Social Distance Summer Reading List

Your reading List Is Here!

Summer is here and social distancing is still encouraged, which means it is time for our sweet summer reading list (with a social distance twist) to make a comeback. 

I am a lover of literature. In fact, when I read, it can appear as if I am full on attacking the book. Brenton has described the way I read books as “gobbling” and my entire family knows not to mess with me while I’m reading. 

Summer Reading List Fun

As a kid, one of my favorite things about summer was the unlimited and uninterrupted time to read. I would check out books from the library weekly (like Matilda), read everything in the house if I ran out of library books, and for the majority of my formative years I got to go to Harry Potter midnight book releases at my local mall bookstore (which was by far my favorite event of the summer). 

I’ll stop now before this becomes a love letter to books but needless to say I think books are the most magical inanimate objects that we get to spend our time with. Being literate is a damn privilege. 

Reading Resolutions

I know a lot of you may not share my romance towards paper friends but I also know that one of the most common New Year resolutions people make is to READ MORE. 

So, since we have all this time at home, nowhere to go, and access to the world wide web I’m going to share with you my top fiction literary friends for big kids (or adults depending on how you see yourself). 

One last thing for those of you who “don’t like to read” or may not have time. Have you given audiobooks a try? I’ve got an affiliate link with audible located below. Give it a try before you write off the magic of books completely!

*Links in this post are affiliate links.

The Fiction Reading List

Harry Potter

I can’t create a book list without including my tried and true literary best friend. If I could reread one book series for the first time and relive the magic of uncovering all the details this would be it. I don’t care how old you are, if your mother told you this series is evil, or if you hate fantasy – this is a well written, fully developed, deeply rooted in our current environment series. If you have skipped out on reading the series because you “watched the movies,” YOU MISSED OUT – read them. I beg of you. 

I spent an entire summer as a pre-teen trying to figure out what would happen in the 7th book of this series and you, you lucky little unicorn, you get to read them all back to back. Enjoy! The series starts light (books 1-3), delves into the darker subjects (books 4 and 5), then takes a deep dive into the tragedies of living in a society that would rather accept the status quo than accept that evil lives among them (books 6 and 7). I revisit this series every time I need a boost in my faith in humanity. Hogwarts is my literary home away from home. The importance of choosing to live a life of love when the world feels bleak is the golden thread of this series. Dig in! 

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

Little Fires Everywhere

A custody battle, family arguments and a mystery on who started the fire. This is a modern classic packed with detail and care. A statement about the ignorance behind the idea of a post-racial world is poignant. The story takes place in the 90’s and reminds us of how far we’ve come – and how far we still have to go.

The Female Persuasion: A Novel 

Another tried and true classic of mine. I posted a blog post about this book when I read it a couple years back and I still think about the plot. Wolitzer is able to create REAL characters in all of her works and this novel is no exception. This book delves into the generational differences of the women’s rights movement and the fight that we are still embodying today. 

The characters are robust, the plot is both political and personal and this is a work of art with great importance.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

I read this masterpiece in high school and I still think about it often. The writing is lyrical, the story is so profoundly independent and the pace is steady throughout the novel. This is a peak into a life that, as a white woman in the 21st century, I could not have imagined. Books like this are why it is so crucial to read literature from BIPOC authors.

Anna Karenina

If modern literature isn’t your thing here is a Russian classic. Honestly, this is the best novel I have ever read. There’s a city mouse, country mouse like drama, failed romances and the tragedy of passionless relationships. The human experience in all forms.

Conclusion

I’ve started with some chunky reads so I’m going to leave you here for now. Leave a comment or send me a message if you would like to see more or have a non-fiction summer reading list added. 

Happy Reading!!

South and West by Joan Didion

I love Joan Didion’s writing style.

I’m going to preface this by saying non-fiction is not usually my jam unless it is a memoir written by a hilarious women (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Anna Kendrick, etc..). Reality is pretty bleak most of the time so I prefer to escape into a book that stretches my imagination and pushes me out of the normal day to day. But, I made an exception because Joan Didion is a literary goddess.

If you have not had the pleasure of reading one of Didion’s novels I’ll give you the cliff notes intro to Joan. She writes in a direct yet lyrical manner. She can make the mundane sound beautiful without removing the fact that it is still mundane. I’ll give you a little excerpt from the West section of the book:

“I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look “right” to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places.”

How gorgeous is that prose? It gives me chills and makes me feel at home at the same time.

Now that we are all caught up let’s dig into the book. South and West is a collection of journal entries from when Joan traveled to the Gulf Coast in 1970 and to San Francisco in 1976. The portion on the South is well over ⅔ of the book and it is mesmerizing. As a rebel by nature she commentates from the perspective of a baffled but genuinely curious Californian. Her commentary on the Gulf is heart wrenching, upsetting and wildly uncomfortable for me to read because there’s a level of acceptance at cultural stagnation.

What I loved about the South section was that she was able to observe the culture and people of this new geographic location while being true to herself. She does not give into the patriarchal society that constantly asks about her husband. Her husband is rarely mentioned in these notes; she aims her focus at the places they travel and conversations she overhears. At the end of South she has painted the picture that the Gulf is a tragic marshland, filled with creatures that would terrify tourists if they weren’t on display and with people who hold tightly to their status quo even if it is to their detriment.

The portion on the West is much shorter. It’s like a love letter to the state Didion called home for her formative years. Didion’s notes are speckled with self-awareness. She includes details on what her normal was as a child which juxtaposes the idyllic childhood of the South through access to cultures alone. California is painted as a place deep with history but without the same reverence behind it. Cultural trends come and go without much consideration for who they leave behind.

I absolutely loved reading through these notes for two pieces she never wrote. Her succinct tone in combination with her ability to identify the toxic symptoms of two cultures without coming off as callous is pure magic. The sections unintentionally explain America as a whole. The South is tied so deeply to their roots they are willing to sink in to the marsh with them and the West is untethered, willing to float off with the next exciting idea. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories from the view of an observer with heavy social commentary.

Have you ready any Didion? If so, what do you think of her style?

Harry Potter is Chicken Soup for my Grown Up Soul

We all talk about comfort foods but how often do we think about our other comforts – like comfort books.

For example, I love my stepfathers homemade mac n cheese even though my body cannot digest that much dairy and I immediately feel safe and powerful while holding a cup of coffee. B’s ideal comfort meal is a grilled cheese or two with just enough tomato soup for dipping.

But the older I get, the more I realize that I books make me feel just as secure as a good meal. I have books that I turn to when things just don’t feel right and I have books for when I just want to feel good. It is with a 9/10 time guarantee that on any day, that book can be one of the seven Harry Potters.

Harry Potter has been the one constant in my life. As a child I read, reread, and then rereread the books that were out and hung out on mugglenet.com to talk to other fanatics who also could not wait for the next book. My sweet angel lady of a mother drove me to the bookstore every book drop at midnight so I could take my new possession home and devour it through the night and in to the next morning. I drank in every word of J.K. Rowling’s craft.

I marveled at her ability to make the tiniest details significant later down the line. She created a world that I wanted to be real more than anything else. Harry’s world was complex; there was a lot of good, a significant amount of evil and it drilled in the importance of seeing the full picture before making a judgement on someone’s character. It introduced me to stories that were scary but still felt safe. Rowling always found a way to balance the overarching presence of evil with the joys that occur day to day. I was reminded by Dumbledore, Lupin, Ron and many others that to find joy I just had to look for love in the world. I was reminded by Hermione that being smart didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to also be brave, by Luna that being as weird as I wanted was the key to success and by Ginny that the happiest relationships are the ones you can be yourself in.

I have revisited these books more times than I can count and every time I do, I feel like I am at home. I feel safe. After finishing a Harry Potter, or the whole series for the millionth time, I am reminded that I can change the world – just like three kids at Hogwarts who were constantly at odds with evil.

So after a long day, or a bad day, or just a busy period of time; that is where you will find me. Wrapped up in blankets, laying out in the sunshine or riding in the car with my nose in a Harry Potter book, channelling my inner Hermione as I escape to a world that inspires me to find love and joy in my day to day. After all as Dumbledore said, “words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic”.

What’s you literary chicken soup? Add it to the list below:

But Really Though Reads – Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been in a  ~ sp0oKy~ fantasy reading mood lately and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are hitting the spot.

None of the Discworld books are even remotely close to horror but they scratch the itch of light and dark magic emotions that come up during autumn (aka spook season). I picked Wyrd Sisters as my introduction to Discworld on a whim. I’m under the impression that the characters overlap but it is not necessary to read the history of the planet that travels on the back of the sky turtle in order.

Wyrd Sisters is the story of three witches and how willing they are to break their own rules of magic to help their kingdom. The three witches are only a coven by definition; they have more differences in agreement than their alignment to each other. Our three leading ladies are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. Granny is the eldest witch and the least willing to participate in anything showy or fluffy. Nanny is promiscuous and life of the party. Magrat is the youngest and an idealist about the state of her coven.

The three women venture through time and space, which is much out of Granny’s comfort zone, to assist the Kingdom (personified not as individuals) in removing an awful king from power. The story is witty, hilarious and alludes to the showy witches of fairytales (Cinderella’s fairy godmother makes a cameo).

I highly recommend Wyrd Sisters to anyone who loves a magical world with a sarcastic twist. I will definitely be visiting Discworld again.  

But Really Though Reads – The Female Persuasion

I finished another book and I can’t stop thinking about it. I gobbled through Meg Wolitzer’s newest book The Female Persuasion over the last two weeks and it has left me in the strangest emotional place.

If you have not read anything by Wolitzer please do yourself a favor and pick up one of her novels now. Her stories are what I imagine we would have gotten if Sylvia Plath had access to Prozac (and her YA novel Belzhar is proof). Wolitzer creates her characters from all angles meaning that the reader gets to see them through multiple perspectives (themselves and others) in the book. Just like in reality, the character has no idea and no control over what others think of them. The feelings are raw and the strings don’t tie up neatly, but her writing encompasses the human emotional scale.

With this prior experience in Wolitzer’s worlds I picked up The Female Persuasion thinking I was prepared for the uncomfortable moments and the characters that make me squirm. I was not ready for the journey we take through Greer Kadesky and Faith Frank’s lives. Greer meets Frank when Frank speaks at Greer’s college. Wolitzer carries us lovingly through the beginning of the professional relationship between the second and third wave feminist duo. The novel touches on intersectionality, the recognition of privilege and the importance of a feminist boyfriend. Wolitzer also highlights where the animosity between second and third wave feminism stems from through anecdotes from Faith and Greer’s lives.

I’m going to stop here before I ruin the novel for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Wolitzer’s novel is filled with triumph, heartbreak, deceit, confusion, tragedy and ends on the importance of everyone using their power for good until they cannot anymore.

Have you read The Female Persuasion yet? If so, what did you think of it?

But Really Though Reads – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Maybe I’m spoiled from reading Harry Potter as a kid but it takes a special writer to get me to buy in to a fictional world. I love the world of fantasy but a magical universe has to be not only well thought out, but descriptive and vivid as well. Neil Gaiman is a master of fantasy. He is able to describe locations with enough detail to set the stage but with enough blanks to let the reader’s imagination run wild.

Neil Gaiman created a fantastical world right on the edge of reality. Well, actually he put it in the world beneath us. Neverwhere is a story about people who fall through the cracks. The novel takes place in the London Underground (literally). The characters in this story live in the subways and sewers as either invisible creatures or the people none of us want to make eye contact with on the street. The description of London underground is so realistic it has me looking in doorways and down drain pipes for a gateway to the world of forgotten people.

Our heroine is not a femme fatale – she unlocks the mysteries to the magic. The point that she is the key to everything is made painfully obvious by two things: 1. Her magical ability to unlock doors and puzzles, 2. Her name is Door.

Not only did the heroine entice me – Gaiman’s ability to make London seem magical yet identical to any major city is magical. I’ll give you a little taste of his magic.

“It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces; a city of hundreds of districts with strange names…and oddly distinct identities; a noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them, in which the average speed of transportation through the city had not increased in three hundred years” 

Neverwhere has opened my eyes to the underground in my own city, the people who have slipped through the cracks. It can be a heartbreaking concept to think about (homelessness, poverty, etc) but it reminded me to keep looking for the deeper meaning in each person and interaction.

Reading about the fantastical lives of the people living in the subway told me to look for magic every doorway and reminded me that I have the key.

Please please please read this book and talk to me about it. I’m obsessed with Gaiman’s magic and the characters of London Underground.