Summer Reading, The Grown Up Version

No, I’ll not be reviewing The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut for you today. 

Clearly, the literary world realized that there was a supreme lack of decent material being published lately, so they all decided it was time to get back to business. Thank goodness.

I’ve read more this summer than I have in the past 9 years (which, oddly enough, coincides with how long I’ve had children). My Scout’s-Honest brief reviews of the things I plowed through from June to August are included below. Some are fluffier than others. Some are just plain stupid. No judging allowed, even though, you know, I’m judging these books. We can stay friends that way.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Best book I’ve ever read (it pushes The Secret History out of top place; that’s really saying something). A painfully poetic, honest, brutal examination of war, love, and duty. It starts off beautifully, but then hits a fever pitch around page 20, and your family won’t see you for a few days because you’ll be squirrelled away in a corner, devouring this book. It’s brilliant.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I must admit I was scared of this one–not because of the dysfunctional family theme or the, ahem, cohabitating ape–but because of Fowler’s previously published novels, all of which are uber-fluffy, pastel covered, chick-lit titles. This one is excellent–full of psychology, emotion and dysfunction–all without being smothered by the silly, miserable women who typically populate her tales.

Crazy, Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Complete trash but introduced me to the crazy, rich culture of Singapore, which seems to be a hot topic lately as evidenced by the second book about crazy, rich Asians released this summer, 5-Star Billionaire, by Tash Aw (which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize). One dose of spoiled, richer-than-God characters was enough for me, thank you very much (though I will admit Kwan’s book has a serious rubbernecker factor; these punks are so spectacularly repugnant and awful.)

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. I am a space junkie. Nerd alert: I once spent an entire summer reading everything from The Right Stuff to Apollo 13, from John Glenn’s autobiography to the monstrous A Man on the Moon (all 729 pages of it). It was all space, all summer; that’s about 2,089 geeky pages total–in case you’re wondering–and yes, no one wanted to hang out with me. My freakishness about flying makes just thinking about being shot into the heavens on a rocket give me an anxiety attack. But enough about me. Lily Koppel’s nonfiction book gathered a lot of buzz early in the summer, and it’s tolerable enough. But it’s also candy-coated and repetitive and, well, girly, which is the opposite of how the rest of my oeuvre of space cowboy books describe these maniacs. If you want to read about how these gals chose the dresses they wore for their Life magazine photo shoot, this is for you. If you want the true nuts-and-bolts of being an astronaut–including all the grisly bits–opt for one of the other space books.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver. Riding on the coattails of Orange is the New Black, this novel about a death-row inmate has an interesting premise, to say the least. But then it goes nowhere. And it goes nowhere quite slowly. I might have said Noa P. Singleton was the most irritating character ever created, but I’d already read Crazy, Rich Asians by this point, and there is just no topping that cadre of idiots.

Her Best Kept Secret by Gabrielle Glaser. Ooh, I bet you just perked up. This one sounds like it would be dirty, doesn’t it? Sorry to disappoint you; it’s just the history of women and their consumption of wine. Seriously. It’s an interesting, scientific/historical read, but it’s also a supreme enabler. Nothing like reading about women drinking wine to encourage drinking wine yourself. All in the name of science, of course.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. Or, The Time Traveler’s Wife in half as many pages. This tale is an exercise in the willing suspension of disbelief, to say the least, and if you read Audrey Niffenegger’s book a few years ago, you’ve already covered time travel and might find yourself disappointed (See, above: The Astronaut Wives Club). Where The Time Traveler’s Wife gets under your skin and makes you think, Greta Wells flits back and forth through time with the aid (?) of the electroshock therapy prescribed to her for manic depression. Um, right.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls. I was burning through this novel like wildfire when Jack came over, picked it up, walked around with it, and put it down in a location that has yet to be found. This Jack, by the way, is a grown friend of ours, not my son.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. This poor book endured a fate similar to that of The Silver Star; I lost it before I finished it. Well, actually, I lost my Nook charger which in turn means I lost this book since Barnes & Noble no longer makes chargers for the plain old Nook Color. (What the heck, B&N?) This story, set in 1930’s New England, had the flavor of Rules of Civility, and it was a lovely little bedtime read. But the best thing about this book is that it brought me back from the dark side of eBooks, and I reconnected with my best old pal, the book store. Every other book I read this summer (all listed above) are now stacked on my shelves.

Ahh. The smell of printed paper.

It does an English major good.

What was on your summer reading list? Discover anything new?

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