Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sunday Salon: On Graveyards, Shipwrecks, and the 14 Books I Really, Really Want to Read in July

We're not even finished with June and already it is feeling like the dog days of summer - both in terms of the hot weather we've been having this week and also with the kids' cries of boredom. If they're not complaining about being bored, they're fighting with each other or me. Quite honestly, all I want to do is dive into my piles of books to escape the stress ... and that is exactly what I've been doing during this week in which I finished two books.  (Yay, me.) 

The first was the much acclaimed The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which many a blogger has raved about.  And I can see why. I really enjoyed this, as mentioned in my review earlier this week.

I didn't really know what to expect (and I admit, there was something about reading Neil Gaiman that kind of intimidated me for some reason) but I was pleasantly surprised. This Newbery award winning book (which gives a suitable age level of 9-12, although I would personally lean more towards the older end) is more fairy tale than fright-fest, more enchantment than gore. Right from the first couple pages, I was captivated by the story of a baby who crawls away from his family - all murdered - to live among the larger-than-life spirits in a nearby graveyard.

Last night I finished Safe from the Sea, the debut novel from Peter Geye. This one would be perfect to read during a 100+ degree heatwave because Geye has a wonderful ability to give his reader a sense of place - which, in this case, is northern Minnesota along Lake Superior during the winter.  (I've never been, but I'd imagine that's pretty much like living at the North Pole.) 

Safe from the Sea mines familiar ground in this story of a dying father and his son who try to make peace and gain an appreciation and understanding of each other before its too late. Many a blogger loves this one; as for me, I definitely liked it.  The descriptions are fantastic, and Geye either has done a tremendous amount of research into the shipping industry in that part of the country (as well as shipwrecks) or he has some personal experience with this. (Similar with the infertility storyline, which in my opinion was also accurately portrayed.)

Alas, there was a DNF (did not finish) book in the midst this week. I was looking forward to reading Twin, the memoir by Allen Shawn.  It's about his relationship with his twin sister Mary, who has autism and intellectual disabilities.  Like many families in the 1950s who had a developmentally disabled child at home, the Shawns "sent Mary away" at the age of 8 to live in an institution.  (Shawn wrote a previous memoir, Wish I Could Be There that seems to touch on similar ground.)

Twin caught my attention for several reasons. Shawn's family background - his father was editor of The New Yorker magazine - is compelling.  There's a local connection (Mary is institutionalized here in Delaware, apparently still to this day). And, as a parent of a child with autism, I am interested to read about the relationship (especially that of twins) between siblings with disabilities. 

Unfortunately, that last factor was the reason for my abandoning it - because I wasn't getting as much of that as I expected. Shawn begins his memoir with a lengthy description of the history of autism (we get reintroduced to our old friends Leo Kanner, Hans Asperger, and the like). There was, at least in the first 35 pages, way too much of this talk, particularly the work of Bruno Bettelheim.

And that's where Shawn lost me. You can't escape being an autism mom without the ghost of Bettelheim's "refrigerator mom" accusations hanging over your head. Whereas most of the time I can deal with that and shrug it off, I'm just not in a frame of mind right now to do so.  I skimmed ahead a bit, and most of the sections I read seemed to focus more on Shawn's career as a composer and his family's issues (his father had an affair with a New Yorker writer for nearly 40 years) moreso than his relationship with Mary. 

So, back to the library it goes. 

Speaking of the library, I'm in a bit of a book addict's dilemma.  There's no way I am going to be able to read all the library books I have out before we move next month, and this makes me very sad.  I have this irrational fear of moving and being in an apartment and not having any books to read, especially since the vast majority of my books will be packed away. (Yes, I have my Kindle with my 433 books.  Yes, I will be bringing a few from my shelves with me. And yes, there is a library in our new town.)

That doesn't assuage my desire to read all the library books I currently have out, like ... right now. (Our library allows one to have 99 books out at a time, and I personally have half that amount checked out.) As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, things are a bit stressful right now and all I want to do is escape into my books.

But reading 50 books in the next month is a bit of a literary fantasy ridiculous, so I decided to prioritize the ones I currently have out. These, below, are the 14 13 books I most hope to get to in July (you know, while packing up the rest of this house and being home with two squabbling 9 year olds).

In case you can't read the titles, they are:

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (decided to send this back to the library unread, based on your comments)

Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them, by Randy Christensen

Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, by Tina Rosenberg

By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham

Children and Fire, by Ursula Hegi

Horoscopes for the Dead, Poems by Billy Collins

The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, by Dan Savage (not pictured but on the list is It Gets Better, a collection of essays and videos from the "It Gets Better" project) (completed 7/3/2011)

Townie, by Andre Dubus III

The Doctor and the Diva

Strangers at the Feast

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein (I'm about a 1/3 finished this) (finished 7/5/2011)

Safe from the Sea, by Peter Geye (finished this one last night)

Jackie as Editor

Treasures from the Attic

Oh, and also not pictured is one for a book tour so I guess we really are at 14.  I rationalize that this is completely doable because a few of these are fairly short.

In light of the incredible news out of New York this weekend, I really want to start the week off with The Kid ... but the book tour review (Repairing Rainbows by Lynda Fishman) should probably take priority since my date is August 4.

Have you read any of these?  Which ones would you recommend that I absolutely make sure I get to - or avoid?  And tell me if I'm not alone in wanting to escape life for awhile by diving into a pile of books (even if it means dealing with fictional graveyards and shipwrecks, as this week has brought).

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Twin was on my radar too for awhile but after you saying it's not as great, I'll probably not read it soon. Kid has been on my list for years.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I love my library...but I cannot seem to get books back on time...I just can't. If your stack was my stack, I'd be freaking out ;)
I've put all three of these books on my WishList. The Graveyard Book sounds really spooky...

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I had Cinderella Ate My Daughter out from the library last month, but had to return it before I got to read it... boo! I hope you like it, and that I can get it again sometime in the not-too-distant future :)

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for your DNF and for your explanation of it...too many times I see book bloggers hanging on to read books, because they feel obliged to do so. I don't know who they feel "obliged to," but they do. This year I've had more DNFs than I've ever had in one year, but that's all right. Too many other books out there.

Elizabeth said...

I admire your ambition.

I'd drop the Franzen -- I thought it completely, utterly over-rated -- slick as usual and in desperate need of an editor. How's that for contrary? :)

DemMom said...

I tried to read Freedom, but abandoned it. Figured it would be great, one character goes to UVA (as I did), one character is a fundraiser (as I am) for an environmental org (as I used to be). But I was completely uninterested in the characters. Good luck with your stack!

nomadreader said...

My July list is almost as long as yours. I truly hope I can pull off twelve books:-)

Of the ones you're considering, I've read Strangers at the Feast (loved it--and read it in only a day), Freedom (loved it, but it was a slower, more contemplative read for me. I loved it at the end more than I loved it while I read it, although I did love some sections more than others), Cinderella Ate My Daughter (really liked it, and it was a fast read!) Many more on my TBR (although not in July), so I look forward on your thoughts on those to help me prioritize:-)

JoAnn said...

Freedom has been a pretty divisive book in the blogging community, but I loved it - one of my favorites of 2010. Have heard great things about Strangers at the Feast and hope to read it this fall.