In June, I read a really wide range of books. I picked a few works of literature I’d been wanting to read (both contemporary and classic), re-read a favorite, celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month with a few novels and essays, and finished the May/June book for the L&R Book Club. I also read a young adult book and a children’s book, which helped me work out a few ideas for my own creative writing. I feel like I’m jumping all over the place, but it’s keeping my brain busy.
Here are the books I read in June:
The Human Stain (2000) by Philip Roth
Writer Nathan Zuckerman unravels the complex secrets of his neighbor Coleman Silk, a classics professor driven nearly mad after he is forced into retirement under false charges of racism.
This novel is a wonder. Roth’s carefully crafted use of language and the insidious unravelling of plot are captivating. I also appreciated that the story challenged my personal moral judgements. I’m excited to read more from Roth, including the two other books in this trilogy.
The Bell Jar (1963) by Sylvia Plath
Esther Greenwood, a young woman living in the early sixties, gains an internship with a New York magazine but is unhappy about the possibilities in her future after graduation from school. She begins to not only feel trapped by the roles of women, but by her mind as well.
This book is a realistic depiction of mental illness and of patriarchal society in mid-century America. Even though women today have many more options, I think many will still identify with Ester’s concerns about the loss of one’s self to domesticity and the oppressiveness of the men surrounding her.
I’ve honestly been avoiding this book because all I’ve ever heard about it is its description of depression, so I wanted to read it while I’m in a good place with my own feelings. I didn’t feel that way at all–there were even sections that were extraordinarily funny. I wish I hadn’t put it off for so long.
Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides
Cal–né Calliope–Stephanides takes us back through three generations in a Greek-American family saga to discover a family secret.
I loved the interweaving of the lives of several generations, the amazing experimental and complex narrative style, and the life breathed into the settings in the book. A coming of age novel, taboo romance, American immigrant story, and nature vs. nurture identity formation all in one, this book is in no doubt deserving of Eugenides’s Pulitzer Prize.
*There are some problematic passages involving sex acts without consent that aren’t called out as such and that really bothered me.
Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel
Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy who grew up in a zoo, adopts a complicated spirituality and fights for survival–with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
*Avoid synopsis of this book if you don’t want spoilers–almost all of them give away the first twist and the ending.
I thought this book was wonderfully descriptive and made a seemingly impossible story come to life. I know that an author has done a good job if the summery of the plot would sound ridiculous to me, but the events seem plausible while I’m reading. That said, I hated the first third or so of the book and almost stopped reading it. Though I think that the writing in itself is beautiful in places, I strongly dislike the core message of the book (which seems to be what had critics raving in the first place).
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Ivan Denisovich Shukhov describes a day in his life as a political prisoner in a Siberian labor camp (gulag) in the 1950s.
This is one of my favorite books from my high school literature class. I love it because it humanizes what I was learning in history. It shows a darker side of human nature–how we can be controlled through food deprivation. I am amazed at the author’s heroic activism, as this novel gave a forbidden peek behind the Iron Curtain into the human rights violations of the Soviet Union.
**If you read this (or any Russian novel), keep a list of character names, as most characters are referred to by multiple names throughout. Read the short resource Understanding Russian Names in Literature to get your bearings.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (2010) by David Sedaris
A collection of humorous, R rated animal short stories.
Sederis uses the form of animal fables to point out modern particularities in human interactions. The humor is odd and raw, and pushes far at some points (you’ve been forewarned).
*The book is illustrated by Ian Falconer, writer and illustrator of the popular children’s series Olivia. It’s weird to see his style in some of the more messed up animal depictions.
Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) by Rita Mae Brown
Molly Bolt, a poor Southern girl who doesn’t fit the roles pushed upon her, describes her coming of age in this classic lesbian novel.
Radical for its time, this book serves as a historical depiction of the extreme discrimination and otherness lesbians experienced in America. While the sex scenes were shocking at the time this novel was written, I found most of them to be almost poetic, especially as Molly matured.
I identified with a lot of the beginning of the novel, as I struggled with gender expectations as a child, but found a lot of the attitudes towards consent, heteronormativity, and heterosexual relationships found later in the novel to be problematic.
The Creative Habit (2003) by Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp, world renowned choreographer, takes the mystery out of creativity and shares a guide for turning creative work into a habit.
This book was the May/June book for the L&R Book Club. I found it well written, loved learning about different famous creatives’ processes, and appreciated the exercises at the end of each chapter and the introspection into my own creative process that the book sparked.
I do think that Tharp has a bias towards her own process and was disappointed in her distrust towards the science behind creativity.
(I’m probably more critical because I’m very interested in the subject of creativity. My newsletter centers around the theme.)
Paper Towns (2008) by John Green
Quentin Jacobsen is enamored by his enigmatic neighbor Margo Roth. After Margo pulls Q into her life to aid her in a revenge mission, he becomes a teenage detective, trying to decipher the clues she’s left for him.
This is one of the few young adult books I’ve read I want to be SURE my kids read when they are older. I loved that this book turned the white night rescue / girl as a prize cliche storyline on its head and centers around the theme that it’s difficult to really know other people.
In June, I also read the children’s book The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame and a bunch of short stories by lesbian authors from a Women’s Literature textbook in celebration of LGBTQ month.
Because I read 10 books this month, I tried to keep each synopsis and review extremely concise. If you want to know more about any of these, just ask!
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Make sure to put a big SPOILERS warning in your comment to warn others if you have ‘em.
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