To me, the best part of summer is heading to the beach with a great book. And the best part of having a birthday right before summer starts is that I received so many great books as presents! Here’s what I’ve been up to lately…
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The ultimate beach read. Nick bought me this book for my birthday because he thought it looked good, and because it is on Amazon’s list of 100 books to read in a lifetime. He’s been buying me books off of that list for every holiday, since he knows that a big goal of mine is to eventually read all of them. I think that’s really awesome, and I love him for it.
Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of essays about David Sedaris’ life. His essays are about anything and everything – he talks about his family, his childhood, jobs he has had, and his move from New York to Paris. Sedaris is hilarious, but he is also highly observational and introspective. I especially loved his rant about why he hates computers, his chapter about teaching a writing course without having the slightest clue how, and everything he wrote about his struggle to learn French (as someone who is just terrible at languages, I definitely related).
If you are looking for a quick, easy, summer read for the beach, this is your book. If you are looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud, this is your book. But this book is so much more than that. My disclaimer is that David Sedaris seems to get pretty passionate, polarized reviews – some people think he is hilarious, others can’t stand him.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
I devoured this book. Pun intended. Because we are both obsessed with anything and everything about food (because it’s also on Amazon’s list), Nick also gave me this book for my birthday. It’s Anthony Bourdain’s completely unfiltered account of how he decided to become a chef, all of the jobs that led him to where he is today, lots of dirty little secrets about the restaurant industry, and an ode to his love for food.
Warning: Bourdain isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. If you are put off by cursing and stories about drugs, you might want to stay away. I loved it.
“The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel
This book is heavy. Literally and emotionally. It’s a collection of oral interviews that Studs Terkel had with many different people involved with or affected by World War II.
It is 600 pages of individual war stories that weigh heavy on my heart. What I loved most about this book was the diversity of people that Studs Terkel interviewed. You hear from infantrymen, nurses, journalists, multiple people who worked on the atomic bomb, admirals (all ranks from the military, really), people who lost their loved ones, people who supported the war effort at home, Japanese-Americans who were interred in the US, and even from conscientious objectors.
Although a large majority of the stories are from Americans, Terkel interviewed people from all over the world. Hard topics surface – like the racial injustices that were rampant throughout the American military and the legacy of the atomic bomb.
The book is structured so that people with similar stories are grouped together, and it gets very difficult to keep all of the stories straight. I think that’s okay, though. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and I can see why. I think that these are the stories I should have read when I was learning about the war in high school
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The Hours tells three intertwining stories. Cunningham captures one day in the lives of three different women, living in three different time periods. Virginia Woolf writes Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 in London. Clarissa Vaughan is throwing a party in honor of her friend, a poet dying from AIDS, in present-day New York. Laura Brown tries to keep her family and home together in 1949 in California.
I probably should have read Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, before reading this book since there are quite a few references to it, but I don’t think it hampered my enjoyment of the novel all that much. Michael Cunningham is an excellent writer and I loved the way he portrayed each of these women – the mundane, ordnary things that made up just one day in their lives, but also the way he captured their essence, their hopes and desires. It’s a very real book.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I find dystopian, “end-of-the-world” type books absolutely fascinating. Station Eleven is the book I have been searching for forever (read my review of The Road, which I couldn’t stand, here). I loved Emily St. John Mandel’s writing style as well as the realistic way that she portrayed what could happen during and after an event like this. I highly recommend this book. I got it from the library, but I really want to own it.
Cranky Ladies of History, edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
“Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.”
This was another birthday gift! My best friend sent this to me all the way from Bulgaria. It’s an anthology of historical fiction. All 22 of the stories are about real women throughout history who refused to adhere to the standards set for them. I loved that there were so many different kinds of women that were featured in this anthology. Most of the stories had me completely engrossed, and it was hard to put down.
There were a few stories that I admit I was not super into, but I think that is to be expected in such a diverse collection. I still highly recommend it.
Update: I have officially now read 20 of the books on Amazon’s List of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime (see my original post on this here). It’s been a lot of fun to work my way through this list. I think it will take me a lot longer than I originally intended because I am not exclusively reading books off of this list. But so far, I am glad that I am on this journey. There are a few books on this list that have not necessarily been my favorite, but I feel like I am better off for having read them. I think that it is good to read things that are outside your comfort zone, and Amazon’s list is helping me do that!