Summer Reading: An Update


My mother is re-reading Barbara Pym this summer! Great books…

Good Novels I’ve read so far this summer:

I just finished The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain, coming out this fall in English from Gallic books. I loved this book for its quirky story, its embracing humanism, its clever reenactment of the 1980s with all those ’80s icons of art and politics, and its wonderful characters. Even Francois Mitterand plays a role, and he plays it beautifully.  A lovely and unforgettable book which made me want to go back to Paris and Venice; eat a platter of sea food with a good bottle of white wine; seek out the paintings of Basquiat; douse myself with perfume; and reconnect with the world, all over again.

Fever by Mary Beth Keane, tells the story of Typhoid Mary, putting a very human face on the somewhat terrifying figure of the cook who killed through spreading disease in food – did she know what she was doing? No, she was just doing the best she could, in world she found herself in. Irish immigrant, woman alone, skilled in cooking, tempered to stand up for herself. Did they blame her “because she was opinionated, and Irish, and unmarried,and didn’t bow to them”? When poor Mary must face the truth, it breaks her, and our, hearts. A wonderful book.

The Comedians by Graham Greene, set in early 1950s Haiti; heartbreaking but also at times very funny. Unforgettable characters and a depiction of Haiti that rings terribly true, still today.

So Big by Edna Ferber, which was so great (and a must-read for all Midwesterners like me) that I’ve set out a plan to read all of Ferber’s novels.  American Beauty is next on my list.

The Good House by Anne Leary, an engaging read and an acute depiction of alcoholism, the vagaries of real estate, and the bumpy path of love.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. I especially loved the first section but all the stories that make up this novel weave together to create a message as forceful as that found in McCann’sLet the Great World Spin: the beautiful mysteries of the universe (the greatest being love) are greater than all our human failures, foibles, and fantasies.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, another book that was built out of different stories (I especially loved all the sections about the relationship between Uncle Nabi and Mr. Suleiman Wahdati), woven together by a master story-teller with a message for all of us: we are all connected through the stories we tell, and even the ones we keep hidden but not destroyed, so that someday the lines can be picked up again, and the connections drawn tight.

I’ve read three great mysteries this summer, all set in wildly different arenas but each one a page turner.

Powder Burn by Mark Chisnell.  Chisnell is a favorite of mine and Powder Burn delivers his usual well-researched, fascinating, and fast-packed thriller novel. The book had me guessing until the last pages, and I couldn’t stop reading!  The end was satisfying but also left me wondering: how long do I have to wait for the next Chisnell?

A Place of Confinement by Anna Dean.  Set in England in the early 1800s, A Place of Confinement demonstrates that human curiosity and human greed co-exist in all locations, times, and social milieus.  The fourth installment in the wonderful Dido Kent series, A Place of Confinement is a must read for Jane Austen lovers and mystery lovers. You know who you are!

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins.  This mystery took me further back in time, to 1600s London.  Filled with fascinating historical detail, this debut mystery is a great read.  I look forward to reading more from Calkins, and more about Lucy Campioin.