Reading mothers. Yes, there are a lot of us out there, but we don't have time to fool around. We have to sneak our reading time in during waits in carpool lines and doctors' offices, during babies' naps and even in the middle of the night, propping a book on the arm of the rocking chair while breastfeeding.
I breathe a sigh of relief when summer comes, and the kids are out of school, and vacation holds the promise of more reading time. Sometimes the slower pace of summer is merely an illusion, but I do find myself pool or beach-side occasionally, and if my husband will watch the kids, I try to really read - to really lose myself in a book. Those moments are rare indeed.
Here are a few books I can recommend for your summer reading, and here's hoping you get some precious reading time by the pool:
The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver
Ever wonder what your life might be like if you'd made one crucial choice differently, like marrying a different man? This juicy, beautifully written novel is about that kind of choice, and the effect it has on a 40-ish, female American expatriate book illustrator living in London. The writer tells parallel tales in alternating chapters, about main character Irina’s life if she stays with her stable but unexciting relationship with her longtime boyfriend Lawrence, or if Irina acts on her impulse to kiss sexy Ramsay Acton, sending her life down a different path, into a sexually exciting but volatile relationship with Ramsay. Shriver doesn't present either life choice as a bed of roses, and makes her readers confront all the shades of gray in such choices. And Shriver also confounds the reader's expectations with several well thought out plot twists, making the reader think long and hard about what part of human destiny is chance, and what part is choice. Click Here to purchase.
The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir, by A.M. Homes
This memoir is about the author's search, as an adoptee, to find out about both her families, birth and adopted. The author, a novelist, was given up for adoption before she was born. When her biological mother seeks her out, she finds out that this woman who bore her was a young, single woman who was having an affair with an older, married man with a family. Homes negotiates a sort of relationship with her unstable biological mother, and begins an often painful reconstruction of her family's history. This memoir is a startlingly honest investigation into identity, the definition of family, and the search for self within the context of both nature and nurture. I also found it to be a moving and eye-opening look at one person's coming to terms with what it means to be adopted. Click Here to purchase.
Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, March, sets her first historical novel in a fictional English village in the year 1666. This novel was inspired by the true story of the English village of Eyams, which, when struck by the plague in 1665-6, quarantined itself for a year, which led to the deaths of two-thirds of the village, but saved nearby towns from devastation. Brooks imagines a village where plague arrives in a flea-ridden bolt of cloth via an itinerant tailor, to bring an ugly painful death. Led by a charismatic minister, the town pledges to cut itself off from the rest of the world, until the disease runs its course. Brooks creates a strong and appealing heroine in Anna Frith, a young widow and servant to the minister and his wife. While the town is torn apart by the plague, and it brings out many of its people's baser instincts, Anna finds, even in the midst of her own tragedy, strength she never knew she possessed, and skills to re-imagine her own life. Anna might be a little modern in her sensibilities, but she is emotionally believable. The writer skillfully evokes 17th century life, it's customs, mores and superstitions, and creates a world worth getting immersed in. Click Here to purchase.
The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle
Kyle's debut novel is set on a ranch in the Colorado desert, and it is narrated by 12-year-old Alice Winston, daughter of a depressive mother who can't get out of bed, and a father scrambling to make ends meet on their horse ranch. After Alice's sister Nona elopes with a rodeo cowboy, and a classmate of Alice's is found drowned in a nearby canal, Alice's life couldn't look any bleaker. But though it never gets any less complicated, life does go on for Alice, and she learns hard lessons about love, friendships, and the burdens of adult life. Kyle captures the confusion of coming of age in a world that doesn't seem to care about you. Her descriptions of the western landscape, the unvarnished details she provides of horse breeding and ranch life, and the nuanced portraits she paints of the characters that populate this world make this a haunting and powerful first novel. Click Here to purchase.
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
In this daring and ingenious novel (that was short listed for the Booker Prize), Mitchell uses six different genres to tell six different stories, all linked together, but not obviously at first. It's fascinating to piece together the connections between the disparate stories, which include the diaries of a clerk sailing through the South Seas in the 19th century, letters from a ne'er-do-well but talented composer in the 1930s, an account of a female reporter cracking a story about a crooked corporation in the 1970s, the misadventures of an aging English publisher in the present day who plots an escape from a nursing home, the testament of a clone slave who breaks free in futuristic, corporate-controlled Korea, and an oral history of a band of people in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, who fight for their survival against less civilized tribes of marauders. Though complex in theme and structure, this novel is totally accessible. Actually, it's a real page-turner, and I sped to the end to see how the lives of the different protagonists turned out, and how they connected to each other. I'm looking forward to reading Mitchell's new novel, Black Swan Green. Click Here to purchase.
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
The book tells the story of 16-year-old orphan Sai, who has come to Kalimpong, a hill station in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, to live with her crusty, old grandfather Jemubhai Patel, a retired judge, who is more attached to his dog than to any human. In parallel is the story of Biju, son of the judge's cook, who has gone to America to make money, and struggles there in menial jobs. The book is what I call a time travelogue, transporting me to another time and place, this time northern India on the eve of revolution in the late 1980s. I think the writer has done a beautiful job describing the time and place, and I like Sai, her budding romance with her Nepalese tutor Gyan, and all of the colorful minor characters who populate Sai's small world. I thought the writing was strong and lyrical, and I really enjoyed Desai's depiction of Kalimpong. Click Here to purchase.
On my "To Read" list this summer are:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver-novelist Kingsolver and her family's memoir of a year of getting away from over-industrialized, processed food, by vowing to buy only locally grown food and grow the rest themselves. Click Here to purchase.
On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan—a novel that takes place over the course of one day in 1962, when a young, virginal couple marries and consummates their marriage on their honeymoon night. Click Here to purchase.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon-a "what-if" story imagining that Israel did not exist, but Jews moved to Alaska after WWII and formed a community. Click Here to purchase.
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen—newly orphaned ex-veterinary student Jacob Jankowski joins a second-rate circus that struggles to survive during the Depression, and he is put in charge of caring for the circus animals. Click Here to purchase.
And for those of you who will be tied to a desk over the summer, here's one idea to help you get in some reading anyway. Subscribe to DailyLit.com, and receive digestible chunks of classic novels via email. I am currently in the middle of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, which is being delivered to me in pieces I can read in five minutes, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.
Tracy Scott Miller is a writer and mother of three who lives in Los Angeles, California. You can also read her blog about books at shelflifeblog.blogspot.
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