Along with icy lemonade, grilled burgers, and fireworks displays, summer should definitely be a time for reading. I can’t wait to talk summer reading with you, especially since I’ve read some pretty stellar books in the last month!
Hope you’ll check at least one of them out.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Several of Zadie Smith’s books have made it onto multiple recommended reading lists, so I was surprised that I’d never heard of her before. While it’s not about what you’d think, On Beauty tells the story of a marriage in trouble—Howard Belsey, an educated professor in top demand at his university, is having problems rediscovering the passion with his wife Kiki. Throw in several wrenches: a couple affairs, the arrival of an arch-rival and his family, and an unexpected death, and you’ve got the kind of page-turner that everyone looks for in a summer read.
Now, for the review: morally, I would never recommend this book to anyone. Aside from the adultery, there is a LOT of language and some other explicit content in this book. However, Zadie Smith is on several recommended reading lists for a reason—she has some of the most artfully written prose I’ve come across in a long time. Many of her descriptions were so beautiful that I re-read them several times just to enjoy the way they sounded. So, if you’re looking for a literary read that will challenge some of your thinking and provide a tale that keeps you wanting to read more, check this out.
My Rating: 3.5 stars
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
I picked this book up because I really wanted to participate in this blogger’s book club review on it. Although she didn’t give it such a favorable rating, I personally was wowed by this book—it always kept me guessing, and I’ve always been a sucker for a book with some mental illness in it (blame it on my psychology background).
The Silver Linings Playbook is the story of Pat, a man who has been locked up in a mental care facility for the past few years due to an incident he can’t (or won’t) remember and whose entire life purpose going forward into the “real world” is to get his wife back. To do this, he sets out on an extreme weight-lifting and diet campaign, and he is convinced that if he follows all the rules of his game plan, God will allow him to have Nikki again. Along the way, you learn about his slightly dysfunctional family, his very dysfunctional new running buddy, and more than anything, his good heart (despite his psychological weaknesses).
Despite this book also having some language issues (not nearly as much as Smith’s novel, though), I absolutely loved reading this. I went in with no expectations and with no idea what the book was about, and I ended up finishing it in under two days. Although the narrator is totally unreliable, you love him for his absolute dedication to the idea that if you do your best, there will be a silver lining in your cloud cover.
Seriously impressed by this one.
My Rating: 4.5 stars
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
I’d been wanting to read this true-life account by Gretchen Rubin ever since I started subscribing to Good Housekeeping, which features a Happiness column by Rubin monthly. I was so impressed with her insights in the magazine that I looked her up online, and I was delighted to see that she’d written two books that documented her own experiments with happiness. I promptly bought both books and saved this one to read while on our vacation in St. George.
The Happiness Project documents Rubin’s year-long quest to become happier through applying to her daily life all the research she could find on happiness. Each month, she focused on a different area (i.e. marriage, parenting, hobbies, work, etc.) and made resolutions for each area. Over the year, she kept track of her progress on ALL of her resolutions (because when the month changed, she still tried to keep up on the resolutions from the months before).
Not only was this book insightful, motivating, and packed full of valuable information, it was also just downright enjoyable–her experiences were often laugh-out-loud funny, and I appreciated her honesty when her endeavors to be happy didn’t always seem so rosy.
I absolutely adored this book, and I know that I’ll be reading it and re-reading it again and again. If you’re looking for a little happiness boost in your own life, check it out.
My Rating: 5 stars
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
It had been quite awhile since I had read a good sci-fi/dystopian novel, so imagine my delight when I picked this one up (which is also featured on several of my recommended reading lists) and discovered that it’s the very best kind of sci-fi/dystopian novel there is: elegantly written, unpredictable, and completely eye-opening.
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a futuristic dystopian world that is facing massive population problems because so many women stopped wanting to have children. With the takeover of a new monotheistic government, the old society was purged of all the filth that degraded women previously (pornography, immodesty, etc.), and the women were placed back into positions of purity and respect. The problem? Even though they weren’t being degraded like they were before, they were not allowed to hold a job, dress as they wanted, follow their own schedules, or even go by their own names. The novel is told from one particular woman’s story, who weaves her previous life with her husband and child into her current life of being a handmaid (basically like a glorified mistress who is brought onto a household for the sole purpose of producing offspring for that household).
I would totally say more about the plot of this book, but I don’t want to give anything away. I will say this though: the ending was stunning. I finished this while I was in the plasma center donating, and I said out loud, “You’ve got to be KIDDING me!” when I got to the part right before the afterword. In addition to the stellar ending (which you might love or hate, depending on how you prefer your endings), Atwood’s got some serious writing talent—I would have to say this is the best modern dystopian novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve read several.
My Rating: 5 stars
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
After so many novels written for adults, I was ready for a bit of a break, so I picked up this young adult classic, which I’ve been meaning to read for years. Of course, what I didn’t realize was that this book would make me break down and sob the last twenty pages or so (which wasn’t exactly the lighthearted feeling I was going for, but I definitely don’t have any regrets).
(Although, if you think about it, if you’re involved enough in a book that it makes you CRY—-it’s got to be one absorbing read.)
Walk Two Moons is the story of Salamanca (Sal), a girl who is on a cross-country trip to visit all the places her mom went after she left Sal and her father for a fresh perspective on life. While on the trip with her grandparents, Sal tells them the story of her friend Phoebe, whose wild imagination means that she’s always in the middle of some crazy adventure. While telling her grandparents Phoebe’s story, Salamanca comes to realize that in a way, she is telling her own story, of adventure, of love, of heartache, and loss.
This is a beautiful book, and one that I would recommend for all ages.
My Rating: 5 stars
Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?
And what books would you recommend as “summer reading?”