Column written by Lisa Gibalerio
Once a summer, I devote a column to the books I’ve been reading since the start of the lazy-hazy-crazy season. As I’ve alluded to in the past, there is something about summertime reading that feels set apart from other seasons of the year.
Deciding what to read is definitely half the fun. Sources include NPR’s summer reading recommendations, as well as suggestions from the magazine we subscribe to (The Week), and – most importantly – recommendations from friends. And often, I’ll pick something up not found on any list just because. This was so with my first read of the season.
I started this summer with a slim novel by John Steinbeck called The Moon is Down. Written in the midst of World War II, it tells the story of a small town’s presumed to be somewhere in Norway resistance to Nazi occupation. At first glance, the Nazi’s have an easy time assuming control of the town and taking over its coal production. Soon, residents mount a series of insidious counter-attacks that leave the Germans bewildered and debilitated. The book is paced well and crisply written. It’s hard not to cheer for the underdog residents as they retaliate in the spirit of reclaiming their freedom and their town.
I then tackled a book that did appear on many summer lists: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. The book follows the lives of a group of teenagers who meet at a summer camp for gifted artists in the mid-1970s. For me, this book – which is receiving rave reviews – was disappointing and clearly did not live up to the hype. For starters, it’s 200 pages too long. (Have editors gone the way of the milkman, I wonder?) And while some of the characters were “interesting,” most were not. Having never attended summer camp, never identified with the artsy, gifted crowd, I found myself thinking “I guess you had to be there …”
A friend handed me Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. It’s light, she said, so adjust your expectations accordingly. The book is certainly light, and it’s also fun and amusing. Check it out!
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud appeared on many “must read” lists and did not disappoint. It tells the story of a schoolteacher living in Cambridge who becomes drawn into the lives of a cosmopolitan family that has relocated to Cambridge for a year. Her relationship with this family awakens long-abandoned dreams of creating art, of belonging, of being valued. However, from the opening sentence, we learn that something has gone horribly wrong. This book is engaging and a little creepy; I couldn’t put it down.
If you like short stories, I recommend This Close by Jessica Francis Kane. I don’t remember the details of many of the stories (which could be revealing), but I do remember enjoying them at the time. Many featured the lives of women at various stages of life. Her stories are engaging and well written, and reminded me of Alice Monroe’s style.
Switching gears this time to non-fiction, a friend handed me The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Yuck, I remember thinking, a memoir. I am not a fan of the memoir. My friend assured me that I would like this one, as it deals with death, dying, grief and great books.
Schwalbe and his mother share a love of reading and discussing books. His mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As he takes her to chemotherapy appointments, they discuss books.
I did like this memoir, mostly because I admired Will’s mother Mary Anne Schwalbe so much. She is smart and wealthy, but gives generously of herself and her resources. She accepts her cancer with grace, but fights it courageously, and – like me – she often reads the end of a book first.
Books that I hope to tackle in the remaining weeks of summer include another non-fiction entitled Wave by Sonali Deraniyuagala, who survived the December 2004 tsunami while her family did not. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout has received great reviews. I’m also looking into The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, which is one of author Annie Lamott’s favorite books of the summer, and two lighter reads my sister enjoyed: The View from Penthouse B and The Other Typist.
So, what have you been reading?