My summer books list is a long one — 13 titles, not counting the four I read aloud to my kiddos. From intense literary fiction, to lighter, beachy reads, to cultural essays and parenting advice, there was a little bit of everything.
Gordon Korman Nostalgia — My six-year old has fallen in love with Gordon Korman, and most especially the Bruno and Boots books. So, over the summer we read aloud Beware the Fish, The Wizzle War, Lights, Camera, Disaster (originally titled McDonald Hall Goes Hollywood), and I Want to Go Home. These were some of my absolute favourite books as a child — I probably read Beware the Fish more than 20 times — so it was incredibly fun to re-read them to such an enthusiastic reception. We actually read new editions from about 15 years ago, with minor updates to make them more contemporary. (For instance, the original plot of Wizzle War involved Mr. Wizzle installing the first ever computers at McDonald Hall. In the updated version, Wizzle shows up with a new software program — presumably because it would be unfathomable to the modern reader that a school operates without a computer.) Minor updates aside, I’m pleased to report they hold up well, and at least my kiddo finds the books just as wildly hilarious as I did 3+ decades ago.
The Vanishing Half — This was a great read — very compelling characters who grow and develop over four decades. The premise is a pair of light-skinned, mixed-race twins in mid-century America, where one decides to cut herself off from her past by passing for white in a highly segregated society, while the other more fully embraces her roots, returning to her small town. Four stars, strong recommend!
The Opposite of Spoiled — This how-to book by Ron Lieber provides advice on “raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money.” It also provides a bunch of stories about families whose personal finances are wild outliers. For some of the more basic elements, I found some good practical tips that I will deploy; I didn’t take so much away from the stories.
Next Year, For Sure — This is a novel about a couple and how their relationship evolves to become an open relationship. It was an easy, enjoyable read that flips between the perspectives of the two members of the couple. Four stars!
The Gown — The subtitle of this book is “A novel of the royal wedding,” meaning QEII to Prince Phillip. I found that to be misleading in the best possible way. It’s much more a story about post-war England and the friendship of two women. From my perspective, the royal wedding was the least interesting thing about it. Great read, four stars.
Too Slutty, Too Fat, Too Loud — I generally enjoy Anne Helen Petersen’s work, especially her writing about The Future of Work. This collection of essays — each essay about a woman and how she is “too much” of something — didn’t grab me especially. The book was published over five years ago, and I wonder if it’s the kind of cultural commentary that doesn’t resonate as strongly as the years go by. Just for instance, the very first essay is about Serena Williams, and any essay written about her in 2016 won’t feel as relevant in the summer of 2022.
The Power — In this dystopian sci-fi novel, teenaged girls suddenly gain tremendous physical power, such that they can physically destroy anyone in their path. For me, it was a book that didn’t quite live up to the promise of its premise. It was a solid 3-star book for me, but not a compelling page-turner. I feel like I’ve had a similar complaint about most dystopian sci-fi I’ve read recently, so perhaps it’s time to accept that I don’t enjoy this genre as much as I think I do.
The Princess Diarist — This book is a mixture of Carrie Fisher’s diaries from when she was shooting the first Star Wars movie, with a lot of her commentary from 40 years later. The diaries from the 70s were about what you’d expect from a teenager’s diary (which is to say, not very compelling reading) and the later-in-life reflections lacked much in the way of introspection. Not a book I particularly enjoyed.
The Madness of Crowds — I went to the Eastern Townships on vacation, and while I was there I read Louise Penny’s latest instalment of the Inspector Gamache series. I always think it’s nice to read a book set in a place while you are actually in that place. Otherwise, it was an Inspector Gamache novel in all its predictability and foolishness and cozy-mysteryness.
The Sparsholt Affair — Alan Holinghurst’s most recent novel starts in 1940 Oxford and carries on to the present day. It is the kind of book I save for summer vacations, because I think it rewards uninterrupted hours in the hammock. If I had read it 20-minutes-a-time before bed, I think I would have found it hard to appreciate. But with the opportunity to read it in long stretches, I enjoyed in quite a lot.
The Last Samurai — I’m surprised I enjoyed this book, but I think that I did. It is an odd novel, interspersed with random, impenetrable facts, sometimes not even in English. It is overlong. The main characters are a bit off-putting. It spends a lot of time with a movie I saw once 15+ years ago and don’t know very well. But there’s a certain madcap element to it and it never felt like a chore. But I would only recommend it to you if you are specifically looking for something strange and erudite.
The Guest List — This is a light, breezy read. It is ostensibly reminiscent of Agatha Christie, but Dame Christie never wrote characters who were simultaneously so objectionable and uninteresting, and settings and relationships that were so artificial. Not to my taste.
Siracusa — The characters in Siracusa were also unlikeable, but I guess unlikeable in a way that appeals to me. The writing grabbed me from page one, and I relished it from beginning to end. Four stars.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. — I felt like I was a bit indifferent on the most recent Samantha Irby I read, at least as a collection of essays at book length. But revealed preference seems so suggest otherwise as I’ve now read two collections in as many months. I think I liked this one more. It was funny and poignant and seemed to have a bit more of a progression than Wow, No Thank You.