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Summer Reading

Well here it is -- the end of summer. Tomorrow many of us report back to school for a day-long workshop on mental health. Then, next week, all teachers all week; the week after, the real reason we do what we do -- the kids.

Here are the books I read --

Of course, I meant to read much more! I always have high hopes for getting through piles of books. Still, these were all wonderful summer companions -- thoughtful and fun and beautiful and engaging. I enjoyed them all for different reasons. One of the benefits of having a book out in the world, I'm discovering, is meeting--both in person and virtually--lots of other writers, so I'm finding that more and more and more book titles are coming my way, increasing my to-read pile exponentially! These are the books I read for such connections--

Replacement Child by Judy Mandel is a memoir. It's a haunting story, an evocation of the events leading up to the death of Mandel's oldest sister when a plane crashed into their home, before Mandel was born, before she became the replacement child. It's an exploration of Mandel's role in the family, in an attempt to understand that role, and also, I think, an homage to her family, both her parents and her surviving sister. It's beautiful and compelling.

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel has been rightfully getting tons of great press! It's the story of Kate, who, as a last desperate measure after her romantic life has fallen apart, takes a job in the admissions department of a wealthy private school in Manhattan. As you might imagine, lots of entanglements ensue, with keen, well-drawn descriptions of the ins and outs of private schools as well as the families that hope to send their children there. A terrific read! (SIDE NOTE: Amy Poeppl and Stacey Lender -- author of City Mouse-- you two should meet if you don't know each other and you should have a reading together! Your books complement each other!).

I devoured Patrick Dacey's The Outer Cape. As a New Englander myself, and as someone who is pretty familiar with the Cape, I couldn't wait to read this one. I love Dacey's writing style and his dark, honest character portrayals. As I read this book, I kept thinking of Manchester-by-the Sea, which, for me at least, is a huge compliment. I loved that film! The setting of The Outer Cape is similar; this isn't the Cape Cod of quaint cottaged tourist towns but a stark and bleak backdrop, the story of the Kelly family, Robert and Ilene, Nathan and Andrew, and their struggles to achieve the American Dream.

I read The Love Book by Nina Solomon because 1) she is another Kaylie Jones Book author; and 2) because the book description summarizes the story as "four unlikely friends who discover a mysterious book about love" on a bike trip. The Love Book was a fast, fun read, and a good change of pace after the intensity of Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies -- which I also loved but which I also had to grow accustomed to.

They Could Live With Themselves by Jodi Paloni was a joy! A collection of linked stories, the book explores the lives of inhabitants of a small Vermont town, many of them reappearing in each other's stories. I fell in love with these people, with Sky and Molly and Meredith and Wren and Maeve and the rest. Reading this book reminded me of a favorite TV show, "Northern Exposure" and its set of quirky characters, all lovable, all flawed. The writing is lovely, each story a gem. I especially adored the ways that young people are depicted, their inner lives so beautifully rendered and tenderly exposed.

I assigned Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing as summer reading for my 11th grade American literature students -- and I'm curious as to their reactions. I've asked them to consider how reading this book might prepare us for a study of American literature--the story of two Ghanian sisters, Effia and Essi, one who marries a white European slave trader and the other who becomes a slave, sent over to America. More a collection of stories than a novel, each story/chapter is devoted to a descendant of either woman, and when read altogether, form a vast and ambitious story of the terrible legacy of slavery on America and its people. A truly impressive debut novel.

Speaking of impressive debuts...Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer and Stephanie Powell Watts' No One is Coming to Save Us. More on those books later. But wow. Lots of incredible writing talent out there.

Oh, Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar Mazzeo, was a fascinating read, the history of the Hotel Ritz in Paris and its role in Nazi-occupied France. Anyone remotely interested in Paris or World War II or the lives of American ex-patriates in Paris in the 20's and 30's will love this book. I couldn't put it down.

That's it for now -- a round up of summer reading. I was going to give a recap of my summer, of my book events and all the wonderful travel in New England, but that might have to be for another day, too. Now, onto fall reading -- !

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