Reading Round-Up: July 2019

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for July, 2019

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean – One morning in the spring of 1986, a fire broke out at the main branch building of the Los Angeles Public Library.  The fire spread quickly and swallowed up hundreds of thousands of books, including some irreplaceable treasures.  To this day, how the fire started and who was responsible is a mystery.  Susan Orlean dives into that mystery and spins a fascinating narrative – part history of the LA public library system, part true crime exploration of the possible 1986 arson, and part personal memoir of her own love affair with libraries.  I confess I was reluctant to read this one because of the hype surrounding it, but I’m so glad I picked it up – it was a wonderful read from the first page to the last.

In Morocco, by Edith Wharton – After reading about Wharton’s high maintenance travel habits in Hermione Lee’s doorstopping biography Edith Wharton, I was anxious to check out some of Wharton’s travel writing.  (I also thought it would be fun to read some of Wharton’s wonderful writing without getting depressed at the end.)  I downloaded both In Morocco and A Motor-Flight Through France for my kindle and decided on In Morocco first.  It was enjoyable and atmospheric, but I can definitely see the problems with it – namely, Wharton is very Eurocentric, pro-Colonial, and a little racist.  I read it as a product of its time, and was able to appreciate it for what it was.

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf – I won’t say too much, because I’ve already posted a full review here, but I’m so glad I finally made time for Mrs. Dalloway.  I’ve had mixed experiences with Woolf (who hasn’t?) but I think the story of Clarissa Dalloway’s day is a new favorite – I might like it even better than Between the Acts.  I was swept along by Woolf’s style and masterful use of language, and I found myself empathizing with almost all of the characters (didn’t really see the point of Septimus Smith, I have to admit) and loved every moment.

Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin – This has been the summer of Pride and Prejudice updates – first I read Eligible, then Unmarriageable, and now Ayesha at Last.  Ayesha was my favorite of the three – I loved that I could spot the Austen influence, but Jalaluddin put so much of her own spin on the story that it really felt like reading something new.  The story of Ayesha, her self-centered cousin Hafsa, and religious neighbor Khalid, was fresh and sweet.  There’s a twist for Hafsa, which I saw coming but enjoyed all the same, and I delighted in the solid and supportive friendship between Ayesha and her college BFF, Clara.  Overall, just a charming and lovely reading experience.

Celine, by Peter Heller – I kept hearing Heller’s name come up and decided to give him a try when I read a blurb billing Celine as a “missing persons novel in Yellowstone National Park.”  It was, but there was a whole lot more going on than that.  I really liked Celine overall, but bogged down in certain parts.  Heller spends an inordinate amount of time on Celine’s backstory, which was mostly relevant but didn’t warrant every other chapter dedicated to it.  I often found myself thinking, ugh, can we get back to the mystery, please?  The chapters where Celine and her husband Pete are working to track down their quarry – a National Geographic photographer who disappeared in the park 23 years prior; the official story was that a bear killed him, but his daughter never believed it – moved much faster and were more fun to read.  The best part was the characters – I absolutely loved Celine and Pete.  Celine is an aristocratic elderly private eye – think Miss Marple, but New York WASP and packing heat.  She was completely bad@$$ and I loved her.  (There’s a scene in a rough biker bar where septuagenarian Celine single-handedly takes down a misogynistic biker who assaults a waitress.)  I loved the relationship between Celine and taciturn but loving and supportive Pete – who is described as always dressing as if he’s repairing a boat in Maine – and between the elderly characters and their young client Gabriela, and Celine’s son Hank.  Just a joy.

On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas – I’d been looking forward to Angie Thomas’s sophomore effort, On the Come Up, pretty much since I read her debut novel, The Hate U Give, but I was underwhelmed.  The Hate U Give was a brilliant book – timely, urgent, and with a compelling main character who was easy to root for and care about.  On the Come Up didn’t feel like any of those things.  I understood the book’s central message – the hypocrisy of people who believe that guns are just fine in the hands of white people, but view people of color with suspicion even without guns.  I agree with the point Thomas was making, but it just didn’t work as well as THUG.  The book didn’t feel like it was especially timely or of the moment, and the main character – Bri – was an obnoxious kid who made terrible choice after terrible choice and treated her family and friends horribly.  I’ll still read anything Thomas writes, but this one fell a little flat for me.

July was a short, light, somewhat slumpy reading month.  Part of this month’s low book total – only six! – can be attributed to a vacation earlier in the month, on which I didn’t really read anything.  Steve and I were kayaking in the Salish Sea and I was trying hard to pack light.  Anything that wasn’t strictly necessary did not make it into the boats – so, no books; I even left my birder’s journal and Audubon marine mammal guide back on shore.  And since I don’t like to read on my phone (headaches) I spent the week watching sunsets and chatting with new friends instead.  Hashtag worth it.  The rest of the month was slow because of my weird commute.  You never really appreciate what you have until it’s gone, right?  Come back soon, Metro!  I need that hour of reading time every day!  But even with the slow month, I managed to squeeze in some good books, with the best ones front-loaded at the beginning of the month.  Mrs. Dalloway was the highlight of the month, and I also loved The Library Book.  Here’s to a good bookish month in August!  I have a great one on the go right now, and a beach trip coming up later in the month – so while I’ll choose watching the waves (and lifeguarding the kids) over reading on the sand, I’m looking forward to a long car ride and a week’s worth of post-sunset evenings in which to get my book on.

What were your July reading highlights?

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