July 6, 2022

Summer Reading Suggestions

Rehoboth Ramblings

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Summertime and the reading is easy. I’ve always liked the made-up word “unputdownable” to describe a real page-tuner. Two of the books I’ve read lately that fit this description are “The Lincoln Highway” by Armor Towles, and “The Palace Papers” by Tina Brown. The first is fiction, the second is non-fiction so absorbing that it reads like a novel.

Towles, author of “A Gentleman in Moscow”, has written a gripping story with as many twists as the hairpin turns on a mountain highway. It’s about Emmett Watson, only 18, who is released early from a work farm in 1954, because his father has died. The family farm in Nebraska has been foreclosed on by the bank and Emmett intends to get his little brother Billy and head to California to start over. However, a couple of fellow work farm inmates have hidden in the warden’s car trunk and they upend Emmet’s plans.

Soon they all find themselves heading in the opposite direction, to New York. This book is a classic American road trip novel, with passing references to “The Odyssey” (one character is even named Ulysses). It may also remind you in places of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”  “The Lincoln Highway” will appeal to a wide variety of readers who enjoy well-written, fast-paced, and deftly plotted stories.

Tina Brown, a bit of a celebrity herself as writer and editor on both sides of the Atlantic, gives us an inside look at the royal family with “The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor -- The Truth and the Turmoil.” True, you have to have a certain interest in the British royal family to enjoy this book, but for those who have been following their news, good and bad, this book is a treasure trove of information, ranging from the Queen’s youthful days long ago to the current fracas with Harry and Meghan. Of course there are many photos too.

 “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert D. Putnam is non-fiction of a more somber tone. Prof. Putnam previously published “Bowling Alone” about the disappearance of community involvement in America today. He continues this theme in his new book, which looks at the ever-increasing gap between the prosperous and the poor in our society today and how much harder it is now for someone to climb out of poverty to the middle class.

His thesis in this book is well-documented with graphs and charts, but what sets this book apart from an academic exercise are the many interviews with individual people of all races and economic stations. It is the voice of these real Americans telling their own stories that makes this very readable and thoughtful book a New York Times bestseller.

Returning to fiction, Anne Tyler’s new novel “French Braid” is about the Garretts, a family in Baltimore from 1959 to the present. (As a long-time fan of this popular author, I think of all the characters in her novels as living in one old blue-collar Baltimore suburb I call Tylerville). Her previous novel from 2020 “Redhead by the Side of the Road” focused on one main character, but this one deals with various family members and their misunderstandings over the decades. Her deceptively simple stories show a deep understanding of human nature.

New books I can’t wait to read are two memoirs with Rhode Island connections. Novelist Ann Hood reflects on her career as a flight attendant back in the 1970s in her memoir “Fly Girl.” And perhaps no one who grew up in Rhode Island went from rags to riches more notably than actress Viola Davis. You may have seen her interview with Oprah about her new memoir called “Finding Me.”  

Two other non-fiction books I’m looking forward to reading are “Glamour Road: Color, Fashion, Style, and the Midcentury Automobile” by Jeff Stork, and “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us” by Ed Yong.

Which reminds me to put in good word for borrowing books from the library (either in print, as audiobooks or as e-books). You may have to wait a bit after getting on the holds list for a very popular book but it’s such a great way to read – borrowing what you want to read. Not only are you saving money but you don’t have it (assuming it’s a print book) sitting around your house afterwards. Libraries – what a great invention!

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