Summer Reading: Pairs Event

In which I pair three books read this summer with three books read before this summer that have similar themes but are in some way opposite. It’s a scientific process, people.

IMG_4256Summer Reading: The Gracekeepers,* by Kirsty Logan, takes place in a watery future world (I haven’t seen Waterworld, so I can’t tell you how it compares. Sorry about that). All land is inhabited by landlockers, who jealously guard their island holdings; some of them have returned to earth worship. Everyone else lives at sea. These damplings include scavengers, revivalists who live on converted cruise ships (no pun intended there), messengers, and the crew of the Excalibur, a tiny floating circus. North is the circus’s bear girl, who, like her parents before her, dances with a bear to entertain landlockers in the hope of earning dinner. One night a storm sends the circus crew into the path of Callanish, a gracekeeper—a person in charge of arranging damplings’ burials at sea. North and Callanish exchange secrets and part ways, but they can’t stop wondering about each other, and about the possibility that there’s a way to be of both the land and the sea.

The main characters aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked, but The Gracekeepers is worth picking up for the atmosphere, the world-building, and the supporting characters.

photo (107)

Pair it with: Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water,* another novel set in the future after some kind of environmental disaster—though this time, one that causes a scarcity of water. Memory of Water also features a pair of young women trying to make the best of a dangerous existence while hiding secrets.

IMG_3428Summer Reading: Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country is a hilarious tour through Australia. He talks to almost invariably friendly Australians, gets quite drunk and draws naughty cartoons on a napkin, lists the continent’s unrelentingly deadly wildlife, and doesn’t see too many kangaroos, among other exploits. I can’t say the book makes me want to visit Australia—though Mr. Bryson enthusiastically hopes that you will—but it definitely made me want to visit with Bill Bryson. The book’s one drawback: Mr. Bryson’s failure to write significantly or at any length about Australia’s Aboriginal population; as far as I could tell, he did not speak with a single Aboriginal person.

Still, if you’re one of the people who’s just discovering Mr. Bryson thanks to the press surrounding the upcoming movie version of A Walk in the Woods (which I highly recommend), I recommend reading this one.

photo 3Pair it with: A very different take on Australia, by an Australian. Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda* is a book with teeth, and a lot more anger than laughs. As I wrote in my review, “Danny is an teenage Australian swimmer who dreams of making it to the Olympics; thankfully, there’s no swelling inspirational music in this tightly-plotted, intricately structured novel.”

FullSizeRenderSummer Reading: Mark Forsyth’s The Etymologicon is a circular perambulation through the odd origins of English words. You could pick up the book, flip to any page, and have yourself a laugh reading any entry, but each entry connects in some way to its predecessor and successor, so I think it’d be more entertaining to read it start to (sort of) finish. Mr. Forsyth is the man behind the popular blog The Inky Fool, and The Etymologicon draws heavily from the blog’s content. Though it’s erudite and full of arcane trivia (Starbucks gets its name from the Pequod‘s first mate, whose name was drawn from a prominent whaling family, but the name itself came from a Viking word for an English stream. Really.), but also surprisingly snarky and scatological. Highly entertaining. But what else would you expect from an author whose biography begins, “Mark Forysth is a writer, journalist, proofreader, ghostwriter, and pedant”?

photo (34)Pair it with:  Erin Moore’s That’s Not English,* which I called “a beach read for nerds” in my review. Like The Etymologicon, it’s a funny read about words, but it’s less about etymology than it is about culture.

What bookish pairings have you found this summer, Dear Readers?

*I received a copy of these books from the publishers for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my reviews.

In Brief: (Less) Recent Reads

Herewith, Dear Readers, a gathering of books I recommend and have been meaning to write about for months, in no particular order.

photo 2 (1)The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Perfect for: Almost anyone who has experienced or is currently experiencing adolescence.

I wish my high school’s sophomore English class had included this book in the curriculum instead of The Catcher in the Rye, but I suppose there are about ten reason that would never have happened (including the fact that The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out the same year that I started the tenth grade, so not a lot of vetting time there . . .). Charlie is far and away more interesting and less self-centered than Holden Caulfield; he’s a gifted, introverted teenager who befriends some of his high school’s gloriously interesting misfits during his freshman year. Life lessons ensue, as they tend to do in bildungsroman. I loved the book’s emphasis on compassion; it’s the kind of YA novel I’m going to leave on the shelf in the hope that my son will pick it up someday and find it useful. Bonus: It’s an epistolary novel.

photo 3Barracuda*, by Christos Tsiolkas

Perfect for: Anyone who needs to get out of a reading rut.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. It might sound strange, but it’s incredibly refreshing to read a book that’s about rage, which seems to be Danny Kelly’s primary emotion. Danny is an teenage Australian swimmer who dreams of making it to the Olympics; thankfully, there’s no swelling inspirational music in this tightly-plotted, intricately structured novel. Danny is almost totally unlikable, but so utterly fascinating that it doesn’t matter. Rage isn’t a primary emotion; it’s a symptom of the mess of feelings roiling beneath the surface. Mr. Tsiolkas brings those feelings to brilliant life.  I’m not Australian, and the look into modern Australian culture in this novel was a real eye-opener. No koalas, no kangaroos.

photo 1 (1)Em and the Big Hoom**, by Jerry Pinto

Perfect for: Anyone looking for a novel off the beaten path.

Published in the U.S. this year, Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom is a moving, raw, funny, and tender portrait of a family in crisis, set in modern Bombay. Mr. Pinto uses dialogue, interviews, stories, and anecdotes to create a collage-like portrait of Em, who suffers from bipolar disorder, her husband the Big Hoom, and their children. Em’s shifting moods and crippling depressions leave the family on edge, and the novel is framed as her son’s attempt to understand his mother’s mind. The dialogue is absolutely brilliant, and I kept marking passages to return to later– at least fifty in a very slim volume. Jerry Pinto isn’t as well known here as he should be, and I hope that changes soon.

photo 4Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, by Margaret Atwood

Perfect for: Anyone.***

Margaret Atwood. Short stories almost entirely about older people. Killer last lines. Need I say more?






*I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, which did not affect the content of my review.

** I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

*** Okay, not kids.