I always have grand plans for my summer reading – and a teetering stack of books – that I never manage to conquer. This summer, though, I did manage to get through half of my list. It doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but it felt like one to me. Here’s something to be said for a struggling economy: I didn’t spend the whole summer bulking up on stock and had a lot more time for clearing clutter out of my apartment and savoring my pile of books.
The last school year was a particularly difficult one, and felt like it lasted forever. When it was finally over in the first week of June I wanted something that I knew would be absorbing, well-written and completely escapist. Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys fit the bill. It was a thoroughly satisfying read: well-paced, beautifully funny and full of likeable and thoroughly unlikeable characters. Favorite line: “By the windmills of Babyland he sat down and wept…” Any book that offers such a wildly complex and irreverent joke is recommended.
A friend loaned me Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp (by C.D. Payne). It’s hilarious, but very long, and I got tired of it before I reached the finish line. In all fairness, that may have something to do with my job – when you work with teenagers, it’s a little awkward to read their deepest triumphs and humiliations presented as a felony-charged hormonal romp. The distance from reality ought to have been refreshing, but it stressed me out a bit. Well-written and truly funny, and recommended to people who don’t spend their days arranging counseling for exactly this kid. Mainly, I really want to know: where are these magical doughnut shops where Nick gets maple bars and orange-glazed plain cake and all manner of other tempting sugar fixes? Perfectly summed up with a doughnut-related quote: “I experimented with the house specialty: a blueberry-filled raised roll, topped with peanut butter and chocolate chips. It was good, but somewhat lacking in focus.”
The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff was another loaner. This is Groff’s first novel, and for a long time (3/4 of the book) I didn’t think she was going to pull it off. It’s overly precious and I was more interested in two tiny plot points than I was in the main character’s storyline (please write a novel about Clarissa’s parents next time). There’s a lot of historical backstory for the main character, presented in alternating chapters in the voices of different narrators. When I was 200 pages in and she was still introducing characters, I was sure there was no way out of the morass. I was wrong. Groff surprised me with a gracious and completely satisfying ending (and then ended the book two more times). Still, in its love of place and home, this ended up being a moving reminder of my own family home and the ghosts of history.
More booknerdiness to follow; stay tuned.