June Reads

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
― Albert Camus

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The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton

Truly great summer reads are hard to find. Many novels make for difficult beach reading while light-hearted rom coms are all too predictable. The Moonflower Vine is neither a heavy saga nor a flighty poolside diversion. It’s just right for summer afternoons, wherever you like to spend them, and leaves a lasting impression.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

With years of painstaking research, Truman Capote made In Cold Blood his life’s work. Though he is known for many other books and stories, this shocking true crime drama is his masterpiece. Adapted to film and often mis-shelved as fiction in bookstores, audiences love the chills Capote evokes as he unravels this gruesome tale. Keep it close by in case the A/C gives out.

Naked by David Sedaris

In this collection of nonfiction essays, David Sedaris gives a full dose of his humor and pragmatism. He finds meaning and hilarity everywhere, sharing what he sees, who he meets, and how it all goes wrong. And sometimes, right. Naked is a book with heart and a perfect fit for most carry-on luggage.

Country Wisdom & Know-How: A Practical Guide to Living Off the Land by M. John Storey

Summer is a time for growing things. Even city-dwellers can appreciate the practical tips for making the most of summer produce. Full of recipes and rules of thumb, Country Wisdom & Know-How is an antidote to your standard summer vacation. Because anyone can buy an icy cold beer. But M. John Storey can show you how to make one.

Children’s Shelf

Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Martha Sanders and Philippe Fix (Illustrator)

The Old Lady lives with her animal friends in a house on top of the hill. They overlook the river below and the town beyond, playing games to pass the time and drinking tea with yak’s butter. A rainstorm threatens to flood the river and wash away the town. It will be up to The Old Lady and her companions to warn the townspeople and save the day.

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Reading Room Recommends

“Why, what’s the matter,

That you have such a February face,

So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

February

My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead by Jeffrey Eugenides (Editor)

This anthology of love stories includes pieces by an array of literary notables. Never trite or tired, Eugenides has selected stories that matter. Romantic tropes and hackneyed language often trivialize love. Not so in this collection. Read it with your bookish Valentine.

The Assignation by Joyce Carol Oates

The Assignation, a 1988 collection of short stories, offers us glimpses of longing. The opening piece, “Flesh,” is just one paragraph long and most of those that follow aren’t much longer. Oates’ lean, sharp prose makes no bones. While the stories are taut with sensual tension, a need for love and acceptance fuels the lust.

Letters of Abelard and Heloise by Peter Bayle

This collection of correspondence between medieval lovers, Héloïse d’Argenteuil (abbess, writer, scholar) and Peter Abelard (philosopher, theologian, logician) isn’t standard Valentine fare. This doomed couple’s romance bloomed in 12th century France and ended in disgrace for both. Heloise bore a son and named him Astralabe. Though she and Abelard were never free to marry, her passionate love letters and his longing replies unite them in eternity.

Valentines by Ted Kooser

These poems are tender and sincere, penned by the Poet Laureate over many years and mailed annually to a long list of Valentines. They feature Kooser’s conversational style, unpretentious and unforced. Short enough to fit on postcards, these gems don’t need many words to describe the many trials of the heart.

Children’s Shelf

Fairy Tales: A Beautiful Collection of Favorite Fairy Tales by Parragon Books (Editor)

A book to share with your little Valentine, Fairy Tales is a bright collection of well-loved stories. Illustrations keep the pages lively and the familiar tales reinforce reading skills while entertaining with stories loved for centuries.

The Last Days of Dogtown

by Anita Diamant

Immediately I finished this book, I began to look into the true history of Dogtown and was fascinated to find that the characters and events portrayed by Diamant are based in fact. I found repeated references to these characters (whose real names Diamant has preserved in her novel) and indications that many of the novel’s plot points are inspired by legends which surround the real Dogtown. I was even able to discover current maps and photos of the area which is now a park that can be visited for hiking and picnics.

All the historical facts aside, this is a good novel. The prose is sparse in keeping with the subject matter and perfectly suited to the story at hand. It is rather like a sketch made with a very few strokes of the pencil, spare and powerful.

Because Dogtown is becoming a ghost town, the characters have a rather haunting, or perhaps haunted, quality. As one by one, their neighbors move away, as the houses are one by one abandoned, those who remain live alongside the ghosts of the past and seem to become increasingly transparent themselves.

And haunted is how I felt when I was reading. It isn’t an altogether pleasant feeling but it seems appropriate in this case.

Reviewed, June 2011