June Reads

June was a great reading month, both in the sense that I read a lot of books and in that I really enjoyed everything I read.

A few weeks ago, I jumped in a Year of Reading Greatly challenge. The goal is 100 books in a year (so about 2 per week) starting July 1. I had been on track to be ahead of my goal of 60 books in 2017 and had been toying with the idea of trying to hit 100 anyway, so a mid-year start and upping my goal sounded just right to me. If you’d like to keep up with what I’m reading weekly, I’ll be posting on Instagram on my mrsopusreads account with the hashtag yearofreadinggreatly.

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (read by Davina Porter). This was a 32-hour audio book (listened to on 1.25 and 1.5 speed, so a few less hours than that), and I first started listening in March, though I didn’t get serious about it until toward the end of May. The story begins with an English couple on holiday in Scotland in (I think it’s) 1945. Claire walks through a circle of ancient standing stones (like Stone Henge, I imagine) and finds herself suddenly in 1743. I loved so much about this book: great story, great characters, well researched and well written. The narrator, too, was outstanding. However, I don’t know that I’ll be picking up the others in the series (I believe there are 8) any time soon. As much as I truly was caught up in the story and invested in (both loving and hating) the characters, there was just so. much. sex. If they ever make the book equivalent of a edited-for-tv version, I’m in (and I did see that there is an actual tv series, but I haven’t seen any of it).

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty. This one sat on my shelf forever. I started maybe a chapter or two, and it didn’t really grab me. But once I finally got going, I liked this one a lot. I was skeptical of the premise: the story follows three mothers of kindergartners in the months leading up to a murder at a PTO fundraiser. I was afraid it was going to be too The Real Housewives of Midtown Elementary-y, but I was pleasantly surprised both by the humor and the seriousness in the book (apart from the death that is the central plot point, Moriarty takes on issues like bullying and domestic abuse). I will say the book was too long by about 150 pages–blah blah mommy wars blah blah–and I was periodically annoyed by the structure, specifically that part of the mystery was figuring out not only how and why someone was killed but also who was killed. In the end, I suppose it would have fallen a bit flat if I had known the victim’s identity, but it grated on me while I was reading. 

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett. I dragged my feet reading this book because I kept reading/hearing mixed reviews. I was also a bit put off by the plot description (a kiss at a party leading to the dissolution of two marriages). I wish now that I had simply read “Ann Patchett” and known that it would be okay. This book is actually one of my favorites of the year so far.

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. This has been on my shelf for quite a while, and I finally picked it up one morning and read it all in one gulp. I had such a nostalgic reaction to the narrator’s perspective. Creech did a great job of capturing the way a child experiences and processes a story. Although the narrator was a little older, I was reminded of my fourth-grade adventures with Jennifer Fletcher–creating intrigue and mystery out of a neighbor’s creepy and possibly nefarious yard (when in reality it was probably just junky).

The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This is a collection of short stories, and of course some were more my favorite than others. I like to read short stories now and again, and this was a good read. I would be interested in picking up his novel The Sympathizer sometime (I believe it won the Pulitzer for fiction).

A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny. The twelfth (and most recent) installation in the Inspector Gamache series. I liked this one quite a bit. I thought in particular that the connection made between a corrupt and brutal law enforcement academy and the kind of (corrupt and brutal) officers that result in such training was insightful.

Messy Beautiful Friendship, by Christine Hoover. This was a solid book by a Christian author about female friendships. I didn’t necessarily find anything groundbreaking, but one chapter in particular spoke to a situation I’m in and was helpful. I think this would be an excellent book to discuss if you could find a safe group to discuss it with, and I think it would be a significant help and balm if you read it in a season of life and friendship where it hits the spot (and there are many such seasons of life and friendship). I’m glad to have read it.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver (read by the author). I enjoyed this book if for no other reason than it was a good story. Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating only food they could grow themselves or obtain locally (with a couple of specific exceptions like coffee and spices). I enjoyed the rhythm of the book (by seasons, of course) and found much of the information about food production and distribution as well as about certain plants and how they grow interesting and engaging. I did find myself discouraged at points, wanting to make changes based on what I was hearing but feeling overwhelmed at knowing where to start and/or how to make changes that would actually make any difference. (My favorite listening stint was as I was cleaning mulberries we got from a friend’s tree.)

My Mrs. Brown, by William Norwich. I was nervous that I wasn’t liking this book–the premise of which is a woman in her sixties who works as a cleaning lady at a hair salon gets in her head that she will save for and buy a $7,000 Oscar de la Renta dress. I thought it was going down the road of too far-fetched, too cute, too over-the-top. But then about halfway through or so I found myself thinking the coincidences and quirky characters struck just the right note after all. I don’t know why exactly I make this connection, but I just have an intuitive sense that if you like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, you’ll like this too. It has the same feel to me.

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid (read by the author). I read the first and last chapter of this book but mostly listened to the audio version read by the author. This book is so, so good. So good. It tells the story of a young couple, Saeed and Nadia, living in an unnamed country that is on the brink of a civil war. Not long after they meet, they step through a door (a magical realism element of the book that serves as a way to move characters physically but which is neither distracting nor explored in-depth as a metaphor) and become refugees and immigrants first in Greece, then in London, and finally in the United States. It is an engaging and timely story plotwise, but what I really loved about the book–and what I just can’t get over–is how well the author describes the complex and conflicting emotions and interactions, the ways that what we think and feel is so often disconnected from what we say and do and then how that subsequently affects and shapes human relationships. So often he just nails the (often heartbreaking) ways we miss each other emotionally because we are self-protective or lazy or exhausted; we have a flash of tenderness but act instead on the current annoyance; we fear someone is not as attached as we are and protect ourselves with aloofness we don’t feel;  and so on. I didn’t want the book to end. And when it did, I didn’t really want to read anything else for a while so it could continue to resonate through me.

We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie. I happened to pick up this book(let) in the half hour before watching Wonder Woman in the theater. It couldn’t have been more fitting. This immediately sounded like truth in that someone was giving voice to things that I’ve felt but not been able to name. The booklet (52 pages) is based on a Ted Talk that I haven’t watched but plan to soon.