My apologies for being inactive recently. I started volunteering at the local library and the county literacy council (my wife is the Executive Director), and my two grandsons have been hanging out here (mostly swimming) while they’re on summer break. In short, my life has been busier than usual, and I’ve had less time for reading (and thus reviewing). But things are settling down again (the boys start school on the 17th), so I hope to do more reading and blogging.
Just as a summer recap, I’ve read some great books recently. At the top of the list are Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead and Still Life by Sarah Winman, which came out in the summer and fall of 2021, respectively, and had been on my bookshelf since Christmas. Once I got around to reading them, I berated myself for waiting so long. These two big novels are as good as literary fiction gets. I exhort you to read them now.
Great Circle has received a ton of attention (including several award nominations), so you’re probably familiar with it. Personally, I think it should have won the Women’s Prize for Fiction instead of The Book of Form and Emptiness. Maggie Shipstead writes with total mastery and great style.
Still Life is a tribute to love in its many forms: love of others, family, art, beauty, literature, and in particular, love of Florence. (I think that’s the first time I’ve written a sentence with “love” in it four times.) It’s overflowing with bittersweet moments of connection with people, places, and the creative impulse. It was a joy to read. If your spirit needs a lift, Still Life is the book for you.
True Biz by Sara Novic is a coming of age story set in a residential school for the deaf in Ohio. Novic, who is deaf, has written a compelling story with three main characters you will care about. Charlie, the daughter of hearing parents, was given a cochlear implant as a child and never learned ASL, but the CI has never worked as hoped and she’s trying to adjust to going to school with other deaf students – all of whom know ASL. Austin comes from a family that is well known in the deaf community; he is something of a big man on campus. The schoolmistress, February, is a hearing child of deaf parents who is trying to keep the underfunded school open while navigating a complicated marriage. True Biz entertained me while educating me about a community that is dealing with issues coming from all sides. The book is highlighted by informative illustrations of sign language, deaf cultural content, and explanations of various issues and challenges facing deaf children and their parents.
I also read a rich and complex Middle Grade illustrated novel, which I discovered through a friend on Instagram. Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston follows 10-year-old Julia during a summer in the Shetland Islands between Scotland and Norway. Her father is installing software to automate the lighthouse and her marine biologist mother is on a mission to find a rare Greenland shark, which can live to be 400 or more and might hold the key to delaying or limiting dementia.
It’s a multifaceted story. Julia makes a new friend, Kin, who is being bullied by older boys; observes her parents’ marriage up close as various problems arise; and learns about science, medical research, and mental health through her parents’ work. Julia and the Shark is also a beautiful book, with grayscale and yellow illustrations that often blend with the text and give the story a haunting element.
I’m currently reading We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama (Bloomsbury Books), the story of two sisters who become refugees when they flee the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the early 1960s. The book covers the next several decades in their lives.
My TBR list for the next couple months includes Three by Valerie Perrin (Europa Editions), The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury Books), Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (One World Books), Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf), I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart (Two Dollar Radio), The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford (Atria Books), Horse by Geraldine Brooks (Viking), Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra (Hogarth Books), All Your Children, Scattered by Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse (Europa Editions), The Betrayed by Reine Arcache Melvin (Europa Editions), and News of the Air by Jill Stukenberg (Black Lawrence Press).