This summer for me has been a summer of books. I had the goal of writing up book reviews for all of the books on my current reading list, but I don't think that will happen anytime soon. Instead, here is a list of the books I have read lately, each with a short blurb.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
I may well have strained the bonds of several relationships by talking about this book too much. It sat on my kindle for many months before I was motivated enough to start reading it, but once I did, I was hooked. After establishing a working definition of introversion, Cain explains how American culture changed from valuing character in the 19th Century to favoring personality in the 20th. This has given extroverts a clear advantage in recent decades. Cain examines environments such as school rooms, corporate offices, evangelical churches, motivational conferences and the Harvard Business School, just to name a few, showing how most reward extroverts over introverts. She then deftly demonstrates what we as a culture have lost by failing to recognize the contributions of introverts. The book finishes with advice for both introverts and the extroverts seeking to understand them.
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz
I think the title tells you nearly everything you need to know about this book. If you, like me, love what I call the three B's---Butter, Bacon and Brie---this is the book for you. Teicholz seeks to undermine the past several decades of official nutrition advice by revealing the flaws behind the studies used to promote a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates. It turns out that foods with saturated fat are not the villains we have believed them to be, but rather, they are good for us. Hooray for that, and three cheers for the three B's.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
This book tells the tragic story of several men who believed (incredibly, it now seems to us) that there was open water at the North Pole. Their efforts to reach the warm current they believed would take them to the top of the world led to the deaths of many, including that of the worthy captain, George Washington de Long. The story is ably told by Hampton Sides, and is worth reading for the story of the heroism of its central character alone.
This is my classics list for the summer. I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several years ago and have never forgotten the image of Francie reading outdoors under the umbrella tree that reached up over her balcony. Once again Betty Smith transported me to the housing projects in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th Century and made me wish that I could meet Francie in person.
Willa Cather has long been a favorite author of mine, but I had never read The Song of the Lark. After reading a recommendation for the audio version on Soule Mama, I downloaded it onto my phone. The narration by Pam Ward and Ken Burns is superb. I invented excuses to ride in the car just so I could listen some more, and I mourned when the story ended. Thea Kronborg haunted my dreams for several days and will join Francie, I am sure, in the list of fictional characters that I will never forget.
Pride and Prejudice by will always be a favorite. I felt compelled to reread it this summer after watching the mini series version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. The screen adaptation is very well done, but many scenes must be left out or shortened in spite of the five hour length, which for me always means that I must go back and immerse myself in the entirety of the delicious dialogue. So many perfect phrases in one book.
Far From the Madding Crowd (not pictured) was also on my list this summer, and in fact, I ended up reading it twice. After seeing the recent movie adaptation with my book club at the beginning of summer, I was positive I had never read the book. Later I found a clearly-read paperback edition on my bookshelf. I must have completely forgotten it, perhaps because Thomas Hardy is not a favorite author of mine. I suspect that he was ruined for me when I had to read Return of the Native in high school. However I loved Far From the Madding Crowd, and its depiction of the love life of its high-spirited female protagonist Bathsheba Everdene.
The above picture represents the books I have read because they have been assigned to my children for summer reading. This particular list also includes are Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Night by Elie Wiesel, and I must say that this portion of my reading has been rather dark and grim.
1984 was a first-time read for me. Orwell's writing drew me in immediately in spite of the fact that I was prepared to dislike the book. I felt the inevitability of a horrible conclusion throughout even as I longed for a gleam of hope for Winston. But no, Big Brother conquers completely.
Night, the story of the author's experience at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, has haunted me since I first read it in university days. I wish the events it covers had never happened, but since they did, I am glad Wiesel wrote about them as he did. I noticed several common themes between Night and 1984, including the idea that one of the worst things a totalitarian regime can do to a particular human is to drive him to betray a loved one.
When my kids were little, I used to try to read one Russian novel per summer. This is the first time I have returned to Russian authors for a few years, and actually I can't say I have read a Russian novel this summer since The Death of Ivan Ilych is more of a short story. But it is Tolstoy at his best. He writes about the death of a high-court judge and the agony caused by the judge's failure to live a genuine life. I will be interested to hear what my fifteen-year-old has to say about it.
My final stack of books for this post are those I have been reading aloud to our eight-year-old. He had been begging for several months for me to read The Hobbit, but I wasn't sure I could face another Tolkien read-aloud just yet. But it I enjoyed it more than I expected, and in fact, it was a good thing that summer vacation had started by the time we began, for we often kept reading long past his bedtime. From there we struggled through several different versions of King Arthur until a comment from my son, innocently made, led to a complete change in genre for our nightly reading session.
A couple of weeks ago he was complaining at the dinner table about one or another of the highly unfair restrictions that he must endure . I tried to convince him that his life is not as rough as he was making it out to be, and I made the mistake of comparing it to my own childhood.
"But Mom, you lived in the olden days!!" he protested.
As in, how could there possibly be any comparison between our two childhoods? We all burst out laughing, and he truly had no idea why. I decided it was high time that he discovered more about the olden days, and so I raided his sister's bookshelf for a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. She and I are big fans of all of the Little House on the Prairie books, and both of us have reread them multiple times. This was J's first introduction, however, and to my surprise, he has been captivated. Again we are reading late into the night, and it has been priceless to me to hear his reactions to the life that Almanzo lived as nine-year-old boy in late-19th Century New York. Now those are the olden days, I tell him nearly every night, not the days when your mom grew up.
Our summer vacation is quickly drawing to a close, but I have hopes of finding time for another book or two. Today I started Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox. If you have any recommendations for me, please don't hesitate.