Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Reading: Tuesday's Reflection

Why is it I always make a list of books I want to read in the summer? Why bother when, looking back at the end of summer, I discover I have read only a few of the books I included on my list, but had wandered onto other titles?  

As a lifelong list-maker (I think I will add the initials LLM) after my name from now on), the very idea of creating another list is an opportunity not to be missed. Plus, there is always that feeling of summer stretching in front of us (Has anyone else noticed that it is already June 23 and July is already almost here?) and while I want to relax and let myself ooze into the days, I also don't want to let the days slip away without notice. Thus, a list as a source of measurement. Am I using these days well?

I look at my bookshelves, especially the shelves of books unread as of yet and think, yup, this summer I am going to finally read George Eliot's Middlemarch and finally, probably the last person in literate America, read Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals about Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, but I fear the summer will end with both of those still unread. 

This summer I will be writing more than reading, thanks to personal goals I have set for myself and also because of the intensive online class I am taking. The class, however, includes   assigned reading in some excellent writing books, and I am especially eager to reread I Could Tell You Stories, Sojourns in the Land of Memory by Minnesota's own Patricia Hampl

Because of my reading restrictions this summer, making THE LIST seems even more crucial this year. Suggestions and inspiration, as always comes from a variety of sources. First, there was an intriguing list reported in Bookwomen. BBC polled dozens of U.S. book critics, asking them to name the best books so far in this century. Four of the 20 books selected, by the way, are by women writers and a number are by writers of color from around the globe. I've only read four of the 20, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I recommend all four. One on the list intrigues me, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and a couple others are ones I missed when they first came out and I am grateful they have come to my attention again, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, but I don't know if they will make the summer list.

Another great source of inspiration is our couple's book group. We gathered this last weekend and discussed The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, which received mixed reviews from our esteemed group. I did not care for it myself. A couple months ago we read Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, many of us having read it more than once, and had one of our best discussions ever. Based on that, I wondered if we should consider revisiting books we had read earlier in our lives, possibly because they were assigned in high school or college classes. I encouraged our group to think about classics that might appeal more to our mature and experienced minds OR to think about books we loved the first time around and would like to read again. Here are some of those suggestions:
* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This book was one of the last books my mother read before she died. She had read it when it was first released and loved it both the first and second time. I read it many years ago and loved it, too. Interestingly, this book, which is often viewed as a "girls' book" was mentioned to the group by one of the men who thought it was wonderful.
* Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The group moaned when this was mentioned, but nonetheless...
* Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner. This is probably my husband's favorite book and one the group loved the first time we read it many years ago. 
* Babbit by Sinclair Lewis. Two of us had heard Garrison Keillor mention this book in a recent talk and that sparked our interest. 
* Giant by Edna Ferber. I don't think I have ever read this, but surely, I have read some of her books along the way.

And, drum roll please, our August book selection is Babbit by Sinclair Lewis.

As I thought about books I want to reread, at the top of my list ALWAYS are all of the Jane Austen books. I can hear you groan, but I don't care. I would also like to read Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, which I think will achieve classic status for generations to come, and two books by A.S. Byatt, Possession and The Children's Book--all three of those books are big books, but ones I know I would not regret devoting time to. 

So, Nancy, get on with it, I hear you say, if you are still with me. What is on your summer reading list? 

* All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Our book group read this months ago, but I was not at that meeting and just didn't get to it, and now feels like the perfect time. It is on my bedside table, and I will start it today.  
* Babbit by Sinclair Lewis. I am eager for the discussion
* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith in homage to my mother and for the sheer pleasure of the reread. 
* The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
* Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell (Also recommended in book group)
* The new Louise Penny mystery due to be published in August. Can't wait. 

* The Grace in Aging, Awaken as You Grow Older by Kathleen Dowling Singh. This is my current morning meditation book, a slow, contemplative read, which I highly--deeply--recommend.
* Beween the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life by Joan Chittister
* The Odd Woman and the City, a memoir by Vivian Gornick. 

Books I Have Recently Read and Now Recommend

* Old Filth by Jane Gardam. FILTH stands for Failed in London Tried Hong Kong. I loved this book about a man who was a judge in Hong Kong but retires in England and looks back over his life.
* The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfrid Price, Puveryor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones. Set in Wales in 1924, I fell in love with the characters in this book who come to accept their own faults, as they encounters challenges to their hopes and dreams. A gentle and lovely book. 
* The Soul of a Pilgrim, Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner. Wonderful chapters on crossing the threshold and walking, and embracing the unknown, among others. 

For Your Consideration and Reflection

          Has it ever occurred to you that the acts of reading
          and meditation resemble each other in many ways?
          Both are usually done alone, in silence and physical
          stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves--body,
          mind, and heart--engaged. Both can draw us deeply into
          ourselves. Our consciousness shifts. We are not our
          everyday selves with various roles to play in our
          families, our jobs, society, with our concerns, major 
          and minor, about the people we love, the things we 
          to do, our needs and wants, the state of the world. We
          become centered, our energy concentrated, with no
          purpose served by what we are doing other than the act 
          itself. We are, at the moment, only the reader, or the
                                          Walking a Literary Labyrinth,
                                           A Spirituality of Reading, pp.1-2
                                           Nancy M. Malone

An Invitation
Obviously, I am eager to know what is on your summer reading list. Happy reading! 



  1. I was just telling Maren about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and was thinking this would be a good summer for her to read it.

  2. Maybe the three of us can read this at the same time and talk about it.

  3. Marta from Richardson, Texas sent me the following:
    Our book club has read and enjoyed the following:
    The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown
    Once We Were Brothers by Ronald Balson
    A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
    The Storied LIfe of A.J Filkry by Gabrielle Zevin
    Ordinary Grace by Kent Krueger
    80 Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bislands HIstory Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman
    Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford


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