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After a bit of a slump last month, my summer reading has picked up with a couple of top-notch books, plus some non-fiction I’ve been meaning to get to and a light, fluffy YA novel for good measure.
I’m in the thick of some excellent reads right now and have a couple coming up that other readers have raved about. Late summer and fall reading is definitely looking promising!
For now, here’s what I’ve been reading since July’s update.
I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.
Summer Reading Reviews
The Great Believers has found a place on my all-time favorite books list, and is certainly one on my best books of 2018. Reminiscent of both A Little Life and The Heart's Invisible Furies (also books I loved), it's also wholly its own story. Set in two time periods, the first in 1980s Chicago and the second in 2015 Paris, the book throws readers into the thick of--and the aftermath of--the 1980s AIDS crisis.
Yale is a young man in Chicago who has just found his stride in his career at a Northwestern art gallery, his relationship with his partner, Charlie, and the thriving gay community known as Boystown. But the community he loves is being hit by AIDS, and his immediate circle has finally been affected by the death of his friend Nico.
Fiona is Nico's sister who has adopted Yale and the rest of the friend group as her own family, even as they fall one-by-one to the virus. This decision reverberates through her life, alienating her from her daughter, who she searches for in Paris in 2015.
Makkai masterfully juxtaposes the AIDS crisis with several other tragic events, including world wars and terrorist attacks. These, as well as a thread about historical art, are brilliantly woven together to highlight the generations of people and talents lost to these devastations.
AIDS victims, of course, were afforded none of the respect or public mourning of war or terrorism casualties, and were instead relegated to ill-equipped hospitals, often to die alone.
While sad and often infuriating, The Great Believers is also a hopeful book. The characters are flawed but also well-meaning and kind. I loved them, and this is one of the few books I can see myself reading again.
Want to know more about this book? Check out 11 Things to Know About The Great Believers: The Story of the StoryMore info →
In Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) shares reflections and lessons on living a creative life. While she can get a little woo-woo for my taste, overall I enjoyed her perspective on creativity. Gilbert strives to keep a positive attitude toward the process, craft, and work of a creative life, rejecting the notion that creatives must be tortured souls who suffer for their art. I'm not sure I fully buy into her magical notions of creative ideas as living things, but there's certainly no harm in the visualization. I see more value in it that in the self-flagellation that often occurs when artists struggle to bring something to life. Overall, I love her sense of gratitude for the opportunity to create, and I could see myself revisiting this if I ever find myself despairing over my own creative efforts.More info →
Us Against You brings us back to Beartown, the town where Backman's previous novel of the same name is set. Beartown is a hockey town. Hockey means everything, but it also means different things to the various residents of Beartown: the past, the future, identity, escape, belonging. Now, in the aftermath of a rape committed by its star player and a defection by the majority of the team to neighboring Hed, it also means divisiveness. And violence.
As the rivalry grows more intense, Beartown fights to keep its team alive and the face-offs happen both on and off the ice.
While some stories have an easy villain, this isn't one of them. While Backman builds the tension, he also shows the humanity behind every person involved. I'm a sucker for this type of thing, so it worked for me--I love getting small insights into tertiary characters.
Even so, there were moments where the "showing the good side" of every character felt a little overdone. This and the many nameless characters who nonetheless kept showing up (which felt like it conflicted with Backman's impulse to give stories to side characters) were my only complaints about Us Against You.
Beartown is not a place where I would want to live, but Backman infuses it with such soul that I will always want to visit. If he returns to it, so will I.More info →
Swing Time reminded me a bit of My Brilliant Friend, with two young girls growing up together in a poor neighborhood. Each dreams of greatness and is differently talented, but one forever seems to be straining to catch up. Their relationship falls square into "frenemy" territory, especially as they grow up and lives grow more complicated.
While this premise is intriguing, the book itself confused me. It strayed far from this original setup, so one of the girls, Tracey, didn't loom as large as it seemed she was supposed to. She felt like more of a shadow figure to me, occasionally popping up but never coming into focus. Lending to this inability to settle into the story was a device that I'm learning bothers me as a reader: the unnamed narrator.
While it seems the device was meant to demonstrate the narrator's inability to forge her own identity, first in Tracey's shadow, and then in Amy's--a famous singer who employs her in adulthood--the narrator didn't feel any more unfocused than most 20-somethings, and she felt worthy of a name.
I'd love to hear from someone who loved this book, because it felt scattered to me and I think I just didn't get it.More info →
This follow-up to the young adult novel To All the Boys I've Loved Before is just as sweet and charming as the first, though I found the overall plot a little less interesting (which boy will she choose?). The real charmer here is Lara Jean herself, who is unfailingly well-meaning and sometimes head-scratchingly innocent. Her devotion to her family is refreshing for a YA novel.
I don't love these books in the way that many readers do, but I will probably pick up the third in the series, and watch the Netflix adaptation. They are sweet, light, and uncomplicated, which is sometimes just what a reader needs.More info →
For 27 years, Christopher Knight lived in the woods of Maine without coming into contact with another person. In 1986, at age 20, he drove into the woods and left his car behind for a life of seclusion. He broke into nearby homes and a summer camp for supplies, taking only what he needed to survive. These break-ins made him a legend--elusive, never violent, but unsettling all the same.
He was finally caught during one of his burglaries, and author Michael Finkel was fascinated by the story of the last true hermit. He connected with Knight through letters and interviews. Though Knight wanted no fame and had kept no record of his life of solitude, his story was slowly revealed.
Finkel tells the story of a man with an extreme desire for isolation and how he managed to elude authorities and the intrusion of the outside world for so many years. Knight is a fascinating person, resourceful and singularly focused. I listened to this on audio and it was riveting.More info →
Have you read any of these? What have you been reading lately?