Summer is only nine days old in southern Indiana and already it is hot, hot, and hotter. We’re looking at our second day of above 100 temperatures and the new definition of “cooling off” around here is when the thermometer dips below 95. It’s also been one of the driest June’s on record, with 40% of the state in the midst of a moderate drought. I’m trying think of this stretch of weather as a rare abnormality rather than as a sign of things to come. And I’m thankful to have been able to spend a week in the cooler and wetter mountains of North Carolina.
Amongst a great deal of porch sitting, shopping and gin and tonic drinking, I also did some serious reading. Here’s a re-cap of what I read this month:
A Clash of Kings, George R. R. Martin, from the Song of Ice and Fire series. With the second season of the HBO series over, I could read this second book in the series. Unlike the first season on HBO, the second season departed from the books in some rather significant ways. I think the alterations to the narrative of the books was perfect for the series, and I’m going to stick with my strategy of watching the series first, and then reading the books.
Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik. As I mentioned, my husband really wanted me to read this collection of essays by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik about his sojourn as an American in Paris. He promised that I would laugh out loud, and I soberly told him that I hardly ever laugh out loud when I’m reading. Well, it’s annoying, but he was right; I did in fact, laugh out loud. Gopnik is a pro at taking a situation that on the surface sounds, well, so done. How many great American writers have written about living overseas, and especially in Paris? It’s almost a pre-requisite to becoming a great American writer that you go to Paris and then write about it. But Gopnik takes this subject and makes it uniquely his own. His essays are often funny, but also deeply insightful. He made himself a careful student of the subtle cultural differences between himself and the Parisians around him. His style is nothing like James Baldiwn’s, another great writer who went to France, but I would put Gopnik right alongside Baldwin as a master of the essay form.
Alif, the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson. In the midst of writing what was going to be a mini-review of this book, I found I had too much to say. Some of it good, some of it just okay, and some of it just not sure. So check out the expanded version here.
After the Snow, by S.D. Crockett. I cannot resist the post-apocalyptic novel. This one is for young adults, because if they can handle The Hunger Games, why not an England turned arctically cold? This is, in fact, what scientists predict might happen with global climate change. The warm air current that keeps England temperate despite the fact that it’s at the same latitude as Siberia will shut down and–presto! England becomes Siberian. Nicely written little novel which I received as an ARC from Village Lights Bookstore.
The Hum and the Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe. Did you know that the Appalachian Mountains are the oldest on the planet? The French Broad River, which runs through western North Carolina, is the third oldest river on the planet, older than the mountains it now runs through. It’s not hard to imagine these mountains as a magical place, so I was very excited about this book, in which the Tufa are a mysterious and musical group of people who the first European explorers discovered living in the Appalachians. Great idea, and of course, there are fiddles and mandolins and old-time music. I was so ready for a story in which Shady Grove has magical powers. But the execution just wasn’t there for me.
The Great Night, by Chris Adrian. An interesting book to read right around the time of the summer solstice, as it’s a kind of modern re-telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I loved the way Adrian fleshes out Tatiana and Oberon. The book ends up being much less about the faeries than it is about the humans who get trapped inside Buena Vista Park in San Francisco, and that’s okay. The humans all have very interesting stories to tell. The only part of this book that gives me hesitation is the ending, which I found a little rushed and less than perfectly satisfying.
Definitely Dead and All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris. I picked back up where I last left off with Sookie Stackhouse. It’s nice to see that Sookie is changing and evolving a little bit as she moves more deeply into the world of the supernatural. With these two books, I was also struck by how much this series is also about social class, as well as the regionalism that leads Northerners to look down their noses at those with Southern accents.
Honky, by Dalton Conley. It’s interesting to read a sociologist doing memoir. Sociology, after all, is all about the intersection of biography and history. Which means biography is important, but as a way to illustrate the influence of history. Conley is clearly using the lens of sociology to understand his life story, which is quite interesting in terms of what it reveals about race and social class in the United States. His book was enjoyable and illuminating, but not beautiful and moving in the way of many memoirs. Beautiful and moving takes a kind of writing talent that not many sociologists probably have.
In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner. Another ARC from Village Lights, this book is due out in August of this year. The novel is the account of a young woman living through the civil war and devastation that resulted in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Ratner was five herself when the civil war broke out, and she explains in the author’s note that much of the book is autobiographical. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have lived through the terror and devastation depicted in this novel. I can certainly understand why, if you had lived through these things, you would choose to fictionalize them rather than tell the real story. And as Ratner was only five, many of the memories may not be there in the first place. This novel is beautiful in places, and brings to life a particular historical moment with which I was not particularly familiar. But it suffered from slow pacing in some places and is just the tiniest bit rough around the edges sometimes.