To me, summer is for four things: swimming, ice cream, reading into the wee hours, then sleeping in. Repeat. Since I get some of my best book recommendations from friends, below, I'm sharing with you some great books that I've read over the past few years, some of which I've mentioned in prior blog posts -- but hey, if I'm re-mentioning them, take note, because that means they stuck with me that long! As well, I'm sharing a list of what I'm planning to read this summer along with a list of books recommended by my Facebook friends -- my best source for great reads. I'd love to hear your list, too, and I'm also curious: how do you come across your favorite reads? word of mouth? hand-me-down? the NY Times list? the local bookstore?
Happy reading, and a side note: All books titles below are highlighted with Amazon links, but, to be clear, I don't profit from that; it's just a way for you to read more in-depth reviews and to facilitate ordering of books, if that's what you do.
Books Rox Recommends:
Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo: This is a fascinating novel in which a man, Otto Ringling, is convinced by his sister to take her "guru" along with him on a road trip from New Jersey to their late parents' family farm in North Dakota. Especially if you're around 40, this book has a lot to say about life's stagnancy at this stage and how one man reflected on it through an unexpected guest's eyes. Warning: it might inspire your own self-reflection -- or a road trip!
Following Polly by Karen Bergreen: A friend recently asked me to recommend a book in the style of my writing on my blog, and this is my closest suggestion -- though it is pretty arrogant to compare myself to the masterful Bergreen. It has five stars on Amazon, and deservedly so -- this book made me laugh out loud so very much! Here is a link to my original review of it on Rox and Roll.
The Immortal Life of Henriette Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: When I finished this nonfiction book, I went out and bought half a dozen copies to give to friends. It is THAT good, and I rarely recommend non-fiction. It's a book about cells taken from a poor Southern tobacco farmer that are still alive and used today, likely among the most important tools of modern medicine. The book is about medical ethics but also about what it was like to be black in Baltimore in the 1950s, about socioeconomics and farming and family ... about so many wonderful things that I read it twice back-to-back. If you don't love this book, I'll eat it.
This Is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson: I read this book a few years ago, and I'm likely to re-read it this summer. Set in Montana, it's a memoir about a marriage that weathers challenge in a way that many don't. My initial review of the book wasn't as favorable as my thoughts are now, years later, upon re-reading one of Munson's essays related to the book. Here is a link to my original review of it on Rox and Roll.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese: This compelling novel is on my required-reading list, as it's among the best I've ever read. Mostly set in Ethiopia, it's a novel about the intertwined lives and fates of brothers Marion and Shiva. My favorite thing about this book is the rich development of both characters and setting. By the end, I felt like I knew more about Ethiopia and actually mourned the loss of some of the people as if I knew them.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender: This book is different, to say the least. The main character, Rose, can taste people's emotions through the food they cook -- first learning of this ability through a bite of her mother's sad cake. Through her taste buds, we're exposed to family stories and secrets in an unusual way. The fantastic writing saves the weirdness of the premise.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides: This novel follows the lives of three students at Brown in the late-80s. Despite the title, I didn't find the book to be so much about love as about self-discovery, or about life, as it looks to a young twenty-something. It reminded me of when I was that girl and what I thought I knew then -- and looking back now, in my late-30s, how ridiculous it all was.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: This is a novel that might make my re-read list, as it's just so very unforgettably moving. Told through they eyes of Victoria, a product of the foster-care system, the story uses the Victorian language of flowers as a vehicle to both unravel the tale of Victoria's past as well as a way for Victoria herself to help people in the present. This book is about loving and lovability but even more so about happiness and whether or not we get second (or more) chances at it when we've gone too far in the other direction. You'll never forget this book.
We the Animals by Justin Torres: The tale of three brothers growing up, this book's imagery practically haunted me after I finished it. It's as much about escape as it is about coming of age. It's short, but, frankly, I'm not sure a reader could take anymore. If you read and enjoyed The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, this is a book for you.
Books on Rox's Summer Reading List:
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin: As I approach 40, I'm increasingly looking for ways to maximize happiness. I used to have a bracelet that read: "nothing matters more than this day" -- except I lost it somewhere amid running around trying to check the right boxes and do the right things to make everybody else happy. I'm wondering: how do I seize each day as a step toward living the life I want to live for me? And how do I integrate that with being a good wife and mother; what's the balance of self-interest and group-interest? Rubin's nonfiction book intrigues me because of her resolutions-focused approach to improving the life she's in without major, drastic changes. After reading this book, I hope to launch my own "happiness" project by my 39th birthday in September.
The Good Parents by Joan London: This is a score from a recent library book sale. From the back cover NY Times Book Review, this novel is "an enthralling, unsettling portrait of a family in crisis, from the award-winning author Francine Prose has called 'a magician who can do many thngs rapidly, expertly, and all at once." I love family dramas (a la Johnathan Franzen) and look forward to delving into this one.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron: A friend recommended this one, which purports to be a novel about "a young man questioning his times, his family, his world, and himself" per Amazon. The reviews knock the writing style but highlight the New York setting as rich, so I look forward to seeing if the balance of those things work into a positive for me.
Embers by Sándor Márai: Also a recommendation from a friend, this book is described on Amazon as follows: "Originally published in 1942 and now rediscovered to international acclaim, this taut and exquisitely structured novel by the Hungarian master Sandor Marai conjures the melancholy glamour of a decaying empire and the disillusioned wisdom of its last heirs. In a secluded woodland castle an old General prepares to receive a rare visitor, a man who was once his closest friend but who he has not seen in forty-one years. Over the ensuing hours host and guest will fight a duel of words and silences, accusations and evasions. They will exhume the memory of their friendship and that of the General’s beautiful, long-dead wife. And they will return to the time the three of them last sat together following a hunt in the nearby forest--a hunt in which no game was taken but during which something was lost forever." For some reason, I think I'll like this book because I adore Downton Abbey.
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea: Another library book sale find, this book is described as riotously funny though the nature is serious: the 19 year-old main character, Nayeli, works at a taco shop in a remote Mexican village that is nearly devoid of men, as they've all gone North to the U.S for work. The book is Nayeli's tale of trying to fetch back seven men from the North to defend and to repopulate her hometown.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel: (Yes, I know I should've read this years ago, but I'm just getting around to it now.) I'm excited about this tale of adventure, survival and faith: the story of a boy lost at sea with a Bengal tiger; they end up in Mexico with a story so fantastic none will believe it. It's purported to be a story that will make one believe in God -- and that's such a tall order, I have to read to see "why."
Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx: Hands-down, Annie Proulx (once E. A. Proulx, then E. Annie Proulx...) is my favorite writer, with my favorite work of hers being The Shipping News. I also love hoards of her short stories; I read Brokeback Mountain in the New Yorker years before it became a movie. This book, Bird Cloud, has been on my shelf for a while (another library book sale find!), but I've been nervous about cracking it, as its a nonfiction work about the design and construction of her Wyoming home. I'm giving it a try because there's no one by which I'd rather read a "memoir of place."
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand: Two friends from different worlds recommended this book, so it had to make my list, though I am not normally into fiction from this era ... yet it is the second such book on my list (fitting, perhaps, for a year in which I visited Pearl Harbor). It is the true story of Louie Zamperini, who was training for the 1940 Olympics when he became a bombardier. The author describes this as "a tale of daring, defiance, persistence, ingenuity, and the ferocious will of a man who refused to be broken."
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: This book has been on my iPad for eons, and, even though so many friends have read and loved it, I've just never been in the mood to crack it. It's a fictionalized story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's doomed "starter wife" -- their story from their initial great love and seduction through the unravelling of their marriage. I'll tell myself I'm going to read it for Papa ... yeah, that's it ...
The Hunger Games triology by Suzanne Collins: My daughter, Petunia, read the first two books during a week-long vacation in Hawaii. Now, that may not seem like such a big deal, but this is a kid who is very fussy about books and very slow to read them -- and she absolutely devoured these. She has begged me to read them, so I will. And for anyone who has been sleeping under a rock and missed all of the hype, these books are set in the future and take place in the country of Panem, the USA's replacement, and are narrated in the voice of the 16 year-old protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. There are emotionally-draining battles-to-the-death and more.
Books Recommended by Facebook Friends:
I haven't read these, but my friends have GREAT taste; so, when I need more reads, I'll be looking these up at the library.
Also, some authors to check out in general: Anita Shreve, Tracey Chevalier, Geraldine Brooks, Ruth Reichl, Henning Mankel, Ann Patchett
For more good reads, here is a link to my Summer 2011 Reading List. And, in 2010, I put together a Holiday Gift Guide Book List. My all-time favorite book, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, is on the latter list; and here's a link to my review of that one. Enjoy!
Looking ahead: I'll be stepping up my publication of recipes this summer as well as cookbook recommendations. As well, I may try to work up the courage to publish excerpts from the first novel I hope to publish. (I've started several, but this one -- it's a bestseller.) This is the year I transition from reader to writer ... and from restaurant patron to chef. I invite you to join me on this journey of approaching forty and deciding to live differently! Warmly - Rox