What I've Been Reading This Summer

So far, summertime has been a great way to catch up on reading and binging on some of my recent favorites. I've been heavy on the fiction lately, but it's nice to allow myself some leeway to read for entertainment. So here are reviews of a few books I've enjoyed lately. And if you're on Goodreads, please be my friend - the more book recommendations I have, the better.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City was one of my 'serious' summer reads - and what an eye-opening, sober account it is of a facet of poverty that I have never before considered.

Desmond spent months living with, interviewing, and observing eight families living in poverty in Milwaukee. Over and again, families were forced to leave their rented homes for many different reasons - inability to pay, complaints from neighbors, unsafe living conditions - but all of them suffered for want of stable, affordable housing.

The engaging narrative puts you right in the middle of the pain, conflict, and impossibility of these families' situations - the single mother of young boys who can't find anyone willing to rent to her; the relapsing drug addict who relies on others for housing; the pregnant woman driving the streets calling landlords to find a home before she delivers her fourth child. You also hear the landlord's perspective, as the author tells the story of one couple who is generating substantial income from inner-city rentals but dealing with the aftermath of house fires and drive-by shootings.

If you want to understand issues facing American families in poverty, this will be an eye opening book. I had no idea the devastating impact evictions can have, especially on single moms, or how frequently they occur in inner city neighborhoods. It definitely filled in a missing gap in understanding people's stories and struggles. And I realize how much I've taken my own safe, secure home for granted.

"Without a home, everything else falls apart."

Note: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

I finally got my hands on Tana French's first novel In The Woods - ironically, the last of hers I hadn't read. Rob Ryan is called to the crime scene of a murdered young girl in the exact woods where twenty years before, his two friends had disappeared and he had been found covered in blood, catatonic and amnesiac of anything that had happened before that moment.

What follows is a slow unraveling of his life as he struggles to find the young girl's murderer and to face the demons of his unknown past. If you like neat and tidy endings (and no swear words), this is not the book for you. But French uses each of her novels to examine the impact of crime on the psyche and emotions of those trying to solve them. Her writing is so good, I'm considering a re-read of the entire Dublin Murder Squad series.

Wendell Berry's works are on the opposite end of the dramatic spectrum, yet still examining the inner life of regular human beings. A World Lost tells the story of a young boy whose favorite uncle and namesake is shot and killed, and the impact that death has on the boy and the people around him. Grief is taken out and inspected, its effects felt on every level of life. Andrew, the young boy, realizes he has lost an entire world along with his uncle, and each day reveals more of what was lost that he never realized he could have had. 

Berry's prose makes for one of the best audiobook experiences I've had, but be warned - I've come close to driving off the road once or twice while listening. Take heed.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner was my first pick after joining the Book of the Month Club. It's basically an online money magnet for book nerds - new hardbacks selected by a panel of judges and mailed to your doorstep for $15 per month. Yes, I'm a sucker and signed up after I found a coupon code (you can sign up here - use for the code REFER50 to get 50% of your first 3 months - deal or what???). 

Unfortunately, my first pick fell flat. I rarely read books that don't get at least a 3/5 rating from me on Goodreads. But Steiner's debut writing felt out of sync and jilted. I didn't like any of the characters (including the 'victim'), especially the main detective - Manon Bradshaw seemed more occupied with her dwindling sex life and lack of life partner than with finding the missing Cambridge graduate. The mystery unraveled slowly, and the ending was dissatisfying. The combination of repetitive, awkward writing and characters I couldn't empathize with left me wanting to get back to Tana French...

How to Read Literature Like a Professor was an impulse borrow at the library after reading another blogger's recommendation. The chapters are short, fascinating, and informative guides to different facets of literary works (novels, poems, plays, and more) and how to read them with deeper understanding and insight. Fire, showers, and falls have much more meaning than their physical effects. They are windows into the deeper meaning of the characters' experiences and struggles. 

I can't believe how much I've been missing out on.

What have you been reading this summer?


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