Summer Reads 2014

I love a summer book. It’s not a vacation unless I find something I can fall into.

I’ve been working on my own stuff and haven’t been reading much until recently. I picked up a book or two over the winter but couldn’t get into anything. For a while there, I thought publishing had lost its collective mind and was publishing anything popular on Goodreads.

But recently, I’ve fallen into some fabulous books that I would love to share with you.

The Astor Orphanastor orphan

By Alexandra Aldrich

Obviously, I have an obsession with houses. Especially big old rambly ones and living on the fringes. The Astor Orphan was like Warsaw times twenty. Or a hundred. This memoir is about the Astor family and how they try to hold onto their enormous Hudson Valley mansion despite lack of funds. I was so impressed with the author. It’s her debut and she does such a fantastic job of selecting scenes from her life – selecting one scene from probably a hundred – to illustrate what her life was like, what it was like to live in a mansion but to be poor, how frightening and confining that could be. Man, I was impressed.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madnessbrain on fire

by Susannah Cahalan

I read this immediately after The Astor Orphan and while it didn’t have as much art as the previous memoir, Cahalan tells a fascinating story that had me turning the pages like any thriller. This memoir was a bonafide pageturner, describing how an autoimmune deficiency sent the author into a spiral of crazy that almost killed her. Makes you think about mental illness in a very different way.

The Sense of An Ending

by Julian Barnessense of an ending

I have problems with endings. Huge problems. So part of me was eager to read this slim novel just because of the title. And because I’ve enjoyed Julian Barnes stories in The New Yorker. The story of a middle-aged man whose past comes back to haunt him in a very real way, it was smart, sad and made me think for days. And yes, I definitely got the sense of an ending and the multiplicity of what that means.

Family Life

by Akhil Sharma

family lifeNormally, I steer clear of anything involving death or anything awful happening to a child. I didn’t used to be like this, but ever since I had children, I find it too painful to read or watch anything bad that happens to children. For a little while, I didn’t think I’d be able to read Family Life because it deals with this problem head on. It’s about his brother’s tragic accident from diving into a swimming pool, hitting his head on the bottom and the devastating brain damage that ultimately tears the author’s family apart.  Minimally written, with spare and moving prose, I especially enjoyed the narrator’s depiction of himself. He was flawed and terrible, but so sweet, you couldn’t help but love him. A very difficult thing to do. Masterful use of spare humor in a world of cruelty. I also enjoyed the author’s interviews about his struggles writing this book and how it took him twelve years to complete it. I am over the “I wrote this book in one month!” story that the media is obsessed with. That is rarely how it works and Sharma talks about his struggles honestly and gives insightful lessons on how writers really work in this essay on The New Yorker.

Now if my library would just get a copy of Karl Ove I would be set for the summer. That book is everywhere but not one library in the tri-cities area carries a copy. Yes, I know, I should just buy it. But: money. And libraries are awesome. (And I think Karl Ove doesn’t need my money now anyway. A million copies! Bravo, brother.)

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