As I am still technically in school, proudly starting year 18 of formal education this month, September is my fresh start, the beginning of a brand new year. Summer, briefer and less restful than ever, has ended and it’s time to get back to work (even though officially I only took 2 weeks off). Don't worry, I won't bore you with my feelings on autumn. Yes, I may be wearing my turtle neck jumper for the first time all year. Yes, I may have taken a walk around York today just to enjoy the crispness in the air. But really the best thing about this time of year is the annual Summer Reading Book Report. [Ok, that may be an exaggeration to garner excitement for today's post.]
When I was in grade school, our first assignment every year was always a book report. One book, one page—summer reading done and dusted. Three months of freedom and all we had to account for at the end of it was one book. Sometimes I wonder how such freedom was allowed for children with developing brains in need of nurturing, but then I get overwhelmed thinking about the quandaries of educational policy. Of course very little has changed in American education since my own grade school days, lo these many years later. In fact, a few weeks ago I was sitting on the beach in Cape Cod when I overheard a family sitting nearby arguing about summer reading. The young boy, age 10, had forgotten his book at home in New York and it was now the last week of summer vacation. ‘All you had to do was read one book all summer!’ his mother said, ‘One single book! And of course you left it at home.’ The mother’s exasperation had obviously reached hysterical levels after a summer’s worth of full-time parenting. Flashback thirteen to eighteen years and on that very beach, the same place I’ve been visiting every August for as long as I can remember, those words could have been my mother’s, not berating me of course, Champion Reader from age 6, but my brothers who never brought books with them to the beach.
This year, however, I may have to revoke my title of Champion Reader. This may have been one of my worst summers for reading. In my glory days, after I had grown out of my days of tree climbing and romping around my parents’ farm but before I had started working during my summer vacations, I could read as many as 25 books during those lazy days of summer. At orientation for my high school (full disclosure: it was actually Laptop Camp. My high school required us all to have personal laptops for classes and in 2005 it wasn’t assumed that 14 year old girls knew how to use computers), one of the teachers asked everyone who had read a book that summer to raise their hand. 5 books? 6? When she reached 10 books, only two of us had our hands in the air—the other girl, Samantha, is still my best friend to this day.
Ok, enough rambling. Onto my book report. Now that I read books for my job (as an English PhD student), I figure I can expand beyond the traditional one book format but I will of course be keeping my report as brief and useless as is to be expected. No piece of literary criticism is quite so utterly pointless, and yet I can’t help but enjoy this reversion to a simpler format. No muss, no fuss.
What I Read This Summer
This summer I read quite an odd assortment of books, finishing 9 books in total since June. The books fit into two broad genres—literary fiction and urban fantasy. The books were a mixture of adult and YA fiction. And I also completed several trilogies.
Her Dark Curiosity & A Cold Legacy, Books 2 & 3 of The Madman’s Daughter series by Megan Shepherd: This series took inspiration from 19th-century gothic fiction—Book 2 inspired by Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevensen, Book 3 inspired by Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The stories were suspenseful and exciting, over the top at times but just how you would expect gothic stories to be.
Bonjour Tristesse, and A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagån: These two novellas followed young women through emotional turmoil and were considered quite risqué upon publication in the 1950s for their sexual content. The writing was often beautiful and the author’s insight into the psyche of the young women was very powerful.
The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman: These three books were a lot of fun, and a really interesting take on fantasy tropes. It was a nice change to read about adult magicians instead of teenagers. Despite the magic and fantastic lands, the books were also a really engaging character study as they followed Quentin from college into his thirties.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: This book is longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and although it benefits from portions of beautiful prose, I found it nearly impossible to finish. Over 700 pages, mainly following a young man with a horrific past, the second half of the novel especially dragged on, focusing so much on the character’s tortured psyche that I eventually lost almost all of my interest and my sympathy.
Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Book 3 in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, by Laini Taylor: The world of the series is wonderfully epic and as a whole I found the trilogy to be wonderful. I did feel like this book fell a bit flat. The writing was beautiful, but I wanted a bit more from the story and especially the new characters.
In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman: This book tackled a lot of big ideas and at times was very successful in its handling of complex issues. In the end, however, I thought the plot failed to stand up to the intellectual heft of the ideas the author was trying to weave through it.
And there you have it. My summer reading, each book summed up in three sentences or less. These days summer reading isn't much different from my reading during the rest of the year. I did read some of the books on the beach, though, which is the most important part of summer reading. Now it's back-to-school season, which means new notebooks and pens, new ambitious goals, renewed energy for academic and personal projects. Hence the revival of this little blog. It's good to be back, if only so I don't feel so guilty every time I shirk off my thesis reading list to spend hours lost in a novel. I do plan on sharing a bit of my thesis reading here, however, bc it's my blog and I can do what I want to, etc. I know exactly what you're thinking - early modern Catholic women, that's exactly what's missing from the book blogging community. Well, don't fret, I am here to fill that void.