Summer reading lists are different for everyone. Generally speaking the beach reads section at most book stores is stacked with bubble gum for the brain love stories, mystery novels, Sex and the City spin offs etc… And this makes sense. Who wants to think about character development when you’re sitting on the beach or on vacation – a place where along with time, your life and all that goes with it seem to be on pause.
For whatever reason I have gone a different route this summer. I usually don’t find any satisfaction, even fleeting, in the bubble gum books so it’s not that surprising my summer reading list this year did not include any Jennifer Weiner novels. However, that being said my list did consist of an actual history text book. I seem to have gone to the other extreme.
It all started with my re reading of the Tim O’brien classic, The Things They Carried. I read this in high school, again in college and now for my third time 7 years later I finally decided to educate myself on the back drop of this novel. O’brien was an actual soldier in the Vietnam War and wrote a collection of stories from his experience and the experiences of his fellow soldiers. It is a very real, heart breaking depiction of what it means to be a boy too young to drink but some how old enough to be thrown into a war he doesn’t understand with zero preparation emotionally, mentally and even physically for the hell he is about to endure.
I am ashamed of how little I know about the Vietnam War. I blame my high school history teacher for my ignorance but that is a discussion for a different post. So I picked up A People’s History of the United States. I highly recommend adding this book to your library for moments when you realize you know nothing about our country’s history. This ‘text book’ covers every major happening in our nation’s history from 1492 to present day but not in the boring factual way we are used to. Instead Howard Zinn had the genius idea of putting together first hand accounts of the people that experienced it all. People like factory workers, women, men, Native Americans, Immigrants, laborers and so on. Not only is it accurate and educational, but it is easy and pleasant to read and literally brings you back in time with the people that were there in the flesh. It is the way history should be taught. I actually couldn’t put down the chapter on the Vietnam War.
Next stop was a book on writing. For any avid readers out there who miss their college english classes – this is a fun read. It’s called, Reading like a Writer written by Francine Prose. It’s a book for people who love reading novels and would someday maybe like to write one themselves. But really it’s a book about great books and why they are so great. She dissects specific author’s use of words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and how to use the language to tell a story that makes you feel. I am a painter and reading Prose discuss how to pick the right word or the write couple of words was not unlike what I go through when I am picking a color or when I’m deciding how to apply a brush stroke. She does an inspiring job breaking down the beauty of the written word. She also encouraged me to add about 15 more novels to my ‘must read before I die’ list.
Side note – another book on writing that I just recently added to my Amazon shopping cart is Stephen King’s, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I’ve heard amazing things about this one so I am really excited to get my hands on it.
And right now I am in the middle of The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Like most of his admirers, my love for Dostoevsky of course began with Crime and Punishment. I definitely need to be in the right state of mind plus have a lot of solid reading time on my hands to get into a Russian novel – but when you find that time, there really is nothing like it. I am loving this and also loving the bit of history I’ve read on Dostoevsky. He had quite the life and it’s no wonder he can write 600 + pages on just one emotion or idea while keeping his readers in a trance. I had no idea he had been sentenced to death in prison for protesting against the government, only to be let off the hook moments before his execution. That is just the tip of the iceberg apparently. Knowing more about his life in conjunction with his quote on the back cover, made The Idiot a must read for me. “My intention is to portray a truly beautiful soul.” That he does. While portraying the world we live in as no place for that beautiful soul.
J and I share a deep love of literature, so I am curious to know what author’s she’s spent her summer with.