For Part Two of A Reading Summer, here are some heavier topics, even more complex characters, and a surprise- my favorite novel of the summer.
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman: A family moves from Ithaca to the tony world of private schools and the Upper East Side of New York City and life changes dramatically. Especially when the teenage son foolishly forwards a graphic sexual video of a younger (insecure) female student who just wants to capture his attention. Teenage girls should have to read this story to get the perspective of how teenage boys (and older boys) view girls and women who easily give up sexual favors, and what may seem like power is really a weakness. Teenage boys should read this book to catch a glimpse of the emotional consequences that follow a scandal like sexting. None of these characters are likeable: not the mother, the father, the teenage son, the girl who sends the video, even the adopted little daughter from China. I loved the writing so much that I will read Schulman’s other books.
Room by Emma Donoghue: The thought of a kidnapped young woman living in a bunker in her rapist captor’s backyard with her 5 year old son who has been raised in this tiny room and knows nothing else sounded dreadful and disturbing. The story is told from the perspective of the boy and the novel is not graphic, but it is riveting. And instead of being disturbed, I was secretly coveting the life of living with very few possessions, a clockwork comforting daily routine (well, except for when the rapist comes in each night) and a mother who has the patience to play with her son every day. For many of the real-life news stories of kidnapped women or children going back into society, this story was even more interesting.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave: Like Room, I wanted to know what happened to characters in peril and rushed through most of the book. Little Bee is set in England and Africa. This story was disturbing and Little Bee’s description of what happened to her sister still haunts me. I loved the way Little Bee talked and thought, I loved her wisdom and her strength, which tied into the mostly strong female magazine editor who is strangely connected to Little Bee. I don’t know if I would see the movie…
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: If you couldn’t tell, I read a lot of fiction with women as central characters. Do you really think I would like a nonfiction book about an Olympic athlete and a World War II POW about a man named Louis? I didn’t like it, I loved it. Hillenbrand’s detailed descriptions about the 1936 Berlin Olympics (picture athletes trying to practice running, gymnastics and swimming on a ship in choppy seas heading to Europe) and Louis surviving jumping from a train, a plane, living on a raft for over a month with sharks attacking, multiple Japanese POW camps, and life back as a civilian after the war. Each story of his life is more unbelievable than the next and the book is incredibly well-written. So well-written that I intend to read Seabiscuit, which before I finished Unbroken, sounded like the most boring book ever written.
Now I am on a break, reading some magazines (just finished the September issue of Vogue) before I ramp up again for fall releases. I’ll read my Twitter feed, a few blogs (especially Suri’s Burn Book) and check out some Quora questions and answers. And maybe I will even see a movie or two, like The Help (I just love it when I’ve read a book 3 years before the movie and everyone else is just discovering the trade paperback- bah hah hah).