READ: Lots & lots of books

It’s June. The summer solstice. Life is speeding up. It is not slowing down. This time of year makes time feel even more fleeting. Wasn’t it just Christmas break? I remember summer vacation as a kid feeling long and endless, now it is over before it even starts.

If you read this blog or know me at all, you’ve heard about my 97 year old Great-Aunt Nancy. I’ve asked her many times if life slows down again when you get old – do those long summer days that we had as kids ever return? They must return after retirement, right?  Unfortunately, she says life gets even faster. It doesn’t slow down.

I have become the kind of person who says that youth is wasted on the young (George Bernard Shaw). Like T.S. Eliot, I often feel like I am measuring out my life with coffee spoons…and, of course, the books I am reading. As time passes, I read. I read, and I read.

Here’s some of the best things I have read the last few months – you might want to add a few of them to your summer reading list:

Versions of Us and The Atomic Weight of Love – 2 GREAT books that follow the entire lives of their characters. In Versions of Us we follow 3 different paths that 2 people take based on a single decision made when they first meet one another. Sean & I just celebrated our 17th anniversary. The other night we discussed different paths our lives could have taken (if I had stayed at Michigan State, if we had prevented our first dog from running and tearing his ACL, if we hadn’t moved to California). It is crazy to think about all the decisions that we make that form our life. Versions of Us explores all of that, and it is such a fantastic read.

I loved The Atomic Weight of Love  right away because each chapter is named after a group of birds – “A Murder of Crows,” “A Party of Jays,” “An Unkindness of Ravens,” “A Charm of Hummingbirds.” Did you know a group of Hummingbirds is called a Charm – how perfect is that? The book explores the life of a 50’s housewife (who loves birds and science) who follows her husband to Los Alamos (where he is working on a top secret project…) and from there, she tries to find meaning in an environment where women suppress their desires to support their husband. So good! We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years. #imwithher

The final book of The Passage trilogy, City of Mirrors, came out a few weeks ago and it wrapped up the epic series in a super satisfying way. This apocalyptic series full of memorable characters has had me hooked for the last seven years – I can’t believe it is done. The books scared me over and over again with descriptions of virals (bat/vampire/zombie) and empty cities and a world with only 700 people left in it. However, like The Road and other good dystopian books, love is at the center of the story. I’m hesitant to start another book after finishing this yesterday because I really did not want these books to end.

After reading The Tsar of Love and Techno, I read Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and it is AMAZING. Read this book and think about what you would do if you were in the situations that the characters are in. What choices would you make? Marra weaves together a heartbreaking story of coincidences, intersecting lives, compassion and survival. I can’t recommend this book enough.

A Little Life  is a huge (900+ pages),  disturbing, melodramatic  book about 4 college roommates who form lifelong friendships and live in New York City. I could not stop reading this book, but I have a hard time recommending it. There is so much beauty in it, but overall it is the most depressing thing I have ever read. Horrible thing after horrible thing happens – and yet I kept reading through all 900 pages. That’s a pretty good endorsement.

The Turner House –  A debut novel that is set in Detroit where a family of 13 kids disagree about what should be done with the family house that is under-water. Ghosts, debt, family relationships and more are all explored among a city that has fallen apart.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist  – Set among the Seattle protests in 1999 during the WTO conference it is fast-paced story telling told from different perspectives. Everyone has their reasons for doing things – its hard to remember that we all come to things with our own, unique backgrounds.

We went to Vegas in February to celebrate my 40th (!!), and as we flew in I read Claire Vaye Watkins dystopian novel Gold Fame Citrus, a novel set in the barren desert outside of California. Vegas is such an improbable place to build a huge city. No water, no green (except for the yards and golf course), no trees. It’s an apocalyptic landscape like the parched, dry world of Gold Fame Citrus (I was thirsty the entire time I read it). Like California and other recent dystopian books (Station Eleven, etc.), this novel has a strong-willed woman as the central character, a loving partner who makes a few wrong choices, and a prophet-like character who exerts a a strong influence over the people around him. It’s a bit formulaic, but its still a good read.

And finally, probably the most impactful book I’ve read lately is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Book recommendations travel fast in my family, and this one came from my mom via my Aunt Patty. This book discusses how we treat the elderly and dying, and what quality of life actually means. I love Atul Gawande’s writing in the New Yorker (check out Letting Go for a short version of the book), and I plan on re-reading this book over and over. Everyone should read it.

I read each of the following short books in one or two days – good, short reads…

Mislaid – recommending anything by Nell Zink is difficult because she is not for everyone and her characters are always bizarre! Her short, weird books explore race, sexual & class identity, and a lot more in weird ways.

The Vegetarian is short book by Han Kang, a South Korean author. It it a violent exploration of social norms, power, and madness.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Two widowed elderly people keep each other company and reflect on their lives. I cried from beginning to end.

The M Train by Patti Smith – not as good as Just Kids, but still an interesting read.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Beautiful, unputdownable writing and storytelling.

A Spool of Blue Thread  Classic Anne Tyler book. This is her best one.

I have a bunch of good summer reading planned. Stacked on my table are Lab Girl, Modern Lovers, and the new Annie Proulx Barkskins. I’ll be back soon to let you know how they are.

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Other good things…

My new favorite podcast is Modern Love. You will cry and laugh and sigh. Every single episode makes me believe in humanity and the power of love.

This New Yorker article by Franzen is SO GOOD. Birds, travel, capitalism. No one captures modern life like Franzen.

I love President Obama. Smart, reasonable man doing an impossible job. These pictures are fantastic.

Anthony Bourdain’s new season of Parts Unknown is just as good as the rest of them. One of my favorite things on TV. Favorite episode of this year was Tbilisi, Georgia.

My sister visited me a few weeks ago. She has been to San Diego many, many times to visit, and I love how she still gets excited about new things each time she visits. On this last visit she was most excited about all the Jacaranda trees that were in full bloom and the Little Libraries that we have all over my neighborhood. I take the Little Libraries for granted because we have so many around here (at least 10 within a square mile) and I use them all the time. Add one to your neighborhood if they aren’t there!

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