I was all over the place in July, both geographically and literarily. Last month’s reading spanned from a huge bestseller, to two Pulitzer Prize-winners, to a few rereads of old favorites.
1. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume: This was my first time rereading this book since I was a teenager and, um, did anyone else realize there was so much sex in here? No wonder I loved it at sixteen. This time through it felt a little overdone to me, but the story of two girls who spend their summers together on Martha’s Vineyard, and the painful ways in which they grow up and grow apart, will always be one of my favorites.
See Also: Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah
2. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling): First of all, let’s just put it out there that I will read any damn thing this woman writes, period, the end, forever. That said, I find her detective novels frustrating for the simple reason that there are two kinds of mysteries and, for me, these are the wrong kind. The first type drops clues that the reader could conceivably pick up on and thus solve the mystery along with the characters. The second version builds to a twist that cannot possibly be anticipated, which adds to the shock value, but in my opinion takes away some of the fun. However, The Silkworm is still worth a read because she’s just such a great writer.
See Also: The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith
3. It Happened in Brooklyn, by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer: My mother was born in Brooklyn and my grandparents grew up there, so I thought this oral history was worth checking out. It covers the borough from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, with a heavy emphasis on the earlier years. I did find it interesting, and there’s something to be said for nostalgia, but overall I just could not get on board with the whitewashing. The book paints midcentury Brooklyn as a utopia where crime was non-existent and communities raised children as a group project, while at the same time lamenting the borough’s “urbanization” (hint: that means black people moved in) in later years. I love history, but I did not like the way this book rewrote it.
See Also: Low Life, by Luc Sante. Note: As much as I didn’t care for Brooklyn, that’s how good Low Life is. If you have any interest in the history of New York at all, definitely pick it up.
4. The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri: Two brothers in India grow up inseparable, until a tragedy forces them apart. Still, the choices they made while growing up have intertwined their lives in inextricable ways. Set half in India and half on the East Coast, this book follows the consequences of action and inaction over the course of two generations.
See Also: Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
5. Once Upon a Time in Great Britain, by Melanie Wentz: This is a combo primer on British children’s literature and travel guide for bibliophile tourists. There’s a chapter for each book, featuring a short biography of the author, an introduction to the real-life sites that influenced the work, and practical information for how to visit things and places connected to the story. My biggest take-away from this book was that serving as the inspiration for a children’s book is a messy business. I won’t ruin your childhood for you, but the kids who inspired Peter Pan in particular took a beating. Also, Christopher Robin hates being Christopher Robin. But! On the fun side! The woman who illustrated Mary Poppins is the daughter of the man who illustrated The Wind in the Willows. So there’s that.
See Also: Novel Destinations, by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon.
6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: My favorite Goodreads review of this post-apocalyptic nightmare just reads, “This wasn’t nearly as funny as everybody says it is.” The book is about a father and son making their way south through the United States, soonish after some cataclysmic event. We never learn what happened, or why, and to me, the book felt like a photograph taken an inch away from the subject—I was dying for more context, but that’s not the point. The boy is a perfect, Christ-like figure. He begs his father to help every starving, pathetic person they come across, and the father always refuses, because he is so solely focused on protecting the boy. The prose of The Road is incredibly stripped down and simple, but man, is it heavy. Do not read if you’re already blue.
See Also: The Darkest Minds, by Alexandra Bracken (I realize that bestselling YA may not seem like an apt comparison, but the settings were similar, even if no babies are roasted on spits in Ms. Bracken’s work.)
And the best thing I read this month:
7. Travels with Charley, by John Steinbeck: This is another of my favorite favorites. Steinbeck packs up a camper and hits the road with his dog, Charley, to discover the real America. I know Steinbeck is known for his more depressing works--The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men—but you will not believe how funny he is. His observations about the way real people live kept me giggling, and use the nostalgia factor that gets so misplaced in Brooklyn to perfection. I cannot recommend this book enough.
See Also: A Tramp Abroad, by Mark Twain