Books Read in July

July books

“The Borrower” a novel by Rebecca Makkai

I might be the villain of this story. Even now it’s hard to tell.

That dilemma, right in that first sentence, sets the theme and tone of this delightful and thought-provoking novel.

Lucy Hull, a children’s librarian in a small Missouri town believes in the power of books, in the power they have to save us. She struggle with the idea if she herself can actually save anybody, but she tries. She tries to save Ian, assuming that he needs saving based on what she’s seen of the 10-year-old who visits the library regularly, ready to devour any book Lucy put in his hands, even ones that he must sneak past his evangelical mother.

When Ian shows up at the library asking Lucy to take him away, she believes this is her chance to make a difference. To save him. That idealism falters regularly throughout their cross country road trip. As she learns more about the boy, as secrets abut her Russian father are revealed, Lucy questions her motives at each new turn. Who exactly is she trying to save–Ian or herself? And is either one even possible?

A delightful read for anyone but especially those of us who know that books can indeed change, if not save us.

A Sentence I Love:

He thought he was in trouble. Or maybe he thought the hand of God was about to reach down and smite me, and he wanted to look like we’d never met.

The Journal Keeper, A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux

In 1972, after our third and last child was born, we moved from a small frame house in Washington, D.C., into a gigantic frame house farther toward the edge of town.

I’ve picked this book off my shelves several times and this time it really resonated with me. I read all the way through, noticing that it’s been underlined. And they are all sentences that I would’ve underlined myself. Apparently I have read it all the way through before and was meat to do so again.

Finding it while I was healing from a back sprain for almost a month felt right. Theroux details all aspects of her over the course of six years. No detail is too small or mundane. she hits on loneliness, old age, family, if, death, relationships, illness, children, dating, writing, teaching. She invites us into her whole life.

Her careful mining of hr life and her days and her keen observation made me feel the same way about my own days, especially as I was leading much of my days from bed. She helped me see my life from a new perspective—slowed down and close up.

Sentences I Love:

This morning I awoke with a prayer: “Help me to have the courage to finish what I have begun and to begin what I want to finish.”

Looking at a friend who has had a face lift is like reading a book with half the pages ripped out.

On reading the first few pages of “To Kill A Mockingbird”: Her instinct for knowing what she can leave out may not be teachable, but the beginning of her book is a place to start.

“Summerlong” a novel by Dean Bakopoulos

In the hay gold dusk of late spring, Don Lowry takes his usual walk through town and out to the fields beyond it.

It’s a brutally hot summer in a small midwestern town. Don and Claire Lowry find themselves drifting—or perhaps being pulled—from the safety of their marriage. As their marriage is tested in ways they never fathomed they are each forced to confront the reality of their relationship, their family and their life together and apart.

I heard an interview with him on NPR and immediately ordered the book. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized by the characters and their stories. I felt like I was trapped in that heatwave with them, a little dazed and unable to look away.

Sultriness oozes off the pages. Perfect summer read: smart, funny, thoughtful and sexy all served in some damn fine writing. What more could you ask for?

A Sentence I Love:

I confess: I was so caught up in reading that I didn’t take time to underline my faves. But this book is filled with great sentences. Here are a couple I found just from briefly scanning some pages:

Among the things mothers don’t do: they don’t leave the house first in the morning, without explanation. Fathers can do this.

Whatever strangeness he is about to confess will only trigger something inside her and she isn’t sure what—would she confess?

“Bark” stories by Lorrie Moore

Ira had been divorced six months and still couldn’t get his wedding ring off.

Lorrie Moore is a master of the short story. This most recent collection shows a writer at the top of her game. She dissects the anatomy of being human in eight dark, funny, touching stories. In “Debarking” the ominousness of divorce is set against the ominousness of 9-11. In “The Juniper Tree” teacher is visited by the ghost of her deceased friend who makes an odd request of her.

Each story is its own contained world that fits within the confines of the pages but you just know that there is so much more beyond the pages, things we don’t need to know but that inform what we do know.

A Sentence I Love:

The bridesmaids were in pastels: one the light peach of baby aspirin; one the seafood green of low-dose clonazepam; the other the pale daffodil of the next lowest dose of clonazepam.

“Among the Ten Thousand Things” a novel by Julia Pierpont

There were things you learned early, growing up in the city, and there were things you learned late, or not at all.

Things are learned swiftly in this debut novel. We learn that Jack Shanley has been having an affair. How do we learn this? The woman sends over a box of their love letters, correspondence and sexts. But instead of ending up in his wife, Deb’s, hands, the box ends up in the precarious hands of their eleven-yet-old daughter, Kay.

Kay doesn’t completely understand everything she reads, but she understands enough. My heart broke for her. She eventually shows the box to older brother who immediately shows it to their mother who them confronts her husband.

And then we’re off.

Looking at her author photo, it’s hard to imagine that Pierpont is old enough to bring such depth and complexity to a story based around an affair. But this story is anything but typical. Pierpont even bravely throws a flash forward into the middle of the book and it totally works. It adds another layer to the story that is already richly layered.

It’s a wonderful book to just sink into for the summer and I am eagerly awaiting her next one.

A Sentence I Love:

New year. Snowflakes looked like skeletons of something else.