it’s a mystery, so it doesn’t count for my personal challenge. But you can read it!)
  • All of the Peter Grant books, by Ben Aaronovitch. I’d read the first one (Midnight Riot) a couple years ago, but on a recommendation from Ms. Ford I’ve been listening to it on audiobook, and it is fantastic. This summer I am going to walk everywhere and listen to the whole series. Or at least the next few books.

No plan survives the first encounter with the library catalog, so I’m sure there will be additions and subtractions as the summer goes on. But as of right now, I’m pretty happy with this list!


JB: We aren’t counting down the days until summer (25) or anything, but seriously, summer. While some consider sunscreen to be a summer necessity, I carry a book/kindle/device with kindle app at all times. Last summer I did not have as much time to read as anticipated, but this summer I feel cautiously ambitious. I don’t have any challenges, per se, but I do hope to read more diversely than usual.

Here are my 2015 Summer “Challenges”:

  1. Read from the Hopkins Summer Reading List.
  2. Read more dudes (I tend to read a lot of female authors).
  3. Read fewer white people. I usually do O.K. with this, but I am making a conscious effort this summer.
  4. Don’t restrict by genre or type. I want to mix in some older stuff, non-fiction, and genre with my FAVORITE type of book – the modern fiction novel.

What will I be reading? Take a look

    1. Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin.
    2. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi.
    3. All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
    4. To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
    5. The Alienist, by Caleb Carr

As Mr. Gette said, I have free reign for anything I want to read off the summer reading list. To also cite Mr. Gette, I doubt I will follow this list as closely as a needlepoint pattern.

  1. Missoula, by Jon Krakauer
  2. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick
  3. An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
  4. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
  5. The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
  6. The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

What are you planning to read this summer? Did you set any goals or challenges for yourself? Tell us in the comments!

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows and James Gette (the former already suntanned, the latter already sunburned)

My Summer Reading – The Outcome

I also posted a list of what I was hoping to read over the summer vacation. I was less ambitious than Mr. Gette, so I only chose 12 Calarco Library-owned books (I read other books that were separate from the list).

Here’s the recap:

Summer Reading Recap

Here is a ranking of books I read this summer:

5 Stars

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Why did it take me so long to read this book?! A must read in the modern-novel genre.

Feed by M.T. Anderson. I originally rated this as a 3 star book, but as time passed, the book creeped into my list of all-time favorites. Published in 2000, this satirical YA book can also be read as a cautionary tale. Read it in one sitting.

4 Stars

The Bees by Laline Paull. Allegories everywhere. Reading about a beehive society from the point of view of a bee was exactly as interesting as I expected.

3 Stars

Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind by Gavin Edwards. Even though the writing was mediocre at times, the story was enormously interesting. An excellent biography for any 90’s child (or 90’s fanatic)

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Be still my heart, Rainbow Rowell. A good story that can easily be read in a day or two.

2 Stars

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I didn’t get anything out of this book, but I will give it 2 stars. The writing was technically excellent and other reviewers swear by this book. Although Mr. Gette and I missed the boat on this one, maybe others will love the Southern Reach Trilogy.

1 Star

NONE!

So there it is. Although I read other books on my non-Calarco list, I was definitely hoping to read more than 6 off of this list. Want to share what you read? Want to disagree with my commentary? Leave us a comment below!

-Signing off, Ms. Barrows (who had to re-read The Magicians, is now reading The Magician King, and is super excited to read the recently released conclusion The Magician’s Land)

What I Actually Read on My Summer Vacation

Last May, I posted a list of what I planned to read over the summer.  There were 16 books total on the list – ambitious, considering that I only listed books owned by the Calarco Library, and there were other books I planned to read as well.

So how’d I do?

Yes I really like inforgraphics ok?

 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the 12 books I read:

5 stars:

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. I want a sequel!

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. The sequel comes out in October!

(Full reviews of these two coming soon!)

4 stars:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This book will make you wish you could remember how you saw the world at 7.

Death of a Dyer, by Eleanor Kuhns. I got to the last page and immediately bought the third book. A solid historical mystery.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. See! I read/like contemporary fiction. Smart, fun, and funny.

Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory. Cool world-building, great characters.

3 stars:

Bellfield Hall, by Anna Dean. A perfectly serviceable mystery.

Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland. This would have been a 4 star book if it wasn’t for the last chapter. A creepy Canterbury Tales.

Vicious, by V. E. Schwab. Superpowers but no heroes.

2 Stars:

Charm and Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn. A good book in a lot of ways, but it didn’t work for me. Dark.

Winger, by Andrew Smith. Winger, you betrayed me. You were supposed to be a light, funny read after Charm and Strange. And let’s just say that didn’t work out.

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. I should have expected this book would get really weird.

So there you have it. Another summer of books accounted for. Want to talk about what you read? Defend a book I didn’t like? Leave us a comment!

-Signing off, Mr. Gette (Bonus great book not on the list: The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. )

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading Survey Recap

Hello everyone, and welcome back: to Hopkins, to the library, and to the Calarco Library Blog! In the coming days we’ll be filling you in on what we read this summer, but we wanted to kick things off with what you read this summer!

As you know, the librarians sent out a summer reading survey to the whole school, asking you to pick one book out of everything you read this summer – required or not – as your very favorite. We received about 300 responses from students, faculty, and staff, which proves just how much you like reading. Or us. Or how accustomed you are to filling out surveys.

To misquote one of this summer’s favorite reads: all books are popular, but some books are more popular than others. By far and away the most favored book was The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (you can read our review of TFIOS here). Fifteen people (14 students and 1 faculty member) said that it was their favorite book they read this summer. John Green was more widely popular as well: seven students said Looking For Alaska was their favorite summer read, two preferred Paper Towns, and one discerning individual liked An Abundance of Katherines best. And two students simply answered “John Green.” Overall, that’s 27 members of the Hopkins Community who liked a book by John Green best.

George Orwell also had a good summer: both 1984 and Animal Farm were beloved by 5 respondents. Also in the “five people love me” category are Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, and If I Stay, by Gayle Foreman, which may have gotten a boost from the August release of a movie version.

The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton, I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak (of The Book Thief fame) and Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, got four votes for favorite book. (You can read our review of I Am the Messenger here.)

And rounding it off with three votes apiece were And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie; The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt; Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer; The Help by Kathryn Stockett; The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara; On the Beach, by Nevil Shute, and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Infographic facts are the best kinds of facts

Infographic facts are the best kinds of facts

 

Although the survey reveals which books were most popular this summer, it also demonstrates the enormous variety of interests and tastes that illustrate the Hopkins community. For example, the Class of 2015 read non-fiction survivalist memoirs (Into Thin Air, Alive, Unbroken), “young adult” fiction (Every Day, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Eleanor and Park), classic novels (Catch-22, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Sun Also Rises), modern fiction (Little Bee, The Goldfinch, Hologram for a King) and a slew of other styles and genres. The trend permeates every class and is best reflected in the faculty and staff respondents. Is anyone surprised that the Faculty/Staff group (almost) did not list a single repeating title as a favorite?

So, Variety – check. Summer Favorites – Check. What does this mean? Looking at the respondent totals, the most interesting observation we can glean is that reading tastes overlap, despite enormous age gaps. Yes, 15 respondents like The Fault in Our Stars best. No, they were not all Junior Schoolers – every group had at least one TFIOS fan. Was TFIOS the only “age barrier breaking book”? Definitely not.

Let’s be honest, we librarians were moderately thrilled (or enthusiastically fist pumping) when we saw that 300 people responded to our survey. The moderate or wild celebration only continued when we realized how many people read multiple books this summer and how well our current collection matches what Hopkins loves to read.

Whether or not you took the survey, please check out the final fact-spread. Don’t see any of your favorites? Interested in reading a book that we don’t have? Please let us know if there is a book you want to read or you think we should own. The Calarco Library takes book requests and also downloads on-demand titles to our Kindles (see the full Kindle Book List here).

Book Survey Recommendations

Below is a spreadsheet of all the Summer Reading Survey favorites. Any items made available by the Calarco Library are color coded: blue = regular book, yellow = kindle book, green = both.

NEXT UP: Find out if Mr. Gette and Ms. Barrows held good on their promises and completed their summer reading lists

…A Look Forward pt. 2

Summer Preview – The Ms. Barrows Version

 

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As someone who chooses to take the Amtrak train to D.C. in order to pick up five hours of uninterrupted reading, you shouldn’t be surprised by my favorite summer activity. You guessed it. Summer reading. In fact, my childhood competitive spirit shined most brightly when participating in the summer reading challenges hosted by the public library. I shook my 10-year-old fist in anger whenever I visited for weekly updates and found that other children were beating me.

It goes without saying, I was a very, very cool  kid.

Featured below are 12 Calarco Library books that I endeavor to read this summer. The list does not include the countless books piled on my nightstand, nor the books I have to read for a few professional-developmenty-type things. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping I can recall the essence of my 10-year-old self, who would easily elbow wee little 8-year-olds when racing for the public library’s C.S. Lewis books. Not the actual elbowing, just the spirit of elbowing…anyway. Here’s the list:

And the Band Played on, by Randy Shilts: The preeminent book on the AIDS epidemic. First published in 1987 and probably still the most important book about AIDS. Dallas Buyers Club made me realize I really should read this book. Really.

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer: A story set in some dysopian/post-apocalyptic future which features four WOMEN tasked with the mission to explore the cut-off and mysterious region, Area-X? Sign me up.

Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell: For the handful of people who read this blog, you might have gotten the memo that I fell in love with Rainbow Rowell this year. Now, I will finally (hopefully) get around to reading her first book.

The Bees, by Laline Paull: The setting: a beehive. The protagonist: Flora 717, a sanitation worker. The problem: Flora 717’s curiosity, a dangerous trait in a community dictated by the religion of Queen worship. I have wanted to read this book since I read a “sneak peak” review back in April. I tried to buy it at Atticus last week, but they had just sold their last copy. Then I remembered…library kindle!  (On Kindle)

The Enchanted, by Rene Denfeld: A death row inmate uses books to re-imagine life beyond the bars, creating a fantastical world and shields himself from a frightening reality. In that reality are a priest and an investigator. Enter: disrupted notions of guilt, innocence, victim, and perpetrator.

Feed, by M.T. Anderson: A YA classic that I am just now getting around to reading. Titus was a regular member of society, taking trips to the moon for spring break and hardly thinking about The Feed. But then his Feed malfunctions and he meets Violet, who fights The Feed and makes Titus wonder if he should fight it too.

Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind, by Gavin Edwards: I really hope I get around to reading this book. River Phoenix was more than Joaquin Phoenix’s older brother, and by all accounts this bio delves fiercely into the complexities of River Phoenix’s Hollywood reality. (On Kindle)

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann: Another “book gone by” that I am hoping to reclaim this summer. It is 1974 and a tightrope walker is hanging out between the Twin Towers, which is kind of all I know about this one so far (without looking at the Goodreads bio).  And basically, everyone keeps telling me to read this one.

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman: I read The Magicians quite awhile back, and I might have to do a re-read before I pick up The Magician King. I am kicking myself that I didn’t keep up with this trilogy, but I was partially disturbed by The Magicians – not because it is particularly disturbing, but because it was touted as the “adult Harry Potter” books. Quite frankly, the worst thing a magical/fantasy book can be called is the “(fill in the blank) Harry Potter” book. Grossman’s trilogy (as far as I have gotten) is just fine fantasy – there’s not need to inflate any Harry Potter-esque hopes and dreams. It is a disservice to the author and Harry Potter fans alike. Time has passed and I now feel ready to read (and enjoy) Grossman’s trilogy out from under the shadow-y pressure to be the “next Harry Potter”.

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward: Captured in 12 days and set in coastal Mississippi, Ward won the 2012 National Book award for her story of a motherless family driven together and apart as a building hurricane looms int he background.

Shine Shine Shine, by Lydia Netzer: We got this book and The Age of Miracles at the same time. I obviously picked Miracles, and somehow Netzer’s debut novel got lost in the “to-read” shuffle. Still an enormously appealing plot (Sunny Mann’s quest for perfection and her genius-husband Maxon’s quest for the moon), I have a suspicious feeling this will be a “read in one sitting” kind of book.

The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham: I am refusing to read the plot summaries for Cunningham’s latest book. The only thing I know to be true is that I loved The Hours and I will give anything written by Cunningham a fair shot.

You can see my summer reading list on Goodreads.

-Signing off, Ms. Barrows (who cannot wait to read ALL THE THINGS!)

…A Look Forward

Summer Preview – The Mr. Gette Version

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Ah, Summer! A time to relax, rejuvenate, and – of course – read! I’m going to be traveling this summer, so I wanted to make sure my Kindle was packed with diverse and interesting titles. And I’ve got my eye on a few books on the shelves as well…

Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory: This is cheating a bit, since I read it over Memorial Day weekend. A scientist who’s been in and out of mental institutions after overdosing on her own drug tries to stop said drug from being made again. Which is heard in a a future where drug recipes can be downloaded from the internet and printed to order on chemical printers. Oh, and the drug makes you see God. It’s a fun book, with deeply strange characters.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie: Won the Clarke, won the Nebula, a finalist for the HugoI want to read this so badly.  An AI which used to control a spaceship and thousands of bodies is now limited to just one. A space-opera revenge story.

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer: Four women form an expedition in an attempt to explore the mysterious Area X – and maybe find out what happened to the previous ten expeditions.

Bellfield Hall, by Anna Dean: Regency period historical mystery. Caught my eye because it had a starred review on Kirkus. And I love historical mysteries. (On Kindle)

Charm and Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn: A boy with anger issues thinks there’s a wolf inside him. There’s some central mystery here, and I can’t wait to find out what it is. (On Kindle)

Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland: The Canterbury Tales, but with more plague. (On Kindle)

Death of a Dyer, by Eleanor Kuhns: Did I mention that I like historical mysteries? This is the sequel to A Simple Murder which I read and enjoyed last summer. (On Kindle)

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison: An exiled prince becomes emperor when the rest of his family is killed, and is dropped into an unfamiliar world full of palace intrigue. It’s been getting rave reviews. (On Kindle)

Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker: Two magical creatures from different mythologies and cultures meet in turn of the century New York City. Also it is blue.

Longbourne, by Jo Baker: Pride and Prejudice, from the servants’ point of view. Oh, Jane Austen fanfiction. (On Kindle)

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson: The Junior School went crazy for Steelheart this year (there was an actual fight over it at one of the Bookmobiles). Sanderson is famous for his inventive magic systems. And I love a good thief tale.

The Ocean at the End of the Laneby Neil Gaiman: Given my massive Neil Gaiman fanboyism, I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet. (On Kindle)

Vicious, by V. E. Schwab: Superpowers! Prison breaks! College!  (On Kindle)

 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler: Any book that is supposed to be outrageously funny is good with me. When she’s five, Rosemary’s twin sister Fern disappears. If you read anything about this book, even the cover, it gives the twist away, but I won’t spoil it here.  (On Kindle)

Winger, by Andrew Smith: I enjoyed Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle and the creepy The Marbury Lens. And Winger’s drawings make me think of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, which I adore.  (On Kindle)

Books that I forgot about until I read Ms. Barrow’s blog post:

Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell – How could I forget about Rainbow Rowell?! And Landline comes out in July…

So that’s my preliminary list. We’ll see what else catches my eye as the summer goes on.

You can see my summer reading list on Goodreads.

Signing off, Mr. Gette (who checked out Annihilation today! Take that, Barrows!)

 

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)

Summer Reading Review: What I Actually Read

Last Spring, I wrote a blog post outlining what I planned to read over the summer. So, how’d I do?

Let’s start by confessing what I didn’t get around to:

1. Anything by Jane Austen. Or anything about Jane Austen. Nope.

2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.  “But Mr. Gette,” I hear you say, “you have a copy in the library!” Why yes. Yes we do. And it stayed in the library. 

3. Ready Player OneSome day, book. Some day.

4. Scott Pilgrim.  I watched the movie again…

Alright, that’s enough public wringing of hands. Now, what did I read?

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1. A whole lot of fantasy. I took a class over the summer on fantasy literature, which had a lot of required reading: Lewis Carroll,  C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, and J. K. Rowling. I’d read everything accept The Amber Spyglass before, so I won’t review anything in depth here. But I will say that you have not lived until you have seen 10 teachers and librarians fight over whether Harry Potter is or will be a classic.

Also, given that I read 12 books for this, I feel like I get a pass on some of the stuff above.

2. The Black Count. Probably my favorite of the books I read this summer.  Popular nonfiction at its finest, this book chronicles the life of Alexander Dumas the eldest, which bears some similarity to his son’s novels – in particular, The Count of Monte Cristo (which I started reading the second I finished The Black Count). Part biography, part story of the rise and fall of French abolitionism and civil rights. Coming soon to a Calarco library shelf near you!

3. WatergateI’m a huge fan of All the President’s Men, and I’ve read it multiple times. I decided I wanted to read a more comprehensive view of Watergate – one that covered more than Woodward and Bernstein’s points of view. This one took me a while to get through, mostly because of how exhaustive it is, but it covers a lot that I’d never heard about. If you want a quick read, go with All the President’s Men. If you want a thorough one, go with this.

4. The DivinersNot as good as Beauty Queensbut better than Going Bovine. A supernatural tale set in the Roaring 20’s. with plenty of mystery, romance, and dead villains. The characters were solid, even if I wished that Evie would stop using slang in every single sentence.  Plenty of questions are raised that don’t get answered – obvious hooks for the sequel.  I should be used to such tricks by now, but it’s still disappointing.

5. A Simple MurderA weaver goes to a Shaker commune to find his son and is enlisted to solve a murder.  A solid mystery, with plenty of red herrings. I had to keep reminding myself that William Rees’ awful misogyny was period appropriate (the book is set in the late 1700’s). Only the fact that I was in England and had no space for books kept me from immediately getting the sequel.

6.  Five Flavors of DumbA deaf teenager becomes the manager for a band. Do you really need more of a hook than that? Smart YA, with teenagers acting like teenagers, and not adults with a layer of hair dye and math homework.

7. Midnight Riot. I don’t like urban fantasy – unless it involves a government agent or private detective and some ghosts or demons or other things that go bump in the night (please see Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and Charlie Stross’s Laundry Files series). In this case, it’s a police officer who can speak to ghosts, which comes in handy when a spectre is the only witness to a murder.

8. Murder on the Orient ExpressA classic mystery, which I had never read before. Perfect for a day when it would. not. stop. raining. Since it’s a part of the common culture, I was pretty sure I knew what happened, but it was still a good read – which should be the test of any mystery.

And some other books that I can’t remember right now. Not a bad list, if I do say so myself. Not enough epidemiology, though.

-Signing off, Kit Gette (who is already planning his list for Thanksgiving break. Is that wrong?)