Why in the world am I not reading more fiction??!?!! I was always an avid reading growing up and of course fiction was my first love, but I guess I’ve just deprioritized it in my adult life for whatever reason. BIG mistake. Over the past year, I was focused on my happiness project and during it I found it particularly helpful to read books either related to happiness and positive psychology or whatever theme/aspect of life my activities were focused for a particular month. Now that I’ve wrapped that up, I’ll be diving into what I am calling my “Personality Project” next (more details to come obvi), but last month in light of my 2018 Summer Bucket List I decided to take a quick break time away from my projects for some pure fun! And I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I was led to consider some of the benefits of reading fiction in particular and am resolving to include it more regularly – especially since I FINALLY got smart enough to open an account at the Cork City library (I guess I’m better at reading than calculating costs of buying everything I read – although if you’ve seen the way I mark up books as I study them, you probably understand why!). As you’ll see, there were no rules other than sticking to fiction and I read a bit of everything from dramatic thrillers to basic beach reads, and from children’s literature to literary classics. It was AWESOME.
Here’s what I read throughout the month of July ::
The Devil Wears Prada
In light of my resolve to make this month’s reading purely about having fun and because the summer weather was in full effect here, I started out with a well-known beach read, The Devil Wears Prada. I had actually never read the book before, but have probably watched the Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep movie 3424 times and love it, so I thought it was time to read the original source. And I have to say, I do prefer the Disney version and a more innocent Andy Sachs who got just caught up in misguided ambition. In the book, she is a much rougher around the edges character herself who exhibited a litany of other character flaws aside from careerism. It was a fun and easy read, but I have to say, I think even if I had read it prior to the movie, I would still prefer the film adaptation.
When Life Gives You Lululemons
This book is available in Ireland/UK as The Wives, since the title may not hold as much relevance for the audience, but it was a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada, describing the life and times of Miranda Priestly’s fabulous former first assistant, Emily Charleton. It was a fun book for those of us who have also aged with the characters and although she’s just a bit ahead of me in story, I could definitely relate and appreciate the story about her growing up and settling into marriage. All her friends were well into their early mommy days, moving from the city to the suburbs, and deeply entrenched in the boutique workout scene, direct sales house parties, children’s playdates, and other facets of that next phase of life. It was funny and crass at times and the best part was that in no way had the best parts of Emily Charleton changed. She was still as witty, opinionate, ostentatious, and fabulous as ever which I absolutely love. The book was alright for a causal beach read, but not quite as good as some of those which followed.
The Girl on the Train
And I suppose combining the love of Emily Charleton and the actress who played her in the movie adaptation, Emily Blunt, I had to read this best-selling book. I had heard it was among the caliber of Gillian Flynn’s novels (all of which I have read and LOVED), and she definitely took the same literary tack. It was twisty, full of surprises, and sometimes hard to follow (intentionally). It was one that I couldn’t put down and although it wasn’t quite on par with Flynn in my opinion, it was still captivating and suspenseful throughout. Probably the best “new” book I read this month.
Everything That Rises Must Converge
O’Connor is an exquisite writer with such a unique style and I was happy to be taken back a bit in time to read Everything That Rises Must Converge, a collection of short stories which are in the style I have now learned is referred to as “Southern Gothic.” For anyone who is not familiar with her work, O’Connor’s narratives are often humorous or shocking and in her stories, the protagonists usually end receiving an appropriate, yet often ironic twist of justice – exactly what they deserve. This one included a few of my favorite short stories – Greenleaf and The Lame Shall Enter First(which I wrote about previously), although honestly they are all absolutely brilliant. The characters she writes about are steeped in judgment and disdain for those around them, utterly unable to see themselves clearly – perfect examples of those of us who often try to remove the speck in someone else’s eye, remaining oblivious to the plank in our own. They lack perspective, empathy and self-awareness wrapped up in their own pride, arrogance, or sanctimony which provides impetus for me to take a hard look at where I can address the condition of my heart behind my actions.
A Good Man is Hard to Find
Although I think that this collection of O’Connor’s short stories is more popular than Everything That Rises Must Converge, I actually preferred the latter. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend both. A Good Man is Hard to Find and the others stories in this collection similarly rely upon her signature shocking and sometimes violent narratives which have layers and layers of symbolism and imagery. I only wish I had read this as part of some type of literary club to be able to dissect all the detail through discussion (something I actually long for often – so anyone interested in a good book club should let me know…). Repeatedly throughout the stories, the proud are humbled and the intellect which so many rely upon fails them in often devastating ways. I think my favorite in this one was The Life You Save May Be Your Own.
The Magician’s Nephew
A collection that I have been intending to read for forever, but have never made it through the series. So I bought the entire set and Jonathan and I are reading it together aloud before bed. To clarify, we have read several books together in the past, but always on our own time and quietly, coming together for discussion after each chapter or section, so this is a first. I honestly don’t do all that well with listening to someone reading (Audible just isn’t for me!) but this seems to be going well, albeit a bit slower. C.S. Lewis is absolutely brilliant and I really enjoyed The Magician’s Nephew which provides just the right amount of detail to leave some room for interpretation and mystery, but clearly sets the stage for the rest of The Chronicles. It was a fun one to read together and talk about together.
Into the Water
This was one of the books which kept me turning pages until late into the night. It was good and twisty until the end, although I did prefer The Girl on the Train. I don’t really get into the mystical side of things and there was a small element of that throughout the book with all the women who were “drawn into the water” of the Drowning Pool. It was a good book though with some meaningful insights into traumatic events, dealing with hurt and the often very complex nature of our relationships and loyalties even when someone close to us has done the unthinkable.
The Couple Next Door
Another in the mystery/thriller category and also a best seller, which I devoured. Near the start of both this one and Into the Water I already had a rough idea about whodunnit, but could not have anticipated all the many winding complications and turns along the way. There seemed to be so many in this one that it seemed almost as if a few subplots had been thrown solely for the purpose of being surprising or unexpected. I liked it overall, but it again, in this category I still prefer Gillian Flynn.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
I have read this book a few times before, but as it was the next in the series, we read it again. Since I had grown up with this story and had been made aware of its key messages and symbolism since early childhood, it felt comforting and enjoyable to me and it was fun to hear Jonathan’s thoughts on it since he had only seen the film previously. All in all, C.S. Lewis is in a category of his own and this one definitely deserves its place as an esteemed classic.
Brave New World
This was one of my favorite books that I read in AP English way back in high school (when I was actually accused of plagiarism, a story for another day, but long story short – I did no such thing!). And like the O’Connor books, this is one to read in literary discussion as it is so provocative and multilayered; and the more you dig, the more you find. I do love satire in general and this is one of my absolute favorites which again clearly establishes how easily we can become so ingrained in our own paradigms and worldviews that we fail to question them or even recognize that we have done so and it is easy to see how we all can suffer ill effects of affective forecasting about a utopian society or even “progress” as a whole.
Wise Blood is a masterpiece of dark and utterly shocking ways to tell a story of redemption. It was one of those where I actually hated all the characters, but at the same time found them to be so fascinating that I couldn’t look away. The way that O’Connor works symbolism and meaning into the both mundane and absurd in this one, is in a word: flabbergasting and I read it without breaks, captivated by her skill, craft and creativity. In her own bold way, she shows the consequences of trying to run or bury the truths that we hold to be self-evident and everywhere he goes, Hazel Motes is confronted with his rejection of his Christian faith until he finally succumbs to it in extreme penance until the end.