One of my intentions of late has been to read more, and to take time to absorb and process the things I read. Have you ever gotten to the end of the year, knowing you read several books but unable to conjure the details of each one? Heck, I’ve gotten to the end of the year and couldn’t remember which books I even read. Especially when you read a lot on an e-reader, it can be harder to remember the titles of books because you don’t see the cover each time you pick it up. At least on my older model Kindle you don’t. During this strange summer of a global pandemic and ongoing social unrest in the U.S. I found myself reaching for novels to escape in and stories about brave, determined women who overcame incredibly challenging situations.
A memoir by one of my favorite podcast hosts (check out @unspokenpodcast), telling the story of how she experienced a life-altering accident and the years long aftermath. It is also a beautiful love story about her daddy, her faith, her first love and growing up in the South. As well as a critical look at the role of painkillers in the process of healing. The language evolves along with her experience of the world, and it really pulled me into her journey.
I could not put down this new novel from Brit Bennett. A story of two identical twin sisters, both light-skinned Black and growing up in small Louisiana town – spans 50 years of how their paths diverged and their own children made their way in the world. The format is brilliant and I was instantly invested in these characters. Bennett explores themes of racial segregation, domestic violence and identity while revealing the complicated inner lives that everyone leads.
There’s a good reason why this book always ends up on summer reading lists. Ever since it came out in 2017 I felt like the cover was calling me from every airport book nook I wasted time in before a flight and this summer I finally gave in and read it. It’s a gripping story about motherhood and class, set in the delightfully portrayed 1990s midwest suburbs. It seemed like fate that I ordered this book before I found out I was pregnant and then read it while sitting on the beach, contemplating what exactly I had gotten myself into. Flash forward to three weeks later when I was in the throes of first trimester fatigue and nausea, I found myself lying on the couch binge watching the stellar television adaption of Little Fires on Hulu. Highly recommend both the book and series!
In addition to Little Fires Everywhere, I snagged another gem from Reese Witherspoon’s book club. The perfect summer read, it takes place in 1930s colonial Malaysia and follows the mystery of an old Chinese superstition of a recently deceased man possessing a tiger that hunts humans at night. The Night Tiger is a really a coming-of-age story as the two main characters: a young woman named Ji Lin who is navigating the world outside her stepfather’s home and Ren, a smart young servant boy who carries tragedy and the hope of the next generation. This book was incredibly fun to read. The imagery and fast-paced scenes read like a colorful movie. I had the most incredible dreams while reading it.
Set in modern day India, this short novel follows the paths of three different characters around the same set of events: a fire at a train station that is later blamed on Muslim terrorists. Although it was fiction, I learned a lot about aspects of Indian culture and politics that I knew little of before: the prejudice against Muslim communities, the sensationalized media and political landscape and the unique position that some transgender people hold in modern day India. But this was my least favorite read of the summer. It came across as abbreviated and brutal. The epic ending did not feel earned, and the characters remained opaque throughout. As a first novel, I felt like Majumdar had some great ideas but they never solidified into a unified story. But I would definitely keep a lookout for later novels of hers. She has a knack for capturing inner monologues in a way that intrigues.
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
I got this book for Kindle on a whim, because I had Amazon digital credits that were about to expire. Little did I know that I would be taken along on the adventure of a lifetime. The true story is about Virginia Hall, a Maryland-born woman who became on of the Allied force’s most important spies and source of espionage during World War II. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that Hall endured some of the most excruciating setbacks throughout her life and she continued to rise up and relentlessly pursue her goals. I was truly inspired by this woman. I really hope that someone in Hollywood gets a clue that this story would be a Marvel-comic-level blockbuster for a generation of young women. It takes a little patience weighing through some of the descriptions of Hall’s various associates along with background on the war, but the effort is well worth it.
What did you read this summer? Or better yet, what are you reading this fall? As the weather turns chilly and the daylight fades more quickly I find myself curling up with collections of essays and some of my favorite poetry collections. More to come!