I’m of the privileged few able to take a week holiday in the Muskokas each summer. This holiday is shared with my family (though my partner has fewer weeks of vacation and was working) and so involves a combination of swimming, hearts tournaments, making ‘suggestions’ about how to eat/sleep/parent/live and reading-in-proximity. It was newly wonderful this year as my nephews are old enough now to turn the pages of their board books, and to make gleeful noises at the appropriate places in The Paperbag Princess. In my family, reading is both a solitary activity and a shared practice. Count me privileged in two ways then: spoiled in the ways of cottage; spoiled in the ways of books.
I probably read more than the rest of my family this past week because I’m a grumpy introvert and I insist both on shared reading time and hours (and hours) of time alone on the dock with a book. But even with this additional solo-time, I read less this year than in the past. I attribute this ‘lost’ time to the bountiful addition of time shared with E. and M. as we screamed up and down hallways, paddled in the shallows and practiced over and over and over saying “Auntie E” (it didn’t work).
So what did I read? And what would I recommend taking on your own cottage vacation (should you be lucky enough to get one)?
The Pope and Mussolini – David Kertzer
My mum has been going on about how good this book is for ages. It’s the non-fiction account of the rise of fascism in Italy and the relationship between the Pope and Mussolini that made this rise possible. I don’t read much non-fiction (as you know) and would never have picked this one up without mum’s insistence. And I didn’t finish it because a) I didn’t care about the story b) that’s the only reason. There were certainly narrative elements that helped this reluctant non-fiction reader to stay interested – neat character descriptions and conflict – but on the whole I just… didn’t care.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
Despite being more short story collection than novel, I really enjoyed this one. Each chapter follows a different child of Hattie, with Hattie making her own appearances at different points. The first chapter that narrates Hattie’s experience parenting two sick twins is incredibly moving. And sets the stage for a series of provocative, emotional and taught explorations of growing up, class, race, sexuality… it’s got a lot going on. And where you might expect this range of thematic interest to lead to less depth, it doesn’t (I talked about the same with The Bone Clocks – this book isn’t nearly as good at That Great Book, but it is good).
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
This one reminded me a lot (a lot) of A Man Called Ove. The same sort of whimsical tone, the same exploration of what makes meaning in life, the same absurdist plot premise (in this case our protagonist is walking the length of England to ‘save’ his once friend from cancer), the same easy enjoyment and sense of contentment on conclusion. It’s a book that wants you to feel good about yourself, about life, about connections to others, about the possibility for late-life change, for reconciliation. It’s a feel gooder if I’ve ever read one.
The True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
I think I remember this being one of M.’s favourite books and I always meant to read it for that reason. Why did I wait so long? What a delight. A romp through history. The historical fiction ‘true history’ of Ned Kelly presented as autobiography (so cue my favourite things: historical fiction & metafiction). It’s an at time playful, at times painful look at the relationship between state and criminal and our efforts to memorialize ourselves (and to make our lives meaningful). Gosh, and the writing is so good.
That’s it for my summer reads. I’m now gearing up for fall teaching and book clubs. If you have more recommendations or requests, you’d best get them in soon. Oh. That’s not true. I’m waiting for my advanced review copy of the new Jonathan Franzen to arrive. (I can’t wait) (even though I’m waiting). (I’m so excited) (even though I’m usually a Franzen complainer). (end post). (now).