I am just returned from my favorite reading spot, our home on Lac Pythonga, where I sit with a book on the dock or the beach or stretch out on our new couch and/or reading chair with ottoman (thank you, Georgia Dent) — quiet spaces all. What a treat: to read for hours at a time in the woods, by the lake, in a space that’s off the grid. There’s no phones, no television, no Internet.
Sure, I did other things: yoga on an unscreened porch, spa treatments on the dock, hot sauna/cool lake runs, long hard swims with my friend Sharon, to and from her dock, where we’d rest a bit and chat. At night with my family we played Scrabble or Giant Jenga while Evan and Harry listened, via Sirius satellite radio, to Chicago Cubs games.
Here’s what I read and can recommend:
Eccentric Orbits, by John Bloom, is the jaw-dropping story of Motorola’s development, and abandonment, of the Iridium satellite system and the retired airline executive who saved it. My friend Joe was reading the book, too, and we’d come to breakfast sharing outrage at Motorola’s stubborn resistance to saving the system and its complicity in Iridium’s bankruptcy: shocking, like watching an animal eat its young. Joe and I agreed that the book went on too long, but otherwise, this is a deep and satisfying read.
The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante, part two of the four part Neapolitan novels.
I read the first of these last year and while I liked it a lot, was exhausted by the story’s everyday violence and granular telling: after 331 pages, the girls (Lila and Elena) were only 16 years old. That said, I’m glad I picked up part two, because now I’m hooked and will read all four.
What’s so compelling? The character of Lila, who marries at 16 and immediately — at the wedding! — rejects her husband. From there it’s an affair, a child by another man, and later, flight with still another man. Studious Elena goes off to college in Pisa and manages, despite her poverty, to succeed. Part Two ends on a note of hope, which will get me to Book Three.
Earlier this summer I read:
The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeen Sahota. This is the story of contemporary Indian immigrants in England. I loved every page and held this big book (484 pages) close. Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, it’s a full-bodied read that takes us, via four characters, to an India they each must leave and the England in which they must learn to survive. A fitting, rueful ending; my favorite read of the year.
They May not Mean to, But they Do, by Cathleen Schine. I’ll read anything by Schine: her work is about everything and nothing and always funny, sweet, real, heartbreaking. Also, typically about New York and its people. (If you haven’t read her “Fin & Lady,” do.) This one is about the family Bergman: the decline and death of paterfamilias Aaron followed by his wife Joy’s grief and aging. Their adult children are well meaning but hilarious in their attempts to care for Joy, then outraged when Joy brings an old boyfriend into the family fold. Little girls, a wandering grandson, women in love: Schine gets everything right.
I also enjoyed Tribe, by Sebastian Unger, a slender (136 page) collection of writings on homecoming and belonging. Deeply personal but expansive, historical, topical. Many dog-eared pages.
Too, I was surprised to thoroughly enjoy Clementine, by Sonia Purnell, a biography of the wife of Winston Churchill, which I read because I’d been invited to a book talk. (Thank you, Jennifer.) What a life! Clementine loved and devoted herself to Winston (a fascinating, brilliant tyrant) at the expense of all else, including their children. Reads like a Mitford novel.
About Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman: I loved its lyric beginning and end. In between is a gruesome and not very believable “mean girls” tale.
Right now I’m reading Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, by Jill Leovy. Great reporting and storytelling, about L.A. homicide detectives tasked with solving black-on-black crime. Also Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, about white Americans left behind in the post-industrial Midwest. Violent, telling.