Hello All! I hope your summer is going well. I figure we’re somewhere around the mid-point of #20BooksofSummer (but am too lazy to do any actual counting), so I thought I’d check in and share how things have been going so far.
I’m happy to say that I’ve read five books on the list: Oral History, Truly Devious, Florida, Less, and The Guest Book. I started The Immortalists but didn’t make it very far before setting it down. Right off the bat it felt cliché to me, and the writing was uninspiring. Sometimes our instincts serve us well: I’d never added that one to my TBR because I suspected I wouldn’t care for it, and when it was voted as the choice for book club, I was wary but hoped for the best. I guess I’ll try to sell it back at some point. I’ve also only cheated on my stack once! I re-read Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted, just because. It was even more beautiful the second time around. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest it.
Of course I’d planned to write reviews for all the books I read, but June was a hellish work month and July has been busy with other things. And frankly, I’ve gotten lazy. I’ve stopped thinking as deeply as I used to about what I read. I would love to get back on track with that, but then something else always gets shorted. What a first-world problem! I have time to read. That’s the most important thing, period.
Here’s a quick rundown on what I’ve read so far:
Oral History. Ever got halfway through a book and realized you’ve read it before? That was me with Oral History. I cannot for the life of me remember if I read this book seven years ago or seventeen years ago. Oral History is the story of the Cantrell family, whose stories are told through multiple characters in first or third person, bringing us up to present day, which is the early 1980s (the book was published in 1983). If you aren’t one for reading stories in dialect, this book (and many of Smith’s other books as well) will not be your jam. Several sections are written in what you might call Appalachian English; however, this is no amateur’s [read: citified MFA student’s] attempt at crappy dialect to make the story seem “more real.” Smith, a native of the region, has an empathic and exacting ear for the region’s dialect, as well as for the people who live there.
Truly Devious. This first book in Maureen Johnson’s YA mystery trilogy was solidly smart and entertaining. Stevie Bell gets accepted into the eccentric Ellingham Academy, where she wants to solve the mystery of what happened to the disappeared wife and daughter of the school’s founder, Albert Ellingham. However, soon after she arrives at the school, someone is murdered. Is there a connection? Hm. This book is such great fun. I loved, loved, loved The Westing Game when I was a kid, and this book has some of that same spirit. Johnson deftly weaves in current political and social themes without letting them overtake the central story.
Florida. I loved Delicate Edible Birds and was so hoping to love this—but no. There’s no question that Groff can write beautiful sentences. But there’s something performative about these stories. I felt like I could see her working the lines for effect, which made these stories feel the opposite of effortless. The narrators in three or four stories are interchangeable—middle-aged, professional white women, usually writers or professors, and weirdly, all with two young sons—and the stories overall are filled with middle-class, white malaise. Ultimately, this book didn’t open up or examine anything I haven’t seen before, which I found strange. I expected a more interesting take on location and landscape and especially the people, but I was disappointed. If anything, this felt like the sort of self-conscious prose styling that makes a lot of people avoid picking up short stories.
Less. Arthur Less is about to turn fifty, and his younger ex-lover is marrying another man, so Less embarks on an around-the-world journey over the better part of a year to distract himself. I chortled and hooted my way through this book until the end, when I cried. It took some time for me to warm up to Arthur, but when I did, I could not put the book down. To write a story that is at once funny and also melancholy is no easy feat, and Greer manages to work that delicate balance so cleanly. That means the sadness can cut so sharply through a funny moment, and the humor arises where you might not expect it. This book got so many raves I was a bit wary, but it earns every five-star rating and prize it’s been awarded.
The Guest Book. If this book had been the New England family saga I had expected, complete with top-drawer family secrets and sailing and madras and seersucker, I would have been just fine with it. However, Blake has written a book that’s much deeper–and much more current–than I expected. She takes an unflinching look at the dark side of white privilege, especially WASP privilege, and how so many people who had a hand in shaping America failed to right so many wrongs, mainly because they couldn’t see that they were a huge part of the problem.
I’m currently about halfway through The Left Hand of Darkness. I won’t spoil it, but I will say I can definitely see why readers and writers of all genres hold Le Guin up as a great writer.
I don’t want to brag (or jinx anything), but I think I might actually make it all the way through the challenge this year! How about you? How’s your summer reading going?