One of the things I love most about summer is having the time to read what I want to read.
During the school year, I have a great deal of reading to do for the lit. classes that I teach, and while I love those classics, I like being able to choose based on whim, rather than sequence.
After school was out in May, I began devouring books, and while I've slowed down a bit, (simply because there are school and other obligations creeping into the summer), I'm still happily reading, reading, reading.
We're blessed with a wonderful library system in Ann Arbor, and while you might have to wait a while for a book (my record was waiting five months for a copy of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova), you can usually get what you want.
For those in the U.S. with much smaller libraries, keep in mind that most states have wonderful interlibrary loan systems.
Okay, so here are a few of the books I've been reading, with completely subjective reviews:
Lush Life by Richard Price. I found out about this book through a post by Karen Olson on First Offenders. She raved about it, and since I love the books that Karen herself has written (Sacred Cows, Second Hand Smoke, Dead of the Day) I figured this was high praise. As it turns out, it was accurate praise. This is a truly extraordinary book, maybe destined to become a modern classic. It's not easy to read. I don't mean in terms of the prose or plot, both of which are rich and complex but not dense, but it's hard emotionally. The story concerns a murder in a section of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is currently populated by a mix of various low-income groups, some recent immigrants, some not, and the kind of up-and-coming, young artist-types that are portrayed in Rent. The themes are huge - life, family, redemption, stepping up and survival. The book doesn't feel in the least bit heavy handed. The beginning sections are a bit slow going, but once the police team of Matty Clark and Yolonda Hernandez come into the picture, the entire novel pops, and sucks you in through the last pages. If you can handle raw, harsh (but beautifully-written) material, this one's for you. Amazing.
Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. Okay, so I am reading this for work. This 1200-page classic, by a contemporary of Shakespeare's is full of surprises. I haven't dipped into it in many, many years. The humor is sly and Shakespearean and the chapters read like miniature episodes. There's some incredibly bawdy and gross stuff, but in general, the humor tends to poke fun at Spanish society in the early 1600s, which is why some of it is going to slide right by us. My main objection is that there is a sameness to the chapters, but since I'm only about a quarter of the way through, I'm hoping there will be a stronger story arc for our hero eventually.
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke. Funny, funny, funny, if a bit off-color. This is about the adventures of a mild, British business man, who just wants to drink a reasonably-sized cup of coffee and get laid during his year in Paris setting up British tea rooms for a French business concern. He finds that he's not a perfect cultural match, or perhaps any match, for his Parisian colleagues, who seem to live a life of incomprehensible rules and delights. If you've ever lived in Paris, gone to France, loved someone who is French, hated someone who is French or are either a Francophile or Francophobe (or all of the above), this is a very funny read.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I was really disappointed by this one. There are some great insights on growing up caught between two cultures, which is definitely an interest of mine, but I couldn't ultimately find a character who I was excited about, and the main character, Gogol, seemed fairly morally bereft in a way that I couldn't become involved with him. I was fascinated with the early story of his mother, Ashima, but then she was just left in the dust, only to make very brief appearances later in the story. Lahiri's prose is crystal and gorgeous, but the characters left me cold, and I guess it's a good character that draws me in more than anything else.
Well, enough of this for now. I'll post on a few more shortly.
What have you been reading this summer?
PSA: “Do you know anyone who has Pulmonary Haemosiderosis?”
Marie, a friend of Jo Beaufoix's has been diagnosed with this extremely rare disease. If you know of anyone who's had this, who has information on this disease, or who knows of support networks for this disease, please contact Jo. You can read her post here.
Thanks to Lilac Specs for spreading the word.