Found: GOTG's 2010 Summer Reading List

As it’s sweltering outside and you’re heading for your favorite water destination of choice (pool, river, lake, beach) to cool off and relax, here are some of the books we’re bringing with us and sharing with our friends.

Fiction and Memoir – For Fun

Mary Beth Barber’s top picks:

“How the World Makes Love: . . . And What It Taught a Jilted Groom,”by Franz Wisner, a sequel to Franz’ earlier nonfiction memoir “Honeymoon With My Brother.” Some background: “Honeymoon” details how a groom-to-be got over being jilted on his wedding day and, instead of moping, has the Sea Ranch “wedding” anyway and then brings his brother with him on his international prepaid “honeymoon.” The initial two-week trip turned into two years as both Wisner brothers search worldwide for the meaning of life and love. While “Honeymoon” took the reader from the empty altar to around the world (with some heart-mending along the way), “How the World Makes Love” finishes the tale. Readers will be both fascinated by the different ways marriages, families and love is born in other countries, and well as falling in love with Franz himself and his quest for a soul-mate.

  • Side note from Mary Beth: In the spirit of open disclosure: Franz was a capital colleague/friend of mine during the Wilson administration when he was in the Governor’s press office. But that doesn’t change the fact that his personal nonfiction – both “Honeymoon” and “How the World Makes Love” – are heartfelt, emotional and wonderfully raw books about love, heartache, international travel, and relationship risk-taking.
  • As another side note, this one from Lisa Page: My book club read “How the World Makes Love” and Franz actually called in, and we had a live Q&A session about his dating and travel experiences and lesson learned. It’s not often you get to talk directly to the author! He said that Sacramento “is not a good place for dating” which was a bit disheartening for the single ladies in the group though.

“Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabel Allende, the latest by the Chilean-American author known for creating compelling and personal stories centering around female protagonists in historical settings. (Allende is also recognized as a close relative of Salvador Allende, President of Chile from 1970 to 1973, who took his own life when cornered during the brutal military coup led by Pinochet.) “Island” is set in colonial Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) and follows the life of a slave girl as she follows her master and lover from the island to New Orleans.

I’ve only just started “Island,” but already Allende’s writing has enchanted me enough to stay up way beyond my bedtime. The last time she captured my imagination was with another book to recommend: “Daughter of Fortune,” set in northern California about a young Chilean/Spanish immigrant during the Gold Rush who finds unexpected love with an immigrant Chinese doctor. Research for “Daughter” was probably readily available for the author, as California is Allende’s current home (she lives in San Rafael), but Allende seems to have the uncanny ability to chose subjects that touch a worldwide nerve. “Island” was published before Haiti became a household word after the January 2010 earthquake, and the book’s historical setting fascinates as much as its fictional storyline.

Lisa Page’s must reads:

“The Help”by Kathryn Stockett, her debut novel, takes place during the civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi. The heroines, a white woman and a group of black maids, are unlikely and unexpected activists. These women weren’t marching in the streets, but they were protesting in little ways every day.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan moves back home after college without a ring on her finger and finds she doesn’t fit in with her Junior League friends anymore. She sees the racism of her friends toward their black maids but is naïve to the broader civil rights issues around her. She aspires to be a writer and soon finds that her only ticket to the publishing world is secretly writing about the experiences of her friends’ black maids.

Skeeter is joined by Aibileen, the first maid to agree to tell her story, and Minny, in her narration. Aibileen has raised 17 white children and always leaves before each one turns into his or her parents (and thus a racist). Her friend Minny can’t seem to keep her mouth shut and therefore her job. Their experiences joined by the 10 other maids that take the huge risk share their stories, paint a picture of hope and promise and loss and despair.

I haven’t talked to a single lady who has read this book and not LOVED it. It’s a story of what binds us women together and what can tear us apart.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” by the late Stieg Larsson, is the first in his trilogy. It’s a page turner, with an often disturbing plot and a slew of characters you can’t get out of your head (once you’re able to keep them straight that is). There’s Mikail Blomkvist, a financial journalist, who finds his career upside down after he’s convicted of libel. He accepts a job offer from a wealthy Swedish financier to look into the unsolved disappearance of one of his beloved family members. The real sleuth, though, turns out to be Lisbeth Salander, who is the girl with the dragon tattoo, and a fearless computer hacker. This book has many surprises, and as I’m now reading “The Girl who Played with Fire” and then “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

Ashley Robinson’s recent reads:

I just finished “Ahab’s Wife” by Sena Jeter Naslund. It was hard to get into, but in the end, I loved it. About Captain Ahab from Moby Dick (which I have never read, but now that I have read this,I don’t feel obligated to read the Melville classic) and the woman who loved him.

The story is fraught with open seas, romance, insanity, cannibalism, clam chowder and plentiful historical references of suffrage and abolition. It made me feel like I was with the character in Nantucket or in the South Pacific of the 1840s. A great summer LONG read!

Nonfiction – For Brainpower

More recommendations from Mary Beth Barber:

“Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown,” by Edmund L. Andrews. There has been a spattering of recent nonfiction books on the mortgage meltdown, but none so personal as this easy-to-read volume. Edmund is someone who “should have known better” (his words) as the allure of home ownership with overextended loans captured millions of Americans. He covered the industry as a seasoned 50-something financial reporter for the New York Times. But he had a reason to take the absurd risk: he was in love. “Busted” is both a must-read for anyone who is curious about how our current economic woes happened in the first place, as well as for those personally affected by the foreclosure or over-extended mortgages and debt. Andrews is a smart reporter who can honestly say “I feel your pain,” because he lived it. This book will resonate with thousands in the Sacramento region, and perhaps make them feel a little bit better that they’re not alone.

“The Debt Threat: How Debt Is Destroying the Developing World…and Threatening Us All,” by Noreena Hertz. Most people have heard about Bono’s RED campaign to help Africa and its AIDS crisis. Fewer may know about the musicians’ visits to lawmakers in Washington to ask for a change in international debt attitudes towards third-world countries. Noreena takes us into some of those conversations, and much more. “The Debt Threat” is a fascinating and clear explanation of some very difficult topics and concepts such as the International Monetary Fund, the Word Bank, and the history of international lending and its affect on the third world today. Noreena is definitely left-of-center in her politics, but is equally experienced in the financial and economic world. A British national and graduate of Wharton Business School (the esteemed biz school at the University of Pennsylvania) had her first international finance job assisting the former Soviet Union move towards an open-market economy. Since then she’s devoted her life and academic career to studying the effect of the IMF, World Bank and international banking system on the third world. “The Debt Threat” is for anyone interested in the complex world of international finance, whether you’d agree with Noreena’s politics or not. I found myself finally understanding the international debt enigma, as well as relating to Noreena on a personal level. As a smart, personal, ambitious young woman (early 40s) in an older men’s world, she bears a resemblance to many of us GOTG authors.

Amy Thoma’s top pick:

I just read and would highly recommend “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller. In it the author imagines what it would be like if you could go back and edit your life and how that would change the choices you make. He asks what makes a great story and pushes himself to apply risk, conflict and resolution to his choices. Donald Miller is an absolutely hilarious author and this book pushed me to make some difficult and ultimately extremely rewarding decisions in my own life. A great quote from the book that I actually printed and put on my fridge:

“It¹s true that while ambition creates fear, it also creates the story. But it¹s a good trade, because as soon as you point toward a horizon, life no longer feels meaningless. And suddenly there is risk in your story and a question about whether you¹ll make it. You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I¹d be lying if I said it was all fun. I definitely lost a few hours of sleep imagining myself collapsing on the Inca Trail, but it beat eating ice cream and watching television. I was doing something in real life. I¹d stood up and pointed toward a horizon, and now I had to move, whether I wanted to or not.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: So now that we’ve talked about what we’re reading – either for fun, inspiration or intellect – what are you reading this summer and what would you recommend to fellow readers? Leave a comment or drop us a line at girlsonthegrid AT gmail DOT com.

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1 Comment

  1. Lesley Miller says

    Thanks Lisa and Amy! The Help and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years are both on my reading list. Your reviews only reminded me again how much I want to read them both.

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