I never made a formal resolution to read more this year, but I have been making an effort and it is paying off in spades. I’m finally getting to some of the books that were on my to-read list for ages, and am picking up a few interesting, unexpected treasures. The biggest challenge is resisting the urge to re-read old favorites, which I could quite happily do all summer (I’d be the only person on the beach reading Common Ground for a second time, that’s for sure). Here’s my June reading re-cap.
Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiving by Tracy Kidder
Deo comes to the United States from Burundi in the aftermath of the genocides that swept central Africa in the mid-nineties. Somehow, he lands on his feet.
Tracy Kidder combines an eye for telling detail with exhaustive research to great effect, providing comprehensible reporting on African culture, politics and history through the story of a person and his people. Though it’s shorter than Kidder’s most famous piece of writing, Mountains beyond Mountains by Paul Farmer, I didn’t think it was as “tight” as Mountains. Sometimes I felt I was being led to look for answers that weren’t there. But Kidder rises to the challenge of chronicling a life of such horror and hope that it leaves loose ends that simply cannot be tied up.
Telling a story well is a gift to the world. To tell the story of someone whose life has been so traumatic and to do it with grace, beauty, and dignity is the work of a saint. Strength in What Remains inspired me to write well.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
I confessed to a colleague that I didn’t read a lot of fiction and she started slipping novels under my door with post-it notes in hopes of converting me from my standard diet of memoir and nerdy non-fiction.
When I saw this book with such a grand title I was a little suspicious, and fully expected the novel to start over-reaching at any turn of the page. Krauss changes the narrative voice throughout the book, switching between two dissimilar (yet ultimately connected) characters. She trusts the technique enough to let it work throughout the book, and when the end comes around she doesn’t dress anything up, just uses the two voices to great effect.
After reading a novel I had to take refuge in the aforementioned nerdy non-fiction. Since I was writing on the Papacy in the 19th century, this was a little extra research…that I secretly enjoyed.
An understanding of Catholicism from the French Revolution to the Second Vatican Council is absolutely crucial for making sense of many of the current trends in Catholic religious expression, both individually and collectively. That fortress mentality that I find so frustrating has strong historical precedent.
This is very readable history, and even though I could tell there was little love lost between Kretzer and Pius IX, he resisted the temptation of portraying the Pontiffs as mad old relics and painted them as significant, principled historical actors.
I did not know nearly enough about Italian unification, and this book, in a few hundred pages, hit the highlights for me. Perhaps most surprising to me was how badly Victor Emmanuel and the new Italian government wanted to reach resolution with the papacy. Having a sixty years of popes who wouldn’t leave the Vatican because they refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Italian government was a blow to the nascent state.
I have Gone Girl and Anna Karenina on my iPad, Nickel and Dimed and Molokai in paperback ready to go abroad with me. I’ll let you know what I get to. In the meantime, tell me what you’ve been reading!
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