Summer Reading List

I don't know about you but I'm a total bookworm.  I just love the feeling of getting lost in a book... becoming immersed in a really great story that once it grabs your attention, won't let go.  Summer is one of my favorite seasons because it's a time for travel and sun/surf, which means more time for lounging and reading! Whether you're poolside or at your favorite coffee shop, my summer reading list has all the books that should be on your radar right now.

I have heard a lot about Isabel Allende over the years but for one reason or another never picked up one of her books. I'm so glad I finally did! She has been likened to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, employing a broad cast of characters and magical realism in her stories.  My inner history buff really enjoys a sweeping saga with historical details, and to be sure I'm a sucker for anything that has World War II as a backdrop. Admittedly,  I was a little put off by the title, fearing that it was going to be nothing more than a tawdry, romance novel. I am pleased to say, I couldn't have been more wrong. Yes, there is the backdrop of the underlying love story but the overlying themes are much more interesting than that.  What struck me was that it didn't shy away from discussing in sometimes horrific detail what it was like to be Japanese in the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. How poorly underfunded and maintained the US Japanese Internment camps were and how they ripped apart the lives of so many for seemingly no reason at all. It really is a topic that rarely comes into conversation, perhaps because it is so hard to fathom that it actually occurred in our recent history.  In today's ever so fast spaced society, we are constantly bombarded by all kinds of stimuli and ways to be more productive. What I really responded to was the quiet pace of this book, being that its two main characters are in their 80s with one living in a nursing home. It may sound morbid but it was anything but.  In fact it was quite the opposite. I found it quite life affirming as it explored the enduring and everlasting bonds of friendship both with family and friends and what it means to grow old and voluntarily and sometimes non voluntarily choose a slower paced existence. I was eager to find out what ultimately happened to the protagonists, was sad when I finished it and have thought about it often since which is for me the true sign of a really good book.

Unfortunately this summer seems like it's been a hot bed of turmoil regarding race relations in the US.  Anyone who thinks that we live in a post racial society, definitely needs to read this book and reconsider. Written as a series of letters to his teenage son, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores what it's like to be a black man in America. Widely acclaimed, Between the World and Me is a National Book Award winner, NAACP Image Award Winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist.  At times, heartbreakingly poignant and other timesangry and insightful, this book is not an easy read but an important one. It truly helps to bridge the gap in understanding what its like to step outside your own personal upbringing and to experience what it's like to be a black man and to be a parent to a black man in America. It really drove home for me the fear that both people of color and parents of people of color live with on a daily basis when interacting with law enforcement. My heart broke when he described overhearing his son crying alone in his room after the acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case. I do wish Coates had offered more solutions to how to change these dire circumstances, but this book is a start in furthering the conversation.

I love a good debut novel from a young writer! Angela Fluornoy's novel centers on the Turner family of 13 growing up in Detroit's east side and how the house has been in the family for 50 years but after the passing of father Francis, is now worth less than its mortgage.  The house sits unoccupied as the children decide what to do with it. Fluornoy is interested in the meaning of inheritance and legacy and how a house is usually a source of wealth passed down from generation to generation, at least for white Americans. For black Americans who have been systematically discriminated against when it comes to housing--racial covenants (deeds preventing blacks from owning houses), red-lining (mortgages denied to those who lived in red-lined, aka black, neighborhoods), and mortgage fraud (subprime mortgages disproportionately victimized people of color)--the house becomes a legacy of loss. I enjoyed the discussion of the importance in birth order and how it plays out in family dynamics. Being a middle child in my own family, I think it's so telling to see how birth order can affect one's place in this world.  I can only imagine how that plays out in a family of 13! I also thought the supernatural element of ghosts and the role they played in this now decrepit home was really interesting. The spirits appear in the Detroit house as a physical reminder that while the patriarch of the family, Francis may have left the rural south for a better life in the urban north, the legacy of discrimination is inescapable.

Another exciting debut novel, The Girls by Emma Cline is everywhere these days. I'm excited to read it, and just started it. I've heard rave reviews and hope it lives up to the hype! Set in Northern California during the turbulent 60's, it's a tale of an awkward adolescent girl's introduction and subsequent immersion into a Charlie Manson like cult. Creepy! Can't wait to get into it!

And last but not least I decided to throw in an oldie but goodie. Originally published in 1955, The Talented Mr. Ripley feels just as fresh today as it was then. Ripley is Highsmith's most famous character, and is the first of three in a series. She also wrote Strangers on a Train (as made famous by the Hitchcock film of the same name) and The Price of Salt, or Carol which was also just made into a film this past year.  It follows the path of unctuous grifter Tom Ripley from an inauspicious beginning in New York across the Atlantic to Italy where he befriends the wealthy Dickie Greenleaf and his girlfriend Marge.  A study into the psyche of a sociopath, Ripley convinces the reader to feel sorry for him despite his heinous crimes. Looking forward to reading the next two in this thriller series!