Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On my bedside table

Summer has definitely come to our corner of the continent, and I'm thinking of all the books I have sitting beside my bed to read.  Summer's always been a reading season in our family (ok, let's be honest, every season is!).  Almost as soon as school was out, we hit the city library to see what the summer's reading contest would be.  You know the kind of contests I mean, don't you?  After reading a set number of books, each child put her name on a colored-paper car, pinning it up on a bulletin board with a highway drawn across it.  My sisters, brother and I read our little hearts out.  Of course, the Dump always dashed ahead in the contest, partly because she's organized enough that she kept careful track of the books she read, but mostly because she happens to be the most brilliant person I've ever known.  (One of the most amazing gifts God ever gave me was that I was never jealous of this younger sister who did math in her sleep, got perfect grades and had almost perfect recall.  In a different life, I can imagine feeling quite intimidated by this younger sibling, who impressed teachers enough that they stopped me in the hallway to ask if I could possibly be from the same family.  I was always incredibly proud to say she was my younger sister, even though I knew those teachers were shaking their heads over my more average brain in comparison.  An extraordinary gift, to simply be glad she was a genius.)  But I always read through a heaping pile of books myself.  Shoot, you probably wouldn't believe me if I told you how many books I read each week.  So I won't.  Nevertheless, in honor of my favorite activity in my favorite season, I thought I'd just mention a few books sitting on my bedside table.

1. The Rasputin File. Edvard Radzinsky. This is a book J gave me to read, the account of the peasant prophet who had such a strong influence in Russia during the reign of the last tsars, Nicholas and Alexandra.  Intrigue, political manuvering, miracles, lechery, drunkenness and piety all in this one strange man who was at the center of the downfall of the Romanovs and rise of the revolution.  I knew nothing about this story before J gave me the book, and it inspired me to research and read several other books about the Romanovs. 
2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  A much, much better book than I expected from the title.  Written in what is usually my least favorite form: letters--it is the story of the small island between England and France during the German occupation of WWII.  My neighbor lent it to me and I opened it as my plane lifted off from Bellingham Int. Airport and basically didn't put it down until the passengers began disembarking in Los Angeles.  A great--perfect--summer read.
3. Same Kind of Difference As Me. Ron Hall and Denver Moore. The true story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy international art dealer and an almost-slave in Lousiana, and the woman who tied them together.  Written by the men, in alternating chapters, it's quite gripping, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
4. Skeletons at the Feast. Chris Bohjalian. I loved this book.  I loved Bohjalian's Midwives, and this--an entirely different novel, about a young woman from a loyal German family and the family's Scottish worker who is actually a prisoner of war during WWII ( I promise I don't normally read war books). Along with her mother and younger brother, they walk west toward liberation, even though the mother is fiercely loyal to Hitler and both believes in him and disbelieves (for a long time, anyway), the reports of the extermination camps in the east. I've never read a book written from this perspective and it's very enlightening.  Of course the average German family would be patriotic, and likely ignorant of the atrocities going on. 
5. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. Brady Udall.  I haven't begun this year, but this is the starting sentence, uttered by the narrator, Edgar Mint: "If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.  As formative events go, nothing else comes close; my careening, zigzag existence, my wounded brain and faith in GOd, my collisions with joy and affliction, all of it has come, in one way or another, out of that moment..."  Isn't this a evocative opening sentence?  I can hardly wait to see where it goes.

So there you have it.  I'm thinking that as the summer progresses, I'll add to this list, even fill you in on the book-busts, so to speak, the ones I open and can't bring myself to finish.  There are always a few.  I'm not at all afraid to put down a book that makes me yawn, even if critics love it.  So I'll read a few, count my hours and pin my little car to the bulletin board...Say, if you have any great reads, let me know!

1 comment:

Samnhoj said...

WOOHOO! I actually read one before you! (Same Kind of Different....)