Our library runs a summer reading program for adults as well as teens and children. It operates on a very simple premise: set yourself a goal and if you meet it, you get a prize as our closing party in September. Well, as I am the one in charge of this program, I feel compelled to also set a goal. And then, I realize that I would suffer great embarrassment at the party if I can't say that I've met it. So, each year I find myself reading some summer literature that I might not have otherwise picked up ... some years it's classics, others have a theme, this year it was recommendations.
I had planned on reading the first 5 books recommended to me after the program started. However, I seem to collect recommendations the way that most people collect loose change ... I drew the line at 8 titles. Only two were books that I might have read without the goal; the second (which I finished tonight) because it is on my Proulx list. So here, in the order that I read them, are my summer reading goal titles and my thoughts on each ...
Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon
This was a title recommended by an acquaintance from my high school days. I had no idea what to expect (as the recommendation came via Facebook) and when the book arrived from interlibrary loan, Mary handed it to me with the comment that "this has your name on it, is that right?". Basically, it was a serial killer story -- not my thing at all -- and I figured out who the killer was about 10 pages after the character first was introduced.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
This title is one that my friend Laura has been bugging me to read for years. I do like science fiction, so that was a plus, and the Canterbury Tales format of the narration was interesting. It did inspire me to look up information on the Wandering Jew although I didn't gain any insight as to why he shows up in so many science fiction novels. But it wasn't a knock-your-socks-off experience.
Dessert First by Hallie Durand
A kids title - huzzah and thanks Jessie! - about following your inner drummer. This was a fun fast read and had a yummy recipe for Double D bars which will be served at the summer reading party next week.
Acacia by David Anthony Durham
This fantasy novel was handed to me by one of my library board members who actually knows my reading tastes fairly well. Tom said that it was the best fantasy world-building that he had read in years, so I probably would have picked it up eventually. I wasn't as blown away by it as he was (a little bloody for my taste), but I loved that there were strong characters of both genders and a range of temperaments.
Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark
My friend Sara (who also happens to be on the library board) picked this title for me. The historical detail was great (set in Renaissance Venice), and the chef descriptions were a huge contrast to the book that had immediately preceded it on my reading pile (Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw). The best part ... cooks working to save civilization.
For the Win by Cory Doctorow
I had not planned to read this Doctorow young adult book although I enjoyed Little Brother. However, it came up in a conversation with my sister Diana (also a librarian), so I went back and picked it up. The immediate analogy that came to mind was Moby Dick -- you think that you're going to get this great adventure story about hunting the whale and what you end up with is a lesson in whaling. Only substitute online roleplaying games and economics. He's a good writer, but the textbook sections were a huge turnoff ... will teens actually read those parts, skip them, or give up in disgust ...
Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
The first thing I have to say about this book is that I didn't think I would EVER get it through interlibrary loan - I spent almost 3 months as the only person on the waiting list for it - yes, SNAFUs happen to us library workers too and serve as a good reminder of the frustration sometimes felt by patrons when things don't show up. I had even asked my friend Lis for an alternate Robbins title just in case. Lis recommended this book because of Robbins' use of language and way it evokes the counterculture movement. I did enjoy those aspects; however, she didn't tell me that it was magical realism. I think magical realism is the literary equivalent of lima beans -- you like it or you don't, and you will cite the same reasons no matter which side of the debate you choose -- almost no one falls into the neutral area in between. I don't like it (sorry, Lis!), and, after months of waiting for the book to arrive, I had to force myself to read the end in 30 page sections with breaks for good concentration. If I was on the other side of the lima bean/magical realism debate, I probably would have loved the book.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The final title on the list was recommended by Mary (my intrepid library worker) who started reading it on her lunch breaks and couldn't put it down. I, too, found myself sucked into the story and its relevance to today's world despite being written 80 years ago. Wow, how much things stay the same as they change! If you want to read one classic this year, give this one a try.