This summer has been a great one for reading! If you’re looking for a good book to relax with in the dog days of August, here are a few suggestions:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This book has gotten rave reviews and frankly, I couldn’t resist the cover the last time I passed it in the bookstore. The first hint that Rachel isn’t the normal commuter you might be expecting, is when she opens a can of gin and tonic on the commuter rail. “It’s Friday, so I don’t have to feel guilty about drinking on the train,” she explains, not that we were asking. But Rachel’s alcoholic tendencies turn out to be the least of her problems. When the young couple that she’s been watching avidly from the train window every day, is revealed to be less than the perfect lovers she’s created in her mind, she can’t help but throw herself into the middle of the police investigation. Rachel’s unhealthy immersion in Scott and Megan’s lives soon expands to include her ex-husband, his new wife and their baby who (oh so conveniently) live only a few doors down from the objects of her obsession.
The similarities between Rachel and her preferred mode of transportation are undeniable. She herself is like a train wreck waiting to happen. Yet there is something in her incredibly flawed character that will appeal to most readers, a quality that makes you keep rooting for her to turn herself around and to find the inner strength to reclaim her life. This book is difficult to put down, but luckily its summer so staying up late to finish it shouldn’t be a problem!
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
This is Ms. Flournoy’s first book and I’m enjoying it to no end. I must admit that I felt somewhat alarmed when I turned to the first page, saw the Turner’s extensive family tree, and discovered that the parents had raised thirteen children in the house on Yarrow Street in Detroit. How will I ever keep them all straight? I fretted. But the author has drawn, not only the two parents, but each of the children, so skillfully that you feel like you know each of the family members intimately. And each has their own distinctive personality and role within the family.
Over a fifty year time frame, the old house has survived the gradual disintegration of Detroit’s east side, the wear and tear of all the people who call it home, and a ghost (haint). But, as the story opens, Viola, the widowed matriarch, is losing both her physical strength and her ability to live independently, the children have their own families and homes in other neighborhoods, and the old Turner dwelling is worth only a fraction of its mortgage. The adult children, spouses, and significant others have begun to gather in different combinations to try to decide the fate of the house.
The Turner House offers a tip of the hat to both the strength of African-American family bonds over the generations and to the power of a shared history. Much has been written about the parent/child bond, not so much about the lifelong connections between siblings so I really enjoyed getting to know the thirteen children through their interactions with each other. Their resilience and ingenuity, as well as a genuine love for each other, will stay with you long after you close the last page. This is the author’s first book and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
And-just for the sheer summer psychedelic fun of it!
Sixties People by Jane and Michael Stern
As I passed this book on the library shelf, I found myself wondering exactly what being a Sixties person involved. Born in 1962 myself, I didn’t think I qualified but I decided to check it out anyway. Much to my surprise, the quirky and laugh-out-loud book highlights, not just hippies and protesters, but numerous other groups that defined this constantly seeking era, including groups whose culture I had apparently absorbed as a young child without even being aware of it. Reading this book unleashed recollections from my youth that had apparently been buried years ago and were sitting dormant in my psyche, just waiting to be excavated.
What do I mean by this? Take the Perky Girls, Marlo Thomas, Goldie Hawn, and Gidget. What young girl didn’t want to be like them? They were just so exuberant! Always on the go, always smiling, always finding the frisky, fun fashions and hairdos, exciting new adventures, and cute boys to have them with. Or the Playboys, who were defined by what they wore, ate, drank, smelled like and the daring bachelor pads they called home. I distinctly remember my father (who perhaps envisioned himself as one) drinking only gin and being drenched in aromatic aftershave and my mother being obsessed with flambéing anything in sight during my early childhood. Or the surfers, with their golden tans and bleached blonde hair and amazing ability to ride the waves. Don’t forget the “folkniks”, like Joan Baez, the Madonna on the half shell, who were positive that the songs they sang would eradicate social ills like commercialism, inequality, and hypocrisy.
The very tongue-in-cheek Sterns also deal adeptly with Party Animals, the English, Rebels, Mr. and Mrs. Average, and, last but not least, the Hippies. Not only do they observe society with a keen eye, but the descriptive adjectives they use are a riot. If you ever wanted to get a comprehensive view of the people and social groups that made up the constellations of cultures that were part of the historic decade, this book is for you!