June Reading Wrap Up

The month of June offered a pretty terrific mix of books to read, both in new releases and me finally settling down with some “meant to reads.” I spent time with two of my favorite authors, Jonathan Tropper and Dan Chaon, plus cemented my love for Ruth Ozeki. I found three new authors and started the beautiful Americanah, which I’ll undoubtedly review in July.

June 2014 Reads

Here’s my June reading list, best to worst.

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki — already reviewed

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride – already reviewed

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon

I love best Chaon’s ability to tap into our innermost insecurities for examination. From the insecure widow looking for comfort from an inflatable torso in “Safety Man,” to a survivor wracked with unspeakable guilt in the title story. He doesn’t cross the line into magical realism but his stories retain an other-worldliness that appeals to me. It’s the stuff of deepest fears and imaginings, our dreams and nightmares, and even our everyday weaknesses. All of these stories somehow hinge on a seemingly random twist of fate.

“It’s not like it ruined my life, I was going to say, but then I didn’t. Because it occurred to me that maybe it had ruined my life, in a kind of quiet way–a little lie, probably not so vital, insidiously separating me from everyone I loved. ”

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez — already reviewed

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement – already reviewed

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper (audio)

Not his best work, but any Tropper is good reading. The story felt familiar — Zach is a 30-something Jewish guy with serious father issues who faces a life-altering crisis. Drama, humor and fist-fights follow. It’s the standard Tropper mix but I’m OK with that. Sometimes I want something familiar and not too challenging. I like that Tropper’s protagonists, for all their self-pity, are smart, acerbic and disarmingly self-aware. (Scott Brick is a great narrator for Tropper’s work.)

“Somewhere there’s a therapist alone in his office staring wistfully at the door, just waiting for a patient like you.”

China Dolls by Lisa See — already reviewed

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

It’s a great premise — a family trapped in the car together as they drive from Alabama toward California to witness the Rapture, which is scheduled for Saturday. The narrator is a 15 year-old girl, insecure in comparison to her bombshell sister and in search of life’s meaning before it all ends. Religious fervor. Coming of age. Sexual awakening. Family drama. These are all components I love, but it never quite came together.

“Why didn’t I feel things the way others felt them? It wasn’t that I didn’t care about people. It was more like I couldn’t really believe they were real.”

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James – already reviewed

Bark by Lorrie Moore

I really did not like this story collection despite the quality of the writing, which is often brilliant. Once again, I have finished reading Lorrie Moore and wondered why her work does not appeal to me at all. Instead of feeling engaged and satisfied and moved, I feel like I’ve just gotten off a roller coaster. I went for a crazy ride, zig-zagged and looped, but in the end I got nowhere and have a slight headache. I know Moore has passionate fans, some of whom are my good friends, but I saw none of the humor or tenderness or truth they find in her work.

“Rage had its medicinal purposes, but she was not wired to sustain it, and when it tumbled away, loneliness engulfed her, grief burning at the center in a cold blue heat.”

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

A little late this week, but I want to keep the quote momentum going.

 

From the late, brilliant Maya Angelou, with whose work I spent a great deal of time this week.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

I was unfamiliar with this one but saw it posted by many, many women whom I admire (obviously, for good reason).

“Does my sassiness offend you?”

I listened to Dr. Angelou recite her empowering poem Still I Rise and this one line stood out as something I long to say. I often feel the need to apologize for my “big personality” — this line reminded me that the problem might lie in others, not in me.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I heard it; I said it; I read it; I hold it in my heart.

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

I’ve followed Angelou on social media since I started using it. This was the last of her written words that I “liked.”

 

From Michael Cunningham, The Snow Queen

“Here’s the sting of livingness. He’s back after his nightly voyage of sleep, all clarity and purpose; he’s renewed his citizenship in the world of people who strive and connect, people who mean business, people who burn and want, who remember everything, who walk lucid and unafraid.

The Snow Queen wasn’t the best book I read all week, but it certainly contained the strongest writing. I can’t get the phrase “sting of livingness” out of my mind. There is a sharp bitterness that comes when you believe the rest of the world is going about their business happily and easily which Cunningham captures precisely.

 

From Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Possibilities

“I just want to know everything,” I say. We walk toward the door.

There really is nothing else to do but know the things we want to know.”

In The Possibilities, Sarah St. John is still reeling from her son’s death in an avalanche. She wants answers to everything about his unknowable life. Without being maudlin or morose, Hemmings captures that frustration of grief that the “knowing” has come to an end.

 

From Jonathan Tropper, Everything  Changes

“People brush past us on the street in endless waves…completely oblivious to the holocaust of an entire world casually imploding in their midst.”

Melodramatic? Certainly. But I do love Tropper’s way with words. His character’s self-awareness really shows in the drama of his personal holocaust imploding. It’s part of a great scene as this novel reaches a climax.

 

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

This was a great week for book quotes…

From Sebastian Barry, The Temporary Gentleman

“Just now and then, in my effort to form some sort of narrative, to touch accidentally on something rawer than a mere wound…I have evoked the gods of truth, and they will have their way with me.”

I am often mesmerized by the lyricism of Barry’s writing. Even in paper form I can almost hear the lilt of his Irish characters. I am also drawn to the idea that “truth” is found my accident, but once we stumble upon it, we are helpless to its power.

 

From Jonathan Tropper, Everything  Changes

“Somewhere there’s a therapist alone in his office staring wistfully at the door, just waiting for a patient like you.”

I’ve felt this. I’ve had moments of thinking my problems, issues, neurosis are the stuff of therapists’ dreams and that’s Tropper’s gift. I am not a 30-something Jewish man with daddy issues, but I still relate to his protagonists. Plus, he’s just funny.

 

From Christie Watson, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

I tried to close my imagination, but it stayed open like a book that has been read too often. ”

This quote came back to me when a fellow Goodreads member liked my review of this book. I was immediately taken back to when I read it and my amazement at Watson’s ability to balance both hope and horror, which seems to be all I read of Africa.

 

From W.G. Sebald, Vertigo

“It is thanks to my evening reading alone that I am still more or less sane.”

My favorite Daily Quote from Goodreads. Although I’ve never read the book or the author, it sums me up perfectly.

 

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

“You’re 12 years old and you don’t yet know that you don’t know shit.”

Jonathan Tropper, Everything Changes

I was looking for a good, engaging audio book. Saw the combo of Tropper (author) and Scott Brick (narrator) and felt pretty confident. Within minutes I heard the above line. My sons are 13, going on 12 tomorrow and 9. I feel like saying this on almost a daily basis.

 

“…to be an artist you had to run the risk of failing, you had to close your eyes and step into the dark.”

Mark Haddon, The Red House

I really, really disliked this book and felt completely frustrated by the confusing writing style, but when I read the above, I wondered if Haddon was trying to explain himself. To my mind, his risk with this novel didn’t pay off, but I was reminded that writers are artists. Without risk, we’d all be stuck in place.

 

“Now we can stand and decide. This is our first chance to choose our own unknown…As impossible as it sounds, we must keep walking.”

Dave Eggers, What is the What

I was so inspired by this book and Valentino’s story as I indicated in my review this week, but this is the quote that sealed the deal for me. No matter the circumstances, whatever the world throws at us, we have to “choose our own unknown.” It’s a great phrase.

 

“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and this is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz

This was my favorite Goodreads Daily Quote this week. It’s never bad to be reminded of what’s truly valuable and important in this life. Ageless wisdom.

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.