Monday, May 24, 2010

Reading on the Fly

As I get ready to travel to Istanbul with my best friend Debbie and her two daughters, I am loading up my eBook. From my summer list, I've added Pamuk's My Name Is Red, Gaiman's American Gods, Anna Quindlen's One Last Thing, Francine Prose's Anne Frank, and Joanne Proulx's Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet.

My only concern is maintaining the reader's charge for ten days. Other than that,a I am thrilled by the idea of traveling with one slim volume instead of a sack full of books (especially in light of the airlines' money-grubbing move to charge for luggage). Thirteen years ago, I went with Debbie's family to China and brought at least eight books along for the trip. My inner clock was so upset by being on the exact opposite side of the world that I often work at one in the morning certain that it must be morning. I read.

Since I love to read about a place I visit, I am especially eager for other titles besides those by Pamuk that are set in and around Turkey. The area is so rich with history and culture, I could probably read a shelf full of books and just scratch the surface.

In anticipation of a visit to Ephesus while we are there, I am already re-reading Paul's letter to the Ephesians. I'd love other recommendations. While I'm away, I'll try to report back.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Just in time for my book club meeting (tonight) I finished Colum McCann's novel Let the Great World Spin. We are always either too indecisive or too eager to read ever to settle on one book. This book is paired with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. While two could not be any more different in tone or mood, I realize that both involve characters who area able to develop close, dear friendships across cultural barriers.

The central event of McCann's novel is the famous tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center by Phillipe Petit in August of 1974. The author has taken some liberties creating Petit's back story, but all the other characters--the main characters, actually, intersect in unusual ways around those days in New York City. He brings together two Irish brothers--one who has taken religious vows then fallen in love, a mother and daughter who are prostitutes, a couple living a 1920s reenactment until involved in a hit-and-run, and five mothers who have lost children in the Vietnam war, coming together to share their grief and to keep their sons alive through memory.

Because the story moves back and forth between the characters, sometimes told in first person, sometimes in third, and also back and forth in time, the reader has the experience of surprise and discovery as the pieces fit together. The story, though, never feels disjointed or intentionally confusing.

I had read somewhere that this book had been described as a 9/11 novel, so the only real surprise was that it wasn't--at least not directly. With the towers so central, New York so firmly set as the setting, the future of those towers loomed powerfully. McCann presents so many different eyewitness perspectives to the tightrope walk that I was reminded of all those other witnesses 26 years later, those who would always mark where they were when.

While Major Pettigrew wrapped up all the tidy ends, Let the Great World Spin did just the opposite: the author reminds us that is exactly what the world will do.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Summer Reading: Making My Own List

My friends who teach year 'round get tired of my rubbing it in--three months off to refresh and renew. With a bookstore gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket, I shopped around the local Barnes and Noble this week, taking time to peruse the table of school summer reading assignments. As usual, it's an eclectic mix of new books and classics. I remained baffled by parents who object to summer reading requirements, considering them an encroachment on personal family time. As I recall, reading was one of the best parts of time together. I would probably still welcome a list. As I've probably mentioned before, the summer before my first full-time teaching job, I was given a list of the books my students would be reading. They actually had choices--and I was teaching three grade levels--so I had about fifteen books to read just to be ready for the school year. With few exceptions, they were wonderful.

Now, though, I make my own list, changing it as I go along, at suggestions that crop up from other book-loving friends I encounter. This summer, I want to put together a list for myself and then in early August to weigh it against the list I actually complete.

Already this year (this week) I have finished Helen Simonson's first novel Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, a charming book set in England that deals with late-in-life love, class and generational struggles, just about everything. It's a perfect summer read--some serious issues but not wrapped in cryptic language--and some genuinely engaging characters.

I am midway through Colum McCann's novel Let the Great World Spin, a darker, more serious story pulling the threads of several lives together, centered around the day the man walked a tight rope between the two towers of the World Trade Center.

Other books I plan to read include these:
Neil Gaiman's American Gods--I was so taken by The Graveyard Book and Anansi Boys that I
wanted to try another.
Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red--because I plan to travel to Istanbul for ten days this summer,
and I always want to read something set in the area where I travel.
Barbara Kingsolver, Lacuna--So far, everyone who's read this one says it's a good read.
Fatemeh Keshavarz, Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran
Elizabeth Kosova, Swan Thieves--I always love some kind of art connection in my books
Francine Prose, Anne Frank
Julia Alvarez, In the Time of Butterflies
Ruth Reichl, Tender at the Bone
Perry Deane Young ,Two of the Missing (about Sean Flynn and his colleague's disappearance
in Vietnam

I'll be honest, just sitting here, looking at the shelves is enough to make me weep that summer is only three months, as time keeps ticking away.

I'd love to hear other recommendations for books absolutely not to be missed. I'll report as I go, and I'll tally my summer reading at the end. For me, this will be the only test.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Let Summer Begin--Bring on the Books

If I have seemed mysteriously absent here for a couple of weeks, I have a logical explanation: end of semester essay grading. I admit that going into the teaching profession--especially teaching English--I should have known to expect this challenge, but the quantities has certainly increased. Now, though, I have papers graded, and I'm close enough to completing all the little details of red tape that I feel like beginning my true summer reading regimen.

I've had to depend on audio books for the last couple of weeks, and I'll admit that I got through four discs of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood and had to give it up. I appreciate her versatility in writing the lyrics and score for the songs that accompany the text, but I won't be downloading on the iPod! I can take grim, and I can take weird, but this novel--at least for me right now--was too much of both.

Fortunately, I have plenty of options lined up for reading. I have two selections for my May book club, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (which so far is delightful) and Let the Great World Spin, which I started reading last night when I was caught without Major Pettigrew. I look forward to starting in front of my bookshelves and prioritizing. Summer reading is such a pleasure that I cannot imagine why parents and students bristle at their assignments. Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing from all my reading friends to learn what great choices are in their summer stacks.