What I Read This Summer: August Readings

Continuing my record of books I read while on blogging break. If you want to chat about any of these, please comment!

Stranger in the House by Julie Summers: A really informative book about how reuniting families in Great Britain coped after World War II. I especially appreciated the use of first-person narratives (journals, letters, interviews) of people from different walks of life. After a while, though, the stories started to blend together, even though Summers did try to organize the book in a way that set apart the different kinds of stories (sons returning to mothers, husbands returning to wives, etc.).

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman: This is a wonderful book about a nun who experiences visions that have inspired and moved people inside and outside her community. But she also suffers from painful headaches that, it turns out, could be both deadly and the source of her vision. So she has to figure out what this means for her relationship with God. Will removing the pain and saving her life also remove God’s voice?

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson: First published in 1912, this book about a black man who is light-skinned enough to pass for white takes readers through many different parts of the both the black and the white communities of the early 20th century. A good story, well worth reading.

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Marquez: As 528 pages, this book was too long for me. But I did like how Marquez spun his web of conspiracy theories to pull readers into that mindset.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They by Horace McCoy. Short and devastating book about a dance marathon during the Great Depression. I saw the film version of this, starring Jane Fonda, years ago, and it always stuck with me. The book really gets into how desperation affects different people differently and how vulnerable people need more support during hard times.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews: A group of Mennonite women gather to decide what to do about the fact that some of the men of their community have been drugging and raping them at night, claiming it was demons. I really wish this book had stuck with me more. I remember that I found their deliberations interesting, but I don’t remember the specific arguments at all!

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan: I loved Washington Black so much, and although I liked this, it didn’t quite live up to my hopes. I think I was in the mood for something more straightforward than this turned out to be. I did, however, appreciate the way the story came together at the end. And, like in Washington Black, Edugyan allows the relationships to be complex.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber: One of my favorite books I read this summer. I loved it so much I had to give it its own review.

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6 Responses to What I Read This Summer: August Readings

  1. Amy says:

    I loved both Lying Awake and Women Talking. A friend felt the latter not realistic in that she couldn’t see the women being that deep into theology. I had no trouble with that; it seemed likely that most of their waking time was spent discussing and understanding their religion. Did you see the New Yorker profile of Miriam Toewes? I read it, then read All My Puny Sorrows, which also knocked me out. But a friend who hadn’t read the profile found the book hard to follow, so maybe it’s better to have some biographical background.

    • Teresa says:

      Lying Awake was such a wonderful book. I may have to buy a copy at some point. I keep thinking about it.
      I hadn’t really thought about the theological depth of the women’s thinking, but I thing you’re right. And if I recall correctly, not all of the women thought equally deeply — it was more that all were interested, which definitely seemed likely. I’m pretty sure I’ve read an article or two about Toews, but I don’t think the New Yorker profile you mention was one of them. I haven’t read All My Puny Sorrows, but I did read Irma Voth, which I thought was half brilliant and half not.

  2. I also saw They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? when it was first released in 1969 and it has stayed with me all these years. I’m not sure I want to read it. A few years ago, I read another of McCoy’s books: https://www.exurbanis.com/archives/9843#should

    After reading this post, I downloaded a copy of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Penguin wants $10 for their Kindle edition, but since I knew it wouldn’t be copyrighted, I knew I could do better – and did. I’m taking my chances with the free Amazon edition.

    I read Half-Blood Blues the year it won the Giller Prize so it set up my expectations for Washington Black which disappointed me. Other way ’round from you.

    And – I hope to get to Miriam Toews’ book this year. I usually don’t let her books go so long after publication before I read them.

    You did a lot of interesting in August – a great post!

    • Teresa says:

      It was a good reading month! I hadn’t looked up whether McCoy had written more books, but I liked Horses enough to read more, so thanks for sharing that!

      I think my copy of the Autobiography was either the free Amazon edition or the Project Gutenberg one. Some historical notes might have been nice, but it was straightforward enough without them.
      Maybe Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues are just so different from each other that readers who loved one may be disappointed by the other. I loved that WB was such a good yarn and was hoping for something similar in HBB. But I like writers who try out different styles, so Edugyn gets credit for that. And in both books, she does well at the character relationships.

  3. I was so disappointed in “Washington Black” after the balloon landed. I really didn’t get it. With respect to “They Shoot Horses,” I was shocked by the novel when I read it a few years ago. It was WAY ahead of its time, and the screenwriter found an amazing story locked in that very weird source material.

    • Teresa says:

      I know a lot of people had mixed feelings about Washington Black, but it captured my interest from beginning to end.
      And I agree that Horses feels ahead of its time. The style is so impressive, putting the readers right there in the moment.

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