Summer seems to be a time when adults have more time for leisure. Perhaps our one-week long vacation that takes us from city to city, amusement park to amusement park is not truly leisure. While it’s packed with activities, we return home trying to catch our breath, as well as to catch up on our sleep before having to catch up on our work that awaits us at home or the office. Perhaps it’s best that the topic, “The Rush Into and Out of Our Vacations” be saved for a later time!
Memorial Day weekend is the time when summer reading lists come out, such as the NY Times and NPR book reviews, along with blog and Facebook posts suggesting what to read or what others are reading for the summer. As we enter the last part of summer, many of us will take vacation time, so consider grabbing a book for your trip or the time away from the office. To help you on your journey, I would like to suggest four books: one retro novel, two current novels, one autobiography and one self-help book.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A Gentlemen in Moscow by Amor Towles
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Hero by Meg Meeker
Murder on the Orient Express: I have watched many Agatha Christie movies over the years and sadly did not know who she was. It was not until this past spring that I read my first Agatha Christie mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. When I heard that Kenneth Branagh films was going to release this into a movie in November 2017, I thought now is the time to catch up on my Agatha Christie reading.
As there has been revival of Sherlock Holmes through movies, and two television series, among the last ten years or more of CSI and other crime-type dramas, it is obvious that Agatha Christie would make a return on the big screen. What movies and television
cannot do with character development Dame Christie does very well and thus the story unfolds. Published in book form in 1934 in both the U.K. and the U.S., was another classic crime novel that had Private Detective Hercule Poirot as the main character, who solves the murder. I suggest as you get halfway through the novel you will not want to put it down but read it to the end!
All the Light We Cannot See: I read this book sometime in 2016 as part of book club, which we spent a couple of sessions discussing the text. It takes place during WWII, and as novels often do, it begins with characters that quickly fade away and others that come and go. All, however, intersect with a blind French girl, names Marie-Laure.
In 2015 Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. The story is written with short succinct paragraphs that moves the reader and the characters along. Two aspects of this novel stood out for me as I was reading. First was how the characters deal with suffering and their surviving of a war and whether the character was French or German. Second was how the reader engages the world through the ears of a blind girl, thus seeing the characters in a different light, as well as how Marie-Laure perceives the landscape of the war.
A Gentleman in Moscow: I recently began reading this novel, and I can say thus far it is a good summer read. What is most surprising is the how Towles takes what a reader may consider a bleak life of “house arrest” and fills Count Alexander Rostov’s with life, humor, suffering and even joy during the hard times over Moscow and the people of Russia under the Soviet oppression. Towles reminds us–sometimes when we expect it and other times when we don’t–of the dangers of living during the Soviet regime and to the point of acknowledging daily life pre-Stalin and during his rule. The teacher is always the student, and in reading about the Count, I too want to learn the ways of a gentleman. Count Alexander is attractive in his grounding in his humanity and as a gentleman, even when titles, money and family are all gone. He has been raised to know who he is and to engage those around in in their fullest humanity, whether the characters are colleagues, members of the inner Soviet bureaucracy or young children.
Hillbilly Elegy: Over the decade and one may say even longer, Americans have had to personalize who are Muslims versus an ambiguous group of people known as terrorists, as well as understanding that Black Lives Matter is not a vague group but fellow Americans, and recently in the last economic downturn turn Americans learned about the 99%, All this to say J.D. Vance puts names and faces on another group in America, the hillbillies of Appalachia. Each individual person who makes up this great country, all have a story. While we may not get to know many, recently, we learned President Obama’s life story as he ran for President of the United States, Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now in his own words, we learn the life of 31-year, white, male, straight, Protestant, who graduated from an Ivy League Law School.
J.D. Vance, even with five boxes checked off for a possible privileged background, comes from Appalachia where most of his family and friends will not leave but succumb to the culture that has overcome the white working class in Kentucky and Ohio. It is a riveting story of who this young man becomes and how he attains the life he has. Whether from fiction or real life, the main characters have pillars in their lives that move them to greatness. We see his grandparents, his grandma, known as Mamaw and his half-sister, Lindsay, as three such pillars that give him the ability to look ahead and move beyond Middletown, Ohio, but who also keep him grounded from where and from whom he is from. Perhaps, I have said too much, but go and read it and allow yourself to get know other Americans in a personal and more human way.
Hero: Meg Meeker has written another book that all parents should read. In her sixth book, Hero, Dr. Meeker focuses on the importance of fathers and fatherhood. Her subtitles always get to the point and in this case what is so important about being a father? as her subtitle states, Being the Strong Father your Children Need. In the world we live in, all around us are one parent families…Dr. Meeker’s text is not for one to go out and find spouse, but rather challenges us to introspection. Just because one is part of a two-parent family does it mean both parents are engaged with their children. Even so, with more than 50% of families being divorced, or not married, Dr. Meeker even presents the questions for dads who are divorced, widowed, or even stepfathers.
I recommend Dr. Meeker’s books and particularly Hero for your summer reading. While some books are geared to mothers and others toward fathers, I always recommend that both read such books, so they continue to further their knowledge about their parental roles and the importance that each has in the family. It is also a small step in assisting parents in communicating and talking about their children with one another and how each can support each other and raise their children together. So once dad is finished with this book, hand it off to mom, she will enjoy it in her own way.
Where ever your vacation takes you, pick up a book from this list as it will bring you little closer to leisure.