The Challenges of Being a Reader: A Month in Books

My shtick of late is to always have two books going – one audio that I listen while in the car and while walking to work and a paper one to read in bed, at the gym and when I find spare time. It’s a great plan, but financially prohibitive if I buy the books. I’ve been relying heavily on my local library, with some used books thrown into the mix. I love the library. LOVE. But waiting for books to come available does has its downsides. On occasion, I find myself reading filler books. Combine that with the duds that naturally fall into any mix, and it means that a month in books can be filled with ups and downs. This past month certainly was. If you can look past the duds, though, you’ll find some real gems.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

In my ongoing effort to read books on the banned list, I read Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. It reiterated my belief that all banned books are banned out of fear, which is too bad and seemingly counterproductive to the goal of banning. After all, I never would have found out about this novel had it not been banned.

The plot idea behind Two Boys Kissing is a novel one. It’s told from the perspective of gay men who have died and are looking down over current gay boys, sort of like angels. These men who have passed on have the benefit of knowing how things were versus how they are, of knowing how the AIDS epidemic effected their population in the 1980s and of having grown. It is from their perspective that you hear about boys who are contemplating suicide or running away from home. It’s from them that you hear how wonderfully one boy’s mom handles her son’s coming out and how another boy might be able to handle his parents rejection.

I’ve never read anything like this before and really liked it.

Eventide by Kent Haruf.Eventide by Kent Haruf

Eventide is the second in the Plainsong trilogy by Kent Haruf. My mom passed these on to me saying that she loved them but that my dad found them too slow. That’s sort of a mixed endorsement, so I’ve not been rushing to read the books.

I enjoyed Plainsong but it was sloooow. Eventide was the same way, but I knew what to expect this time. Do you have anything in your life that is kind of boring but which you appreciate for it’s steadiness and sameness? That’s how I felt about this book, and the series up until now. It’s  selection of well-told stories about small-town America and the exciting plot twists are barely exciting and that’s sort of lovely. In a time of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train where the focus is on the plot twist or the unreliable narrator, breaks of slow and steady are just fine by me.

Thinking in Systems by Donella H Meadows and Diana Wright .Thinking in Systems by Donnella H. Meadows

I read this for work. Pro: I got paid for reading! Con: This isn’t the sort of book I would ever read of my own accord. Ever.

Last year during my annual review, I had to select a development activity that would help me in a competency related to work. I picked systems thinking and selected a suggested book because I like to read so how bad could it be? I was a sucker! After complaining about how bad the book selection was, Thinking in Systems was recommended to me as an alternative. It was tremendously better, but still a little wonky.

Did you watch The Wire? No? Stop reading this and go watch that. Seriously. Then come back and I’ll continue with what this book is about. You did watch it? Perfect.

You know the drugs dealers on The Wire? Well, they are a perfect illustration of systems thinking. In the show, the dealers create demand by giving people free or cheap access to drugs. Then they drive up the price, which makes the buyers desperate, which leads to crime, which involves the police. Both the increased use of drugs and the rise in crime has an effect on the students in the school system, which also involves police. This gets the notice of the politicians, who are in bed with the unions, and the journalists, who are trying to piece together the puzzle. Even if you stop the problem of right now, it will start again because it is cyclical. And that’s my bastardized summary of both the show and systems thinking, so now you don’t need to read the book. But seriously, you do need to watch the The Wire.

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day.The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

My entire knowledge of the legal system is informed by Law & Order – both the original series and SVU. While I am not sure why I like those shows, I know I do. From that, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day. Was it a deep, literary experience that will stay with me for years to come? Nope. Was it an enjoyable distraction from everyday life? Yep.

The main character in The Day I Died is Anna Winger. She has a mysterious past that comes out in fits and starts throughout the book. She also has an expertise in handwriting that I found fascinating. (Can you really know about someone’s insecurities, impotence or predilection for drinking just from their handwriting???) Rader-Day writes a fast-paced story that is entertaining until the end.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham.Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

There are certain prolific authors I count on to be consistently entertaining. I don’t require anything beyond entertainment from them. These include Michael Crichton, Jodi Picoult and John Grisham. I don’t include any of these writers on my favorite authors list, but if stuck at the airport with nothing to read, I’d happily pick up one of their books. Earlier when I said that the library sometimes leaves me in a lurch while I wait for books to become available? I rely on these same types of authors then. This time, FAIL.

John Grisham has written almost 40 books (based on a quick internet search), so I don’t feel terrible saying Rogue Lawyer was a dud. The main character is an ass and it was just unenjoyable. If you’re stuck waiting on the library or need a book at the airport, skip this one.

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear.Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

Much like Rogue Lawyer, I picked Journey to Munich because it was available right away from the library as an audio book. I’ve always enjoyed World War II stories and I love a good mystery or spy story, so what could go wrong? Nothing really, but the only way I can write about this book is to look up what its about because I’ve completely forgotten. That, to me, speaks volumes.



Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence.Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrenc

As part of my attempt to read harder, I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I picked up from the library book sale last year. The copy I had was such an old edition that I was constantly reminded that this book, published in 1928, is old. Why is that important? Because it was also one of the filthiest books I’ve read in a long time, with many uses of the words f*** and c***. Here’s a quote that seems representative, though cleaner.

Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis … he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine.

I’m not easily offended by language – just surprised – so Lady Chatterley’s Lover was okay from that perspective. I think I probably could have told the whole story in about one chapter instead of 19, but it was a good addition to my read harder campaign. And a nice reinforcement of this quote:

There is no new thing under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan.The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Always on the lookout for a new side hustle, or primary hustle, The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan has me wondering if I could open some sort of traveling bookshop. It’s like an expansion of my earlier book-inspired idea to hand out literary prescriptions, and involves little overhead. We used to have book mobiles when I was in grade school. Do you think those could still work? Only for adults, too? Serious question.

This book is about a woman named Nina who is laid off from her librarian job and spins that event into a job change in Scotland, and cute boys are involved. It’s a great book for beaches and traveling. And career inspiration.

The Goldon Age by Joan London.The Golden Age by Joan London

When an author I love, particularly one who writes about books, makes a book recommendation, I listen. A while back, my mom and I attended a book reading by Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, and he suggested The Golden Age by Joan London (not that Joan London). I read it on a recent trip in Florida and it was lovely. Maybe lovely is the wrong word, because it wasn’t the happiest book, but it was beautifully written. Its about polio patients in a care home in Australia in the 1950s. That’s not something I’ve ever read much about, so I was particularly interested. Check it out.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.Lilac Girls  by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly wrecked me. I mean, I wholeheartedly recommend it, but it wrecked me. I read it on the beach (it’s not a beach read), while drinking too much (it’s not a book to be read while over-served) and surrounded by surgically enhanced people vacationing in Miami (it’s not a book to be read around people who freely engage in optional surgeries). And still, despite these less than perfect surroundings, love.

I mentioned earlier that I enjoy World War II novels. I do, but the terrain is well traveled and it’s hard to find stories that introduce you to something new. Lilac Girls explores a concentration camp where women were operated on to study the effects of war on people. By this I mean that terrible experiments were performed on perfectly healthy people just to answer, “What if…?” What’s interesting about this book, though, is that it s told from the perspective of several characters, including a female doctor who performed the surgeries. It takes you into head spaces you’d probably rather not enter, and I think that’s such an interesting achievement by an author.

While I absolutely do not recommend you read this on the beach with a cocktail in hand and fake breasts all around you, I do suggest that you read Lilac Girls. It’s wonderful.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Earlier, I referred to this as “a time of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train.” I didn’t mean that as a good thing, though I think many people would disagree with me. Into the Water is Paula Hawkins newest book, following her success with Girl on a Train. I think this book is awful. It’s also a New York Times bestseller, so I know I don’t speak for the people on this one. But seriously. In English class when your teacher would tell you to show, not tell? Hawkins didn’t get that message. At so many points in this book there is some hurdle in the plot and the resolution is for a character to say “and then this so this,” even if it makes no logical sense at all.

I’m the dumb-dumb who read this book despite not liking Hawkins’ earlier novel. If you loved Girl on a Train, like so many people did, you might love this. If you didn’t, don’t make the same mistake I did and read this book.