July Reviews

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this will probably be the month with the most books read all year, clocking in at twelve. The beauty of summer break, right? There were some unintentional and intentional pairs that happened- two Shakespeare books, two nonfiction books, two graphic novels, and two Richard Russo collections. Here's a quick rundown, in no particular order:

The Tempest AND Hamlet by William Shakespeare 
85 and 148 pages
It feels silly summarizing Shakespeare, so I won't. I will say that both were rereads for work and they're both... fine. It's Shakespeare. 

Get to Work... and Get a Life Before it's Too Late by Linda Hirshman
92 pages
I read about this longer essay type book in another book was intrigued. Basically, Hirshman spends 92 pages convincing women to not stay at home and to get jobs, both as a favor to themselves and the world as a whole.

Verdict: This is such a sensitive topic, but Hirshman doesn't give a damn. I agreed with many of her points, but I also disagreed, too. Motherhood and professional lives and feminism are all things that blanket statements don't always work for. Definitely interesting, a tiny bit validating, but also a bit irritating as well. Not for those who are super sensitive about staying at home, that's for sure.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
179 pages
I have read this several times for work, and this reread was for that as well. This is another one that feels lame to review, since it's so widely read, but for those who it has fell under the radar for, it's about a man named Guy Montag whose job is to burn books (ironically called a "fireman"). He sees the light, though, catalyzed by his young neighbor Clarice. The book is about his transformation and what this means for his personal and professional lives.

Verdict: This will alway be a favorite of my mine, to teach and read (although I think three times in less than ten years is enough for awhile). The intrusive nature of the government is of course timely, as is many of the other social and political commentary. Bradbury was so ahead of his time.

One and Only by Lauren Sandler
205 pages
I wrote a lengthy personal post here.

A Thousand Miles from Nowhere by John Gregory Brown
276 pages
Henry Garrett is having a rough time; his wife has left him, he's quit his job on a sort of whim, and then Hurricane Katrina hits. He heads north and stops at a small motel, only to face more challenges but to also do a considerable amount of reflection. 

Verdict: There were parts of this book that really hard me hooked, but I was flat-out bored at others. I think my expectations going in were a little different from the reality of the novel (I didn't realize it was so existential and as much of a character-study, which is fine, but just not what I had thought). 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
325 pages
Eleanor Oliphant works for a graphic design agency in Scotland and is admittedly a bit socially challenged (actually very). She lives alone, has no friends, speaks to her mother, who appears to be in jail, once a week, and is a functioning alcoholic. Yet as the book continues, Eleanor has reason to become a more social creature, and to also come to terms with her incredibly painful past.

Verdict: This was the perfect pool read for me this summer- it was smart, quick, quirky, and touching. Honeyman's writing was delightful, as were the supporting characters. I did thing the whole twist/reveal of suspension was a little drawn out in the sense that maybe she relied on this technique as a more of a crutch during certain points, but as whole it was a great summer read. 

Interventions and Trajectory by Richard Russo
205 pages and 144 pages (duplicate story page numbers taken out)
These sort stories vary in subject matter, but all maintain that typical level, deep, sort of cadence that is so characteristic of Russo's writing. One of the stories is about a nun taking a writing class, another a sick real estate agent who is struggling to sell a home. There's one about a screenwriter, and another a professor whose student is caught plagiarizing.  

Verdict: While some of the stories were better than others, I still see Russo as this sort of reliable uncle who will always show up at holidays with a decent bottle of wine and some interesting stories about his work. The quality is overall dependable, and while I think I like his novels better, these were still solid.

Blankets by Craig Thompson 
582 pages
This graphic novel is a coming-age-story (I read it because I am advising a student, but my husband has been trying to get me to read it for years) about a young man who struggles with a very religious, strict upbringing and what that means to him as a teenagers and young adult. He must deal with this identity crisis all while navigating new relationships, familial struggles, and the future.

Verdict: I have read one other graphic novel by Thompson, and saw him speak once, so he wasn't unfamiliar to me. I found the story captivating and the simplistic art full of depth and style. I am still sort of "learning," so to speak, how to read and discuss graphic novels, since they still feel foreign to me, but I can confidently say I enjoyed this one. 

Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba
248 pages
This was another graphic novel that I read to advise a student on, but many of my kids have read this for outside reading and have tried to persuade me to read it as well. This story is about an obituary writer, who is also the son of a famous Brazilian writer; there are some father-son issues, clearly. The story, though, examines snapshots of his life, and what they mean alone and in the context of his life, and then how these moments could in turn connect to an immediate death (going back to the obituary thing...) 

Verdict: I really enjoyed this book, both in terms of the beautiful artwork and the complexity of the story line. Moon and Ba have done something innovative, ignoring the normal constraints of life and death, allowing these sort of resurrections to constantly exist to propel the narrative. 

The Idiot by Elif Batuman
418 pages
Selin, a freshman Harvard student in 1995 is trying to figure it all out. How does email work? What does it mean to have Turkish parents? How does one navigate the Ivy League academic system? What exactly constitutes a relationship? The novel follows her during her first year, as she does things as mundane as return videos with a friend, but also as fumbles around an awkward crush. The story takes us into the summer, where she spends time in Paris and Hungary, trying to determine what, and who, she wants.

Verdict: This book was a lot of contradictory things- boring, yet intense. Endearing, yet annoying. Tedious, yet amusing. I still am not sure if I can say I like it, but I didn't not like it. There was something sort of endearing about Selin, and Batuman's writing about her, but I found those warm feelings fizzling out frequently. I just don't know. 

2,907 pages 


  1. Alright, my turn to rant a bit... that Get to Work book is the sort of feminist writing I have zero patience for. Rewind a few decades (and centuries) and women couldn't work outside the home. Feminism fought for our right to work and vote and so many more things (with lots more work to do for certain). But how giving women the choice to work outside the home has morphed into practically a mandate to work outside the home baffles my mind. What kind of choice or freedom is that? Why is it so darn feminist (in some circles) to devalue "women's work," and motherhood as if the only worthy work is the kind that men do, so get out and get doing it. I think there can also be a misguided presumption that all women have the opportunity to engage in meaningful and fulfilling work which can really expose a class- and education-bias. Anyway, I've gone on long enough and probably made too many presumptions myself having not read the actual text -- but YES a sensitive topic for sure, even if you're confident and content with your own circumstances/choices regarding work.

    1. She's definitely a radical. There are just so many ways to do things right, and she doesn't account for that.

  2. ok - seriously..2900 pages? that's just not fair....even when I had summers off I didn't come close to that many pages. In July I probably read 200 pages....pitiful I know. Congrats to you!!

    1. Wellll, there were two graphic novel in there, which read so much faster. Believe me, next month will see a dramatic drop off!