Summer Reads

Happy summer! I’ve been traveling, reading, watching tv, going to movies and plays. Here’s some I’ve enjoyed.

Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan. I’m that reader who always pre-orders McEwan. He provides an interesting read even if I don’t like or don’t believe in a character or situation. (i.e., Atonement, Saturday.) This newly published book may be his most daring. McEwan scrambles time: we’re in a future where one can buy a household robot and a past in which Alan Turing is alive and Margaret Thatcher is in power. It’s an “alternative 1980s London.” There, our main character Charlie, who has a history of poor financial decisions, has just blown the last of his inheritance on Adam, a male robot. Charlie programs him with the help of Miranda, Charlie’s upstairs neighbor and love interest. Where this goes is thoughtful, frightening, hilarious, rich and very, very moving. This was one of those reads I wasn’t sure I liked until I loved. 

Breaking and Entering, by Joy Williams. Published in 1988, this is a read that I often loved; passages broke my heart. Other riffs bored or irritated me. Like life? Here’s the story: Willie and Liberty, a young couple, break into vacation homes in the Florida Keys, stay awhile, move to the next. Liberty keeps rescue dog Clem with her always, and cares for Little Dot and Teddy, two young children ignored or abused by their parents. Children given up or away, or lost, is the sad through line of this book. Williams’ writing is a wonder: the dialogue is crisp, the action is both languid and fraught. 

The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux. When I head to our summer lake house I bring fat books I missed in the past. This is one of those, and oh, how glad I am to have taken a chance on this classic. (It was first published in 1981 and later made into a movie starring Harrison Ford.) Allie Fox is iconclast, inventor, husband, father. Disgusted by wasteful consumerism in the U.S., he moves his family (teenage Charlie, the narrator, and three younger sibilings) to Honduras. Allie is obnoxious, daring, funny, brilliant: often I found myself agreeing with him. When natives and missionaries put their faith in God, Allie says, “Man is God.” In the jungle, Allie builds a home for his family and invents an ice machine for the better good. To see this come undone, and understand the boys’ rebellion, makes for a sad and thrilling read. 

Pretend I’m Dead, by Jen Beagin. This is a book that lives up to its striking cover: blue skies and fluffy clouds, a rubber-gloved hand holding an ashy cigarette. Our weary housecleaner is Mona, a 23 year old college dropout working in Lowell, Massachusetts. There she falls into a charming affair with a 40ish man, Mr. Disgusting, who’s a suicidal drug addict. In his farewell note, he urges Mona to go the desert, start over, take photos, join a healthy cult, get a gura. Mona does all of these things, and in the (very loopy) process, saves herself. 

I also enjoyed Micheal Wolff’s The Seige. I know it’s depressing to read about the Trump presidency but Wollf clarifies recent events and makes me laugh. I loved his Fire and Fury. This is more of the same.

Episodic television is a lot like reading a long book. Lately I’ve devoured the four seasons of Catastrophe and the two seasons of Fleabag. Both shows — funny, foul, moving — left me with “tv grief.” I wanted more.

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