I told myself I’d read instead of watching TV this summer. While I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to, I did find some good books I want to pass along. Here are my top five summer 2017 reads, in no particular order. (Though The Year of Magical Thinking and Lincoln in the Bardo were my favorites by a long shot.)
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
I really wanted to like this book because I loved the HBO mini series so much. The show became my guilty pleasure this summer, and I’ve watched it three times…Unfortunately, the book just didn’t do it for me. It does have some additional critical character development, that I wish had been explored a bit more in the show. However, I generally felt like the show presented the characters and story line with much more complexity. The book came off as a beach read to me, which isn’t bad, but I was expecting so much more after the brilliance of the show. (Which has been nominated for 16 Emmies!) Of course, my sister read the book before watching the show and liked the book much better. To each their own. I’ll probably read another one of Moriarty’s books, just for good measure.
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
The experience of grief has been top of my mind after losing someone close to us last year. Joan Didion wrote this memoir about the year following her husband’s death, during which her only daughter fought her own life-threatening medical issues. This book is beautifully written, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Didion shares her findings from exploring the science and research of grief, alongside her personal experience of living newly alone in the life she had built in partnership with her husband. It is an honest and helpful look at how love and companionship persist beyond death. Also, that grief persists beyond the numbing days immediately after the loss, morphing as time goes on, but forever impacting how the loved ones left behind experience and live their own lives. In my mind, it’s a must read for anyone close to grief – either in their own lives, or in the lives of people they love.
Magnolia Story – Chip and Joanna Gaines
I read this one right after The Year of Magical Thinking. Talk about a complete about face! This is a completely feel good, read in a weekend kind of memoir. Joanna Gaines can do no wrong in my book. I’ve been a huge fan of Fixer Upper from the first season, and I devour each issue of her Magnolia magazine (serious, SO GOOD!) So, this was a fun read to learn a bit more about her and Chip’s story. I think they actually are genuinely kind people, and are exactly how they come across on their show. Their story is one of taking risks, trusting and celebrating each others’ talents, and ultimately building a partnership that brings joy to so many people.
The Refugees – Viet Thanh Nguyen
My library has a “Lucky Day” section at the entrance, where all the new, popular books are shelved. I’m like a kid in a candy shop every time I walk in the door – so excited to see what treasures await me! This one piqued my interest because I’ve been drawn to the cause of refugees over the past year or so. (The International Rescue Committee is a great org to connect with and donate to if you want a way to help out.) Nguyen himself is a refugee from Vietnam from the Vietnam War. The book is comprised of short stories, each about the life of an individual refugee from Vietnam as they experience life in the US. Some of the stories are of people who have just arrived from Vietnam, others are of people who have been in the US for decades of more. The stories highlight the challenges and accomplishments inherent in uprooting your life because of violence in your own land, and assimilating into another country and culture. I liked the book, but didn’t love it…the stories were interesting to me, but I haven’t found myself dwelling on their experiences like I do with The Year of Magical Thinking. Nguyen won a Pulitzer in 2016 for his novel The Sympathizer, so I plan to pick that one up some time soon.
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Sanders
Pause right now, and either go to Amazon and buy this book, or reserve it at your library. You’ll thank me later. Or, maybe you won’t, because this book seems to be fairly polarizing among my friends. People either LOVE IT (like I do), or hate it (like my friend who went and checked it out after I recommended the book on Instagram. She hated it.) Admittedly, the dialogue style used by Saunder took me a while to get used to, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. The story revolves around the death of Willie Lincoln, President Lincoln’s eleven-year-old son. Saunders uses primary historical sources to reveal real life information about Willie’s death, the political climate at the time (the Civil War was in its first year), and the actions of President Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln around their son’s death. At the same time, he weaves a fictional tale of the souls stuck in the bardo, a purgatory like state, existing at the same grave yard as Willie. It’s daring, hilarious, crushing, and evocative. Give it a try and let me know if you’re a lover or a hater.
So, there you go! I’ve got a bunch on my night stand now for the next few months – Cooked (I’m taking this one bit by bit, and it’s so good), The Underground Railroad, and Hillbilly Elegy, to name a few.
Any others you’ve read lately that I should add to my stack?