Wednesday, June 15, 2022

My Reading Statistics

 Okay, so the title is a ruse. I was trying to figure the best way to introduce my constant dilemma this summer, since I am taking Quantitative Research Methods, a six-hour statistics course. I have to decide whether to read for pleasure or to read for homework. I've learned to tackle a statistics assignment and then reward myself by reading something fun. The motivation and the payoff work for me.

TJ Klune's The House in the Cerulean Sea was a recommendation from a reading friend. The protagonist Linus Baker, an employee of the Department In Charge of Magical Youth, lives an ordinary life--if you can call it that--as a caseworker, inspecting orphanages that provide housing for quite extraordinary children. Then he receives an assignment that takes him to an island by the sea--which he has never seen before. His first glimpse at the children's files is enough to make him faint. While there, he learns to champion others who don't quite fit the norm--from a garden gnome to a phoenix. 

When Linus decides to take the children on a field trip to the mainland, where he knows to expect resistance, I was reminded of Pat Conroy, in The Water Is Wide, taking the children he taught to trick or treat and then to visit D.C. I also recalled the second Harry Potter book when Dumbledore explained to Harry that one doesn't have to carry around the weight of the "sins of the father." Klune's tale also shows that how we become family doesn't always follow the expected path.
                                                                                                                                Having read Euphoria and Writers & Lovers, I knew I would want to read Five Tuesdays in Winter, Lily King's latest book. This one is a collection of short stories that really deliver. From the first story, I couldn't stop reading. The first story drew me in. The second, the title story, set in a small bookstore, was a particular favorite. Many of the protagonists are young people  --or adults reflecting on events that happened when they were younger. Sometimes, the point of view shifts a little--and always in a satisfying way. The writing is clever, and the literary references are never gratuitous. I suspect I will be thinking about some of King's characters for a long time.

Hernan Diaz's novel Trust is one of those rare reads that had me recommending it to others  before I was even finished because I knew I would want to talk about it. Diaz starts with a beautifully written story, but then he shifts to what at first seems a disconnected narrative--until it doesn't. The shift from one perspective to another, from one writing style to another, completes a story, leaving the reader with the challenge of figuring out what is true. 

The center of the narrative is the stock market crash of 1929 and those who may have manipulated trading. This is the story of a marriage or more than one story of what may be the same marriage. It is also the story of a woman charged with ghost-writing the tale, leading her to search for the full story. 

The narrative structure feels less like a gimmick and more like a puzzle, as the reader follows the threads toward the truth.

Anne Tyler's novel French Braid follows three generations (at least) of a Baltimore family. Beginning with an encounter in a train station between Serena and her cousin Nicholas, Tyler tells most of the story as a flashback. She begins in the 1950s with a family trip to a lake cabin, where readers get to know the three children of Robin and Mercy, who will go on to make up the bulk of the story. As I read, I kept wondering about Tyler's title. Although the reference is brief, its significance is a powerful observation of the way our families are always a part of us. 

The characters that populate the novel are quirky and believable. As Tyler lets them grow older, then old, they become more of themselves. The  conflicts of the novel are subtle--sibling rivalry, imperfect marriages, awkward parent-child relationships--and always mitigated by love.

I think the likelihood of my continuing to read for pleasure this summer (and all year long) is statistically significant.