A few weeks back there was a lot of talk about Barack Obama’s summer reading list. People analyzed what the books meant to his character; what they said about him as a person, and about type of president he is. I thought I would ask around to the ladies and find out what our summer readings have been. What do the books we read this summer say about us as individuals?
1. History of Love by Nicole Krauss
— I initially thought this was a cheesy book title but after having read this epic tale of the love of language and feeling, my heart and mind clicked. Krauss takes a philosophical approach to describing emotions that I would have sworn were untouchable, like this one:
“Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact.”
This is not a one-time only read. I have yet to wrap my head around it, and am looking forward to a second shot at understanding.
2. Desperate Networks by Bill Carter — This behind-the-scenes account of the people and deals that create our primetime lineups was my most absorbing recent read by far. A must-read for anyone remotely interested in the media industry.
3. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout — You all know how I feel about Olive.
4. Beautiful Boy by David Sheff — I could live without the medical explanations of addiction, but this father’s accounts of his crystal-meth addicted son is frustrating, heart-breaking and scary.
5. The Breakthrough by Gwen Ifill — An of-the-moment read that taught me so much about the ethnic landscape of politics today.
1. The World According to Garp by John Irving: Surprisingly, the first Irving I’ve read. The tale of T.S. Garp and his crazy family is odd, sad, sexually charged without a doubt, but also a story that brings empathy. I loved the story-within-a-story nature of the book and was glad I hadn’t seen the movie to spoil my own development of each of the characters.
3. Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee: Sunee’s memoir is a love story with food, travel and men. Enough said? From the streets of Korea where she was abandoned to her New Orleans upbringing to South of France and her love affair with Olivier Baussan, the founder of L’Occitane, I found myself identifying with her, annoyed by her and rooting for her. Great beach read.
4. Tweak by Nic Scheff: After reading Beautiful Boy, the his father’s account of Scheff’s battle with meth, I couldn’t not read Scheff’s personal account of his multi-decade battle with drug addiction. It doesn’t have the same heart as Beautiful Boy, but as a pair these books are raw and emotional memoirs that try to answer the question of why people become addicts. And their answers are surprisingly different.
4. Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides: I think we all know the story. I just hadn’t read the book.
5. Next up: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: “The novel studies the contrast between India’s rise as a modern global economy and the main character, who comes from crushing rural poverty.”
1. The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home: A Political Indictment of U.S. Public Schools by Jonathan Kozol
A terrifying and dim discussion of how we teach what we teach to our young and disenfranchised youth. Kozol himself claims in the introduction (written several years after the original publication date) that he was a bit too radical at the time he wrote ‘Night is Dark,’ but the overall sentiment is the same. A great read to start the time of year when kids have left the classrooms empty for hardcore analysis. We have a lot of work to do within our educational system.
2. The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis
Ellis delivers a vacuous vampire romp through the coke-soaked 80s of Los Angeles luxury living. Full of sex, booze, and Lamborghinis, this was a salty yet downer book that I should have read on the beach, with several cocktails ingested.
3. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
I was a waitress in a fine dining restaurant when this book got popular. The wickedly smart chef I was working for was reading this and howling at the often-empty bar, all the while touting the joys of Bourdain’s perverse tales. When I finally got around to reading it this summer, I wonder if the ‘smell of failure’ that Bourdain describes that certain restaurants start to take on before they go under is the reason that chef was howling at the bar–maybe he could smell it there too.
4. The Last War: A Novel by Ana Menendez
The New York Times Book Review had ‘The Last War’ in one of its spring weekend editions. It sounded so oddly reminiscent of something that I have been researching that I immediately went to the bookstore and purchased it. There were similar elements to my research: Westerners living in the not-so-western European side of Istanbul, photographer wife and war correspondent husband, and the whole ‘love is war’ theme. It fell short of being filmic (my ultimate wish for it) but heightened my interest in visiting Istanbul, which was well described through the eyes of a sad, lonely wife.
5. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
This is cheating because I haven’t finished this book yet but Bolano is addicting and I’ll be done any day. A few bumps on the road to getting used to Bolano’s style and I was thrown into the diary of a newly ordained Visceral Realist poet in Mexico City. When his diary stopped, I found myself switching gears to read the first hand accounts about the still-not-so-known main (but mythically built up) characters Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima. The structure is somehow reminiscent of Machado de Assis and the stories read like a Latino John Fante. I dig it, man.
1. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
This movie was one of my favorite movies of last year. Knowing that it was based on a book I knew I had to track it down and read it. Fabulous book. Like most books that movies are based on, it delves deeper than the movie does. Every minute character is given such details, such elaborate backgrounds. Loved it. Plus….VAMPIRES!!
2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
I never read the original book, so I really can’t compare. I just know that this book was awesome. The whole time I was reading it, I was wishing that someone makes a feature film of it. I even went back and watched the old BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series, but got sad when zombies didn’t jump out of the woods and attack everyone. I do have a new love of Mr. Darcy now, though.
3. Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (331/3 series) by Chris Ott
A fabulous birthday gift from a fabulous lady. An easy read since it such a short book, this novella, if you will, brought out so many emotions for me. I heard lyrics, bass chords, drum beats, and guitar riffs in a new way. It still boggles my mind that this album was made by a bunch of guys that were in their early 20’s. This book made me cry on the G train.
4. The House of Dolls by Ka-tzetnik 135633
This book is the reason Joy Division named themselves Joy Division. This is the more brutal Anne Frank diary. Just when I think I knew all the horrors of the Nazis, I read something like this book. Based on the diary of a 14 year old girl, the book details what the young girl went through before and after she was sent to the ‘Camp Labour via Joy’ where she was subjected to enforced prostitution by the Nazis. I’ve cried many times reading this in public.
5. Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk
It’s Shatner VS Shatners! I say no more.