Summer Reads So Far

The one good thing about being fun-employed once again is that I’ve been able to read a lot, even more than when I spent my lunch hour reading or way back in the days of college when time seemed unlimited.

I’ve also found the website Goodreads to be a great resource for someone like me who reads a lot of book reviews but can’t remember what I actually wanted to read. They have a nice little feature where you can compile lists of books as “to-read,” “read,” or “currently reading.” There’s also a fun little section in which members can swap books for the price of shipping. I’ve found it convenient and handy, so much so I have to remind myself it is not entirely free like the library.

This summer I’ve tried to read a good mixture of things. Here’s what I’ve read so far (in chronological order):

Best European Fiction 2011, ed. Aleksander Hemon, which is a thoroughly engaging collection of short stories by contemporary European writers. Not every piece was to my taste, but it was a great way to see what people are doing outside of English-centric media.

The Giant O’Brien by Hilary Mantel. I really liked Mantel’s Wolf Hall and as she was featured in the European fiction anthology, I thought this short novel would be a great place to start. It recounts the story of a sideshow giant from Ireland and a crazed surgeon, who was an early pioneer in research. Based on historical accounts, it’s the perfect book for anyone who likes reading about the horrors of 18th century medicine, mass poverty in London, and the lore of Irish folktales. Not her strongest piece, but informative.

Born Round by Frank Bruni.

The Believers by Zoe Heller. Sometimes I find amazing books when digging through the discount book bin. This was not the case — Heller, who wrote Notes on a Scandal, writes about the “classic” NYC family: prominent lawyer father, activist mother, one religious extremist daughter, one extremely emotionally  manipulated/abused daughter, and one degenerate son. Basically, the father has a stroke and everyone’s worlds fall apart, leading to much screaming and trash talking of other relatives. Let’s just say I was not impressed. Possibly the worst book with high ratings I read this year.

The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black. I have a weak spot for mysteries, especially British ones, hence my weakly obsession with PBS’ Mystery series. Here, famed Irish writer, John Banville, writes under a pen name about Dublin pathologist Quirke. This is the second book featuring Quirke and I’ve come to have a soft spot for him and his shadowing 1950s world. The first book, Christine Falls, was heralded as a “literary mystery” and this follows in a similar vein, although at times the mystery lags. I’d recommend it for the writing and characters alone.

The Pilgrim Hawks: A Love Story by Glenway Wescott. I forgot to include this book when I first put up this post, probably because I was intending to right more on it at a later time.

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea by Chelsea Handler. This was an airport read my dad bought and then suggested I read. I don’t usually read books by comedians, but this had some chapters, like when Chelsea goes to jail for a DUI, that had me laughing out loud. Then there were others, a few anecdotes with midgets, that made me skip the chapter and continue on. Definitely a beach read and a fun one at that.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. This book was given to my dad by someone named Wes. Not Wes Moore. This book recounts the stories of two boys with the same name who grew up in bad neighborhoods nearby one another and how one landed in prison while the other became a Rhodes scholar. Moore tries to analyze why this might have happened. A fast read, a little obvious at times, but definitely something that makes one reconsider the plight of inner-city America.

The Private Patient by P.D. James. I like mysteries and I like some of James’ characters. However this book was so all around unsatisfying that I can’t even continue.

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.

Blindness by Jose Saramago. This book is an apocalyptic tale of an epidemic of blindness somewhere in Europe, presumably Lisbon. I was turned on to Saramago, a Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature while traveling in his home country. I’ve been planning a post on his work, so more will follow.

Moving House by Pawel Huelle. Huelle’s collection of short stories documents the life of a family in Gdansk sometime after WWII through the perspective of the one child. A beautifully written book, in some ways it should be considered a novel given its interconnectivity. I’m currently trying to find his other translated novel.

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain. If you’ve never seen any of Bourdain’s television work, you may be surprised by the blasphemous tone of this book. He is like a culinary Hunter S. Thompson, although thankfully no longer an addict, and writes in a hilariously engaging tone about the real world of professional cooking. But Bourdain is also in love with his craft and there are moments that are touching, as well as informative. For everything I didn’t learn about being a food critic in Bruni’s book, I was able to capture from Bourdain’s kitchen.

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