Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I Read Over the Summer

This summer I gave myself a break from blogging about books, I only wrote about ones that I felt like writing about. But I read quite a few books and since I partly use this blog to keep track of what I read I thought I’d share my list.

I never did pick up a new mystery series but I did catch up on a few ongoing series that I’ve been reading over the years. Elizabeth George’s new Inspector Lynley novel, This Body of Death, came out and I read it in June. When I first started reading this series, years ago, I was indifferent to it. But now I’m completely caught up in the story of the people, mostly Havers who is simultaneously endearing and annoying. Then I caught up with the last two Steven Saylor mysteries: The Judgment of Caesar and The Triumph of Caesar. At least, I think they are the latest two in his series. For some reason, I have trouble keeping track of that series. I liked both of them and the second one didn’t end with the assassination of Caesar so I was surprised. They were all very fun. I also listened to the audiobook version of Laura Lippman’s novel What the Dead Know. It was different than her Tess Monaghan mysteries but I did like it.

Speaking of audio books, I started listening to Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles last year during my trip up to Minnesota. Then I got sick and never finished. So I started listening again on my way up to Minnesota this year, but it brought back too many memories of being sick. So I stopped. But I did finish it in September. Maybe because I took such a long break in the middle of it, I thought it was only ok. The author’s ongoing one way dialog with American Airlines was very funny at times but I found I didn’t really care much what happened to him. And the sections in which he was translating a Polish novel just put me to sleep.

I read The Angels Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafron and I enjoyed it but found it harder to suspend disbelief than I did with his earlier novel, The Shadow of the Wind. Also, I read the first novel a few years ago so it took me a while to figure out that this second novel ties in with the first. I understand there will be a third and I figure at that point I’ll have to go back and re-read all three.

I finally read The Help, by Kathryn Stocket, after practically the whole universe told me I had to. It was an easy read but I found it completely unbelievable that the black maids in the story would have told their story to that white woman. It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the book, but I wonder what all the fuss was about. Of course it seemed designed for women’s book club reading.

On vacation I caught up with a few books that people lent me a long time ago. First, The Girls from Ames: The Story of Women and a 40 Year Friendship, by Jeffrey Zaslo. This group of high school friends were about my age and most of the novel I was fairly sure they wouldn’t have given me the time of day in high school. It was an interesting project but I was glad to leave them behind. The Water Horse by Julia Grigson (which AndiF lent me last year) gave me a whole different look at Florence Nightengale, not to mention the Crimean War. I was disappointed that the story just .. ended, though. The heroine finds her man and … the end. I also read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was lent to me two years ago during my Harry Potter phase. At last I can return it.

One of the novels I enjoyed most this summer (and would have written about if I hadn’t read it in Minnesota where I have no internet connection) was Jonathan Safron Foer’s Everything is Illuminated. At times it was “laugh out loud” funny and yet the story at the center of the novel is very sad, as all holocaust stories are sad. Creating the stumbling English in the letters of Alex, a young Ukranian with a basic grasp of English and access to a Thesaurus is a tour de force for Safron Foer. It must have been very rigid to do, as Alex would have said. I know that Safron Foer gets picked on a lot by some critics and I really don’t know why. Based on this novel and his Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I would read anything he wrote. Well, that’s not true. I have no interest in reading his latest paeon to vegetarianism. But I probably would read any novel he published.

I read it just after reading The Zookeepers Wife by Diane Ackerman which is the true story of zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski who sheltered Polish Jews in the empty Warsaw Zoo during World War II. When I picked it up I thought it was a novel but was pleased to discover it was a true story and one that I’d never heard.

I unintentionally spent some time with France this summer. First I read Edith Wharton’s Fighting France: From Dunkirk to Belport, I like books about World War I but this series of essays that were published in magazines during the war seemed mostly like propaganda to me. Then I read My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme, which was wonderful. And I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary. I had avoided reading this one because I thought it was yet another novel marketed at women’s book clubs, but I was surprised by how much I liked it.

I finished off the summer with Fool by Christopher Moore which is King Lear re-told as only Christopher Moore can. Not quite as humorous as his re-telling of the life of Jesus in Lamb, but quite entertaining.

Oh, and I did read Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky as I said I would. Not quite as thought provoking as Here Comes Everybody but maybe that is because I heard his talks so many times before the book was released that I basically knew what was going to be in it.