Research shows that reading novels and other literature helps readers better understand other perspectives and increases the reader’s own social navigation abilities. An October 2013 NY Times article discussing the studies stated researchers “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.” While we agree what the study uncovered ample self-improvement reasons for picking up some great fiction, we believe that many pieces of classical literature are also just darn good stories. So in this post we share some of our favorite classics — many read long, long ago. And we implore you, please don’t think of the classics as something you HAD to read in High School; read them for the great books that they are. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. Do you know what it is? ~ Lisa Cadow Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Though lesser known than One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel is my favorite of the two. Its premise distills to a basic question — what if it were possible, not only to promise to love someone ”forever,” but to actually do so, to actually make all life’s choices based upon this vow? Set in an unnamed Caribbean town, the three characters, Florentino, Fermina and Dr. Urbino form the love triangle at the center of the author’s answers to this question. Florentino, after declaring his undying love for Fermina as a teen, is not at all deterred when she marries Dr. Urbino, and vows to wait until she is free. This happens 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later (yes, I had to look this detail up), when suddenly, (in a way only Garcia Marquez can pull off) Dr. Urbino dies while chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The novel explores all three of their lives in real time, in retrospect, with some magic realism (of course), and through the prism of this promise to love forever. ~ Lisa Christie My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – This novel unwraps the difficulties facing the Shimerdas, recent immigrants to America’s midwest, as narrated by a boy who met the family on a train taking them all to the same Nebraska town to live. While the hardships are harrowing, and the situations faced by both major and minor characters truly dire, the novel somehow manages to be both quiet and reassuring. It is a practical, well-crafted, not at all romantic look at the resilience of the human spirit and the hardiness of the many European immigrants who came across the ocean to begin again in America’s west. As such, this story is important, but more importantly, it is a very good story. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – Originally published in 1942, West with the Night still reads as if it was hot off the presses. This breathtaking memoir tells the story of the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, penned by an author who was described by Ernest Hemingway as someone who “can write rings around all of us.” Markham was an adventurer, a poet, a philosopher, and a free spirit to her core who has served as an inspiration to generations of women. Her first loves were the horses she trained in east Africa as a teen. After discovering aviation, however, she never looked down. From 1931 to 1936 Markham delivered mail from her plane to remote locations in east Africa before heading north, across the Mediterranean, and then eventually across the Atlantic. If you liked Out of Africa, you will love this book. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam on March 27, 2012) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Posted in Book Clubs, Fiction Fanatics, Must Read Memoirs | Tagged benefits of reading literature, Beryl Markham, Classic Fiction, classical literature, Classics, Daphne Du Maurier, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Garcia Marquez, Lisa Cadow, Lisa Christie, literary fiction, literature, Love in the Time of Cholera, My Antonia, New York Times, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Out of Africa, Rebecca, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, West With the Night, Willa Cather | Leave a Comment »
Happy last days of summer. We enjoyed many great books over the summer months, and are slightly sad to see the longer days fade. That said, we are truly looking forward to all the good books being published for autumn and the holidays.
We start our 2014-15 posting season (yes, we Lisas still tend to adhere to the rhythm of an academic year) with two picks from our “gone reading” hiatus. Many of the other books we read in August will appear in later posts around various themes. But, for now, our two picks for your last week of official summer.
The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (2013) – It seems only appropriate to include this title in a post celebrating the last days of summer; this novel is set in that very season in Welfleet, Massachusetts in 1972. I was drawn to this book for its blue-blooded oceanfront Cape Cod setting but ended up appreciating it for it’s complex characters, unexpected twists and turns of plot, and the voice of its twelve-year-old narrator Riddle who unwittingly witnesses a terrible crime in her neighbor’s horse barn. As she tries to make sense of what happened that June day, she simultaneously navigates adolescence, her parent’s fraught relationship, and her father’s political campaign for Senate. It is all at once a mystery, the tale of a dysfunctional family, a coming-of-age story, and a look back at the summer traditions and politics of a different (pre-twitter) era. If you appreciate this book and the smart way it sets itself apart from being just another beach read, you might also enjoy Wise Men by Stuart Nadler also set on the Cape but in the summer of 1952 (reviewed on the Book Jam, July 23, 2013). ~ Lisa Cadow
Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with his narrative of a son trying to understand his unusual family — a family of four orbiting the manifestations of his mother’s bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story, and/or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. Along the way, it also provides a look at life in Bombay. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book; it is well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie
And a bonus pick — One of the many books read with with my 6th grader this summer. He proclaimed it “the best book ever” (with The Wednesday Wars by the same author the “next best”). Mr. Schmidt, the author, has an amazing descriptive voice, ear for dialog, and ability to capture middle school angst and humor. You don’t need to take our word for it, School Library Journal raved as well.
OK For Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – Even though I had read this before and knew what was coming, I still cried while reading this with my son. Douglas Swieteck, a character from The Wednesday Wars, has many tough situations to overcome in this novel. His family just moved. His father is abusive and up to no good. His mother is trying to hold it together. And, his oldest brother returns from Vietnam with limbs missing, as well as seen and unseen scars. Along the way a superb librarian, some drawing lessons, an Audubon portfolio, and a few grown-ups willing to take a chance on a kid from the wrong side of the tracks provide much-needed help. But perhaps even more importantly, Doug manages to improve some grown-ups along the way. Please read this book and then share it with your favorite pre-teen. ~ Lisa Christie
And now, farewell summer 2014 …
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Kids at Heart | Tagged Bi-polar disease, Elizabeth Kelly, Em and the Big Hoom, end of summer reading, Gary Schmidt, Jerry Pinto, Last Summer of the Camperdowns, OK for Now, School Library Journal, Stuart Nadler, Wednesday Wars, Wise Men | 2 Comments »
Now that Ms. Boyd’s studio event has ended, we remind you that The Book Jam has “gone reading”. Do not fear — we left behind great picks for you to read during these last few weeks of summer. Just visit our July 2014 posts for our most recent choices of great Young Adult, Elementary/Middle Grades and Adult novels.
We will be back in mid-September with more superb books for you from our August reading adventures. In the meantime, have a GREAT back-to-school season and superb Labor Day weekend.
There are so many books that we could list as perfect books for these last fleeting weeks of summer. However, we recognize reading time is limited, and we severely limited our picks to help you choose the right book(s) for you.
We hope you enjoy our selections. And we truly hope, that whatever you choose to read during these last weeks of summer, you have a great time reading; we know we will.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub (2014) – Put on your sun block and travel to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca with Manhattan’s Post family for their two-week summer vacation. Things are not as they immediately appear however, for parents Franny and Jim who are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary or for their 28 year-old son and college-bound 18 year-old daughter. Author Straub slowly reveals the issues, skeletons, and neuroses of the Posts as well as those of the house guests who are accompanying them for this adventure. As a reader, I appreciated the way the characters’ concerns were slowly shared – as well as were the the sights, sounds, beaches, nightclubs and even grocery stores of the island. There’s a little something for everyone in this book (i.e., love, remorse, redemption, parenting, cooking, a beautiful Spanish villa) which makes it the perfect summer read. ~ Lisa Cadow
Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – Truly terrific. A well-crafted tale of three anthropologists and their time observing and living with the various peoples in the Territory of New Guinea. Set between the two World Wars, Ms. King explores a complex love triangle among three gifted and often confused young scientists. This novel is loosely based upon real life events from the life of Margaret Mead — all from a trip to the Sepik River in New Guinea, during which Mead and her husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson — and it has me searching for nonfiction treatments of her life. The New York Times agrees that this book is a must read this summer. ~ Lisa Christie
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a fabulous World War II novel (yes, dear readers, there is room for another title in this genre) that tells the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl from Paris, and Werner, a brilliant German boy with a gift for math, radios and engineering. Their seemingly disparate lives converge in the seaside fortress town on St. Malo, France in 1944. The author does and excellent job of slowly building the suspense and pace throughout the novel turning it into a real page-turner by the time the bombs start dropping in Brittany. Many people are describing this as “the book of the summer”, and I just might have to agree. ~ Lisa Cadow
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 is US) – This haunting tale of Iceland (we at the Book Jam love Icelandic tales), takes the true stories of Agnes – a woman convicted of murdering two men, of the family of four forced to house her while she awaits her execution, and of Toti – the Reverend charged with saving her soul, and then combines them into a fabulous first novel. As winter unfolds, each night after the day’s work is completed, Agnes narrates her version of the events leading up to the murders for anyone willing to listen. The tale she weaves is haunting for all those hearing her; you will remember this novel long after you finish.~ Lisa Christie
Please note that this will be our last post until mid-September — we have “gone reading” for the month of August. We look forward to sharing our “gone reading” finds with you in our Autumn posts.
Posted in Armchair Travelers, Fiction Fanatics | Tagged All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, books for summer, Burial Rites, Emma Straub, Euphoria, Hannah Kent, Lily King, Margaret Mead, Summer Books, summer reading, summer vacation, The Vacationers, vacation reading | 5 Comments »
An email from one of our great friends in need of perfect books for her soon-to-be-High-School-Senior to read this summer led to this post. Since this student is an avid and discriminating reader, she wanted well-written books. However, since this student’s summer plans include attending a challenging academic camp, she wanted our picks to be “fun” to read.
What follows is based upon the list we created for her. Since we think it is pretty good list for anyone (adult and young adult alike) looking for good books to read this summer, we share it now with you.
Before we begin our reviews, we would like to note two things about this list. 1) Most of the titles were published years ago. We list them now because people currently in high school were too young for these novels when they initially appeared on bookstore shelves, and we don’t want them or anyone to miss a chance to read these titles. 2) Most of these picks, while selected for readers who are YA’s target audience, are not books that most publishers would label as YA. Two 2014 YA titles finish out our list for anyone looking for a purely YA read.
What Could Be Called “Coming of Age” Novels
Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005). While Ms. Allende is known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straightforward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. Have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer. One all male book club declared it their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – Mr. Urrea creates a history of Mexico as seen through the life of one of their saints (who happens to be one of his distant relatives). This saga, written in gorgeous and lyrical prose, shows a Mexico that many might otherwise miss. ~ Lisa Christie
Some Novels with an Adventurous Bent
Death Comes To Pemberley by PD James (2011) – This mystery revisits at the characters and places from Pride and Prejudice six years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. Their lives are rambling along quite well until a murderer enters their realm. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Department Q mysteries by Jussi Adler Olsen (assorted years) – All the Department Q mysteries take place in Denmark. They all involve a lovable and unique cast of police detectives. They all teach you a bit about life in Scandinavia. They are all well-written and fun, with some gory details periodically inserted. ~ Lisa Christie
A More Serious Novel with International Overtones
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – This well-written novel tracks the lives of partygoers when an event honoring a Japanese businessman visiting an embassy in an unnamed South American country goes terribly awry. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Some Non-Fiction Choices
On Writing by Stephen King (2000) – His attempt to show people how to write well, is really an autobiography about a writing life. Well-written, fascinating look at an American author that happens to have some good tips on getting better at writing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (2011) – This short book follows an Afghan refugee through the countries he must cross, and shows what he must do to survive and achieve political asylum. The fact that he was ten when his journey began, and he did it all alone, makes it a truly thought-provoking read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor at Little Big Horn by Larry Colter (2001) – An amazing tale of a gifted young basketball player named Sharon LaForge. Mr. Colter follows her and her team as they navigate the challenges of their basketball season and their home lives on an Native American reservation. I still remember passages thirteen years after reading it the first time. ~ Lisa Christie
Some Actual YA Titles For Young Adults (and adults – let’s be honest here)
Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead. Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (May 2014) – I can not say much about the plot as it will ruin the book. But this story of a privileged family summering on an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard is a page-turner. The plot revolves around decisions leading up to a tragedy, and then focuses on how the decisions made after the tragedy affect the family, particularly the 18-year-old narrator. ~ Lisa Christie
This list is not meant to be a one size fits all recommendation. If you have trouble matching the young adults in your life to any of these books, please send us a comment and we will try to find a book to meet your needs.
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Just the "facts", Kids at Heart, Must Read Memoirs, Sports and other Adventures | Tagged Ann Patchett, Bel Canto, Bo Caldwell, Coming of Age Novel, Counting Coup, Death Comes to Pemberley, Department Q Mysteries, Distant Land of My Father, E Lockart, Fabio Geda, In the Sea there are crocodiles, Isabel Allende, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Larry Colter, Like No Other, Lisa Cadow, Lisa Christie, Luis Alberto Urrea, Mexico, On Writing, PD James, Pride and Prejudice, Stephen King, summer reading, The Hummingbird's Daughter, Una LaMarche, We Were Liars, West Side Story, YA, young adult, Young Adult fiction, Young Adult Novels, young adults, Zorro | 5 Comments »