Ah, nothing brings back the school days more than the phrase Summer Reading. I remember having to read a slew of books and take notes on them all before the school year began. I couldn’t stand it. Not the books, I’ve always loved reading, but the being forced part of the equation. Of course looking back on it, they made me read some great books: Brothers Karamazov, Dandelion Wine, even Dune.
This summer, I’ve been trying to find more time to read and now that my buying season appointments are at an end, I’ll hopefully have more time to blog.
So far this summer, I’ve read Charity Girl by local author Michael Lowenthal (and not due out until next January). Did you know that during WWI, the government quarantined and incarcerated young women who were thought to have venereal diseases? And they did this in the Boston area! Charity Girl is the story of 17 year old Frieda Mintz, a bundle wrapper at Jordan Marsh. She’s fled her horrible home and tries to set up a life for herself, which isn’t easy on her pay. She makes the mistake of spending a night with a soldier and gets sent to a makeshift quarantine camp. Besides being a historical novel, Lowenthal infuses Frieda with enough character to make you want to survive her experiences.
I jumped for joy when I got my hands on a copy of William Boyd’s upcoming novel Restless at BEA in May—Any Human Heart is one of my favorite books. I must say that I was disappointed with this book. Boyd, like Banville, takes a leap into the espionage genre with Restless. In the summer of 1976, Sally Gilmartin thinks someone is trying to kill her. She finally tells her daughter Ruth, a young single mother, her true history. Sally is really Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigre recruited by the British Secret Service during WWII after her much beloved older brother’s murder (also a spy). Going back and forth between present day and the war, the story details Eva’s secret history as well as why someone might be trying to kill her now. The story, while interesting, lacked the nuances of Boyd’s previous works.
Chimamanda Adichie’s new novel Half of a Yellow Sun, coming from Knopf in September, more than lives up to her previous book Purple Hibiscus (one of the few books to make me cry). Her new book follows several characters during Biafra’s struggle to establish independence from Nigeria in the 1960’s. Thirteen year old Ugwu works as a houseboy for a revolutionary university professor Odenigbo. Olanna, the professor’s mistress and later his wife, has abandoned her more luxurious life in Lagos to live with her lover in a small town. Her estranged twin sister Kainene takes up as her lover an English author Richard. The vivid writing deftly combines the political and the personal in this provocative novel. This is definitely a book to watch out for in the Fall.
Right now I am enjoying Elizabeth Gilbert’s earlier book The Last American Man. I am also excited about reading Richard Power’s upcoming novel The Echo Maker coming from FSG in October. Also Da Chen’s first novel Brothers is high on my list as well as Them by Francine du Plessix Gray.
What are you reading this summer? Read anything good or do you have any suggestions?
I read the new Powers’ book last month and thought it was exceptional. Lately I’ve really enjoyed Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season, and though I’m no mystery buff by any stretch, really liked Chris Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase as well. Looking forward to reading the Boyle book later this week too.
Let me know what you think when you’ve finished the Boyd. I’m afraid that my high expectations ruined the book for me.
I loved “Any Human Heart” too. I’m sorry to hear that you don’t think the new one measures up.
My best read so far this summer was a first novel by a young Canadian writer: “Stolen” by Annette Lapointe (Anvil Press). A powerful and daring piece of work.
Doggy Style by Jane May! Did you know that the protagonist has a MYSPACE PAGE?
I’m reading Phillip Cole’s ‘The Myth of Evil’, which is really excellent. It’s on top of a pile of Philip Roth’s ‘Everyman’ (which I’ve still not got round to, despite its slender size) and Alice Munroe’s ‘Runaway’.
I’ve got a troika of Russia-themed books on my TBR list. Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life Of Sukhanov will probably be my next read. And then there’s Dostoevesky’s The Adolescent and a Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of Chekov’s short stories.
And then (and then!) Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and T.C. Boyle’s World’s End. And I’m really wanting to fit a re-read of Mike Dash’s Batavia’s Graveyard in somewhere.
And I even have the temerity to consider dipping my feet into John Cheever’s works.
So many books, so little time. (Or so it seems to us less-prolific readers.) This will likely take me well into the fall.
One more love letter for Any Human Heart. I still handsell that book a fair bit, and its a beauty. I’m still looking forward to his new book, but perhaps less so now. Oh well.
More crime stuff in the summer for me, so the new (ish) Sara Gran 50s era crime novel, Dope really runs the table. Also Two Trains Running, new in paper from Andrew Vachss, is pretty damn fine, also.
Somewhat glad to hear that you didn’t love the new Boyd. I was so disappointed in it, but wondered how much of that was because we weren’t publishing it. It’s definitely one of his lesser works.
As for my summer plans… after I do all my reading for conference, I hope to read WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. I’ve heard such good things. I’d also like to read a classic or two. something I haven’t read (A Dickens, Faulkner or Roth), or maybe re-read a favorite (1984 or Gatsby).
I really recommend Leora Skolkin-Smith’s “Edges, O Israel, O Palestine” especially now with the war there so inexplicably violent and frightening. It is a personal, moving, and deeply felt book about 1963 Jerusalem and recently was awarded a stipend from The PEN/Faulkner Foundation’s Writer-in-the-School Program. It was also a Jewish Book Council Selection and a recent Bloomsbury review “Pick” Favorite of The Last 25 Years. Also it was edited and published herself by Grace Paley. I am also saddened when a smaller press book like this doesn’t get the attention it so deserves because it isn’t hyped. The writing is gorgeous,and the land comes magically alive.