When I was a kid I spent most of my summer afternoons on the screened-in porch, tucked into a rocking chair, the vinyl seat cushion sticking to the back of my legs in the New England humidity.
Often my best friend Andrea would fold herself into her own rocking chair next to me, and together we’d while away the day in quiet contentment, each with a book in our hands. It seems funny now that we intentionally got together in order to spend hours without speaking, each of us with her nose in her own book. And yet, there was something perfectly right about those long, hot summer afternoons spent in companionable silence.
Decades later, Andrea lives 1,500 miles away, I don’t have a screened-in porch or a set of aluminum rocking chairs, and I don’t often have a whole summer afternoon in which to dedicate solely to a book.
Nowadays I often pull a novel from my purse to read a few pages in the car as I wait for a boy to emerge from one activity or another. Or I squeeze in a chapter before turning out the light, my eyelids growing heavy but my mind and heart still eager to turn the next page.
Reading will always be my pastime of choice, which is why every few months or so I love to share the books I’ve enjoyed lately (and I love to hear what you’re reading too – let me know in the comments!).
Here’s what’s been stacked on my nightstand this summer:
The Edge of Over There
by Shawn Smucker
Genre: YA Fiction
The Edge of Over There has a Madeleine L’Engle-ish feel – a little bit fantasy, a little bit mystery, and a whole lot riveting. Though it’s technically Young Adult fiction, I guarantee this book will have you reading late into the night, no matter what your age. Start with Shawn’s The Day the Angels Fell first, if you haven’t read that one yet, and then move on to this equally satisfying sequel.
Why I loved it: It’s a page-turner with a fast-paced plot, but it also got me thinking about deeper questions.
Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up
by Kathy Khang
Genre: Christian nonfiction
A powerful, convicting new voice, Christian activist Kathy Khang makes an important, convincing argument for why it’s imperative that we use our God-given voices and intellect to confront racism, discrimination and injustice. As a person who is often hesitant to speak up, this book gave me a much-needed push toward raising my own voice, as well as a whole lot to think about.
Why I loved it: Kathy’s approach is grace-ful yet firm. I deeply appreciate her wisdom and her courage in telling the hard parts of her story.
Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage
By Dani Shapiro
I’ve read all of Dani Shapiro’s memoirs (Devotion, Slow Motion) and some of her fiction, and Hourglass is my favorite so far. Tender, intimate and vulnerable, yet also ruthlessly honest, Shapiro looks hard at her own marriage — “a reckoning in which she confronts both the life she dreamed of and the life she made, and struggles to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become.”
Why I loved it: Maybe it’s the voyeur in me, but I love a good memoir for its intimacy and vulnerability and the way it prompts me to look at my own life. And this one has the added benefit of being expertly written in beautiful, luminous prose.
A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman
By Joan Anderson
When she hits middle-age, her children grown and married, her husband focused on a new job, Joan Anderson decides to take a hiatus and go her own way. Her year alone on Cape Cod is a rebirth of sorts, a time in which she begins to know her true self for the first time in a long time, perhaps ever. A Year by the Sea is a beautiful reflection on the passage of time, on seasons and the gifts of nature and on the process of deep transformation. Wise, compelling, poignant – this is a book I will return to again.
Why I loved it: At 48, I’m nearly the age Anderson was when she spent her year by the sea and penned this memoir about her transformative experience. I don’t know…maybe I am on the cusp of a mid-life crisis? All I know is that this book spoke to me deeply.
The Poisonwood Bible
By Barbara Kingsolver
I tried reading this one years ago and put it down. But this past spring my son Noah read it for one of his high school classes, which compelled me to pick it up again, and I am SO glad I did. A riveting, compelling saga, The Poisonwood Bible is narrated in alternating chapters by the four daughters and the wife of a Baptist missionary who relocates his family to the Belgian Congo in the early 1960s in order to save souls. I’m a little rusty on my African history and my knowledge of post-colonialism, so I undoubtedly missed some key points, but wow, this book was fascinating. It had me staying up WAY past my bedtime most nights. Kingsolver is a master storyteller, and this book, one that is at the same time very dark and richly beautiful, is one I will not soon forget.
Why I loved it: Plain and simple, The Poisonwood Bible is a masterful novel with deeply compelling themes, rich, multi-layered characters and stunning prose.
Up Next in My To-Be-Read Stack:
March, by Geraldine Brooks – The story of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg – Part cookbook, part memoir, my favorite (Though I don’t actually cook, I like to read about cooking, which is odd, I realize. Also, I got this for .99 cents on Kindle; check to see if the deal is still on!).
Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan – I’m reading this one for my book club in August. I think Jim Gaffigan is hilarious, so I’m looking forward to this.
So tell me, what have you read this summer that has you staying up way past your bedtime?