Good books for hot times

Wow, it’s been a hot few days. It’s very nice to have the temperatures back to a more livable range, don’t you agree? Today I hiked Camel’s Hump for the first time (I’m embarrassed to say – not that I hiked the mountain, but that it is the first time—I won’t tell you how long I’ve lived here.), and it was out-of-town friends who lured me up there. I’m a bit exhausted, but it’s time to talk once again about books, so here goes.

What have you been reading?

I finally finished Anna Karenina, thank God. Not that I didn’t love it. I did. As stated in previous issues, the book is indeed a great one (most would agree), but it is a mighty long one—and  wonderful, textured, evocative and riveting as it is, there are a few parts that, rather like parts of Melville’s Moby Dick, are a bit dry. Detailed, specific, scientific, political, time/place-specific, these moments are a bit like, well…like hiking up the more difficult parts of the Monroe Trail.

Like my trip up and down the mountain today, I loved Anna Karenina, will remember it fondly and forever, but am glad to be done. Also, I just have to say (spoiler alert), once Anna has thrown herself in front of a train, after all those pages and pages about her dramas, her passions, her sufferings, her dark thoughts, her love, her hatred, her pain, her trials, it’s kind of like…well, like…how do I put it?…out with the old, and onward. She is scarcely mentioned again for the rest of the book. I found this odd, but maybe that’s how life is sometimes, or the way Tolstoy saw it, or wanted us to see it. I mean, this tremendous life force…this magnetic, fascinating, complicated, passionate, tortured, significant person…done…smushed…and the world moves on and forgets. Almost as though she never existed at all. I found it surprising and sad and peculiar. 

As I mentioned before, I read this book when I was very young. It was a totally different experience to read it again as an adult. Who knows…maybe I’ll read it again before I’m through. But not anytime soon. Highly recommend. 

On a totally different note, I’m still loving Sue Grafton. I don’t allow myself to read too many in a row. It’s a bit like eating chocolates. You don’t eat the whole box at once. Or you try not to. You pause once in awhile. Give it a rest for a day or two. I am on O now. O is for Outlaw. I am such a fan. I can’t believe I waited so long to read this amazing series. I really don’t want to be done. I only have eight more, and Sue Grafton is, alas, no more, so I’ll have to pace myself.  If you have never read her and you like mysteries and a strong, quirky, loveable, snappy protagonist, you are in for a treat. 

Have you read Educated by Tara Westover yet? It’s a memoir. Very powerful. About a young woman raised by survivalist Mormons in the mountains of Idaho. She is home-schooled till the age of 17, which mostly means working salvaging in her father’s junkyard and pretty much teaching herself to read with only the Bible and the works of Joseph Smith. At one point, when finally she is sitting in a real classroom in a real school, the Holocaust is mentioned, and she has never heard of it. 

This is very well written, sometimes violent and disturbing—a testament to the strength, determination, resilience and courage of the human spirit and what it means to forge on through crazy family love/belonging/loyalty to truth, freedom and self-actualization. And (spoiler alert #2) it’s not easy. Not easy at all. This is riveting, vivid and at times difficult to read. I can’t think of a book that better brings home the struggle to reconcile the powerful pull of biological family and the love that we can’t help but feel for them (even if they’re bat-s*&t crazy) with the desperate need to find one’s true self and one’s real place in the world. Excellent read. 

I heard about Mrs. Fletcher on VPR when author Tom Perotta was being interviewed. I really enjoyed this one. Sometimes comic, sometimes right-on and sweet, sometimes a little outlandish, this book really works on the whole. I love the parallel stories of Eve the mom and Brendan the son—the empty nester and the college freshman. Very clever, quite touching at times. I am so glad I read this. A good book for the #metoo generation. 

I also recommend Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. It’s a compelling story with interesting, well-drawn characters that does a great job taking on some of the nuances of feminism and some of the challenges of living a life of integrity in this crazy, complicated world. This book is kind of a blockbuster. I recommend you give it a whirl. I liked Wolitzer’s other book, The Interestings, but liked this one even better. 

It’s been a long day and the day is dimming. I hope you are all enjoying these beautiful summer days, staying cool, making new friends, spending times with old friends, hiking hills, swimming in the lake, rocking in hammocks, reading good books, getting outside under the moon and stars now and then, and savoring every minute.