Summer Reading: What's Hot; What's Not

Every Summer is an opportunity to read for pleasure rather than for research, and as such, I normally begin compiling my list of summer reading materials at Christmas and anxiously await the time I get to indulge in them. It is both a time of escapism from academe and a reminder of why I chose this profession in the first place: my love of literature. This summer I have decided to record/archive all the books I read and rate them. Who knows; they may end up on a syllabus someday.

Book Club Selections:

While I plan to read at least ten books before the summer is over, four of the ten books selected are products of my book club. Being like minded, most of my friends share my passion for books, so over the years, we have begun a summer book club as a way to stay connected and to read more widely. We each select one book to be completed during one month of the summer. After its completion we discuss the book online. The person who selected the book leads the group discussion, but conversation evolves naturally and we don't stick too closely to mandated questions/scripts. Though we are all lovers of the page, we have varying interests and professions which dictate our selections (PT, Psychologist, Chemist, English professor), providing for a wider array of reading material. Below are the books selected for this summer by the club along with my musings. I encourage everyone to think about starting their own book club whether its online or in person.

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield (my pick)

I selected this book because I had previously read and enjoyed Setterfield's eariler work, The Thirteenth Tale. While this book still has the same intriguing gothic elements of its counterpart, it is not as suspenseful or satisfying a read. The book follows the life of William Bellman after he has skillfully killed a rook with a sling slot at the age of ten. The narrator of the book is a rook, which makes for an interesting perspective. In addition, the book contains meta chapters in which rooks are described and defined, an added element that I found to be an interesting approach to understanding the values, mindset, and background of the rooks. Bellman's life is full of both promise and tragedy. He is successful at everything he tries with business. However, death follows him everywhere he goes, which helps fuel the plot of the novel as readers are left wondering if this is the consequence of his childhood trangression. Throughout the novel, death is personified by a man named Black who appears at each of the funerals that Bellman attends. The anticipation surrounding the mystery of Black (who he is and what he wants) adds to the suspense, but the payoff is not as rewarding as I would have liked at the end.

I found the following website to be helpful in terms of generating a discussion about this book:

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/9503-bellman-black-setterfield?start=3

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I was not surprised that my friend selected this book for our summer reading list considering she is a fan of classic literature. Though I am an Americanist by trade, I harbor affection for British lit as well. Thus, this was a nice opportunity to read more British classics. I have a special place in my heart for Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and this novel reminded me very much of the style and content of its contemporaries as it contained many gothic tropes such as the damsel in distress, the anti-hero, the haunted home, the sublime/uncanny, etc. I enjoyed it immensely and read it within two days time.

The book is told from an unnamed narrator who readers know simply as the second Mrs. de Winter ( an interesting tactic because it helps to draw more attention to the former Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, the title character.) While Rebecca is dead throughout the entire novel. she haunts all the characters within the text. Readers discover along with the narrator her background, mannerisms, tastes, and (tragic?) demise.

In my junior high days, I would have identified strongly with the narrator and seen Rebecca's death as a necessary and perhaps deserved fate. However, time and education have forced me to realign my sympathies so that now I read this novel as more of a testiment to the policing of female sexuality/morality and the consequences for stepping outside the boundaries of tradition. Because Rebecca lived a nonconventional life for the time period, she was scorned by her husband and ultimately murdered. While I don't necessarily approve of Rebecca's lifestyle, had she been a man, this behavior would have been completely excused by the other characters within the novel. Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca's housemaid and confidant, draws our attention to this fact on multiple occassions and even mentions that Rebecca ought to have been born a man. By the novel's end, I was left questioning whether or not the same fate might be inflicted upon the narrator at a later date should she deviate from social expectations or decide not to "stay in line."

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaimen

Personal Selections:

I set some parameters for myself in terms of reading material for the summer. First, at least half of the books I read need to be written by a female (this is not hard for me considering almost all my favorite books are written by women.) Second, I try to read one series of books. Third, I read at least one classic/canonical piece of literature that I haven't read before.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

This book was given to me as a gift from my aunt, Debbie Waggoner. I was excited to read this book because I LOVED the movie as you saw in a prior blog post. I always take for granted that the book is going to be better than the movie, and in this case, I was correct. However, after having watched and read the material, I can say that the movie does a great job translating the content to the screen and keeping the integrity of the plot and characters.

The novel tells the story of Alice, a decorated Harvard linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. The novel is told from her prospective, which is a nice change from others in this genre that are told from the prospective of the caregiver. Genova does a good job illustrating the symptoms and mindset of a person undergoing memory loss and the pain, distress, and confusion it inflicts upon them. For example, Alice makes a to-do list everyday which Genova includes as part of the narrative. Readers see how this list deteriorates over time as Alice loses language skills.

This book is not a fun read (I cried several times throughout the text), but it is a worthwhile read. I, like many, have had relatives who have suffered with this disease, This book raises awareness for Alzheimers and also offers a glimpse into the life of a patient, allowing readers to empathize and understand more about how the disease progresses over time. Genova includes questions for discussion at the end of the book, which are helpful for anyone wanting to use it as part of a book club or as a guide

for further personal analysis.

Wayward Pines Trilogy by Blake Crouch:

Pines

Wayward

The Last Town

Salem by Jodi Picoult


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