This list is for those who want to expand their minds more so than entertain with a summer read. It does not dissuade the reader from a simple romance, or a hot and heavy beach laden sex scene, but it does provide alternate choices that may not be the perfect sandy choice, but may be nice to read on the beach and quietly cry behind your sunglasses.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
This book was a struggle for me until I learned to quit figuring it out and just enjoy the plot. The narration was the issue, and I could not comprehend when Oskar (9 years old) was narrating, and when someone else was…regardless, it was intense, authentic, mysterious, and close to home. We all have secrets in our families and secrets tend to become less secretive as we grow older. In this case, Oskar is only 9 and he is on a mission to figure out a few things about his family, which is not at all off for this problem solving genius. What is odd, is the way that stories from the past combine in light of recent events that provoke ultimate family sacrifice, betrayal, and a little boy’s daunting task. I love the imagery of New York and I also love the image of Oskar, determined to find out the final message his father left him before dying on September 11. I cried through this book, and will not watch the film, but let me know what you thought of the book or the movie if you have experienced either.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is another book that gave me trouble. So much that when it first came out (2005), I put it down. Twice. I only picked it up again because my tutor got a class set donated from World Book Night. She recommended it yet again, and I thought, I really have to read this book now. After I got through the first few chapters I realized how beautifully tragic this story is written. Death narrates the tale of one book thief through World War II. Yet she, the thief, is a mere child. After reading an interview with the author, I realized why I loved this book so much after plowing through the German phrases, tough dialect, and harrowing adventure; he stated that each page should evoke a profound image carefully crafted through use of simile or metaphor. As an English teacher, I am in awe of this, and as a reader, engrossed. If you are interested in this period of history or just a really well written young adult story, this is it. You will fall in love with the characters, and be immersed in their lives until death narrates one final time.
On Writing by Stephen King
Regardless of your opinions on Stephen King the horror man, meet Stephen King, the author. His memoir shares highlights, and lows, of writing, and life. This does not read as a self-help guide to any writer, or alcoholic, but does provide insightful advice and entertaining stories. One quote I was attracted to is, “The scariest time is just before you begin,” which I see on the faces of my students, and am facing now, as I begin writing my young adult novel. This book ties flawlessly the stories of a young King, new to the writing world, to an older, experienced author who has seen it all including alcoholism, drug abuse, and a rehabilitating car accident. Did you know that he hardly recalls writing “Cujo”? Not that this is what stuck with me throughout the text, but it illustrates his honesty with the audience. And his real life persona. This book is for those who like a good story, those who like to write, and even those who teach. I also recommend his short fictional story, “Herman Wouk is Still Alive” if you are a fan.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Currently my mom is reading this book as her Mother’s Day gift, but many others recommend it from teachers to those interested in the medical field. This story is awe inspiring and non-fiction. I was introduced to it last summer, as it was published in 2010. The story revolves around Ms. Lacks, who in 1951, became the first cancer cell donator, although no one asked her to donate. Her cells, now known as HeLa, have been used to help diagnose Polio, gene mutations and exploration, as well as ultimately gave birth to now what we call Bioethics. The story reads like a novel as you meet her doctors, nurses, and family…and the obstacles her family is put through regarding experimentation, poverty, education, and racism. A must read for the aspiring doctor, nurse, or those in the field who still have not heard this intense true story. A must read for those willing and wanting to learn more about ethics, medicine, and society. A must read for those who care.
Emperor of All Maladies; A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Cancer. One word. Such powerful reactions.
This book chronicles cancer in its various forms and facets. Everyone knows someone who has suffered, and while it is not the most uplifting book (hence the heavy list), it is a book that everyone should read. It weaves together history with molecular biology with a novel-like transcendence. It brings together all walks of life and it touted the ‘everyman book of cancer’ by one critic, and ‘the Moby-Dick of cancer’ by another. Regardless of what they say, readers actually enjoy this book, while becoming more educated due to the casual style it is written. Look past the medical terms, or look them up on your Kindle while you read! It comes recommended from someone who has fought cancer numerous times, and still deals with the repercussions on a daily basis. It comes recommended from one who reads for fun and enlightenment. It comes recommended from The New York Times. It comes recommended, so read it. You will not be disappointed.
Arc of Justice; A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle
This book has made quite an impact on readers in Michigan as it was the Great Michigan Read book this year. It is shameful to say that I never learned who Ossian Sweet was until I read this book, this year. And I am a student from Michigan, who teaches in Michigan. Dr. Ossian Sweet is who this book chronicles during the Jazz Age. He was forced to protect his family at all costs during a race riot in Detroit. Although this book is long, hence the heavy list, it details Detroit during the time, as well as race relations, and the Sweet history. Kevin Boyle writes with ease and understanding given his history and law background, all the while crafting a story of love, murder, and law escapades that any Michigander should be well aware of. I am still ashamed it took me thirty years to learn about this historical feat, but proud that I shared it with senior students last fall. Take some time and meet Ossian. You will not forget him.