Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Summer Reading

Every year, I come up with a summer reading list for myself. I’ve been out of school forever, so I am not sure why I continue with the illusion that I somehow have more time in summer than at any other time of year, but I do. The New York Times hasn’t done a summer reading list yet, and I usually pick one or two off that, but here are the books on my agenda so far:
My Life in France, by Julia Child. For Julia Child to go to France, a country where she knew no one (other than her husband) and didn’t even speak the language, and to find a new career—or a new passion, I guess…it’s inspiring. I expect it to be highly entertaining and a fairly easy read.
From Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik. I’ve heard so many good things about this book, and I missed the series in The New Yorker, so I picked it up at the bookstore yesterday. I think I have France on the brain this summer, because I just finished A Moveable Feast. I expect that this book will be a less romanticized, but still very entertaining, view of Paris.
The Rabbit Angstrom Novels (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest), by John Updike. I read half of Rabbit, Run about seven years ago. I’m pretty sure the bookmark is where I left it. But I was reading the discussion in the NYT about the best books of the last 25 years, and Michael Cunningham (The Hours) said these books were a great influence for him, so I decided to give them a shot. The only other Updike I’ve read are his short stories in The New Yorker.
French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano. Hm…another book about France and food! I just think this would be fun to read. If I remember correctly, Rabbit, Run is a rather grim book, so I’ll need something to lighten the mood.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. A friend told me she was going to buy this for me for my birthday, which is smack in the middle of summer, and I’m looking forward to reading it. I can cross it off my “to buy” list. This novel tells the story of a man looking for his wife, who has disappeared, and the people he encounters as he tries to find her.

If you’re looking for books for your own summer reading list, I’d recommend these:
Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld. If you missed this book last year, you really should pick it up and read it. I’m not much for chick lit, but I don’t think this book really falls into that category. I’m not sure what drove me to buy it (in hardcover, no less), except that I was probably trying to break out of whatever reading rut I was in. I bought this along with Meghan Daum’s The Quality of Life Report (which I hated, by the way). Lee Fiora is such a well-drawn character. You may not like her (the author said she was shocked to learn how many readers hated Lee), but she’s so believable, and the world she wants to inhabit is vivid. (I don’t think Sittenfeld’s second novel is faring well with the critics…why do writers feel the need to turn books around so quickly? It’s a shame…how are they really supposed to develop? Not everyone can be Joyce Carol Oates.)
Strapless: Madame X and the Scandal that Shocked Belle Epoque Paris, by Deborah Davis. This book takes an in-depth look at Parisian culture during the belle époque through the scandal surrounding Madame X, discussing how these two lives intersected and were changed forever by a simple painting. A quick, absorbing read.
All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, by Larry McMurtry. Really, any book by Larry McMurtry makes a great summer read, but this is one of my favorites. The main character, Danny Deck, is a writer whose book has just been published, and he’s at loose ends. This book is a little bit coming-of-age, a little bit road trip, a little of everything. Danny is also featured in Terms of Endearment and Some Can Whistle.
The Pleasure of My Company, by Steve Martin. If you don’t love Steve Martin, you can leave now. Go on…just go. This novel is funny and quirky, as well as completely heart-wrenching. It tells the story of an agoraphobic who’s looking for love. It’s a small, sweet book.
You Remind Me of Me, by Dan Chaon. This book is more serious than the others I’ve listed, but so engaging. It’s about fate, and about the possibility of becoming something more than who we think we are, and it’s amazingly well-written.