Many of us use the summer months to catch up on our reading, both for pleasure and for knowledge. I’m actively working to complete a 52-book reading challenge that I began in January. The challenge, offered by the lifestyle media company, POPSUGAR, consists of 40 categories. Having attempted and completed their 2015 reading challenge, which offered 52 categories, one of my friends and I elected to add 12 additional categories to the 2016 challenge. I’ve been using my extra moments this summer to boost the completed boxes of my reading list before the hustle and bustle that comes with the months that lie ahead.
One of my favorite things to do on vacation is talk to people about books, specifically which books they’ve chosen to bring with them, tucked away in their carry on, or in an ambitious stack in their checked bag. With little space in a suitcase, it’s so interesting to see what people have chosen as worthy enough to pack. One of my reading challenge items this year is to read a book recommended by someone I just met. I read Dreamland The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones after a rousing poolside Palm Springs conversation with a teacher from Seattle about her choice in vacation reading. The shocking nonfiction account of how opioid use and abuse started and spread in the United States sometimes reads as fiction, as at times the content is so scary it's hard to believe. Sam Quinones details how the pharmaceutical companies fast-tracked and pushed OxyContin and Oxycodone as non-addictive pain management alternatives. He juxtaposes his research with the rise of black tar heroin distribution and use in small town USA. The eye-opening account also helps to educate the masses that drug abuse is not just an epidemic among the poor or uneducated. It is happening in all cultures and classes. Ultimately, the pharmaceutical company responsible for pushing OxyContin into mainstream use paid damages in several lawsuits, but the damage had already been done. For anyone who has lost a loved a one to addiction this book may be hard to read, but may help to provide some answers and closure.
Blog Editor Amanda Jaros, allotted some of her summer to Michele Morano’s Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain. Amanda writes, "In these thirteen essays, Morano writes about her time living in Spain as an English teacher. Throughout the book, Morano attempts to learn the Spanish language and figure out a new life, while at the same time, sort through her relationship with a man she left back in New York. At the core of each essay, she weaves in some aspect of the Spanish language—the subjunctive mood, differences between Spanish and English sentences, her fear of misspeaking in a foreign tongue—which frees her to delve into her experiences with a great deal of emotion. Usually, when I read an essay collection, I find some of the pieces less powerful or well-written than others, but all of the essays in Grammar Lessons are equally rich and sensual. By connecting stories of love and language, Morano has created a beautiful language of her own."
Literary Reflections Editor Libby Maxey just finished reading Marilynne Robinson's 1980 debut novel Housekeeping. She shares, "I enjoyed her more recent titles (Gilead, Home, Lila), but I think this is one of her very best. It's predictably quiet, but stunning in a way that has much to do with its haunting setting. The isolated town of Fingerbone in the Idaho mountains is nestled along a huge lake with a high rail bridge running over it. There, a train once slipped from the tracks and was lost in the water. The story follows two orphaned girls whose grandfather and mother both died in that water; although they live in their grandmother's house, the eerie lake, full of the mysterious dead, has a pull that makes it something more like home. The narrative is surprisingly gripping, despite minimal plot; each glimpse of character or detail from the past has the weight of revelation. We feel the girls moving slowly toward their fates, the way they feel the vibrations of an approaching train."
Alissa McElreath, Senior Editor and Columns Editor, hasn't taken a vacation from books this summer. She shares, "I finished reading the latest selection for my book club two weeks ago, and I am still thinking about it. The book, Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf is set in a fictitious town named Holt in Colorado (the setting for Haruf's other novels as well). Our Souls at Night is at its heart a tale about love—but not the heady, passionate love of youth. Every night, Louis walks over to Addie's house to spend the night. The two, in their seventies and both widowed, lie awake in the dark and talk. Comforted by the knowledge that they are each there, sharing the same space, breathing the same air, they tell stories about their past marriages, their losses, their failures and dreams, then fall asleep companionably together. People in the town inevitably begin to talk, and soon Addie's son Gene intervenes, upset and embarrassed that his mother is the subject of gossip. Only the reader, and Addie and Louis, of course, know the truth—that their nights are far from being about anything sordid. While nothing dramatic happens over the course of the novel, Haruf's writing is sparse and nuanced, and leaves you aching—both for what is said and unsaid by the characters, and by the author, about life and death, and what comes in between."
Rae Pagliarulo, Creative Nonfiction Editor, made room in her luggage for a good book. She states, "While I'm certainly not the first person to extol the virtues of Emma Straub's Modern Lovers as a summer reading staple, I happily join the chorus. I recently took Straub's latest novel with me to a weeklong vacation in Mexico. Under the relentless sun, I was introduced to the book's colorful cast of characters, all with their own intertwining crises. With a focus that rotates every chapter, and major themes including love, marriage, identity, and art, Straub masterfully slips and twists in and out of plot points, disasters, and denouements. I've never been what you'd call a "beach-book" person, unwilling to commit my attention and emotions to lighter fare, simpler language, or two-dimensional characters. So for a lit-loving girl like me who wanted to relax and stay engaged, this smart and charming novel, as thoughtful as it was entertaining, was the perfect seaside companion."
Fiction Editor Suzanne Kamata didn't let soaring temperatures deter her reading. She shares, "As an antidote to the intense summer heat, I immersed myself in the icy landscape of My Last Continent by Midge Raymond. Part love story, part thriller, part paean to penguins, Raymond's debut novel takes readers where few have had the opportunity to tread—Antarctica. Socially awkward Deb is happiest at the bottom of the world, even though she must endure the tourists on board the research boat that brings her there. Then she meets Keller, a man with a tragic past who comes to love the penguins just as much as she does. She begins to question everything she once believed about herself. I found the book to be beautifully written, achingly romantic, and unforgettable."
What did you read this summer? Tell us in the comments below. If you're still looking for a few more last minute suggestions of what to pack for Labor Day travel, check out our Goodreads page.