Summer Reading

For my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge, I set my goal at thirty books. As of May, this teacher had fallen behind her own self-imposed schedule. So, as my grading wound down for the year and summer approached, I committed to flipping extra pages and finishing the unread books on my shelves. Funny how some of these books have faded already to a distant memory. Here are some snippets:

Considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance and regarded as influential in both African American literature and women’s literature, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God takes place in rural Florida in the early part of the 20th century. After two marriages, Janie finally finds love, her voice, and ultimately herself. A co-worker recommendation. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read this one before now. I gave it 5 of 5 stars on Goodreads and plan to use it in the classroom next year.

“She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.”

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

The winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is the story of a lesser-known novelist turning fifty. Unable to accept the invitation to his former long-term lover’s wedding, Less tours the world in the name of literature and grapples with aging and loneliness, creativity and grief, self-pity and more. It’s a love story, a satire of the American abroad, and a rumination on time, the human heart, and our shared human comedy. This was a re-read for me, the last book of the school year for my students, and 5 stars on Goodreads.

“I’ve got a theory. Now hear me out. It’s that our lives are half comedy and half tragedy. And for some people, it just works out that the first entire half of their lives is tragedy and then the second half is comedy.”

Andrew Sean Greer, Less

The winner for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys follows the life of Elwood Curtis, unjustly arrested through a cruel twist of fate and sentenced to a Florida reform school in the 1960’s. Based on the Dozier School for Boys with a 111-year history of cruelty, abuse, and murder, the novel sheds light on the current reality of the United States. I listened to this one on Audible during my commute and wished that I had read it with my eyes. Still, I gave in 5 stars.

“Even in death the boys were trouble.”

Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed in 1895, shortly before Wilde’s imprisonment for indecency. With mistaken and hidden identities, the flip-flopping of truth and lies, Wilde’s most-beloved play satirizes the superficiality of Victorian England and the snobbery of the aristocracy. Some of the absurd and witty banter might have gone over my head, so I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. However, Wilde made me think about earnestness and duality, so I’ll give this one another chance.

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

The favorite novel of one of my fellow English teachers, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven did not disappoint. Published in 2014, this post-apocalyptic tale takes place before and after the “Georgia Flu” pandemic, which kills most of the population, and follows a troupe of nomadic Shakespearean actors across the Great Lakes region. The weaving of time and plot lines pushed Station Eleven up into the 5 range for me.

“What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.”

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Published in Swedish during 2012 and in English the following year, Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove depicts the story of a grumpy, hopeless 59-year-old man, who grieves the love of his life. Ove annoyed me at times but reminded me that no feeling is final, and I couldn’t seem to put the book down. I gave it 4 stars.

“Love is a strange thing. It takes you by surprise.”

Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ov

I started Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose back in January. Not necessarily a fun read, but not finishing was not an option. I most appreciated Part 3 on the lyricism, melody, and rhythm of writing and rated this book 3 stars on Goodreads.

A dependence on is and its family screams “rough draft.”

Constance Hale
Revised and updated edition. Originally subtitled How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. Now How to Craft Wicked Good Prose. Nice move, Constance!

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave.

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail tells the story of losing her mother, divorcing her husband, and shooting up heroin for a while before setting off on an 1100-mile, solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, ultimately, a journey of self-forgiveness, strength, and redemption. 4 stars.

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to f* every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Another co-worker favorite and a best-known of Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway illustrates a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class woman in post first world war England, with a parallel story of a war veteran, Septimus Smith. I have no doubt I missed some nuance in meaning; however, Woolf’s exquisite stream-of-consciousness prose warrants a 5 and a re-read one day.

It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Inspired by the story of a Belgian woman who assisted downed Allied pilots to escape Nazi territory, Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale portrays the storylines of two French sisters during World War II. A good story of love and survival, less-authentic than other works of historical fiction, 4 stars.

But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.

Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale

Anne Lamott wished her father had written down everything he had learned while alive, so just before her sixty-first birthday, she made a list of her own for her grandson and niece. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is classic Anne Lamott, somewhat repetitive if you’ve read much of her, but quotable nevertheless. And I’m a fan of hope. 3 stars.

John Lennon said, ‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end,’ and as this has always been true before, we can hope it will be again.

Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

Dawn of the Silver Moon (Shawnee Friends Mission #1) by Margaret Mendenhall (my former Sunday school teacher and wedding pianist) depicts the life of a Quaker girl living in Kansas territory in the 1840s. Shawnee Indians abduct Lucy in an act of vengeance toward her father, and she builds a bridge between cultures through her faith. There were times when I told myself, “That’s impossible,” but by the end, I felt that nothing is impossible with God.  4 stars.

I think…I just heard God speak to me…He said, ‘Be not afraid. It is not as it seems. All things will work together for good to those who are called according to my purpose.’

Margaret Mendenhall, Dawn of the Silver Moon

For years I’ve followed the story of Maggie Doyne, a girl from New Jersey who took a gap year after high school. During her travels, the trajectory of her life dramatically alters when she has a surprise encounter with a Nepali girl breaking rocks in a quarry. At age nineteen, Maggie invests her life savings of five thousand dollars to buy a piece of land and open a children’s home and school in Nepal. Maggie Doyne’s memoir Between the Mountain and the Sky: A Mother’s Story of Love, Loss, Healing, and Hope is a coming-of-age story that shows how ordinary people have the power to change the world. An inspirational 5 stars.

No matter where I go, I always seem to end up in places like this one—alleyways, outskirts, trash heaps—the back pockets of a place where less desirable things and people get stuffed away. I’ve been traveling all over he South Pacific and living in India on my gap year, but still, a mix of sadness, fear, and shame hits me under my tongue every time I see these hidden, tucked-away places. Little kids go to work in some places. They’re porters, laborers on construction sites, domestics, agricultural workers. Watching them work is jarring—watching them work with a smile, even more so. The girl pulls herself up, shakes the pebble from her skirt, and sizes up a new hunk of shale.

Maggie Doyne, Between the Mountain and the Sky

I’m always thinking about my next book and still have some waiting on my shelf. Dare I ask what you’ve been reading?

50 thoughts on “Summer Reading

  1. I loved Eyes, less,nickel,earnest,ove, Calloway and nightingale. I’ve read some good stuff lately but nothing outstanding.

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  2. Wonderful selection of books, Crystal! I’m behind on reading~other than research and inspirational devotions. A shift in perspectives, but still desiring new reads! These piqued my interest! I’m so glad you’re enjoying your well-deserved summer break! 💛🥰🤗

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  3. I have to say I’ve been writing more than I’ve been reading 🤷🏾‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️ I will however try to read one of books from your Summer List! I’ll have to get back to you. Thanks for sharing. I used to get notifications when you posted but I don’t anymore 😒

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    1. Hi Arnetta! I’m glad you found me today. I have WordPress notifications turned off, but when I went to your site, I maybe discovered a glitch. Thanks for being here. Happy reading and writing!

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  4. This is an awesome list of books, Crystal! To answer your question, I am beta-reading a writer’s craft book (and learning a thing or two in the process) and reading a police procedural mystery (kind of a cozy, actually) called Lake Effect Murder by Lakota Grace. Grace always has such a strong sense of place in her stories. (And doesn’t the author have a beautiful name?!)

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    1. Lakota Grace. That is a lovely name, and I always love to have a go-to author when I want to accomplish something they do well. I’m reading a writer’s craft book, too. Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This, but I want to start another story. Eenie meenie miney moe.

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  5. SO much great book advice! I already screenshot several of them so I can look them up and add them to my list! Nikolai is visiting his grandma for the next 4 weeks and I actually have time to read more 🥰

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      1. Ahhh thanks so much Crystal!! I’m sitting in my sofa right now looking out the window and watching a thunderstorm roll out. I have SO many good book picks for this year. I love murder mysteries and I started a series that turned out to be science fiction which really isn’t usually my cup of tea but this one has me completely invested! It’s called “and then she vanished” by Nick jones. I’m also reading “the paper palace” “the girls in the stilt house” “the Paris apartment” and “the girl in the letter” they are a lot deeper than my science fiction choice but sometimes you just need a story that helps you shut your brain off and enjoy yourself 🤪.

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  6. Congratulations, Crystal, on unearthing all those treasures. Truly impressive, as is your dedication is summarizing the journey for us. I’ve read only one of these titles, though your engaging recommendations ensure that number will grow.

    So, all these books, plus that upcoming Barnes & Noble haul. The question is, where do you sleep? On top of a few stacks? For that matter, when do you sleep too? There are only 24 hours in a day, and even savvy reading takes time, especially when the reader has a special appreciation for well-chosen words and no doubt takes her time to savor various passages.

    In common with book lovers everywhere, your soul thrills occasionally in imagining what it’d be like to live in a library, no? Well, sounds like you’ve done it. Please, tell us what it’s like.

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      1. Ah yes, Crystal, I’d forgotten you needed to start from scratch five years ago.

        Were there any titles, waterlogged or not, you were able to retrieve? Any whose sentimental value outpaced their usability?

        Apologies if this stirs regrets and I hope the question wasn’t cruel. It’s just that, as a fellow bibliophile I’ve considered which volumes I’d hope to rescue in similar circumstances, and I wonder if Fate afforded you a few triumphs, despite it all.

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      2. In 2016, we moved from Dallas to temporary housing, then into a down-sized fixer upper. Most of our boxes from the move were stored in our garage through the 10-month renovations. The flood happened just as we finished the work. There was no hope for my books, still in boxes.

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  7. Crystal, those writing challenges can be exhilarating or truly a challenge. So far, out of the 35 books I set out to read, I have finished 21, but I am on again, off again with continuing to maintain my Goodreads projection for the year. I am just off for the moment, but I will get back on my reading horse and resume the books I temporarily paused in. Hope to see you on Goodreads! 📙📚📗

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    1. During the school year (I teach), it’s tough for me to read for pleasure. My eyes can only take so much. I love binging in my down time though. I’ll look for you on Goodreads. Thanks for the visit.

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      1. I understand your position Crystal. I have a lot of educators in my family and getting through those lesson plans can be a challenge. I got your invite and accepted. Thanks so much my dear and enjoy your summer! Cheers my dear! 😊📚🥰

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  8. Crystal, you have quite a list. Right now, I am satisfying my passion for American history and Lincoln while reading Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer. The narrative accurately follows the President-elect on his train journey from his home in Illinois to his inauguration. As I keep reading, I have been gathering comparisons between 1860 and 2020.

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  9. Interesting list of books. A few I have read and a number I would like to read, so thanks for your thoughts on those books. As a retired teacher (34 years), I sympathize with the dilemma of being a teacher and not having time for pleasure reading. So much of a teacher’s time is taken up with reading for professional development (whether “required” or out of personal interest), paperwork, and student writing. Enjoy your summer and treasure the days when you get to choose what you do. I loved teaching, but summer breaks are needed!

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  10. Great books, and I basically agree with your ratings on the ones I’ve read as well. Just finished The Lincoln Highway which I’d suggested for one of my book clubs based on reviews I had read. It did not disappoint!

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  11. Thank you for sharing!!… presently I am reading Agatha Christie but what I wish to read changes with the sun…. everytime I try to set goals for myself, the words of Rose Milligan come to mind.. 🙂

    Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
    to paint a picture, or write a letter,
    bake a cake, or plant a seed.
    Ponder the difference between want and need.

    Dust if you must, but there is not much time,
    with rivers to swim and mountains to climb!
    Music to hear, and books to read,
    friends to cherish and life to lead.

    Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
    with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
    a flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
    this day will not come round again.

    Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
    old age will come and it’s not kind.
    And when you go, and go you must,
    you, yourself, will make more dust!
    (Rose Milligan)

    Until we meet again..
    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

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    1. Rose Milligan makes some great points. She reminds me of my word for the year—grace. And that includes self-grace for being hard on myself when I don’t meet my own self-expectations.

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