It’s summer, and all attempts at a regular routine have been forgotten. My reading is scattered – in a good way. In an interview with the New York Times Book Review, Geoff Dwyer said that his favorite short story is “The Gardener” by Rudyard Kipling. Two hours later, I was on the deck reading Kipling’s story about a mother searching for her son’s grave after WWI.
On Monday, although the plan was to begin reading Emma Straub’s new novel, Modern Lovers, I read Terry Tempest Williams’ essay about Acadia National Park. The essay is part of her new collection, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. Later this summer, we are visiting Acadia for the first time so I was an easy target for her beautiful new book. “Acadia is another breathing space,” Williams writes. “Perhaps that is what parks are – breathing spaces for a society that increasingly holds its breath.” A memorable sentence that elegantly captures the anxiety many of us feel as we try to comprehend Orlando, Brexit, and Trump…
Yesterday I continued my scattershot reading, but my distraction may be helpful to those of you with children who have a summer reading list. I read the short middle grade novel, Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford. It was published in 2008, and I remember reading it then, but for some reason, I took Inly’s copy before it was packed in a moving box and read it again. This is literally the perfect novel for every kid who has a tendency to procrastinate.
Nine-year-old Moxy is supposed to read Stuart Little during the summer before fourth grade, but it’s the day before school starts and she hasn’t even started it. She’s busy “cleaning” her room and making plans for a peach orchard. Basically anything besides reading Stuart Little! The chapters are short and funny and Moxy is great – add this one to your summer library list!
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles….
My transportation-based reading plans trended the same way. During a flight to and from Ohio, I read Stephanie Danler’s bestseller Sweetbitter. It was not the book I had tucked in my travel bag. I started Sweetbitter in the Boston airport bookstore – drawn to it by the hype around Danler’s debut novel. After reading five pages standing in the store (carrying other books in my tote bag), I walked to the cash register and didn’t stop reading until the plane landed and I was back in the land of Buckeyes!
Referred to in many reviews as a cross between Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, Sweetbitter is a riveting and smart book. It’s the story of Tess, a young woman who arrives in New York and almost immediately starts working in an upscale restaurant. It’s a coming-of-age novel with memorable scenes of life behind the kitchen door, lots of cocaine snorted behind bathroom doors, and a young woman who is pulled along by all of it.
I will never eat at a “fancy restaurant” again without thinking of Sweetbitter – not sure if that’s good or bad. As much as I appreciated how Danler brings the reader hurtling along with Tess, I felt vaguely depressed while reading it. I kept wanting to go to the restaurant and get her out! She was making bad decisions on every page. I understand that I’m bringing my judgement to her situation – and that Tess is young and learning and we all make bad decisions. That being said, it made me uneasy to witness her journey.
I was also in New York for a few days, and the train ride was perfect for catching up on my stack of unread New Yorker magazines. So many good articles – and cartoons – that stack up during the school year!
Of course, we found time to visit McNally Jackson, our favorite bookstore in New York (traveling by an uber-mobile to complete the transport trio).
The store’s window display pays tribute to people who tackle a “big” book over the summer. My thoughts went immediately to a friend who just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov – an impressive feat.
Next up: Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager. It’s the first middle grade novel I’m reading with a group of kids at Buttonwood Books and Toys this summer. Eager’s novel takes place in New Mexico, a state I know and love. I plan to bring a few souvenirs along so we can channel a southwestern mood. Chips and salsa will help!
Finally, I saw a picture of this new novel today:
It looks like this one, doesn’t it?
I’ll end this reading round-up with two pictures from the end of the school year. As I looked at these pics today, I recalled a conversation I overheard a few days ago at Barnes and Noble. A boy, who was about 10 or 11, was consulting his summer reading list. His mother reminded him to choose carefully because he had to write a summary of each chapter! Ugh. And we wonder why kids don’t want to read. Of course, work like that is often necessary (but not always) during the school year, but in the summer? Why not give kids a list of books they might enjoy reading and encourage them to read. That’s it. No summaries. No assignments. Just read.