July Reading

Here we are, halfway through the new month, and I’m just posting on my reading for July.

What just happened?!

I wanted to read five books every month of the summer, but I didn’t quite make in July. However, since my goal this year wasn’t about the number of books read (unlike other years), I guess I’ll let myself go.

I decided to change things up a bit in my rating system, too—in addition to doing a general one- to five-star rating on a book, I’m going to do a “cleanliness” rating since everyone’s got a different tolerance level for violence, language, sex, etc.

Key to the 5-Star Rating System:

***** = changed my life
**** = loved it
*** = liked it
** = it was okay
* = hated it

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This is my second read by Hosseini, and I think I’ve hit on a universal truth for his writing: basically everyone you like in the novel is either going to die or have a slew of atrocities happen to them over and over again. While reading one of his books, you might be able to convince yourself that this is the most depressed you’ve ever been while reading, yet at the same time, you just can’t stop whizzing through the pages. Part of this sick need to go through with it until the end must have something to do with that undying kernel of hope we expect from literature.

Luckily for us, Hosseini delivers it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two women whose lives cross when the war in their beloved Afghanistan thrusts them into each other’s arms. The majority of the first half of the novel is told from the older woman’s perspective, who was a child born out of a shameful affair and who later became a child bride for a hateful, violent man. The second woman joins them later after she is rescued from an explosion that kills her family.

Although Hosseini’s books are not for the faint of heart, his spellbinding prose will have you hanging on to every last word, and the triumphant end of this novel makes it a general favorite over The Kite Runner, which ends on a much more mournful note.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Cleanliness: This book’s got a little bit of it all: violence, rape, and language. However, most (if not all) of those are not explicit—in many cases, they’re more implied than anything. Despite that though, this is still a book for adults due to the overarching themes in the book.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Although I had heard of Born to Run back when I was first training for my marathon last year, I never gave it much thought until I happened across it in a Barnes & Noble and read the back summary. Upon learning that the book was about one man’s quest (a true story) to find the famed Tarahumara tribe in Mexico (otherwise known as “the running people” who could be considered the fastest distance runners in the world), I was hooked. Not only did the book promise a killer story that almost sounds more like legend than truth, but it also held the motivation that every runner wants to hear:

Human beings are (truly) born to run.

There were so many aspects of this book that have changed forever how I feel about running, like how I now no longer believe that a marathon distance is the furthest our bodies are “supposed” to go at once, and I am seriously considering taking up barefoot running at least part-time to correct my form. Equal parts thrilling story and fascinating fact, this book truly is a must-read for any runners out there (or any wannabe runners).

Case in point? I finished the book and promptly went out and ran 8 miles, no sweat.

Gotta love when a book spurs me on to action.

My Rating: 5 Stars
Cleanliness: occasionally some strong language sprinkled throughout and a few rare sections with more adult themes (alcoholism, not-explicit promiscuity, etc.)

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

This classic took me FOREVER to get through, but it overall was totally worth it in the end (as many classics are). This well-known book tells the true story of how the famous transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau basically left all the comforts of modern living for two years and went to go live by himself in the woods.

Unlike the memoirs typical of today, Walden is more philosophy and social commentary than it is personal history. Although the book follows a rough chronology (that basically follows Thoreau’s home at Walden Pond through the seasons), it can hardly be read in large quantities at a time. Rather, this book is meant to make you ponder, feel, and discuss rather than to merely entertain. Some of the mottoes I’m trying to live my life by today came from this monumental work.

While the difficulty level of this book is high, the payoff is equally high if you’re able to stick it out. However, if you have time (or desire) to only read a portion, I highly recommend reading his sections on Economy, Reading, and Solitude. (Read them with a highlighter—trust me!)

My Rating: 4.5 stars (although life-changing, I did have to take into consideration the fact that the book often took pure grit on my part to get through certain sections)
Cleanliness: This work is as clean as they come.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Although I haven’t seen the movie, I’ve had this book on my radar for years since I first heard my sister raving about it a decade ago. This novel has often been compared to Catcher in the Rye, perhaps because the protagonists of both books find themselves questioning the purpose and meaning of the general world at large and both find themselves on the general outskirts of the general body of their peers.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written as a series of letters from the main character (Charlie) to an anonymous stranger. Charlie’s highly introspective nature means that he’s often left on the outside of life observing what’s going on within, rather than becoming a participant himself. Perks follows Charlie as he finally makes his first friends in high school, falls in love for the first time, and eventually uncovers a huge family secret that is perhaps the driving force behind his odd behaviors.

Equally parts depressing and hopeful, Perks has a likeable narrator who has some truly beautiful thoughts and perspectives. In the end though, I felt much like I did with Catcher in the Rye—did the few beautiful, mind-blowing passages justify the necessity of muddling through a lot of trash?

Maybe, maybe not.

In the end, I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority when it comes to my feelings towards this book. Perks has been called a “cult classic” since it was first published in 1999, and I believe teens and young adults have embraced it because it told the truth of their adolescent experience.

It just didn’t tell mine, that’s all.

My Rating: 2.5 stars
Cleanliness: this one had a lot of everything—sex, drugs, violence, and language—which is probably part of the reason I was kind of turned off to it. Some of the scenes were pretty explicit as well, unlike in A Thousand Splendid Suns, where most were simply implied.

What have you been reading lately? Anything good?

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