August Reads

I had such high hopes that the stack of books I snapped a photo of near the beginning of the month would match the list of books I finished this month. Alas, close but not quite. Also, I’m just going to admit that I would rather be reading right now (I am in the middle of a book that is so, so good, but as it is September 1, it’ll go on the September list).

One True Loves, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The plot of this book has been described as like that Tom Hanks movie with the volleyball…I’m blanking…except the first love comes back before the wedding. Emma is married to her high school sweetheart, but on their first anniversary, he goes missing and is presumed dead. She falls in love again, and just as she is about to marry, her husband shows up alive, and everyone’s life is thrown into uncertainty. (Castaway is the movie!) So what I learned about myself with this book is that I used to be a sucker for this plot, but it’s a little like high school movies with a makeover and a prom: they still do hold some nostalgic appeal, but they are not really my bread-and-butter genre for enjoyment any more. In many ways this book was better than I expected it to be. I did actually buy both relationships both before and after the disappearance/reappearance. Although ultimately the resolution was probably predictable, I bought into the complications enough to believe that there was not one inevitable end. All in all, a good summer read. (I did also just remember that this book was too long and bogged down occasionally with weirdly mundane details–like driving: he looked both ways, eased into traffic, checked his rearview mirror blah blah blah. But that was not my overall impression once I got rolling with the story.)

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann. This book is exactly the kind of nonfiction/history book I love. It tells a larger story about the exploration of the Amazon through many smaller stories–in this case an explorer who went missing (not the first to go missing in the Amazon, but perhaps the most surprising as he seemed to be the most prepared/likely to succeed) and then dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who subsequently went missing trying to unravel the mystery of his disappearance (and also to find the Lost City he was searching for in the first place). It’s intriguing and mysterious and pretty suspenseful all through (though you have to figure the journalist who wrote the book survived his own journey into the Amazon, you know, since he wrote the book and all). The book is fairly lengthy (400 pages), but it reads like an adventure story.

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue. This beautiful book was given to me a couple of years ago for my birthday, and I try to read it each year during my birthday month. Everything about it refreshed my spirit this year–the gentleness of the writing, the beauty of the reflections (not just the blessings themselves but also O’Donohue’s thoughts about the nature and purpose of blessings), the focus on eternity. This book is such a contrast to the screaming, combative rhetoric that we are assaulted with every day with social media and any sort of news or current events intake. Reading this book, I felt like I could breathe.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, Samin Nosrat. This book will go on my Christmas list. I can’t say that I’ve ever read a cookbook cover to cover before this, but the first half was more like a (conversational and engaging) textbook for a cooking class. The idea is that if you understand the elements of cooking (salt, fat, acid, heat), you will  be able to troubleshoot and improvise and all-around up your cooking game. I am thoroughly fascinated by talking about cooking. I don’t know that I will ever want to memorize and master the elements, but I do enjoy cooking and I love to talk about it/think about it/visit a deeper understanding once in a while. We did get to try several of the recipes (all good), but the reason I would like to own this book is simply to have as reference.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin. Hoo boy, this was a long one. I mean, it started off really well. I just couldn’t sustain interest for 766 pages. I did finish it, but it was a slog for at least half of that. Apparently, it did get a lot of attention. And it’s a good post-apocalyptic suspense novel if you like that sort of thing. It’s not my go-to genre, but I’d recommend Station Eleven (which I actually liked a whole lot) or even The Book of Strange New Things (both of which this one reminded me of for different reasons, though Station Eleven is a more obvious connection) before this one. And if you can unravel that sentence, good on you!

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. After the clunker of a book I read last month on the Enneagram, I still had some time before our book club to give the Enneagram another shot. If you’ve talked to me in person over the last month, I apologize for boring you YET AGAIN. But if you’ve talked to me, you probably know that I first thought I was a 2, then became convinced I was a 4, but (surprise!) even more recently, I’m thinking I am actually a 6. I can’t seem to stop talking about the Enneagram–I am on what you might call a kick. I don’t know how long it will last, but in the meantime, I really am finding it helpful, especially in our marriage and in other relationships. So this book was much more accessible and useful. It gives an overview and some insight on how to know what your number is, but the best thing about it is that it is full of stories–anecdotes–that help illustrate these concepts with real people. A friend also pointed me to a podcast (with the authors of this book) that was by far the most helpful explanation of this whole thing (even though I still didn’t get my number right until later): The Liturgists Podcast (episode 37).

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk. This book is such a gem. It’s heroine is a young girl (I think she’s maybe 11), and I think so often having a young protagonist lands the book in the YA category. I read a few reviews that thought that this was miscategorized as YA since it deals with some pretty heavy subject matter (set in or just after WW2 and the antagonist is a brutal bully). I can see the point, that just because the main character is young doesn’t mean it is appropriate for middle grades. On the other hand, I do think young readers can handle hard topics. In any case, the writing is lovely, the characters are complex, the story is compelling (and somehow never went over the top for me, even though it does take some pretty dramatic turns). The book is sad and real and full of heart. I loved it.

The Little French Bistro, by Nina George. I went back and forth on how much I liked and/or cared about this book, and in the end it won me over. I think some of the plot points could have been boring in their predictability (woman unhappy with her life sets out somewhat accidentally and finds a new one and along the way meets a bunch of quirky characters that sometime parallel and often contrast her experiences all leading to a happy ending for all). But it was (much) better than that. I don’t have many deep thoughts about this book, but it’s solidly in the I-liked-it-and-I’m-glad-I-read-it column.