Book lovers read year round, of course, but there is something about summer that seems especially made for reading. Whether it’s by the pool or ocean, on a long flight, or at home by the air conditioner, reading is one of summer’s pleasures. Here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed during the past year. Please feel free to respond with comments about these books or recommendations of your own. I’m always eager to hear what others are reading.
"The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown. It’s hard not be a little weird when your English professor father speaks primarily in Shakespearean verse, and you grow up in house infused with books, and without a television. The three sisters are adults in this story, back home because of a family crisis. Together they must untangle their identities and relationships, and sort out who and what they are as adults.
"Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford. My favorite novel of the year. Henry Lee is a 12-year-old Chinese-American boy who falls in love with the only other non-Caucasian student in his Seattle school, Keiko Okabe, a 12-year-old Japanese-American girl. The problem is that it is World War II. His father hates the Japanese. And Keiko’s family is rounded up and sent to a relocation center. The novel alternates between the 1980s, when Henry’s wife dies of cancer, and the 1940s romance with Keiko. It is truly a bittersweet story, one that stayed with me long after the book was finished.
"The Widower’s Tale" by Julia Glass. Glass specializes in stories of the intricacies of family life and relationships. Her fourth novel features Percy Darling, a cantankerous, newly retired Harvard librarian who takes comfort in stability and certitudes. Certainties give way to surprising reversals of fortune as Percy decides to lease his barn to a local preschool, and his beloved grandson, a Harvard senior, falls in with an ecoterrorist group.
"The Three Weissmanns of Westport" by Caroline Schine. This New York Times notable book of 2010 is an often funny story of three women starting over in their lives. When Betty Weissmann is 75, her husband of five decades trades her in for a younger model. She and her two adult daughters, also in crisis, move to a cottage in Westport, Conn. Together the three women learn that life’s disappointments can open the door to unexpected pleasures.
"Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese. Years ago I enjoyed Verghese’s memoir, "In My Own Country," about his experience treating AIDS patients in rural East Tennessee. This time the doctor turns his literary skills to fiction that draws from his own life. "Cutting for Stone" moves from India to Ethiopia to New York, telling the story of twin brothers set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up, and reconciliation in their new life in New York. I didn’t want this one to end.
"The Third Miracle" by Bill Briggs. Many years ago Bill Briggs was a police reporter for the Nashville Banner and I was his editor. The reporting and writing skills he honed there are evident in this look at how the Vatican makes saints. In 2001, at a Catholic convent in Indiana, a Baptist handyman named Phil McCord makes a desperate prayer for healing of his eye. Inexplicably, he gets better. Was it possible that the long-dead founder of the convent, Mother Theodore Guerin, interceded with God on his behalf ? That’s what the nuns who have long tried to have their founder named a saint believe. Bill follows the process from the Indiana woods to the Vatican in this fascinating book.
"The Grace of Silence" by Michele Norris. The host of NPR’s "All Things Considered" set out to write a book about conversations about race around the country in the wake of Barack Obama’s successful run for the presidency. Instead, she discovered that the conversations she needed to listen and write about were about the race-related secrets she finds within her own family. A beautifully written and poignant memoir.
'Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town" by Warren St. John. This moving story is set in our own backyard, in Clarkston. St. John, a reporter for The New York Times, tells the story of the Fugees, a soccer program for boys from refugee families who have resettled here. Interwoven with stories of the team are looks at the lives these young boys fled, and the impact of the influx of thousands of refugees from around the world on a small, Southern town. A very good read.
"Made for Goodness" by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho are no strangers to the effects of evil on the world. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, the former Anglican archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate has experienced evil firsthand. And yet, in this moving book he reminds us that God created us for goodness, and that evil is an aberration, not be to be ignored or denied, but overcome.
"The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson. An amazing look at the “great migration” of African-Americans from the south to the north. Wilkerson, a former New York Times reporter, focuses on three families, and tells the stories of their treatment in the apartheid South of the Jim Crow era, and the incidents that led them to leave their homes for what was essentially a foreign land. A book that every Southerner should read.