Books I read this week: All of June

Here’s what I read in June:

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller is a deceptively simple book. Peggy’s father takes her from their home in London into the German mountains to live when the world ends. He’s prepared for this, and they are able to survive while everyone else in the world dies. Living alone is hard, but they do it, and then one day Peggy sees someone that is not her father, and their isolated existence begins to crumble around them. This book is disturbing, but really, really good.

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom is a YA novel about a blind high school girl who loves to run. She has very strict rules for those around her, and is very sure of herself; until her father dies and her aunt, uncle, and cousins move into her house, her school is combined with another school, and her old boyfriend shows up again. Parker is a great character, as are the others in the book. They’re all very realistic teenagers, and though some of the situations are a little groan worthy as you wish that people would JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER, they’re also very realistic. I enjoyed this one.

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri is fascinating. Lahiri has long been besotted with the Italian language, and in an attempt to become fluent, decided to only write in Italian. This book is a translation of essays that she wrote about the process of learning to write in another language (the translation done by someone else, not herself) and her Italian and the English translation are on facing pages of the book. It’s so interesting to read about someone who is so skilled at writing in English choosing to “hobble” herself by writing in a language she doesn’t know as well, and to see the choices that she makes as a result.

Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendall is a lovely book about focusing on appreciating the things and people around you. It has some excellent insights and I really enjoyed it.

He said, “I stopped trying to impress people a long time ago. I realized when I’m trying to impress someone, I’m not loving them well.”

The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt is SO fascinating. It’s the result of a year of letters written back and forth between the two, wherein Vanderbilt tells Cooper stories that he never knew about her childhood and early years (she’s his mom). They talk about life and death and love, and it made me want to write letters to my parents. I highly recommend this one.

There have been times when I wished I had a scar or a mark, a visible sign of the pain I still feel over Daddy’s death and Carter’s. It would be easier, in a way, if people knew without my having to say anything that I am not whole, that part of me died long ago.

Give Your Child the World by Jamie C. Martin is a book full of lists of books. That’s one of my favorite kinds of books. This one focuses on books set in different parts of the world, with an eye on helping kids learn empathy by “knowing” people all over the world. It’s broken into sections by continent, and then by age group, and includes fiction and non-fiction. I marked a ridiculous number of books as “must reads”.

Little Labors by Rivka Galchen is a gorgeous little book. Full of short segments about any number of things (including a love of Japan, Frankenstein, orange being a trendy color), all the pieces add up to a picture of motherhood that is raw and honest. The child in the book is never referred to as a child, but rather whatever animal the mother is reminded of- she begins as a puma  and becomes a chicken as she gets older; this is indicative of the book as a whole. It’s a little surreal, a little metaphorical, a ton real.

It’s true what they say, that a baby gives you a reason to live. But also, a baby is a reason that it is not permissible to die. There are days when this does not feel good.

The Cozy Life by Pia Edberg is about the Danish concept of Hygge, which translates roughly into “cozy”. It’s an approach to life that makes homes welcoming and winters less cold and dismal. There are some lovely ideas about how to make little changes to become more “cozy”, and I really liked this book.

The joy in the simple things, such as making a home-cooked meal, cleaning the house, planting our own herbs, or inviting someone over for tea has been removed because we perceive them as difficult and time-consuming. We need to pause once in a while, embrace the calm, and find joy in the small details, even in the tasks that seem so mundane.

Something Beautiful by Courtney Roberts is about living consciously and deliberately. There wasn’t really anything terribly groundbreaking, but it was an enjoyable read.

Make Room For What You Love by Melissa Michaels is one of the best organization/clutter books I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot. Her central goal is honoring the space that you have in your house, and making good decisions when it comes to what comes in and stays in it.  She poses a question: “Will keeping this item or making this decision increase the clutter and chaos or move my space closer toward order and beauty?” that has been really helpful in approaching different areas in my own home. She also suggests that every space have a definition of what goes there- as specific as “this shelf is for up to 5 sweaters that currently fit me and have no holes in them” or “this is a drawer for jammies I would not be ashamed to be seen in should the fire department need to rescue me”. I highly recommend this one.

Honoring the space we have first is a different mind-set for decluttering than evaluating the worthiness of each object to determine what we can keep. It’s understandable that we will perceive each item we own as having some worth to us because perhaps we paid a lot of money for it, it has sentimental value, it’s appealing to us, or it may be useful or used again in some way in the future.

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick is a graceful book about a young woman who feels like an outcast, who is given an out of print, cult favorite book. She becomes enthralled by it, and writes a letter to the author, who meets with her and introduces her to a young man who is similarly obsessed with the book. They both decide to live by the book’s exhortation to quit the things that they don’t find meaningful, and that plays out in different ways for each of them. The parents are beautifully portrayed,  (rather than being neglectful or stupid) and the main characters are realistically flawed and struggling. The book definitely didn’t end the way I thought it was going to, and I really enjoyed it.

“Because lonely people often have great ideas but no support. People with support too often have bad ideas but power. And you don’t give up power. No one does, regardless of whether they have good ideas or not. No one gives up power without a long, bloody fight—one that usually involves foul play. Lonely people typically can’t stomach treachery, and that’s another problem. They tend to tell the truth and fight fair. So we need art and music and poetry for the lonely people to rally around.”

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee is a gorgeous foray into the Frankenstein story. Set in a history where clockwork and mechanical body parts are used to help those injured in war, a young man uses his knowledge of such things to do something no one has ever done before- bring his brother back from the dead. And his friend, Mary Shelley, knows about it. And that’s really all you need to know. Just go read it already. You won’t regret it.

When I was a boy, I remember reading books and thinking the monsters weren’t afraid, but they are. They’re more frightened than anyone.

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