Fiction Read in July and August:
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Read in preparation for John’s first unit study of the year.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A retelling of the Snow White story, told from the perspective of the stepmother (Boy) and her daughter (Bird). Oyeyemi explores issues around race and the perception of beauty in our culture. An intriguing book that deserves a longer review, or at least more attention than I’m giving it here. I’d recommend it for those who like both well-crafted stories and pondering bigger issues.
And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass
Kip is a somewhat lost middle-aged art history professor who recently didn’t get tenure and finds himself drifting through life. His wife, desperate to kick-start him into some kind of action, sends him off on a journey to discover who his biological father is. Told from multiple perspectives and in flashbacks, this story weaves through the lives of a New England family and their friends. It was a good read although not particularly memorable.
A Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King
The latest installment in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I’m now caught up before the next one is published in early 2015.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Read in preparation for John’s unit study. More on that in the next few weeks, hopefully.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
Also read for the unit study, this was my first MacDonald book. I quite enjoyed it and see why C.S. Lewis considered MacDonald a great writer of Christian allegory and fantasy. Lewis once said about MacDonald, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Non-Fiction read in July/August
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
I got this one out for the description of the title essay which is partially about the author’s experience being a model patient for medical student’s practical exams. It’s actually much more about her experience having an abortion. The rest of the essays vary widely in content (from an essay on saccharine to one on extreme endurance races to one on the West Memphis Three). The thread that holds all the essays together is the theme of empathy. Jamison particularly ponders her own medical experiences, including a heart surgery for an arrhythmia, a violent attack in Central America where she was punched in the face and her abortion. I was quite impressed with Jamison’s ability to write beautifully and intelligently on such a wide range of topics. And I appreciated some of her musings on the nature of empathy.
Ironically I found at times that that it was difficult to be empathetic towards Jamison. At times I felt like saying “Yes, these things happened to you. Now it’s time to move on.” Then I felt kind of sheepish as she has a whole discussion in her essay on women’s pain about how society often has that approach to hurting young women. In the end I decided that this read to me like a young book. It’s similar to listening to a teenager tell you about the current crisis in their life. You know it’s big to them. You want to have empathy. But sometimes it’s hard.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Somewhat better known as a novelist, Patchett has also had a long career writing non-fiction for magazines. She began at Seventeen magazine, largely to pay the bills and ended up at places like Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. This collection of essays roughly serves as a memoir of sorts as she collected a sampling of her non-fiction over her life.
I really enjoyed this book and it strikes me now that’s probably in part because it’s from a more mature voice than the previous one. The essay on caring for her grandmother with dementia was lovely and touching without being overly maudlin. Ditto the essay on her dying dog and companion of many years. The early essays on how to become a writer are excellent and would be worthwhile reading for anyone who thinks they might want to pursue a career in writing.
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
Part literary criticism, part biography and part memoir this book is unlike anything else I’ve read. Rebecca Mead looks at Middlemarch, the book that has been the most important influence her own life. I expected this to read mostly like a memoir but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was so much more. Mead includes her own experience but only where it illuminates the book or where the book illuminates her experience. I mostly appreciated Mead’s love for Middlemarch and her extensive research on George Eliot and insight into how Eliot’s life may have influenced her books, particularly Middlemarch. Like all the best books, this one made me want to read more: Middlemarch again, more Eliot, more on Eliot.