Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Summer Reading - Fiction edition

 Several weeks ago I described the non-fiction titles I read over the summer.  Yes, I have been reading more than usual during the summer of quarantine, but summer has always been my happy reading place.  Although my summer selections invariably include several beaches, in 2020 only Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever made the list.  Set in Atlantic City in 1934, Florence is training to be the first Jewish woman to swim the English Channel.  Florence isn’t the main character as much as a way to introduce the other characters and the secrets they are hiding.  Three generations of the family are seriously impacted by one tragic event and life in America’s Playground will never be the same for them.

I was attracted to the title of Julie Kibler’s Home for Erring and Outcast Girls.  Based on the Berachah Industrial Home, an actual place in Ohio in the early 1900’s, the fictional setting is the Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls.  The title says it all.  The mission of the church-based home was to assist women facing a variety of hardships while learning a trade or working within the home to care for and educate the children.  We follow two young women, Lizzie and Mattie, from the time they arrive until they go their separate ways many years later.  We also meet Cate, a librarian in 1998 researching the archives of the Home.   Cate had been  raised in a conservative Christian home, but had made the choice to leave.  It sounds like a soap opera, but the story and characters are compelling.

 Another book split between two time periods is Karma Brown’s Recipe for a Perfect Wife.  Wife # 1 is living in the 1950’s and wife #2 lives in a more current time.  Advice on how to be a good wife with a good marriage is scattered throughout the book  along with recipes and gardening tips.  Depending on your point of view, the advice is either really funny, really offensive, or both.  Neither marriage is perfect and the two wives are facing different challenges.  Expect a few surprises along the way. 

Yours, Jean, by Lee Marten, is based on a real crime in 1952.  A young librarian is killed on the first day of school and we meet her murderer, landlady, landlady’s daughter, daughter’s boyfriend, young student, taxi driver, hotel clerk, and local police.  Everyone is impacted in some way and must figure out how to move forward.

Reading reviews for What are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez did not prepare me for the book.  A terminally ill woman asks a friend to stay with her until she decides to end her life.  The two remain nameless throughout the book which is unusual and strangely unsettling since the subject matter is so personal.  Wonderful quotes from famous authors and philosophers appear throughout the books as well as an extremely depressing lecture on climate change and the imminent end of the world.  Yes, it makes sense, but it made me consider going under my bed and just staying there.  As one reviewer wrote, the book is “dryly funny and deeply tender; draining and worth it”.   

My current reading is the new crop of partisan political books.  I am trying to be fair and read both sides of the divide, but only for 25 pages each.  Do people read these books to learn more, to  strengthen their existing position, or to be offended by the opposition?

~S. Bakos

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