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.
Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes, the Kings, and Garibaldi’s Rebels in the Struggle to Rule Modern Italy by David I. Kretzer
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!
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Purchases made through these links send some change back into my piggy bank.
I have Anna Kerenina on my Kindle and hope to get to it soon, too! The last two on your list of June reads spark my interest. I read part of “Bess Truman” by Margaret Truman, and just a little while ago finished “Thunderstruck” by Erick Larson. (He is one of my favorite authors!)
I don’t know much about Erick Larson – I’ll have to check him out. Thanks!
I totally spelled that wrong with autocorrect on my phone – it is Erik Larson (no “c” in Erik) 😉
I recently finished two novels about friendship: Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. Loved the Stegner and very nearly loved the Wolitzer too. Also read Kate Atkinson’s novel Life after Life, a riveting imagining of many different paths an early 20th century baby girl’s life could have taken. Have now picked up several short books by favorite word craftsman Verlyn Klinkenborg, including his Several Short Sentences About Writing.
Tracy Rae says
I have been reading like crazy lately. Mostly novels for my English class. I have recently finished Room, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Winter’s Bone, The Night Circus and Still Missing. After busting through a bunch of new (and sometimes very intense) books, I decided I needed something nice, light and familiar so I’m currently making my way through Pride and Prejudice.
Manifesta: young women, feminism and the future. I’ve had it for a few years on my shelf but it was written in very late 1999-early 2000 and so its utterly contemporary look at feminism is woefully dated. In late 1999 feminists were apparently suffused with intergenerational fights at the same time that they were trying to make up for lost time after decades of ignoring the particular difficulties of women of color. The writers looked to the future for coming possibilities and encouraged the reader to go out and start a broadsheet or zine, never once seeming to glimpse the power that Internet fora would have. However, it does give me pause that as much as the writers couldn’t see the importance of the Internet in disseminating and fostering identity they really failed to see the coming storm of misogyny. The book is dated but some of the ideas of where women are (as of 1999) seem positively futuristic in a country that can’t seem to take women’s health seriously.
Kevin Nolan says
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
A mostly autobiographical account of survival in and escape from a very difficult childhood in a poor village in northern England. The book is funny, witty, sensitive and disturbing. A powerful work by a master in her craft. She has received anumber of literary prizes.
Yay Jeanette Winterson! her mastery of the English language and transferring her feelings right into my heart is breathtaking!