on summer reading

This summer has been relaxing, this summer has been fun. But most importantly, this summer has been reading whatever I want to. I know, crazy stuff.

But for those of you who care, and for those that know me, this is huge. So I’ve decided to create a Goodreads-esque review of all that this summer had in print for me. Here’s, in the order I read them, what I picked up off my ever-growing “to-read” bookshelf after eight months of dictated curriculum. This might not be drumroll worthy, but I’m asking for it anyway.

Drumroll, please…

  1. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver

For starters, this book isn’t quite a book. It’s a collection of short stories. At first glance, the stories seem curt—like they leave out detail or imagery or whatever else a Romantic would deem “good.” But when was the last time you ever described stars as “tossing their heads in sprightly dance”? Thanks, Wordsworth. Carver encapsulates in very plain language the horror of real people things—like a failing marriage or the serious injury of a son. His stories are poetry that will leave your jaw and/or your stomach on the floor whenever you even think about them. And don’t just take it from me. Take it from Robert Houston of The Nation whose review of WWTAWWTAL just so happened to be on the inside cover of my copy. He states, “Nearly 200 years ago, Wordsworth and Coleridge started a revolution when they proclaimed their aim to write in ‘the language really used by men.’ Neither of them quite achieved that. In [this collection], Raymond Carver has. And it is terrifying.” Again, thanks Wordsworth. It is because of this style that Carver becomes a true contemporary genius. And also truly mimicked. But it’s the sincerest form of flattery, right? Have you ever seen the movie Birdman and thought the title of this book sounded familiar? The titular story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is the basis and inspiration of the play put on by Michael Keaton’s character in the critically-acclaimed Iñirratu film. The entire backdrop of the Best-Picture-winning, Best-Original-Screenplay-nominated movie was written by Raymond Carver. As if this fact alone wasn’t enough for me to pick up a copy, my favorite artist/songwriter shared on his band’s episode of VH1’s “Storytellers” that Carver is a huge inspiration of his and actually directly inspired this song. Carver’s work is unlike anything else. And that’s not just coming from me. Ask anyone who’s read him.

2. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

This is the first book longer than 300 pages that I’ve read since Harry Potter. Not kidding. But after it was recommended to me by my grandma, my other grandma, and one of my best friends from high school who physically gave me her copy and said “READ IT,” I had to read it. Oh, and also it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015. Trust me when I say this book has all the feels. It’ll make you cry; it’ll make you want to throw it out a moving vehicle; but most importantly, it makes you sympathize with characters you never, ever thought you would. E.g. Nazi Soldiers or blind French girls. It’s pretty much your classic genius German orphan meets blind mon chéri of a Parisian locksmith, but (PLOT TWIST!!!) there’s a precious jewel involved. Moi-haha. While reading, I found myself consciously making an effort to read more slowly. I tend to have this problem when a book gets really good. I skim paragraphs in order to find out what happens. I was, in this case, rushing the beauty of the words in exchange for plot revelation—it was that captivating and unpredictable. So, with this being said, I will probably read this novel again. Book club, anyone?

3. Beloved – Toni Morrison 

If it had been up to me, I would have never picked up this book from the shelf at Barnes & Noble. But thankfully, it wasn’t up to me. This book was on the reading list for my AP Lit class my senior year of high school. Due to some extenuating circumstances, we never read it. I decided to pick it up, almost mindlessly, before I left on a trip to Boston. On the plane ride, I sat next to a lady who seemed like she wasn’t taking anything from anyone except for what was pulsing through her Beats by Dre. You know the type. But, I pull out my copy of Beloved, and this is the dialogue that ensues.

OMG, you’re reading BELOVED?”

“…Yeah, actually. It was a required reading that was…”

OMG, you are going to struggle through this book without a discussion group. Toni Morrison is the greatest writer of her generation, and the way she addresses big issues is, like, so poignant. You totally need people to talk to about it with.”

After I got a few words into the conversation and proved I was worthy of reading a book on my own, the Columbia graduate proceeded to praise Toni Morrison and also very much pique my interest. And turns out she was right. Morrison is, like, poignant in every theme of the novel. It might be hard to delve into what I really enjoyed about the book without giving anything away, but hold onto your hats. I’m going to try.

124 was spiteful.

When you open the book, you find yourself in the middle of 1870-something Cincinnati, Ohio. The first few pages introduce seven “characters,” so to speak. The first is a “spite” that haunts the house of 124 Bluestone Rd. The second is Sethe, a runaway slave and newly appointed heir to the haunted estate. Sethe has one remaining daughter named Denver. These two are the only two still living in 124. Next, you meet Baby Suggs who, unfortunately, is already dead. But don’t worry, she’s still an integral part of the story. Howard and Buglar are then introduced as Sethe’s sons who ran away once the “spite” broke the bathroom mirror and left two tiny handprints in the cake. And finally, enter Paul D, a man who lived on the same plantation as Sethe before she escaped.

The story is dedicated to “Sixty Million and More” and holds nothing back.

I hesitate in saying this book is my favorite, only because the things inside it make me cringe. But this, simultaneously, is why it’s my favorite. It evokes in me complex emotions I had no idea existed: hatred mixed with pity and fear, captivation mixed with repulsion.

If you want a real-life ghost story, this one’s for you.

4. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This novel, Fitzgerald’s first ever published story, is considered one of the most brilliant first novels ever written in the history of American Literature, and it is rumored as being slightly autobiographical. Maybe more than slightly. The 1920 story follows “egotist” Amory Blaine from his first memories to his assumedly present self. Amory transforms from a self-absorbed child to an still-entitled bigger person who realizes responsibility, to an extent. Spoiler alert: childhood is paradise. Growing up and also getting older is on the other side. Amory is writing from semi-adulthood, hence “This Side of Paradise.” Ergo, the other side. Ergo, not the side you want to be on. There’s also a Garden of Eden metaphor in there somewhere. This book shows you heartbreak, brilliance, and real-life pre-1920s.

In addition to consisting of beautiful and almost poetic prose, This Side of Paradise is kind of an eerie insight into our generation. Think about it. In what year were you born? I’ll give you a hint as to where I’m going with this: F. Scott was born in 1896. And I’m not talking about the year of the first olympics, folks. Well, I am. But that’s not the point. I’m talking about how most of my friends were born in 1996. As in Scott’s one-hundredth b-day. Weird, right?

We will be the same age during the 2020s as his generation was during the 1920s.

So, due to its 1920 publication date, when you read this book, it’s almost like you’re reading about the future.

Or going Back to the Future…

Wait what?

Tenth of December – George Saunders

Another compilation of short stories, like little book-ends to my summer. Literally. Somebody stop me when the puns get too much. 

I came across this book while in Portland, OR. I found it in a quaint bookshop called Powell’s that is as long as a city block. Needless to say, I died and went to heaven. And when I say “I,” I really mean the women two aisles over from me who passed out and left the store in an ambulance. With a shop this giant, the staff does a tremendous job making sure no one gets lost. They have store maps, employees everywhere, and “Staff Pick” tags on books sometimes as many as three per shelf and six or eight per row. As I was perusing the fiction section, I came across a tag that said “DO NOT LEAVE THIS STORE WITHOUT THIS BOOK.” So, naturally, I picked it up.

Turns out, it’s one of the more intriguing/captivating/strange-but-in-a-really-good-way books I have ever read. The stories tackle huge social issues, but not in a judgmental way. Saunders’ dry humor, unprecedented point of view/character development, and stream-of-character-conscious will entice you, and the best part about it all is that you have no idea just how enticed you are until the story ends and you snap firmly back to reality, or what you think is reality. The stories are just crazy enough for you to think what the heck, this can never happen (psh), but also just real enough for you to be like WHAT THE HECK THIS CAN NEVER HAPPEN! You know?

Read this book. It’s important.

Well, I hope this post makes you want to read a book, or at least think about reading a book. Have any questions or suggestions for what I should read next? Shoot me an email at the address in the “Contact” tab.

Until next time.