Summer reading reviews

Summer unofficially ended this weekend, and that, coupled with the 10 Books that Stayed with You list circulating FB, is perfect motivation to reflect on this summer’s reading list. In order of most recent to late spring:

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House of Sand and Fog

Ohhhhhh my, I am so happy to be done with this book. The writing is haunting, and it is just gripping enough to make you not want to quit it from the beginning. But the whole time you know it is going to be a difficult ride. A lighthearted look at life in the Bay Area, this book is NOT. The complex back story of immigration and upward/downward mobility kept me going through the haunting and disturbing week in the life of four characters on Bisgrove Lane. I have ZERO desire to watch the movie or relive this experience. I’ll need to watch at least three episodes of Ricks Steeves tonight to make for the mind warping experience of finishing this book.

At least the alternate book cover made me laugh:

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One More Thing

On a completely different note, I finished the audio version of this yesterday afternoon driving back from Irvine. I listened to a lot of it on my own and couldn’t quite get into it. A few stories made me laugh, but I kept wondering how much of it was BJ Novak filling space to make a few short stories worthy of a whole book. I think the trick was listening to it with someone else. David and I listened to the last third on the drive, and sorry for the cheese, but it was much better! It was hilarious. And heartbreaking in its honesty and awkwardness-I still can’t stop thinking about “One of these days we have to do something about Willie.” If I’m having a rough day, I might just listen to “Missed Connections” again-that one made me laugh out loud listening to it alone in the kitchen.

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Barefoot in the Park

Ok, this is actually a play. Some NPR list recommended the full collection of Niel Simon plays when I googled “Audio Books for a Long Car Ride.” This was the first play, and it came on just as we were driving south on the Grapevine. The story opens with a couple in the early 1960s, returning from their honeymoon, to their tiny apartment in a 6th floor walk up, and as Wikipedia says, “learning to live as a couple while facing the usually daily ups-and-downs. Corrie wants Paul to become more easy-going to, for example, run ‘barefoot in the park.'” Laura Linney is the lead, and it was certainly entertaining. I grew up on Nick at Night (if I was at my grandparents, at our house, it was whatever 1950s/60s comedies were rerunning on Fox 11 since we didn’t have cable) so I love this kind of comedy. On the drive back north, David requested no more plays, please. So, an even split of approval at our house :)

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Little Bee

A colleague lent this to me on my trip to DC, so my reading of it coincided with Katie and Dave’s #afrimoon. I had to keep reminding myself, Katie and Dave are in Kenya, not Nigeria, this will not happen to them. I was happy when they made it home safe and sound. It’s clear that the author is also a journalist, as he is so careful with details and facts about immigration and British policy. Like House of Sand and Fog, it’s told through multiple characters. Here, the lead is incredibly heroic and sympathetic. I finished the book embarrassed that I know so little about detention centers in the US let alone in England. Although, a few days later, I was listening to a story about a man who had been released from a detention center, and I found myself much more engaged his story because of what I learned in Little Bee. Again, cheesy, but I love that reading can do that-help me relate to what is happening in the world because I feel more of a connection to it through characters in a story.

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10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Ever Said

This is hardly a book, it’s such a quick read (adapted from a speech), but I loved the author’s advice and anicdotes. Every spring, I love reading commencement speeches, but I must have missed this one from Chris Wheelen in 2011. I actually bought the book last Christmas for an office gift exchange that never happened, and rediscovered it when I was unpacking. The book makes me want to learn more about the Harvard Study of Adult Development. The study followed a group of Harvard sophomores for 70 years (1937-2007). When the director of the study was asked what he learned from all the data, he said: “the only thigh that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” Yes, kind of totally obvious, but helpful to have 70 years of data to back up that priority.

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This is Where I Leave You

The movie version of this is coming out this fall, and the whole time I listened to it (another audio book), I felt like the author was setting it up to be easily adapted into a screenplay. It’s mostly dialogue and is both cringeworthy and hilarious. Another one where you don’t really like any of the characters, but here, their antics are so bizarre and amusing, it keeps you engaged. Really excited for the film.

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Blue Nights

Joan Didion-wow. It took me a while to feel like I would be emotionally ready for these books-I just read The Year of Magical Thinking this winter. That beautiful, true, gripping love story had me feeling everything-one of my absolute favorite books. Blue Nights is also a beautiful, true and heartbreaking love story, and her writing is just incredible. I remember seeing her speak at the Festival of Books at UCLA. It must have been my sophomore year. It was just after Year was released, after Quintana was sick, but before she passed away. I remember thinking Joan Didion reminded me of a bird-you could just see her heartbreak in every sense of her physical self. Her loss is gut wrenching. It almost feels absurd to remark on her writing when she is writing about her tragedies, but her writing is just mesmerizing.

I’m so enjoying reading everyone’s 10 Books that Stayed lists, and thinking of my Fall to-reads. Next up, I need to re-read Middlesex. Heather invited me to her book club on the 20th and this is the book. It’s been nearly a decade since I read it, so I need to re-read. But I might try to squeeze in the new Emily Giffin first. After the roller coaster of Sand and Fog, I need some bubblegum before jumping into 500 pages of Jeffery Eugenides.

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