When Pamela Paul was 14, she started keeping a journal of every book she read. While this is certainly what one would expect of someone who would later become the current editor of the New York Times Book Review, I couldn’t help but have a huge twinge of envy accompanied with stern admonishment to my teenage self for not having done the same because my book based on my journal would be on the bestseller list instead of hers (and likely be in the New York Times Book Review). At least I’m pretty sure that would have happened.

But maybe it’s not too late. I have had lots of time to read this summer. My ereader says I have finished 41 books since May and if you add the analog versions I have ploughed through it adds up to close to 50 so far. Now I know it’s a little late in the game to be recommending a summer reading list, but just to show Pamela I have potential, here is a baker’s dozen of books I have digested (some with gritted teeth, some with interest, some with abandon).

1. Toni Tennille (fittingly by Toni Tennille) Now I don’t usually read the celebrity biographies (auto or otherwise) but I did like Keith Richards’ book (while remaining rather dubious that he actually wrote it himself). I don’t know why I decided to read up on Toni, however it wasn’t half bad. I learned several new things about the Captain (I did not know he played keyboard with the Beach Boys) and Tennille (she wrote the hit songs, and was also a backup singer for Elton John, Pink Floyd – on the Wall, no less, and Art Garfunkel, and in her spare time took over from Julie Andrews in the travelling edition of Victor Victoria). Anyhow, light and lively reading with a good bit of dirt on how weird Daryl Dragon is.

2. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. This is of course about the genesis of the North American women’s movement in the early 1970s but also about the civil rights movement before that. Generally there was too much discussion about American politics for my liking, but I did learn that Gloria’s father was a travelling salesman. She is also 83. Yikes! But juicy details were otherwise AWOL.

3. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout is also the author of Olive Kitterage, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize and which you must read if you haven’t already. You should also read Lucy Barton. I think one of the things I liked most about it was that Lucy is a writer and writing teacher. One of her own writing teachers tells her “You will have only one story. You will write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You will have only one”. And this I believe to be true.

4. On Writing by Stephen King. I don’t remember whether I read this before or after Lucy Barton (sorry, Pamela) but this is a wonderful summation of the craft of writing (fiction or not) and offers very common sense advice. For example, King says “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write”. Two major takeaways for me were that I’m not wasting my time reading, I’m really building a better foundation for digging into writing (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and that I already know the things you need to know to be able to write so no excuse not to just get on with it.

5. Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. This is pretty much what you would expect: a history of the show and analysis of its impact on the pop culture of the day. You know, two standup comics have a conversation in a Korean deli and turn it into a pitch for a show, and yada, yada, yada, the rest is history. I liked it.

6. Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. If you follow food blogs, you will know Molly Wizenbert from Orangette. This book is a memoir about opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle with her husband, while knowing not much about pizza or running a restaurant. Synopsis: husband drops out of PhD program in astrophysics (or some other likely to be lucrative career – I forget which one – sorry Pamela) and decides to learn how to make pizza. For most of us this would end up in a few pizza meals for friends. But Molly and Brandon go big or go home, so a restaurant in some derelict part of Seattle seemed like a good idea. Mayhem ensues.

7. February by Lisa Moore. Now we are back in a literary groove. I did not read this when it won Canada Reads and did not know it was on the Booker Prize shortlist, my bad. It is set in the aftermath of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger but it isn’t really just about that. Suffice to say I need to read more Lisa Moore.

8. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before, although he is a very prolific and well-awarded author of both children’s and adult books of many different genres, including comics. I stumbled across American Gods in a bookstore display as a tie-in to a TV series on Starz. It is not even a new book – published in 2001. Anyhow, it is a little difficult to describe because it features mythical gods clashing with 20th century gods (e.g. technology), but I really liked it. Be warned though, it weighs in at about 500 pages so might suck up your entire vacation.

9. The Girl Before by JP Delaney. This is one of those books you see advertised on the subway. At least that’s where I saw it. I guess it was a good ad because I immediately put a hold on it at the library. Synopsis: creepy landlord, creepy electronic house, villain you think is the villain doesn’t turn out to be the villain, you figure out what’s happening before the big reveal. JP Delaney is a pseudonym. Beach bag potential, but pack another book just in case.

10. Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. I picked this one up mostly to get some dirt on Salmon Rushdie (in case you missed the connection, Padma was his fourth wife) and Padma does deliver on that score. Apparently, Salmon is a grumpy narcissist. There – I have saved you some reading time.

11. Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong. Back to light and lively territory. Weird, secret community somewhere in the north. Weird people, who all have a secret past. I liked it and have since devoured the sequel. Hope the series gets much longer.

12. The Saucier’s Apprentice by Bob Spitz. Bob’s claim to fame is writing biographies of the Beatles and Bob Dylan (two different books, mind you). This one is about his midlife crisis spent trying to learn to cook via a variety of dubious cooking schools in Europe. What I learned is that perhaps there are only dubious cooking schools in Europe and also that Bob is a bit of a know-it-all. Took me a while to get the joke re the title. It does have a few recipes in it though.

13. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I gave this one a miss for a long time. Apparently, Joan Didion once said that to be a writer is to always be ratting someone out. There is some of that in this book but I agree with the reviewers that there isn’t enough. There also isn’t enough about books. But I did read it to the end.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *