Saturday, August 29, 2009

Five Star Summer

This summer, I've been incredibly lucky to happen upon some amazing reading. I've read my usual favorites, sure, but I've discovered some new greats along the way.

Just last night, I finished Stuart McLean's Home from the Vinyl Cafe. I happened upon this at the library book sale and it sounded like something I would really enjoy. It's basically a secular Canadian version of Philip Gulley's Harmony series. This series of short stories chronicles the life of Dave, the owner of a small record store, his beleaguered wife Morley, their children Sam and Stephanie, and various family, friends and neighbors (One of my favorite characters is Dave's friend Kenny Wong who owns a Scottish emporium). The stories cover one year from winter to winter.

As I have often said in the past, it is the rare book that makes me laugh out loud, but this is one of those rare books that not only had me laughing, but had me actually crying from laughter. Dave is a lot like me--just a tad neurotic--and the story in which the blood pressure machine haunts him until he HAS to go and get his blood pressure checked, but he doesn't want anyone to see him or his numbers just totally resonated with me. The mayhem to follow was not only out of his worst nightmares but also my own.

The stories are also poignant--Dave realizes how much he loves the niece he thought he hated, Morley leaves Sam to the devices of a piano teacher she previously didn't think was good enough for him, Dave's love for a bird he feeds through the winter. This is a wonderful collection of stories and I am pleased to see there is another volume of stories from the Vinyl Cafe, although interestingly, they don't all involve Dave. I'll be checking that book out as soon as I can get it from PBS! (Ok, checking PBS, there are TWO more volumes of Vinyl Cafe stories--I've ordered them both!)

This summer I also finished Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!). Now, I'll be honest here, people, I never even really started Jon Stewart's book America. I skimmed through it when I bought it, I even chatted with Bob Schieffer about it at a book signing, but it's one of those things I never quite got around to reading. But I was determined to read Colbert's book because I waited so damned long to get the thing from PBS! The book is Colbert's entry into the world of literary political satire, and is much like his TV show, apparently, although I have only watched the Colbert Report once from start to finish (someone is probably going to come and demand to have my White Person ID card back now, right?). Anyway, according to Publisher's Weekly, if you want a real idea of what the book is about:

Realizing that it takes more than thirty minutes a night to fix everything that's destroying America, Colbert bravely takes on the forces aligned to destroy our country—whether they be terrorists, environmentalists, or Kashi brand breakfast cereals. His various targets include nature (I've never trusted the sea. What's it hiding under there?), the Hollywood Blacklist (I would have named enough names to fill the Moscow phone book), and atheists (Imagine going through life completely duped into thinking that there's no invisible, omniscient higher power guiding every action on Earth. It's just so arbitrary!).

The book is such smart humor, I couldn't read it fast enough. I read it while I was at my dad's house and despite being tired from caring for a baby and helping him out, I would stay up until I fell asleep on the book reading it. It was so, so entertaining and smart. The margin notes are great, the footnotes funny, and despite the fact I got my copy from PBS, all my stickers were in tact! HOORAY! Definitely a great, quick read.

My third great read of the summer was Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family. I don't want to get too much into this one, as it is a book club read and we're not discussing it for another few weeks, but I will say, it is a gripping read. The book covers the story of four young people living in the Bronx: Cesar and Jessica, a brother and sister swept into a life of crime, and their love interests Coco and George. LeBlanc followed them for more than ten years, going to detention centers, welfare offices, hospitals, homes, anywhere they went, she went. It got to be a joke as to whether or not she'd ever actually write the book and get it published, but she did and the results were spectacular. I have a lot of issues with the behavior of the people in the book, but the book itself was very, very well written and extraordinarily interesting. I'll have to leave it at that.

I've also spent a good portion of this summer trying to clear out some of the books on my to-be-read shelves, trying to determine if these are books I am actually going to read or if I'm just hanging on to them "just in case". As I was going through my fiction shelve, the first book I came to was Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. I didn't make it any further in cleaning off the shelf (the books are currently arranged alphabetically), because I read the first page and I was lost in the grip of the story of Melinda, a high school student who is her Syracuse NY high school's latest social pariah because she called the police to break up a summer party. No one knows the secret Melinda is hiding about why she broke up the party, and Melinda finds herself more and more unable to actually physically speak the more she hides her secret from her family and anyone in any position to possibly help her with anything. My father actually taught this book to his English class this past year and was raving about it, although he never actually told me the name of the book. After I read it, I called him and asked about it and he confirmed it was the same book. I would have loved to have sat in on some of the classes to hear the students who are the same age as the fictional Melinda talk about their opinions of the book. I bet it led to some fascinating discussion.

So, if you're looking for some good reads this year, there you have a couple of fiction and a couple of non-fiction to keep you going. I've read a lot more than I thought I would have time for this year, and I'm doing very well on the alphabet challenge and am up over 40 books on the year, which is exciting. I very much doubt I'll break 100 this year, but I might hit 75 which would be cool. Happy reading, everyone!

1 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Sarah said...

I loved Random Family. Loved, loved LOVED it. Couldn't put it down and was very disappointed when it was finished.