Books: Summer Reads

by anneMoore on June 20, 2017

I read all the time, but I read most during the summer: beside the pool, on the dock, in my leafy green Chicago back yard. Here’s some recent reads I enjoyed. Ah, summer.

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
I live beside Lake Michigan and the sight of its limitless waters astonishes me still, even after 30 years living in Chicago. I’d read about invaders to this chain of great lakes, the world’s largest unfrozen freshwater system, caused by man-made shipping channels that link to the Atlantic Ocean, though never in one sitting. (Lamprey sea eels decimated native fish, zebra and quagga mussels choke off water-intake pipes.) Egan traces this sad history: lakes once thick with fish and plankton are so clear today you can spot deep water shipwrecks. Egan is a master storyteller, and this reads like a thriller: will the lakes and its tributaries survive?

 

Locking Up our Own: Crime  and Punishment in Black America, by James Forman, Jr.
A neighbor dropped this book through my mail slot with a note, “I think you’ll find this interesting.” I did. I carried this book around day and night, leaving her book spotted with sunscreen, nail polish, a splat of red wine, a smear of avocado. (I replaced it with a fresh copy.) That I left so much of my life on its pages says it all: this is a compelling and necessary read for anyone interested in the roots and reality of black incarceration and gun violence.

 

Afterlife, by Marcus Sakey
I get bad dreams reading dystopian fiction, but sometimes I’m sucked in and keep going. (I consumed Station Eleven, for example.) Afterlife is set in urban beauty Chicago, where a serial killer is at work. Tracking him is the city’s FBI director and her top daredevil agent, who are lovers. Ensnared, the two are killed ….but live on and work smartly
in an eerie “echo” of Chicago populated by the dead, controlled by ancient gods. This is a love story, a thriller, a mind bender.


Radium
Girls, by Kate Moore
In the 1920s, young women were employed in factories to paint numbers on timepieces with a glow-in-the dark substance that contained radium. To paint precisely, the girls were instructed to wet the brush with their tongues. Radium dust clung to their clothes and for fun, they’d coat their eyelids or nails with radium. (At the time, radium was thought to be a wonder drug, safe to ingest.) Not all and not at the same time, these working girls fell ill: their teeth fell out, their jaws disintegrated, tumors grew from legs or arms, they became feeble, they couldn’t get pregnant or miscarried. Gruesome, yes. The heroes of this story are the poisoned women who brought suit against the dial companies (and won) and the men (fathers, brothers, husbands) who loved and cared for these women.

 

The Full  English, by Bull Garlington
This fellow Chicago writer asked me to read his travel memoir and supply a blurb. What a fun read! Garlington is a wise, grumpy humorist in the style of Bill Bryson; his tru-isms about travel made me stop and think and his humor about life in general made me laugh out loud. He and his wife, teens and Southern mother embark on a “lullabus” tour of the United Kingdom. He’s the star: a fat man trapped on a tour. Indigestion, outrage, discomfort, deep sleep, discovery, wonder, kindness ensue. I’d follow him anywhere.

 

One of the Boys, by Daniel Magariel
I have piles of books in my office and sometimes I pick up a slim volume because I’m tired of carrying around heavy books. This in one of those, at 167 pages, though its subject is not light. A boy self inflicts bruises with the help of his father and brother so that the father can win custody of the boys. The father is a monstrous charmer; he persuades the boys to run off to Albuquerque with him. It’s hopeful at first, with sunshine, a new school, basketball. The father is a junky and a bully; their lives devolve into violence, terror, poverty. Beautifully told.

 

Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag
This is another small book I could tuck in my bag, a memorable 118 pages. How did he pack so much drama into so few pages? Shanbhag is an Indian writer, and this is one of his few works translated into English. It tells the story of an impoverished family whose fortunes change when an uncle starts a successful spice company. Ghachar ghochar is a phrase that means a hopelessly tangled mess; with new wealth that’s what becomes of this family. Marriages, especially, fray beyond repair. I loved this read for the glimpse it gave me of contemporary life in India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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