Here's the last installment of the 2016 Summer Reading Wrap--but I'll keep doing these. I'll just need to come up with a new image. :)
(I generally only include new books in this, unless I re-read a book that I really liked and want to recommend.)
- The Winthrop Woman, by Anya Seton: Historical fiction. This one started off well: Elizabeth Winthrop is the troublesome niece of John Winthrop, one of the leading figures in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now the state of Massachusetts). Elizabeth isn't really "troublesome" in a 21st century sense, but certainly, for her time, she was, and especially when considered in the light of her Puritan uncle, who insisted on proper behavior at all times from anyone connected with his family.
The novel starts when Elizabeth is a child in England, and I really enjoyed this section. Once she arrived in the New World, though, it lost momentum and became pretty tedious. The story essentially became, Elizabeth gets married; Elizabeth has children; Elizabeth does Something Shameful--Or Is Seen as Shameful by her Dour Neighbors--; Elizabeth Flees; Elizabeth's husband dies/goes crazy; cycle starts again. I had to force myself to finish this, and there was a lot of skimming as I neared the end.
- Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequest: I didn't realize, at first, that this was a series of essays. I thought it would be a little more cohesive. So that colored my first reading of the book. I'm re-reading it now, though, and knowing that it's essays, and not just one big manuscript, is helpful. The title sums up the premise: Niequest says that we don't need to be perfect people; we need to be present to the people in our lives, and stop worrying so much about making sure everything is....perfect. It's a good premise and she writes about it well.
- Cannery Row, John Steinbeck: Since flying over Steinbeck Country (Salinas, CA) in April on the way to Los Angeles, I knew I wanted to read this. Salinas is gorgeous (at least, what I saw of it was). Cannery Row focuses on the people in Monterey, California, during the Great Depressions. It's a series of stories, essentially--there's no overarching theme. But the people of Cannery Row are funny, very human, and sometimes heartbreakingly earnest. One of his better works, I think.
- The Sign of Jonah, Thomas Merton: I'd read The Seven Storey Mountain, but that's all the Merton I've read, probably because I'd heard he was a bit "odd"--his Asian visits and dabbling in Asian spiritual practices, etc.--and more political than religious. But this was a big change. The Sign of Jonah details five years in his early life at Gethsemani Abbey, and in it, his love of prayer, of saying the Mass, and of solitude is tremendously evident. It's full of rich insights and it's great spiritual reading. This is a side of Merton I'd never really heard about, and it was great to discover it by accident. (Thanks, Goodreads Recommendations!)
- On the Other Side of Fear, Hallie Lord: Full disclosure: I love Hallie. I really do. I was lucky enough to meet her, and be interviewed by her, at the 2015 Edel Gathering, and she is a sweet, sweet lady. So I was already pre-disposed to love her book.
But it's good on its own merits. Hallie writes about learning to trust in God, and how that's harder than it actually sounds--and how fear keeps us from peace. We have to learn to trust and rest in God. It's a short book, but a really good one, and reading it is just like having a cup of coffee with Hallie. It's a keeper!
Uninvited, Lysa Terkeurst: (Wow, I did a lot of spiritual/religious reading this month....) Uninvited discusses one of the things all women deal with: Rejection. Starting at a very young age, we know if we're in the "cool" crowd or not--who plays with us at recess? Who invited us to her birthday party? As we grow up, this doesn't change, it just takes different forms. Rejection happens to us all the time. So, how do we deal with it?
Terkeurst does a great job writing about this incredibly painful phenomenon, and the tendency to take rejection as a personal statement on your worth. She also talks about something that I've noticed is pretty true, but very few women discuss, because it's not pretty: desperately wanting something other women have. "We all desperately want something that we see the Lord giving to other women. We see Him blessing them in the very areas He's withholding from us," she writes. "We look at them, and we feel set aside." Man, is that ever true. I've felt that way, on and off, since I was about seventeen. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine and her sister about this very topic. "Why," I said, "has God given me talents and desires if He doesn't want me to use them, or have these good things?"
I underlined a lot of this book. There are sticky notes poking out of it like porcupine quills. I actually finished this book right before a week in my life that was pretty hard, and I'm convinced that reading this, and having these truths in mind, helped soften that week, in the ways it could be softened. I highly recommend this.
- Beach Music, Pat Conroy: I'm a big Pat Conroy fan. Since reading The Great Santini last summer (I picked it up when I was in Charleston), I've read almost all of his books, and I'm sort of sad about that, since he died earlier this year, and that means no more new Pat Conroy books.
Beach Music is typical Conroy, in that autobiographical elements form a large part of the story's base; in this case, it's the death of his mother from leukemia, which, in Beach Music, is the catalyst that gets the protagonist Jack McCall to come back to South Carolina, from his refuge in Italy. Jack took his daughter, Lila, to Italy after his wife, Shyla, committed suicide, and he's sworn that he wants nothing to do with anything in South Carolina.
Like all of his novels, the dark side of it is balanced with a huge helping of humor, here provided by Jack's brothers and some of his mother's more amusing antics. If you're new to Conroy, I highly recommend him--time with his novels is always time well spent. Do NOT base your opinion of his novels on the movies. Prince of Tides, for example, is a much, much, much richer book than the movie would lead you to believe.