Summer Reading Flags, Stoner, and 100 Sideways Miles…

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If I look up, there are book titles floating around the Library ceiling…..and with the windows open today they are fluttering like sunny yellow and orange flags from the Land of Inly Summer Reading. Our 1st through 6th grade students were asked to name the best book (or books) they read this summer. Interesting to see what our kids were reading on the beach….some expected titles like the Wimpy Kid and Percy Jackson series. But also A Tangle of Knots, The One and Only Ivan, Spy Camp, Rooftoppers, When You Reach Me (see third picture down), and many others.

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I didn’t fill out a summer reading “flag” yet, but I just read two excellent books….

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The other day I finished Stoner by John Williams. Written in 1965, but recently “rediscovered” with fanfare and glowing reviews, Stoner is a novel about a man who is an academic at the University of Missouri. The novel follows his  life – from childhood on a small farm to his death at the end of his teaching career. It is a story about life – disappointment and love and most of all, the power of literature.  I love this book so much that I had trouble deciding what to read next. It’s a feeling I both love and hate. Love because when I am stunned by a novel it reminds me how much my life is formed by reading. But the “hate” part is because the follow up selection is especially challenging.

Anyway….around this time I received a package from Parnassus Books in Nashville. As I’ve written before, as a member of their Young Adult First Editions Club, I get a new signed book from them six times per year. I love the “surprise” in the mail and am happy to support an independent book store. In fact, each time they send an e-mail announcing their most recent selection, I delete the email without reading it – on purpose. There are so few unknowns and I order so many books based on reviews, that the best part of the First Editions Club is opening the package without any knowledge of what’s inside.

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So after reading Stoner, I received a mystery package from Parnassus. Opening it revealed…..100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith. I knew Smith’s name as the author of Winger and Grasshopper Jungle – two books that I’ve meant to read, but have been lost in my “to read” stack. Thinking I would read a few pages of 100 Sideways Miles while I figured out what to read next, one page led to another and now I’m almost done. An honest, offbeat, and hilarious novel, this one is as stunning – in its own way – as Stoner.  Finn Easton, who is almost 17, lives with his father (an author of popular science fiction novels) after a freak accident kills his mother. Cade Hernandez, is Finn’s funny, loyal and risk-taking partner. Their friendship reminds me a bit of Theo and Boris’s relationship in The Goldfinch. No heavy drug use or violence in 100 Sideways Miles, but the same level of irreverent and spirited antics that sometimes result in dangerous situations. Finn and Cade use a lot of what they refer to as “f-bombs,” but it feels absolutely genuine to the characters and they are “deployed” in original and hilarious ways. Finn also falls in love with Julia, a new girl at school, and his stress about the relationship is heartbreakingly real.  100 Sideways Miles is a moving and memorable novel, but now….I don’t know what to read until the mail arrives!

Quote of the day:

A first grade student walks into the Library. He looks around, turns to me, and says:

“Can I stay here and help you run this place?”

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