For me, summer reading is all about picking up an actual book, which I do throughout the year, but not with the same frequency. Summer reading is the time to indulge myself with the physical world of print: to turn paper pages, admire beautiful covers and recapture those summers before books were downloaded.
First on my list is Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Since I’m reading it hot off the press, I’m only a quarter through, but fully engrossed. It’s wonderful to be back in Roy’s world of breath-taking poetic imagery and fully developed characters.
This is an Indian story but a story with universal meaning for our unsettled times. In the 20 years since her last novel Roy has been writing about political injustice, which is represented here in her focus on the sufferings of Kashmir. By creating a major character, who becomes an outcast by virtue of being born a hermaphrodite, Roy is speaking for the marginalized everywhere.
Elizabeth Strout’s latest fiction, Anything is Possible, stopped time for me.
Her beautifully constructed spare sentences are like small miracles. This is a collection of nine interwoven stories about men and women growing up in poverty in rural Illinois.
We meet them as adults, readily propelled back into their childhoods through triggered memories and chance encounters. Vivid images of foraging for food in dumpsters and suffering through emotional and sexual abuse haunt their present lives. Their pain jumps off the page. The New York Times refers to Strout’s book as “a master class on class.”
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is a true page-turner.
It’s a story of three women with small children who are widowed by WW ll. Coming from very different backgrounds, in order to survive, they are forced to overcome their class differences.
There’s a Bavarian beauty used to trading on her beauty to get ahead; a take-charge aristocrat whose husband was assassinated for plotting to kill Hitler; and an introverted hard-working farm woman who stretches their limited food supply.
There’s plenty of suspense but I wish more attention had been paid to how the women resolved their differences. It felt like the author was trading in on the sentiment that during wartime sacrifice for the greater good is axiomatic.
For a change of pace, there’s the delightful new nonfiction book, Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin. Flaneuse is the feminine form of flaneur, the French word for the privileged male who strides the capitals of the world with abandon.
As a young student in Paris, Elkin became enchanted with discovering the city through her long rambling walks. She quickly adopted the role of flaneuse.
Drawing on her history background Elkin, acquaints us with literary figures, sister flaneuse, like Virginia Woolf who thought of her walks as “street haunting.” In addition to Paris, Elkin lushly details her meanderings through New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. If, like me, you’re an urban walker you’ll be so inspired by this book that you’ll want to catch the next plane for parts unknown to stroll your way into new adventures.
While summer is typically a time for escapist reading, we are in the midst of massive regressive change, making it hard to escape or ignore what’s going on around us. For this reason I’m including two books which offer constructive tactics for social change.
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder is a pocket-sized book that offers twenty lessons for effecting change.
Snyder is a history professor at Yale whose prescription for resistance is based on what history has taught him about social movements. Lesson number one is: “Do not obey in advance.” Snyder explains that in the beginning of a new order, like Trump’s presidency, we have a small window for change, which we need to capitalize on, by not conforming to new rules. Snyder believes a lot of the new rules are trial balloons to see how much the new regime can get away with. If we resist they’ll be forced to recalibrate.
Naomi Klein’s latest book, No is Not Enough was just released and I’m waiting on my preordered copy, but feel confident recommending it based on the excerpts I’ve read.
Klein warns that Trump is masterful at creating shock diversions. Her overriding anxiety is that while the liberal left wrings its hands over the ways that the US election was lost, and gets embroiled in Russian conspiracy theories, not enough attention is being paid to the conspiracy happening in plain sight: the dangers of kleptocracy, and the broken promises to the working class.