Books Read in August

“Of Mice and Men” a novel by John Steinbeck

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.

This is on my daughter’s Honor’s summer reading list. I don’t remember ever reading it, but was familiar with the story. It’s good to read the classics and see what makes them endure. The compelling story that keeps you turning the pages, the complex characters that stir your empathy and scorn, the beautiful use of setting.

What I learned: The power of foreshadowing.

“Other People We Married” stories by Emma Straub

In the living room, the conversation was about teacher/student romance.

A woman consults a psychic to find her missing cat; a widow and widower, set up by their therapist take a trip to Italy where she is haunted by the memory of her husband; a woman take sup birdwatching a hobby after her husband’s death. Straub insinuates herself deep into the crevices of relationships, revealing the messy chaos hidden beneath the surface.

What I learned: To put characters into unique situations that become the container for the story.

 “When You think You’re Not Enough” by Daphne Rose Kingma

There is only one of you.

Part of me is embarrassed to be posting such a book but seriously, don’t many of us have trouble loving and accepting ourselves? Of course we do. I am not alone. Stroll through the mammoth self-help sections in any bookstore as well as the relationship, diet, and addiction shelves and you’ll see what I mean. Kingma addresses the reasons why we may not love and accept ourselves then gives concrete steps to change that dynamic. One if them is action. “Action has the ability to change the energy in your body, as well as in the people and things around you.” She also addresses the beauty of anger. “It’s the emotion of self-care, of self-protection. It is the emotion by which we make ourselves known to others as worthy, valuable human beings.”

What I learned: That anger can be beautiful. How freeing is that?

 “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” stories by Aryn Kyle

The first man I slept with kept his eyes closed the whole time.

How awesome is that first sentence? Loved loved loved these stories. They are dark and funny and vaguely disturbing, everything I hope my own stories are and will be.  The relationships range from student/teacher to a young girl and her dad’s fairly brittle girlfriend to employee/boss to a solitary woman and Goth teen.

What I learned: To not be afraid to put odd couples together and see what happens.

 “Drifting House” stories by Krys Lee

For three years after her ex-husband and their daughter, Yuri, disappeared to California, Mrs. Shin had designed clothes by day and sold handprinted scarves by night to save the necessary sum of money to depart Seoul and come to America.

These amazing stories take place in the rigid confines of North Korea, in the aftermath of South Korea’s financial collapse and America where immigrants try to put families back together or keep them from falling apart. The complexity of family and cultural identity is explored and the sacrifices and chocies these characters must make will haunt you long after you have finished reading these moving yet deeply disturbing stories.

What I learned: To allow characters to make the seemingly impossible choice.

“Dead to You” a YA novel by Lisa McMann

There are three of them. No, four.

I devoured this page-turner in a single afternoon. Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now he is sixteen and reunited with his family. But after the initial joy, things become tense. Ethan has no memory of his life before being abducted.  His younger brother doesn’t understand why Ethan even got in the car that took him away from them and ruined their family. Questions remain and new ones arise, making you turn the page to discover the answers.

What I learned: It’s all about having questions that must be answered, drawing the reader through the story.

 “Why We Broke Up” a YA novel by Daniel handler and illustrated by Maira Kalman

Dear Ed, In a sec you’ll hear a thunk.

The thunk is a the break-up box. You know, the box you keep all of your ex’s stuff in to either pine over, torch or return. Kalman’s illustrations of the contents of said box enhance the love story revealed by letters Min writes to Ed, explaining why they broke up. It stirs up all the buried angst we may have left from whatever heartbreak we’ve endured over the years whether you are sixteen or sixty. So so good.

 What I learned: How well a very particular structure can work as the container for the story.