What I’m Reading: Summer 2014

I promise you this post won’t be the least bit serious (well, maybe 0.56% serious), it won’t be depressing (unless you tell me that you hate reading, in which case I’ll be depressed), and there are no itemized lists (it was really hard, but I did it all for you). If I’ve intrigued you (and I bet I have) then please, read on.

This summer I’ve been reading like a crazy-mad fiend. If I may tap into my budgeted 0.56% of seriousness, I’ve been averaging about a book a week. Like I said: crazy. I couldn’t tell you why I’ve been on such a bent lately. Maybe it’s because I can enjoy reading without worrying about homework assignments that need to be completed or tests for which I need to study. I mean, it’s so freeing to be able to sit down and have time for things. The other day, I pulled my clarinet out of the closet. For fun. I mean, my dog didn’t have fun listening to me struggle my way through the Epstein Hora, but some serious jamming went on. Next week I may even paint something. Because I can.

I also feel that my job may contribute to my burning desire for literature. I’m currently working as a computer programmer, and if you’ve ever done programming in your life, you know what a love-hate relationship that is. On the one hand, you get to be like those super cool super geniuses in the movies that go typa typa typa BOOM they made an algorithm that solves world hunger (only you have better fashion sense, right?). On the other hand, that’s never how it goes. It’s more like typa typa, no that doesn’t work; typa typa, erg, why isn’t that working; typa typa, oh wait I’ve got it, YAY; typa typa, wait………typa typa, oh for the love of goodness, WORK!! For eight hours a day.  My brain just gets wound up so tight, I need something to slow my mind down and relax my nerves. Reading has always done that for me. It’s also a much safer alternative to drugs and alcohol. Fun fact.

TL;DR: I’ve been reading a lot this summer. Here’s what I’ve been reading and why it’s awesome.

The books I’ve been reading this summer can be broken down into three groups. The first groups is memoirs. I’ve never been much for nonfiction, but these days I wolf it down like big Uncle Earl at Thanksgiving (I of course mean no offense to Uncle Earl). Recently, there have been several on-screen adaptations of memoirs, and the trailers just looked so good that I bought the books immediately. Also, The Boy prefers non-fiction  and I wanted to give it another shot (He actually says that he doesn’t like to read, but I know better. Bookworms recognize bookworms).

The first memoir I read was Fresh Off the Boat by chef Eddie Huang, which will be adapted to a TV series on ABC Family this fall. Observe:

While I can tell just from the trailer that the series will be taking some liberties on details of Huang’s life (in reality he didn’t cuss out the kid that called him a ch**k, he beat the living shit out of him) the essence of his struggle to reconcile his family’s traditions and his desire to make his own way is still there. My college roommate’s parents were immigrants from Vietnam, and though she talked about what growing up was like for her, reading out the thought process gave me a new appreciation for her and her family.

I recommend this book to anyone who was born into a world heavy with tradition, and to anyone who is or has ever been at a crossroads in their life. And for you fellow yinzers out there, you’ll swell with pride reading  a celebrity chef declare Primanti Bros sandwiches the best on earth.

Most recently I read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Oh. My. Gosh. This book was so good. I finished it a little over a week ago, and I’m already thinking about reading it again. Devastated after the death of her mother, Strayed tried many methods of coping before deciding to hike 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with no previous hiking experience. In her book she was extremely open about her experiences and hardships, and made me really want to go hiking (though I plan on doing a little bit more research beforehand, and maybe not start on the hardest hiking trail in the country).

This is an amazing book for anyone who has ever suffered a deep loss, who feels lost in their own life, who needs a change, who loves hiking and the outdoors, who believes life is out of adventures for them, or who breathes on a regular basis. Such a good book. If you just can’t handle the thought of reading the book, I suppose you could wait for this winter, where Strayed will be portrayed by the adorable Reese Witherspoon on the big screen. (Also, feel free to check out Cheryl Strayed’s Facebook page for more proof of how awesome she is)

I have also started, but not finished, Burn Down to the Ground by Kambri Crews, who you may or may not know as the publisist/wife of comedian Christian Finnegan. This book has not been adapted to a film or TV series, but that makes it no less great. It’s a memoir of unconventional childhood, and that’s putting it gently. Less than two chapters in, you’ll be in sheer awe of Crews’ strength of character (she also has a Facebook page teeming with awesomeness).

The next group isn’t a genre, it’s an author. Catherine Ryan Hyde to be specific. She’s responsible for the book that inspired the film Pay it Forward, featuring Haley Joel Osment without the dead people and Kevin Spacey before he was a hard-ass politician pushing people in front of trains and breaking the Fourth Wall. She’s a phenomenal writer, and if you want an emotional roller coaster of tears and heartbreak and ultimate jubilance and rapture, her stuff is for you.

Books of hers that I’ve read (and of course enjoyed) are Secondhand HeartWhen I Found You, and Don’t Let Me Go (my favorite thus far). Hyde has a consistent message of how powerful the connections people make with each other are, and yet her characters are always super-flawed, which usually just makes me love them even more.

When I Found You starts out with a bang, as a Middle -aged man (Nate) finds a baby abandoned in the woods one morning, and he shows what unconditional love really means.

Don’t Let Me Go is no less powerful, starring an apartment building full of people each lonely in their own special way, until the daughter of the resident drug addict brings them all together in a chilling wave of love and friendship. I’m tapping into my serious budget again to let you know this book made me cry; it took me a while to come to terms with the fact that the characters aren’t real.

Quick, before I get all emotional. The last set of books I’ve been reading this summer is the Song of Ice and Fire series, also known as Game of Thrones: the Books by George R.R. Martin. They’re a little more my speed, since fantasy has always been my favorite genre. I’m currently on book five, and hoping book six comes out before I finish. Yes I’m aware how huge the series is (both the books and TV), and yes I am a *huge* fan (House Stark all the way!! Winter is coming…) George R.R. Martin did such a fantastic job of creating characters that are just so believable and realistic that you can’t help feeling like you know them.

Some have complained about the amount of violence (sexual and otherwise) in the series, but I found Martin’s answer to be such a good counter argument, that I feel as if he can’t complain. I agree with him that glossing over the violence neglects to show people the horrors of war and the darker parts of humanity. For those of you who have read the book, could you imagine reading that soldiers came to a village, treated the smallfolk very nicely, and left in a timely manner without devastating the local economy? I couldn’t even get though that sentence with a straight face.

The books are dark; characters that are awful in the beginning turn out to be good guys; characters that you think are good guys are actually bad guys; the right person never dies at the right time. Martin did this crazy thing – he told us the truth. I both love, and hate him for it. Though I swear if he kills off Tyrion Lannister I’m likely to throw a fit.

There is also the debate of show vs. books. Personally, I like them both equally. Martin has publicly said that he’s okay with the changes, and I agree (though not for the reasons he said). First of all, in some cases it can be argued that a scene that differs from the books to the show only because it’s presented differently. The series makes Tyrions once-wife Tysha seem unimportant, because she only comes up once. In the books, she comes up much more frequently, but only in Tyrions thoughts. You can’t convey that on screen easily.

Secondly, you know how you think about things and wonder how the outcome would have changed if things had gone differently. Game of Thrones is set up that way!! There are scenes in the book which I’m so glad were changed in the TV series, and there are some scenes which I convince myself happened only the way they did in the book because I like them better. I’m not saying I want the two series to diverge completely, but I think it’s cool to have an alternate look.

This is not an all-inclusive list of the books I’ve read this summer, it’s just a sizable chunk of the ones I liked best. I could go on for days about the books I’ve read if you let me. If you’re looking for a good book to read, here’s a nice variety for you. If you’re not, maybe you’ll check out one of the shows or movies. If you’re into neither of those things, then I’m curious as to why you read this far, but nonetheless happy that you did.