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Q: What have you been doing this summer?

A:

_____

Yup. Me too.

Someone wrote that on our paper display in the library where we ask “What are you reading these summer nights?”

I’m totally making that into a shirt. … Because it is true – I have been reading like a nerd all summer long, been plowing through books of all kinds.

I recently got back from a trip to South Florida… visited with friends, family, and most satisfyingly, the pool. In the 9 days I was on vacation, I was able to finish three books (and start a fourth). I do read fast, but they were also fairly short. Their length and interest-keeping ability was perfect for some distract-me-from-the-bumps-on-the-plane reading, some back-from-the-pool-and-totally-exhausted reading, and some it’s-vacation-so-I’ll-read-before-breakfast-at-10am reading.

I started After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh on the plane. It’s a collection of nine short stories that take place in the very near future. Each one explores the way we live after some major calamitous event occurs. Some events are more far-fetched than others (my eyes tend to glaze over when I read the word “zombie”), but it’s not the events themselves that are the focus so much – it’s the human reaction to them, how we adapt and continue, that is interesting . McHugh’s characters are undeniably sympathetic and human; they just happen to be in new and strange circumstances and settings. I couldn’t tell you what every story was about off the top of my head, but reviewing the contents of the book brings back memories from each story, feelings that stuck with me.

Once I finished Apocalypse, I picked up Sherman Alexie’s Flight. This story is about a lost and angry teenager called Zits, who is half white, half native American. He’s an orphan who has seen too many foster homes. He meets another foster kid, and they become good friends – the new guy helps Zits escape from a bad foster home, then puts him up in his place, an abandoned space-cum-shelter. He teaches Zits how to shoot guns and how to be angry. One day, Zits finds himself in a bank, ready to shoot into a crowd of people, just because. He’s ready to pull the trigger, cutting down innocent people waiting in line…

He does – and is instantly transported into the past – he wakes up in the body of an FBI agent who is about to do some dirty dealing with native Americans  in the 70’s, something which resulted in a lot of innocent Americans being killed. He wakes up in a few other people’s bodies, across various time periods and experiencing different points of view. By the end of this short novel, he realizes a lot of things about himself and life. The end seems a bit neat and easy, but the writing is sharp and the message heartfelt. Coincidentally, I was reading this book the same week of the Aurora movie theater shootings, throwing the events in the book and in real life into sharper relief. And, the review of this book in the NY Times was written a few years ago, shortly after the shootings in Virginia Tech. It seems eerie, the similarities of time, but probably really just a reflection how much violence takes place all the time.

The last book of the bunch was Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan. It was a quick read about girls in adolescence. It promised to tell parents how to navigate this treacherous land of female adolescence in this day and age. Each chapter covered a different topic relevant to girlhood: diaries, dating, menstruation, etc. “Covered” is putting it lightly, though; critics have not been impressed:

Jessica Bennet reviewed the book at the Daily Beast; Elizabeth Day weighed in at the Guardian;  and Emma Gilbey Keller gave her two cents at the New York Times.

I thought the book was OK, but in reading the criticisms, I see what they’re getting at. The main thing the book does is to highlight some pivotal moments in female adolescence, and identify some points where parents can pay attention and try not to screw their daughters up too much. Too bad the author only has sons, though – she may have had some real insight if she had had some, well, real insight.

On the way home from my trip, I started Emerald City, a book of short stories by Jennifer Egan. I’ve read everything else of hers and I really like her as an author. Her characters are all flawed, but sympathetic, because really, aren’t we all flawed? It’s how we find our own redemption that matters.  Her tales are a mix of poignant moments and everyday life. Two thumbs up.

Since then, I’ve read:


The Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics.
  An interesting history of the comics that began the comic book craze, it covers the time when comics were first printed in book format and goes up to the mid-fifties, when the Comics Code  was adopted as a way for comics publishers to self-police. Yeah, that happened.

Monster,  by Walter Dean Myers – a teen novel with an accused criminal as the main character. He’s 16 and awaiting trial. The book is written as if he were writing a screenplay about the trial – the kid is really interested in movies & movie-making. As the story unfolds, you can’t help rooting for this young man, who is jailed and in hell. He’s scared, although not necessarily innocent. You wonder where he got lost along the way, and hope to hell your kid isn’t going to end up in the same place.

I read Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. If you like Michael Crichton, you may like this novel. It’s a little thriller, a little biological mystery, a little spooky, too. It’s a pretty fast read, and takes place in the Natural History Museum of NY. Murders happen, chase scenes and conspiracies take place. It’s fun and was the basis for the 1997 movie of the same name.

Made it through both the regular printed novel and the graphic novel (GN)  version of the prequel to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game called Formic Wars: Burning of the Earth. It’s co-authored by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, the GN is illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo. I didn’t want to like the GN, so I read the novelized version of the graphic novel first – it was good. Better than I had expected (I Ioved Ender’s Game). So then I gave the GN a shot – and once I thought, Maybe I’ll like this, I actually did.

I recently finished The City & The City by China Miéville. This was really good, better than I expected, rich and gripping, actually. It’s science-ish fiction, slightly metaphysical, but really it’s a look at the boundary lines that separate two city-states in a made-up place in Eastern Europe. The two cities, really two separate countries, went through a split at some point, and the geography was divided in two, the people not allowed to see the other country’s citizens, buildings, cars, etc. Basically, anything that is in country A cannot be seen or touched by those in country B. A girl is murdered, though, and the investigation leads to evidence in both countries, plus a question of conspiracy involving a mythical third country. It’s crazy. But it’s good, and if you like detective novels at all, you’ll love the main character. This book is a detective story, it’s social commentary, it’s light criticism of academia – it’s rich and deep and grabs you from the start.

Finally, I just finished The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. I really liked the Bourne movies, and plan to see the newest “Legacy” movie that’s out now, but I wanted to get a little refresher and thought I’d give the books a try. I was not disappointed. The movie took out a plot that makes up most of the book – in it, an assassin called Carlos is hunting Jason Bourne in addition to the US government. It’s a fun read, though I get a little lost in the wordy descriptions of the fight scenes. Either way, Matt Damon was good in the book, too.

Phew. That’s it so far. So, yeah… that’s me, I’m just reading.

I was paging through an arts & entertainment magazine when I came across a mention that Amy Adams was set to star in the movie adaptation of a book called Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. It’s a murder-mystery-thriller, with some family drama mixed in. Coverage of the movie-to-be is all over the place – could be a good one. Reading about the movie made me curious about the book. My library had a copy on the shelf, so I grabbed it. Once I started reading, it was really hard to put down. It’s a story about people – a poor family who is struggling to keep a farm. They’re loving but flawed. It’s a reminder that no matter who we are, no matter how good we try to be, we’re human and we make mistakes, we are petty and insecure and jealous creatures.

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

But that’s also part of what makes us so sympathetic, so relate-able to each other, so cherishable. Maybe it’s easier to love a person who’s flawed because we all are. Don’t we really just want to love ourselves? Maybe the compassion we can show for each other stems from the compassion we hope others will show us.

Or something like that.

The book throws in some murder and mayhem on top of the family drama – it’s horrific, but not gratuitous. I’m not usually a crime-murder-thriller reader – but once in a while, you just need a good creep-out. This definitely did it.

The story follows, Libby Day, whose mother and two sisters were murdered when she was young. She escaped, but hasn’t really gone anywhere beyond that day. Twenty-five years later, and she can’t get her life together to, well, save her life.

A murder-mystery hobbyist group finds her, wanting to hire her to talk about her experiences – she had testified that it was her brother who committed the murders, sending him to jail for life. Since then, everyone who has examined the case is convinced he didn’t do it. Libby agrees to talk to the group, needing the money they’ve promised, and her whole world starts to tilt – she ends up running for her life a second time.

The book is a quick read, it pulls you along for a bit of a wild ride – getting more so as it progresses to the end. It wraps up kind of unbelievably, but not enough to ruin the story.

This was a nice little break in between stories of Paris – before this book, I read The Paris Wife… and coming up is Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Sometimes you just gotta mix it up… C’est la vie.