In my last reading posts, June reading notes: a lot about Asia & a little about multi-tasking, I wrote about a few books that were more challenging reads. I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres and authors. Reading can be a form of relaxation and stress relief as well as education and enlightenment.
In a post from a few years ago, I wrote about the stress-relieving benefits of reading. My mix of reading at the end of summer had me thinking that just as we have "comfort foods," we may also have "comfort books." For me, novels that allow me to delve into fantasy worlds are "comfort books." I ended the summer by reading a few young adult fantasy novels. Life got busy and stressful, and I felt the need to switch gears from the mix of realistic fiction and nonfiction that I'd been reading for the past few months.
Contrary to all that, the first book listed here pretty much defies genre and categorization.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This is a very different sort of novel. I started reading it during our family reunion weekend, which is an environment that doesn't lend itself to deep concentration. I kept rereading the first several pages and thinking - what is this!? When I got home and had longer periods of uninterrupted reading, I was able to fully appreciate and embrace this unique novel.
It's a ghost story of sorts set during the Civil War in the aftermath of Willie Lincoln's death. The term "bardo" refers to a kind of limbo in the Tibetan tradition. The novel takes place in one day. The story of what occurs in the cemetery is interspersed with historical quotes or passages. Except, as I found out later, some of those passages are real historical accounts while others are made up by the author. The ghosts living in the cemetery do not understand themselves to be dead and are going about "life" while also observing Abraham Lincoln as he visits his dead son. Lincoln's grief over the death of Willie is portrayed very movingly. Even the historical or "faux-historical" quotes about Mary Lincoln's grief brought me to tears. The book can be confusing, especially in terms of point of view, but I got it after a while and became fond of the two main ghost characters.
I'm not sure if I could universally recommend this book. Some readers may not appreciate the unusual format and style. Yet it's well worth reading, in my opinion. Both the personal and universal aspects of grief are portrayed beautifully. Consider this passage, which is one of the ghosts describing Lincoln's thoughts toward the end of the book:
"His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be of no help to anyone and, given his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it."
Present over Perfect: Leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living
by Shauna Niequist
I read this for a discussion group. Apparently, the author is a popular blogger/speaker (https://www.shaunaniequist.com/). The book seems like a collection of blog posts. I found it to be repetitive, essentially saying the same thing over and over in a slightly different way. I'm definitely on board with the idea of living more simply, but the author comes from a place of economic privilege that made it hard for me to relate to her. Most of us moms are not able to go to a lake house for a month every summer, go on yearly retreats, take frequent vacations with friends and go on exotic trips with our families. That being said, I really enjoyed the discussion this book prompted with a wonderful group of women. So in the end, it was worth the short and quick read.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Starry River of the Sky
When the Sea Turned to Silver
by Grace Lin
The first of these companion middle-grade novels I read a few years ago with my daughter as part of a mother-daughter book club. I've been wanting to reread it along with the other two. All three books benefit from Lin's lyrical writing and beautiful illustrations. References to characters and stories overlap, but this isn't a series. Folktales and storytelling are woven into the main story. The protagonist in each book takes a journey of some sort and ultimately finds courage to help others. Grace Lin has written and illustrated a number of picture books and early readers as well. Check out her website http://www.gracelin.com/ for more information.
The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne
This is a suspenseful and entertaining psychological thriller. The premise was clever. The main character is a woman whose father - who had kidnapped her mother and kept them both in captivity for many years - escaped from jail. It was a great summer read!
I love Semple's writing! This novel takes place in the course of one day during which the protagonist Eleanor Flood is having a crisis of sorts and coming to terms with part of her life that she'd kept secret. Like the author's Where'd you go, Bernadette?, it's a comedic reflection on modern motherhood and middle age. There were parts that had me laughing out loud, and I wish I would have marked passages to reread. I'm remembering a funny scene at Costco as one. I find Semple to be hilarious and enjoy her somewhat manic style. But I know from reading reviews and talking to others that her style doesn't resonate with everyone.
The Blue Sword
The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley
I read a couple of McKinley's novels many years ago. When a friend added these to her to-read list on Goodreads, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed this author. These two particular books occur in the same fantasy world and a couple of characters overlap. I appreciate McKinley's strong female characters and their adventures with the addition of some romance too.
Although I wasn't able to make the meeting, I started reading this for a book discussion group. The Pulitzer Prize winner is a nonfiction narrative written from Dillard's journal observations of her natural surroundings at and around Tinker Creek. As she writes on her website (linked above): "The book attempted to describe the creator, if any, by studying creation.."
It took me a while to get into the book, and I was side-tracked by other things I was reading at the same time. But as I got further in, I found myself marking several passages with sticky notes. The writing is lovely and insightful. Here's one snippet:
"A great tall cloud moved elegantly across an invisible walkway in the upper air, sliding on its flat foot like an enormous proud snail. I smelled silt on the wind, turkey, laundry, leaves...my God what a world. There is no accounting for one second of it."Dillard seems a kindred spirit in her exultation of the wonders of our natural world and philosophical reflections. I definitely want to read this again, when I'm not in the middle of sending one child back to college and getting the other two off to their first and last years of high school plus going back to school (work) myself. It's a book that deserves more savoring and pondering than I was able to give it at the time.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Some of my librarian friends are fans of Stiefvater, and I've wanted to read her books for a while. I decided to start with this stand-alone title rather than one of her series. It was a great book to escape and relax into during the first week of school. I enjoyed the characters, especially the main character Puck (Kate), as well as the setting and storyline.
What have you been reading lately?
What are your "comfort reads"?
What's on your list to read this fall?