Monday, October 3, 2011

Close of Summer 2011: Bookworm Style

Technically "fall" started 10 days ago, on the 23rd, but it didn't feel real to me until this weekend for two reasons. 

The first, we finally had a touch of cool, open your windows and snuggle under the covers, weather this weekend in the typically hot and sticky NorCenFLA.

Secondly, I had a long hard chat with myself about the fact that my body cannot keep up with teaching, while acting like it's still summer. That means staying up until midnight reading, blogs, books and watching trashy tv like I'm still on summer vacation, only to get up at 4am and do school work, isn't going to fly. I was sick, tired, frustrated and may or may not have broken down in tears of exhaustion on Friday after the last bell of the day rang.

But did I ever have a good summer of reading. Here are the highlights. 

Song Yet Sung

This amazing story set on the Underground Railroad, aka gospel train, tells the story of Liz, a stolen slave who ties the 1860s on the Chesapeake Bay to the civil rights movement, as she has "dreams of the future" foreshadowing the work of Martin Luther King. This cross centennial story is most definitely a tragic novel, but I loved the message, and the overall concept of hope in the face adversity. I listened to this as an audio book and the reader Leslie Uggams was incredible, singing the title song throughout and giving each character their own voice. 

Farewell to Arms

This is a classic that I've been meaning to read for several years now. (Somehow I made it though high school and college without reading any of the "modern classics" so I'm catching up as an adult.) Overall, I enjoyed the story but I will admit that at times I was a bit bored with all the "you are such a lovely girl" blah, blah, "have another drink" blah, blah. I saw the ending coming from a mile away, but I did giggle quite a bit and that is a successful story in my book, errrr, opinion.

Cathedral of the Sea

This book may have changed my life. I'm serious. I read this about a month before going on my summer trip to Europe and while I already knew I was going to Barcelona to visit my friend Sam, I didn't really have anything else planned. Thank you Falcones, for giving my trip a purpose, other than to drink copious volumes of cava with my childhood friend. (No worries, friends, I polished off plenty of cava for the cause!) 

This novel follows the life of one man, Arnau Estanyol, in tandem with the construction of Santa Maria del Mar or the Cathedral of the Sea, in the 14th century.  This style of novel has always been my favorite, an epic historical fiction, with connections to real historical figures and moments. The day I realized that that I was going to get to visit this beautiful Gothic church, build stone by stone on the laboring backs of the common men of Barcelona I nearly cried. The day I visited the cathedral, I just couldn't stop smiling, and got goosebumps as I touched the 700 year old stones. 

Read this book. Visit Barcelona. Feel the ghosts of bastaixos who labored with love for their Lady of the Sea.

Fall of Giants

This was another perfectly timed read, right before my trip abroad. Fall of Giants is the first of a trilogy that will follow three generations of British, German, American, Russian and Irish families through WWI, WWII and the Cold War. Of course I love Ken Follett, and epic novels (see above!), but it was so fitting I was hearing about all these European cities, many of which I was about to visit in the coming weeks. My history in WWI and WWII has apparently been lacking, and I really enjoyed seeing how the World Wars have effected so many parts of Europe. I cannot wait for the second book, which is scheduled to be released Spring 2012, because the first book leaves you hanging, with all the main characters having survived the war, and each of them recently having given birth to a young child.

Beatrice and Virgil

I read this book two days after visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site in Germany. 

I knew this book was by Yann Martel. I knew it was about animals, as was Life of Pi. I knew that it had some twists. I did not realized that I would be quietly sobbing on a plane to Scotland, because of the strong Holocaust themes. Should you read this book? Absolutely. Will you like it? Well, you decide. It made my stomach hurt, my eyes burn and my temper flare. But that is just me.

Little Bee

Little Bee is not a light read. Are parts of it funny? Yes. But just as many moments are raw, literally graphic and down right painful. This story of a Nigerian refugee in England is set against the backdrop of a British woman and her 4 year old boy Charlie, who will only answer to Batman, recovering from the suicide of Andrew, her husband. This novel explores the place of refugees in "civilized" nations, and the "fairness" of their treatment.

The Glass Castle

This autobiographical story of Jannette Walls growing up with vagabond parents, whom didn't seem to notice if their four children had food, shelter or clean clothing was actually a fascinating read. This story didn't tear at my heart strings as much as enrage me to know that this story is happening in every town around our country. I teach students who remind me of Jeannette. No clean clothes, but so very bright. No friends, but desperate for a positive social outlet. Hungry bodies and even hungrier minds.

The Help

I laughed, I cried. I laughed so hard I cried. And then I just cried. 

You is smart. You is kind. You is important. 

I cannot wait to hang that on a nursery wall one day, if not mine, then of my "niece or nephew." If you haven't read this yet, please do. And then go do the laugh, cry, laugh, cry some more routine during the movie, too.

Skinny Dip

Least you think my entire summer was filled with war, disadvantaged members of society and tragedy, I had my fair share of "beach reads" too. My favorite author of said summer category is Carl Hiaasen. I've read quite the laundry list of his novels: Nature Girl, Star Island, Sick Puppy, Double Whammy....well, you get the point! My first and favorite remains Skinny Dip, the hysterical story of a husband who attempts to murder his wife by tossing her overboard from a cruise liner. Poor schmuck forgot that she is a champion swimmer, and after she survives, takes revenge on her looser hubby, with the help of a reclusive retired police officer.

Well, there you have it. A summer well spent between the pages of books and lands both near and far.

Have any of your recent reads overlapped with mine? Do share! Now if you'll excuse me, I have an early bedtime tonight.

Love to all,
~the "I might just read under the covers with a flashlight anyways" gal, Jess


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