“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.”—Jeannette Wells, THE GLASS CASTLE
Oh boy, oh boy, where did summer go?
August’s slide into early September is a melancholy time, like the end of Christmas vacation or Sunday nights. The lightness of endless time giving over to the long sigh of an ordered life: school, bills, deadlines, and shorter days.
With last call at summer’s party fast approaching I’m looking at my nightstand and office floor and the stacks of all that’s left to read. That I planned on reading. That I couldn’t wait to read. My real problem? I need to stop buying new books until I’ve plowed through the ones I have piling up and collecting dust.
I did, however, want to share a few books that I thought stood out from the rest for me this summer. In no particular order they are:
IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam Haslett. Lovely writing. The story of dealing with the effects of mental illness on family relationships. The novel spans decades in the life of a family of five, each told in alternating chapters. Michael, at the center of the novel, is the one sibling for whom life is endlessly difficult to manage because of his illness. Celia, the sister, and Alec, her other brother help their mother to care for Michael. The writing is exquisite. The subject matter sad but what a story Haslett imagines.
THE GIRLS by Emma Cline. There was a lot of hype surrounding this book in the spring before its release. “The book of the summer” and all that hyperbole craziness the publishing world throws at us. But I loved it. Worth the hype and Cline’s zillion dollar advance and three-book deal? I guess we’ll see, but she’s only 25 ish and writes with such luscious and lean prose in all the right amounts that I think her talent is endless. “The Girls” is a fictional account of the Charles Manson-like murders that took place in the late 1960s. Fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd wants to be a part of something, especially a family since her parent’s divorce. Her obsession with Suzanne, a free spirit, and follower of Russell, the leader of a band of misfits on a dilapidated ranch in northern California, is her home away from home. You know how the Manson saga plays out, but this fictional version has an interesting twist of fate at the end.
INVINCIBLE SUMMER by Alice Adams. Yes, this is the competition—and I approached reading it like one who already hates the prettiest girl in the classroom on the first day of school. I was giddy with the fact that I didn’t love it in the beginning only to come around to liking the book very much (which I’ll admit to you I didn’t want to happen!!!). Adam’s “Invincible Summer” follows four college friends from graduation through the “thwarted dreams” of their thirties. My book, “Invincible Summers” (plural) has a chapter that takes place in Corfu, Greece. And yes, so does Adams use Corfu as a setting. Again, I ask, what are the frigging chances?!?!
SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler. This one, although a novel, reads like a memoir. I admit hearing Danler interviewed on NPR before reading the book, so I know she took a lot of her experiences of working in restaurants to flesh out the narrator, Tess’s life living in Brooklyn and working as a “backwaiter” at a fine dining restaurant in Manhattan. As a former waitress myself, I fell in love with the dark and funny cast of crazies in the restaurant. Tess learns about oysters, wine, friendship, love, cocaine, and booze. Lots of drinking and drugging in this book. I recognized in Tess that feeling of finding one’s tribe and immersing yourself in all the reckless abandon of youth.
DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY by Bill Clegg. A tragedy begins this novel. June Reid’s daughter, future son-in-law, ex-husband, and current boyfriend perish in a house explosion on the eve of her daughter’s wedding. Told through alternating chapters we hear the aching facts and histories of the characters and their connection to one or more of the deceased. Never reaching for sentimentality, Clegg writes beautifully about what it means to be a family—“the ones we are born with and the ones we create.” It’s our book club selection for October, and I can’t wait to discuss it.
THE UNDERTAKING by Thomas Lynch. I had the pleasure of meeting this gigantic talent at Horizon Books in Traverse City this summer. One of the many highlights of my “book tour.” (Another blog post.) I read parts of this book years ago but sat down and read the whole thing again in a couple of days after meeting him. What a gem. Not sure if it’s because I’m older and closer to the end then the beginning of my life—the rounding up theory on aging—or if I just appreciate the mellifluous sentences in these twelve essays on living and dying. Lynch is an undertaker in Milford, Michigan (or was, not sure if he’s retired). He’s also a wonderful poet. I loved every one of these essays—so different from one another but incorporating the same brilliant turn in the narrative where life and death questions and answers coexist like butter on bread.
“The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.” –W. Somerset Maugham
I hope there’s something here you admire, too! Happy reading.