June is passing by quickly so I better try to keep up with the blog and reading, or else I will fall by the wayside. I see that various bloggers have posted their summer reading lists, which I think is a fun idea. It reminds me of being in school when we were required to read such novels as William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” and William Golden’s “The Lord of the Flies” over summer break. I’m not sure how many novels we had to read, but I liked crossing them off my school list as I slowly made progress to this interruption in my vacation.
Virgos like me love lists, but can we ever stick to them?! Not likely. I’m a mood reader. I pick up things to read usually by what strikes me at the moment. Regardless, I’m posting the titles below for fun — as books I will draw from for my summer reading. They’re not supposed to be too heavy — some should be lighter beach reads, right? ‘Tis the season of back deck barbecues. I’m sure other books will slip in later by osmosis, but that’s to be expected. For now, my summer books include:
1) The Girls by Emma Cline (a highly praised debut)
2) Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (per Judy’s review at Keep the Wisdom)
3) Into the Forest by Jean Hegland (a futuristic tale suggested by a friend)
4) Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (picked up at BookExpo America)
5) Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (on my To Be Read shelves gathering dust)
6) Reckless by Chrissie Hynde (from my sister at Christmas!)
7) The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Pulitzer Prize-winning)
8) The Lotus & the Storm by Lan Cao (a Vietnam book to dovetail with #7)
9) H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (on my TBR shelf gathering dust)
10) The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens (hikers gone awry, ahh summer delight)
11) Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (one dog tale per season)
12) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (a highly praised debut)
13) Mischling by Affinity Konar (a WWII novel that will likely tear my guts out)
14) The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle (picked up at BookExpo America)
15) And many more …
What’s on your summer list? Have you read any of the ones I picked? Meanwhile below are a few mini reviews of my latest reads.
I found Noah Hawley’s novel “Before the Fall” to be an enjoyable summer, beach-kind-of thriller — about a small private plane with 11 onboard that crashes into the ocean 16 minutes after departing Martha’s Vineyard. (Oh, how small plane trips can creep me out. I once flew to Martha’s Vineyard in the 1990s on a commercial flight from Newark to visit a friend, and the small, loud propeller plane flew past the Twin Towers and sort of scared the bejesus out of me. It seemed to be chugging at a steep angle up into the sky so hard and loudly as if it were about to conk out. I shrank into my seat and thought: Oh please don’t let this go down. Luckily it didn’t, but it caused me about a half hour of silent agony.)
The suspense of Hawley’s novel is in finding out what really happened and who or what caused the crash. The storyline reminded me briefly of John Kennedy Jr.‘s tragic plane crash off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1999, which was so awful. People remember where they were when they heard that horrendous news. Though this book isn’t all that similar to that — with the exception that various rich people are onboard.
The beginning of “Before the Fall” is the most riveting part, with the plane’s hellish plunge into the ocean and the aftermath of possible survivors. Then it gets a bit drawn out as chapters delve into the lives of passengers who were onboard and whether they could have been involved in the crash. Scott, a 40-something down-on-his-luck artist, is the main character and seems a likable hero, or is he? And how did he come to be onboard alongside these super-rich types?
The ending of “Before the Fall” is not exactly a fizzle, but I was expecting perhaps a bigger bang — or splash — for it to go out with. Still the story kept me turning the pages fairly quickly to get to its conclusion. Hawley, who is executive writer and producer for the TV show “Fargo,” proves he has a keen knack for writing fiction and developing characters. “Before the Fall” is a good thriller for the beach, but not exactly for a plane flight, if you get my drift.
As for Rebecca Makkai’s 2014 novel “The Hundred-Year House,” I listened to it on audiobook, which in retrospect might have been a mistake — as perhaps it’s a book easier to follow in print. The novel is broken into three parts and is told in reverse chronological order, which makes it a bit unique and interesting to piece together. I liked the idea of its story about a wealthy family’s turn-of-the-century estate and the artists’ colony that once thrived there from the 1920s to 1950s. Its plot involves a plethora of family secrets and betrayals and an array of eccentric characters. I was into the novel in Parts 1 and 2 — as the house occupants’ mysteries begin to be revealed — but found Part 3 a bit confusing with its various characters from the artists’ colony and convoluted tangents, and the novel lost its hold on me. (Judging by other comments on Goodreads, I wasn’t totally alone in my confusion.)
I wish I had liked “The Hundred-Year House” as much as others seem to have, but as a whole it didn’t grab me enough, or for some reason it failed to totally connect with me. But feel free to disagree if you were a fan of this one.
I had much better luck with T.C. Boyle’s 1995 novel “The Tortilla Curtain,” which I read for my book club. Its edgy and at times spoof-filled story made for an interesting discussion and starts off when a white man driving home one day accidentally hits a Mexican illegal immigrant in the road with his car. The white man, a liberal nature writer, lives with his obsessive realtor wife and kid, in a newly gated hilltop community in Topanga Canyon, outside Los Angeles — while the immigrant is homeless there, trying to survive with his wife in a makeshift camp in the ravine. Gradually their two worlds begin to intersect and collide, making for an anxiety-filled ride and conclusion.
“The Tortilla Curtain” reminded me a bit of Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” — with its clash between people from opposite worlds — but “Tortilla Curtain” felt more realistic and not as over-the-top in its satire. It still spoofs the times we live in, but also shows empathy to both sides, making for a more nuanced and riveting story. If you haven’t read T.C. Boyle before, he is a master, and this excellent, 5 star novel only proves that someday I will need to read his entire literary canon. I picked up his upcoming novel “The Terranauts” at BEA and will add it to my ever-growing TBR pile.
That’s sort of it for now. But has anyone been watching the five-part documentary TV series: “O.J.: Made in America”? Holy smokes, I’m sure I’m likely the last person to revisit the whole sordid and tragic case — which I remember well from the 1990s — but this docu-series is exceptional and adds much more perspective and L.A. history to what happened and affected the outcome. And its interviews with people involved and views into the murders — these many years later — are quite revealing. I highly recommend the documentary, which includes much footage about the case never seen before. Sadly many of the same issues in the series are still relevant today.
What about you are you watching this? Or have you read any of these books or authors, and if so, what did you think?