I read an unusual (for me) amount of fiction this month, so I thought I’d share the highlights of my June books with you. Perhaps you’ll find something you’d like to read this summer.
I don’t usually read zombie novels. Never, actually, before Max Brooks’ World War Z. It was the comparison to Studs Terkel that drew me in, and I was not disappointed. Written as a volume of oral histories – first hand accounts – collected soon after the war had ended, WWZ is more social/political commentary than thriller, more about humanity than monsters.
Here, the zombie apocalypse is merely the backdrop for the human story. Brooks shows us the myriad of responses to unimaginable disaster, both on an international and very personal scale. My husband and son both read this, and it has been a fun one to discuss. I’m recommending it to my book group, too.
Every Wednesday on my Facebook page, I ask people to share what they are reading. This was one of the books shared with me there. Thank you, Stacey!
Originally published in 1932, I was happy to find it republished (and available at my library) for the kindle. D.E. Stevenson, a popular and prolific writer in the 20th century, is all but forgotten today, but Miss Buncle’s Book shouldn’t be.
This might be the perfect light summer read: a village of quirky characters, some startled, some enraged to find themselves the subject of a book. “Charming” doesn’t do it justice, although it is. It’s the satire that makes it still worth reading – the very premise of a newly impoverished, unimaginitive spinster writing a novel because her maid doesn’t want to keep chickens. Times and media may change, but people don’t. You, too, will recognize every character in Miss Buncle’s Book.
I download a lot of free memoirs for my kindle. Often, let’s just say, there is good reason they are free. This one is an exception.
When Veronica Li’s aging parents came to live with her, she recorded her mother’s story in her native Cantonese, and translated it for us. Flora’s life spanned most of the 20th century. Born in Hong Kong in 1918, she emigrated to the USA in 1967. Between those years, she lived in poverty and in wealth; attained a college degree; fled the Japanese invasion; married securely but unhappily; moved many times as her husband lost jobs; had four children; worked; stayed at home to be a traditional, dutiful Chinese wife; suffered bouts of depression; and never gave up her determination to make a better life for her children.
Admirable as the strength of her will was, it was the glimpse into Chinese culture that sets her memoir apart. Li lived in such different places, both geographically and socio-economically, and she takes her readers there with her, whether its a Catholic girls school in Hong Kong or a sleazy nightclub in Thailand.
Mary Roach makes science fun, and scientists funnier. This time she explores the science and scientists of digestion, from the first sniff to the final exit. Gulp probably explains more than you ever wanted to know about Elvis, fistulated stomachs, or flatulence, but it’s more entertaining than revolting, or at least equally entertaining and revolting, and it’s educational, too. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to use my new knowledge of saliva, but I’m sure it come in handy eventually.
(Although I enjoyed Gulp, if you haven’t read Roach’s Packing for Mars, I would recommend that one over this.)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In such a short book, Neil Gaiman writes about the power of memory and forgetting, of love and sacrifice, of the boundaries of oceans and backyards, of coming of age and never growing up. In short, he gives us a fairytale, and like all good fairy tales, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is mesmerizing because there is so much truth in it. It’s not the supernatural, but the realistic that makes it magical.
I don’t want to say too much, and rob you of the joy of discovering it for yourself, so I will leave you with just this one quote:
“I do not miss childhood, but I do miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from the things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane