What I’ve been reading (not a complete list)

So I’m in the last gasp of my summer vacation here, which is painful to write/think about.  It’s never long enough, ever.

That said, it’s been a pretty productive summer.  We’ve tackled some home projects like redoing the bathtub and reupholstering the armchair,  we’ve taken some great family trips, we celebrated the big #10 with a romantic weekend away, and I’m just putting the finishing touches on the manuscript for my next book (more on that soon, very soon).  And —  massive book nerd that I am — I’ve read.  A lot.

Here are some of the highlights of my summer readathon.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty was a wonderfully fabulous escapist read.  It’s about Cora, a housewife from Wichita, Kansas in the 1920s who agrees to escort the teenage Louise Brooks (later to become the famous silent film star) to a summer dance class in New York.    Cora, as we later find out, has her own very personal reason for wanting to go to New  York, and the book very quickly becomes unputdownable.  The plot goes in some rather surprising and thought-provoking directions, raising some social issues that I wasn’t expecting.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When I was a kid, I looooved the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald.  She also wrote for adults, too, and this summer I finally picked up The Egg and I,  first published in 1945, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  It’s the hilarious — no, make that really hilarous — account of her experiences moving to a chicken farm in rural Washington state and trying to cope with no running water, far too many chickens, and some of the most colorful neighbors imaginable, the Kettles.  (Speaking of neighbors, I should mention that MacDonald’s portrayal of the local Native Americans is anything but culturally sensitive — it’s the one thing I didn’t like about this book.)  But if you’re looking for a book that is laugh-out-loud funny in places and will make your own household chores look like child’s play, you’ve found it.

In spite of the fact that California has a significant Vietnamese population, I know very little about the country and the culture.  After reading Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam , however, I can’t claim quite the same stunning level of ignorance I did before.  Andrew X. Pham shares the story of his solo bike tour around Vietnam, the country he and his family escaped from when he was a child.  The descriptions — of food, the towns, the traffic in Saigon, and the people he encounters — are amazingly vivid, and Pham’s own family story is engrossing and,in places, heartbreaking.

I’ve spent the summer going slowly through Margaret Silf’s  book Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality.   I really can’t get enough of her writing.  She presents the basic insights of the Spiritual Exercises in a totally accessible and inviting way.  It has done great things for my prayer life and if you are curious about the legacy of St. Ignatius, this is a great place to start.  (Her brand-new book Just Call Me Lopez is also a super way to get to know St. Ignatius.)

Phew.  I could go on and on, but it’s late, and I’ll stop there.  What have you been reading this summer?  Anything to recommend?

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