Sunday, July 13, 2014

What's On My Kindle This Summer

Since I haven't been running lately (yes, as it turns out, it was a little premature for me to say I was back), I have been doing a lot of reading instead (much easier on the knees).

Here's what I've been reading over the last few months (review to follow).

The chick lit

Rich sickos.
Liked, but could read with eyes closed.

The literary

Sittenfeld take three.
You had me at psychic twins.

Regrettably, a dud.

For bibliophiles

Old meets new.
Sympathetic book snob.

Historical fiction

Became another dud.

I guess I'm feeling a little less tolerant of my reading material these days, or else a little more accepting of my initial judgment of it. I used to make myself finish a book once I started it whether I liked it or not, but, just in these last few months, there were three books that I didn't finish. The first was The Luminaries, a Man Booker Prize winner that, by all accounts, I should've liked. My problem with it was that I couldn't attach myself to any one character, so I found myself losing interest. The second was The One and Only. I'm usually down for an Emily Giffin book, but I just don't like football, and the backdrop for this novel is steeped in Texas football,  including a football-obsessed protagonist/narrator. The third was a Victorian historical novel called The Quick. I was so excited to read this that I downloaded it the very day it was released. It started off well, but it very quickly turned into a book about vampires, which I know serve as cultural commentary and thus are very popular. For me, though, the vampire has overstayed its welcome.

However, the books that have been worth finishing have outnumbered those that have not. In just a few days, I devoured Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which is a fast-paced read about a mysterious bookstore and a quest by the novel's main character, Clay Jannon, to unlock its secrets. Thematically, the novel tackles the role of technology in our lives and whether or not, in a world of Amazon convenience and Google immediacy, we still care about books.

I read Sisterland and Man of My Dreams just as eagerly. I've been a Curtis Sittenfeld fan since her debut novel, Prep (2005). Although Man of My Dreams is a coming-of-age novel (told in third person) and Sisterland (told in first person) handles domesticity and motherhood, the voices of the main characters in both books are perceptive, self-conscious, blunt, and misguided (translate: lovable).

But Ladder of Years, by Pulitzer Prize-winning Anne Tyler, published back in 1995, was the standout. Also told in third person, this book features an escapist plot and masterful writing. Forty-year-old Delia Grinstead is unassuming and calmly, quietly resolute. After years of putting her family's needs before her own, she impulsively abandons them when she wanders off during a beach trip. Delia has been feeling unappreciated and, worse, invisible. When she is noticed by a stranger whom she meets at the supermarket, the acknowledgment proves irresistible and ignites a slow-burning anger toward her family. This anger reaches full bloom as she establishes a new identity in a new town. As she invests more fully in this new life, her former life, as a doctor's wife and as a mother, recedes into the distance. Because of the narrator's voice, such a welcome contrast to my own intensity, and because Tyler's slow-moving prose is understated yet precise, I found the book soothing and its resolution gratifying. If summer offers me the tiniest bit more freedom than the rest of the year, I want to read something that transports me to a different place and allows me to inhabit a different consciousness. Escapism is what summer and beach reads are all about, and this decades-old book of Tyler's delivers. 

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