Move over Oprah, there’s a new game in town.
We are STOKED that summer is upon us – it’s the one time of year where things at least feel like they’re slowing down at work…and some of us are lucky enough to actually turn off the iPhone/Crackberry/Android and get a little R&R.
Whether you’re stay-cationing or headed to Hawaii, here’s some of our favorite books to enjoy on the beach, plane … or hammock.
Mary Beth Barber – The Help and Wherever I Wind Up
I was hooked on “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett within the first two chapters, the book that was made into an Academy-award nominated movie. It’s set in Jackson, Mississippi, just as the civil rights movement started to take hold in the 1960s. But the marches and inter-race violence takes a backseat in this novel. Stockett instead focuses her story on the kitchen – and specifically on three characters in those kitchens: Aibileen, a quiet woman who loves the white children she raises but can’t stand to stay with a family once the children edge towards adulthood; Minny, the smart-mouthed master chef whose job prospects become slim because of her sharp tongue; and Skeeter, the white recent college grad who starts to see life through the eyes of the African-American maids and question her own background and friends.
Stockett – a white woman who explains in interviews that she was raised by women like Aibileen and Minny – certainly has great love and affection for her black characters and disdain for many of her own race from this era. For someone who grew up in a racially mixed California suburb, the world of “The Help” is definitely foreign territory for me. But I have to remember that Stockett isn’t that much older than I am and this world actually existed, and not so long ago. The author probably put herself into the book as one of the white children who grow up loving the women who raise them, and terribly confused by the hateful things they’re taught in school and by their parents.
There was one issue that bothered me with the book: Aibileen and Minny are both written in dialect, with words clipped and unique grammar and sentence construction. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” is the most famous example of this technique. But there are inconsistencies in “The Help” that almost made me stop reading in the first two pages. Aibileen is very literary, but this intense intellectual capacity isn’t demonstrated through Stockett’s writing. And only the black characters are written in dialect. The white characters seem to think and speak the Queen’s English, even though white Southerners have just as strong a dialect and different grammar use as black Southerners. I opted to set my irritation aside and continue reading, and I was quickly won over by her love of Aibileen, Minny and the other black women who must have been models for all that was good in her own childhood.
I put R.A. Dickey’s “Wherever I Wind Up” on my reading list after listening to an interview between R.A. and Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” a few months back. While I like baseball, I’m not a rabid fan, but R.A. won me over through the interview, and even more through this autobiography. He breaks wide open in telling his story – from a freak occurrence that kept him out of the majors as a young man for no good reason, to the years (decades!) in the minor league, to his broken childhood and the effect it has on him now, to what he had to do to become one of the most wanted pitchers in the majors at an age where most players retire.
Some background on the knuckleball pitch: most pitchers throw fastballs, sliders, traditional curve balls … but the knuckleball, with little to no spin, seems to move in impossible ways, and batters (and sometimes catchers and umpires) can’t read them. The number of knuckleball pitchers playing now can be counted on one hand, with R.A. as the current king of this pitch.
But he didn’t start out with the knuckleball. He was a star athlete in Tennessee as a young man and started as a traditional pitcher and wanted player. Because of a freak of genetics, he’s missing a ligament in his elbow, and the Texas Rangers refused to sign him. (Most experts now agree that the missing ligament wouldn’t have had any effect on R.A.’s pitching ability, but at the time the team wouldn’t take a chance.) R.A. didn’t give up baseball after the setback, but it meant years in the minor league trying to work his way up – a career that took a toll on his family’s finances and his own ego.
Time passed and R.A.’s chances of the majors diminished, and a coach had a suggestion: why not stop the fastballs and learn the knuckleball? Knuckleball pitchers aren’t hampered by age — the pitch is all about technique and not about strength, so they don’t wear their arm out. R.A., with is stubborn work ethic and love of baseball, turned himself into a different kind of pitcher, age be damned. For anyone who fears that their best years for career or growth have gone by, R.A. is an inspiration. The book made me want to make a t-shirt that says “I am a knuckleballer” to remind myself that it’s not too late to do something special with my life and career.
R.A. also opens a window into the male brain, and why some men who are good souls seem to do stupid things. He experienced some awful things in his childhood and for years buried his pain under bravado and smiles. He never blames anyone but himself for his mistakes that might have cost his marriage, but through his story the reader learns how damning child abuse and lack of therapy can be on the most able of adults. Men should read this book because it’s a darn good memoir and insight into a player of America’s pastime. Women should read it to gain insight into the male brain. And everyone should strive to be a knuckleballer in whatever game they play.
Laura Braden – The Flinch and Fall of Giants
The two books I’m working my way through this summer include Julien Smith’s “The Flinch” and Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants.”
The first explores a very simple concept – what is the proper role of fear in your life? Does it protect you? Or does it hold you back from realizing your full potential? Is it really that devastating to fail? Or get rejected? This is not a self help book – this is a radical behavioral theory that will leave you questioning everything…in the best way possible. Julien is the genius behind “In Over Your Head,” which is a must-read blog for motivation and inspiration (be sure to check out this and this post).
The second is historical fiction that follows the intersecting lives of multiple families across the globe circa WWI. It covers everything from suffragettes and union fights to the Russian Revolution and Industrial Revolution. There’s love, there’s betrayal, there’s politics and engineering – Follett is masterful at weaving together interesting characters and heavy detail on how these people lived. In other words? It’s Downton Abbey meets Game of Thrones. Don’t let the 850 pages scare you – it’s a quick read and simply amazing. Part one of a trilogy (it ends with a “political rogue that no one serious is taking seriously” named Adolph Hitler being arrested in 1924), the only bummer is that part two doesn’t come out until September 2012 (with the third book scheduled for 2014).
I can’t put either down but the first makes your head hurt from thinking so hard, while the other is pure entertainment so choose accordingly!
Kellie Edson – Anything by Emily Giffin
One of my favorite light chick lit authors is Emily Giffin. Her books are funny, fun and unlike many novels of the chick-lit variety contain real substance that allows you to really relate to her characters on a personal level.
I have read all five of her novels, “Something Borrowed”, “Something Blue”, “Heart of the Matter”, “Love the One You’re With” and just finished “Baby Proof”.
Her newest novel “Where We Belong” is slated to come out July 24th and I absolutely cannot wait to pick up a copy. With Emily, I always know that I will be getting a high quality story with characters I love and relate to. I am always sad to close the book at the end because I feel like I know these women and hate to let them go.
Chelsea Irvine – Bossypants, Room, Secret Life of Bees and Then They Came For Me
Along with the freedom and long days of summer come one of the biggest perks of the season: ROAD TRIPS!
A big fan of the road trip, I have long been a believer in books on tape to ease the last 2 hours of that 8 hour stretch of driving down The Five from Sac to SD that can sometimes feel like it takes a lifetime. To this, I have a couple of recommendations of books that I’ve listened to (via Audible on my iPhone, as well as borrowed – free! – from the library or friends):
“Bossypants” by Tina Fey – My BFF, bro and I just listened to this on the way home from Grandma’s bday in Los Angeles this weekend and what a hoot! From her early years as a bushy-eye-browed-nerd working for a theater company to her meteoric rise to comedy stardom playing the part of Sarah Palin, Tina Fey brings incredible humor and honesty to her stories. I can’t tell you how many times we laughed out loud. She is truly a comedic genius. Be aware that there may be a few f-bombs and other “cover your ears, youngsters in the car” moments, but only when it truly adds punch to the story. (As a side note: this audiobook is the PERFECT length for the trip from LA to Sac.)
“Room” by Emma Donoghue – A truly chilling story of a five-year-old boy who has spent his entire life being held captive in a room with is mother, this book invites you into his world, which has never seen the light of day. This room is all he’s ever known, and his mother has done an incredible job trying to hide the absolute horror of their situation. The story is told through Jack’s eyes, and it is amazing to see reality from his perspective. Chilling, yes. But this story is really about the bond between a mother and child, and how the strength of that bond can enable a family to survive nearly anything.
“The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd – Set in the era of Civil Rights struggles, this book tells the story of fourteen-year-old Lily, who flees her abusive father with her sweet nanny Rosalee, who is forced to skip town after being abused by police while trying to vote. In an effort to find out more about her mother, she follows the one clue that she has: a picture of a black Virgin Mary with the words ‘Tiburon, S.C.’ on the back. She finds that the city is the home of Black Madonna Honey, run by three middle-aged African American women, whom take in the two fugitives. Written beautifully, this story takes you into the world of race struggles, the struggle to find your roots and the struggle to grow from teenager to woman.
“Then they Came for Me” by Maziar Bahari – After seeing an interview with Maziar Bahari on The Daily Show, I immediately downloaded the book on Audible. I’ve always been really interested in the history of the Middle East and the continuing struggles for human rights in the region, and this book really brought it home. In June of 2009, Bahari left his pregnant fiancé in London to cover Iran’s presidential election for a few days. Never did he think he’d be spending the next three months in an Iranian prison facing brutal interrogations. During his time in prison, Bahari channels strength from memories of his father and sister, both of whom were also previously imprisoned in Iran. This first-hand account of his ordeal is brutal in its reality, but a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard. Although many parts were difficult to hear, I am so glad to have listened to his thoughts about this difficult time and what he thinks the country and the region must do to be able to move forward.
Lisa Page – What Alice Forgot and Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
These two books have let me go from beach read to deep read (respectively) so far this summer.
Liane Moriarty’s “What Alice Forgot” is hands down a great choice for any summer vacation getaway. It’s an easy, quick read but also makes you think seriously about what would happen if you were visited by your younger self. The main character, Alice Love, wakes up after a fall at the gym to discover that she can’t remember the last 10 years of her life. She thinks she’s a twenty-nine year old, married to the love of her life and pregnant with their first child, but she’s actually thirty-nine with three children and going through an ugly divorce. While the story may sound like a stretch, her journey back from her old self to her new self is such an interesting and compelling journey that you forget about such a minor detail…like whether a concussion would cause such memory loss. For Alice, forgetting was the best thing to ever happen to her. It really made me think about what it would be like to forget a decade of your life. I wouldn’t have been married (yet) or had a kid or even lived in Sacramento. Alice’s story will take you on a trip down your own memory lane.
“Catherine the Great” is a much longer and deeper read, but a truly captivating portrait of one of Russia’s most famous monarch leaders. I always forget to check the length of a novel on my Kindle and am frustrated when I’m still at only 25 percent of the way through after reading it for a few weeks (you Kindle readers know what I mean), so advance warning that this is 656 pages with a lot of names and facts like any good biography. I know this is going to take me a few weeks (at least) to get through. Catherine was truly a remarkable woman of her time as was evidenced by her accomplishments and lasting legacy. While it’s more biography than historical fiction like say “The Other Boleyn Girl” (one of my favorites), many of the details of Catherine’s life are just as scandalous, which makes “Catherine the Great” a juicy summer read. It just happens to be wrapped up in a history lesson.
Jamie Romas – Visit from the Goon Squad and The Island
Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini, but I like my books at two opposite ends of the literary spectrum. On the one hand, I enjoy thought-provoking, award-winning reads (think: Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex” or Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections”). But sometimes, critically acclaimed, uber-intellectual books make my head hurt – especially when I’m sitting in the sun and enjoying a frosty alcoholic beverage. So I like to alternate the heavy hitters with some easy beach reads: the “Twilight” series and anything by Emily Giffin come to mind. This summer, I’m working on two books at once, and naturally, one of them makes me look really smart by the pool, and the other one…well, at least it’s not US Weekly.
For those of you looking for a challenge: pick up Jennifer Egan’s “Visit From the Goon Squad.” Egan’s fifth novel explores a loosely interconnected group of people, skipping from the present to the past (and into the future), and using music to provide social commentary along the way. When the time-travel and smart cultural observations become too much to handle, I just set Goon Squad aside and open up Elin Hilderbrand’s “The Island.” Hilderbrand is known for her beach reads, which always take place on some place reminiscent of Nantucket (in fact, it’s set on Nantucket) and feature some hunky beach guy (this one is named Barrett and he’s a handyman). Sure, the plot is cheesy – the writing, too – but it’s the perfect antidote to a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Lyndsey Schnabel – Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me
If you are looking for a summer reading that you can read at your own pace, then Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me is the book for you. You either love or hate Chelsea Handler because of her brutal honesty, which I LOVE!!
This is a tell all about Chelsea from the views of her family, friends and coworkers. If you think she is crazy on her E! television show Chelsea Lately then wait till you hear what the people close to her think and the wild stuff she has done to them.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who want a good read and can’t get enough of Chelsea Handler, it’s entertaining.
Now you tell us – what are you reading this summer?
PS – Kellie found this, and we just had to pass it along – how true is this?!?!