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Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Summer Reads" Are Bullshit

Posted by Alison Hallett on Thu, Jun 6, 2013 at 11:14 AM

I've written about this here before, but I absolutely don't buy the notion that summer is for reading light, throwaway, "fun" novels, and I wish marketing campaigns would stop pushing books that way. I'm sure I've ignored good books because I saw a beach umbrella or a lipstick-smeared wineglass on the cover. I will concede, though, that reading a book in the sun is objectively one of the best things ever. So if you're planning to do that this summer, and you've read Anna Karenina already (it's a great summer read!), here are a few of the better things I've read recently:

Wild Ones : I'm a little verklempt over how much I enjoyed Jon Mooallem's examination of mankind's relationship to "wild" animals. My review is here, and for a sense of what it's like, read the New York Times article that inspired the book, Taking Flight; it's about a ragtag campaign to teach captive-raised whooping cranes to migrate that involves men dressing all in white, like giant birds, and coaxing the cranes to follow tiny airplanes across the sky. One thing I didn't have room to talk about in the review: Mooallem's young daughter pops up throughout the book, as he wonders about her relationship to animals, and what kind of world she's going to grow up in. As a 30-year-old squarely in "Do I have kids?" territory, I found his perspective both comforting and illuminating. Which brings us to...

The Stud Book:
My friends just started having babies and I have a feeling they're not going to stop anytime soon. Monica Drake's The Stud Book is set among a group of Portland women—some mothers, some not—navigating adulthood and parenthood in this silly city of ours. I'm gonna quote myself because I like this part:

It's not quite accurate to say that our fair city is a character in Drake's newest—The Stud Book is a book about motherhood, and so it seems more fitting to describe Portland as the womb in which Drake's characters gestated, where in utero they absorbed grunge music and Henry Weinhard's beer, and learned how to separate the recycling.

Life After Life: I'm a Kate Atkinson fangirl—if you haven't read her human, satisfying mysteries, please just go do it. You'll thank me. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival-set One Good Turn is a great place to start, though if you're a completist, Case Histories is the first of the series starring the Marlowe-esque Jackson Brody. But her newest, Life After Life, isn't a mystery in the traditional sense; it's about a woman, born in 1910, whose life begins anew every time she dies; and with each new iteration, she's dogged with an increasingly powerful sense of a deja vu. I found the novel frustrating at first—it keeps starting over!—but after about 50 pages or so I settled into it. And any literary novelist who takes on "What if you could travel back in time and kill Hitler?" gets points from me.

The_Interestings_Meg_Wolitzer.jpg
The Interestings: Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings is one of the big books of the year, and while it's not set in Portland, it very well could be: Its subject is white people who think they're special, and grown up to realize they're just regular. That's a glib summation, though, for this dense, satisfying novel about childhood friends whose fortunes dramatically diverge as they reach adulthood. If you're looking for a giant novel to crawl into for a few weeks, this is it.

Any one else read anything good recently? Right now I'm on suspense novelist Alifair Burke's If You Were Here, about a prosector-turned-journalist who stumbles into a vast conspiracy and yadda yadda. I'm not enjoying as much as her last novel Never Tell, but it's still a good bet if you want something you can read in a day and a half. (If you're looking for that kind of summer read.)

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