It is August! Oh my!
Our annual staff summer reading list is always fun to put together. This year it was a reminder for many of us of how quickly the season seems to be flying by and how many books there are still waiting to be read. But no worries: the cooler months make for cozy reading, too. As the novelist Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
Here are a few of the books on our minds and in our hands right now! Happily, since a book is timeless, we think you’ll find recommendations from past years that inspire you, too!
From Meg: Summer is just racing by and I haven’t done anywhere near as much reading as I’d hoped. I’m halfway though “Little Faith” by Nickolas Butler and I’ve just picked up “This Storied River – Legend & Lore of the the Upper Mississippi” by former WHC board member Dennis McCann. “Little Faith” (also recommended by Gail below!) explores the family dynamic that emerges when different perspectives on faith clash over how best to care for a sick child. It sets this story in a richly detailed Wisconsin seasonal and cultural landscape as grandparents struggle to remain in the lives of their ill grandchild. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve only just begun to dig into “This Storied River,” which I was excited to read after hearing the author tell one of the stories in it. The unique stories about places along the Mississippi River, from effigy mounds to the button boom, speak to my love of rivers and history.
From Shawn: I’m reading a book that was a National Book Award Finalist in 2014 titled “Citizen, An American Lyric,” by Claudia Rankine. In parabolic prose poems, photos, art and essays, the book elucidates the raw impact of emotional injury the author personally experienced or witnessed from subtle and unexpected moments when racism surfaced – between she and friends, between she and colleagues, and among strangers on the train headed for Union Station. There is also the tumult of being rendered invisible (hence, insignificant) by society at large which shows up in the news every day, and in gestures and the facial expressions of neighbors in drugstore check-out lines. This book is a painful read no matter the color of your skin. Carve out enough time to process the shock of it.
From Carmelo: This summer I was up for light and fun reading. I finally took one of my wife’s reading recommendations seriously and picked up her beat-up pocketbook copy of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (after 15 years of insistence on her part). A TV series based on the book is now streaming on Amazon Prime (I won’t be watching it until I’m through with the book!). This now-classic comedic novel tells the story of the attempts of Heaven and Hell to finally unleash the Apocalypse and the efforts of an unlikely alliance between an angel named Aziraphale and a demon named Crowley to thwart such prophetic attempts. Aziraphale and Crowley have both been living among humans for thousands of years, and have therefore developed an appreciation for all things humans and, in the particular case of Crowley, for earthly pleasures. The plan? To swap babies, so baby Antichrist be placed with a normal human family, instead of his designated Demon family, to sabotage the implementation of the book of Revelations prophecy. From page one I realized that the irony in this book is to die for. The humor in these pages reaches Apocalyptic proportions very quickly. Wonderful reading if you want to decompress or recharge through laughter!
From Jessica: For fans of Barbara Kingsolver’s characters and storytelling, it is a treat when a new book comes out. I loved her latest, “Unsheltered,” a story set in Vineland, New Jersey. The real city of Vineland was established by a property developer in the 1860s as an alcohol-free utopian society based on agriculture and progressive thinking. In the book, chapters alternate between a family living in a crumbling home of dubious historic importance in modern times with a family living in nearly the same spot in the early years of the city’s founding. Delightfully, the last two words of each chapter form the title of the next chapter, allowing the ideas in the two stories to weave together poetically. Characters in both families find their beliefs about the world coming unhinged just as the literal roofs on their homes collapse and threaten to make the families homeless, or unsheltered. I especially enjoyed learning about Mary Treat, a real-life botanist and entomologist who corresponded with Darwin, studied the carnivorous plants of the pine barrens, and brought new scientific ideas to popular audiences in her regular pieces in magazines like Harper’s. When visiting family in New Jersey this summer, I made a point of going to Batso Village to see where Mary Treat set off into the woods for her plant studies!
From Dena: What better time than summer to read something thoroughly addictive? I’m half-way into the second of the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante and will not stop until I’ve read them all (“My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” “and “The Story of the Lost Child.”) Their driving force is the friendship between two women, beginning with their childhood in a working class neighborhood in Naples. Either character alone would be fascinating enough to carry an entire novel. The two together, and Ferrante’s brilliant depiction of their friendship and their struggles in life and with one another, are mesmerizing. The emotional complexity of the two characters is so convincing that I’m sure, like me, you’ll decide they must be real. Add a ton of great plot, great secondary characters, and some ocean…. Maybe you’ve heard that HBO did a version, but don’t even think of watching instead of reading!
From Gail: I’m also recommending “Little Faith” by Wisconsin writer Nick Butler. I was fortunate to work with Nick years ago and have read all his books. I can recommend them all. But this one I really enjoyed. It is subtle and powerful, and beautifully written. In an interview, he explained: “I don’t know how NOT to be influenced by the people I love, namely my family and friends. I also don’t know how to write about the world I’m struggling to understand, the world I’m trying to celebrate, the world I’m trying to critique, without incorporating my own feelings, perceptions, and history. So it often seems that my books very much have the fingerprints of real people all over their pages. ” As for the inspiration for this story, he said, “I’d been thinking about the Kara Neumann case since 2008 when her death came to light. It was just a horrendous story and something that still resonates with any adult who was alive at that time, but especially those with children.”
In conclusion, in the words of Nick Butler: “Read a book. Any book. Thanks.”