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Happy Fourth of July!

I recently got an email from Kate, who asked me for some more suggestions for summer reading. As I’ve mentioned here before, I review books for my local newspaper, so I read a lot of books. Or, more accurately, parts of a lot of books. Like the first fifty pages.
(I used to always finish books I started, even when they were terrible, because I felt guilty, bad for the writer, wanted to give them the chance I hoped I’d be given. But now I am either more aware of the fact that life is short, or have grown cynical and cold-hearted. Not sure which.)

I am always reading something. I give each book about fifty pages, and if I am bored, looking up to check what page I am on (bad sign) or finding myself cleaning the bathroom or the refridgerator instead of reading (even worse) I chuck the book into the donate-to-the-library stack and start another one. Usually, about one out of seven in a keeper.

So, here at the official midway point of summer, are seven good books I’ve read. Five I was sent from the paper (i.e. free) and two I bought myself.

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Let me just say: this book is pretty freaking amazing. It’s got a lot of hype right now, but it’s deserved hype, which is rare. Here’s the setup—Susie Salmon is our narrator, and on page fifteen she is murdered. The rest of the story, the story of the world of her family that goes on without her, is narrated from heaven. Okay, okay, it sounds schmalzty, but trust me: it is not. Read this. That’s all I have to say.

2. 10th Grade by Joseph Weisberg. Our narrator here is Jeremy Reskin, and he’s beginning his tenth grade year. The novel is written in the form of a notebook he keeps. The syntax and spelling are meant to be just as someone his age would write, which is at first disconcerting (especially if you’re a stickler for grammar, like I am) but in time you get used to it. This is a funny, at times tragic story of high school in the eighties. I really enjoyed it and I loved that it was, like so little else I read, unique.

3. Nick Hornby, How to Be Good. Hornby wrote both High Fidelity and About a Boy, and this is his first attempt at a female narrator and a more wide-ranging subject, that of altruism and what it really means. I thought the end was a little limp but I liked this narrator’s voice. Worth the price, and it’s in paperback. Gotta love that.

4. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Now, this book got a lot of attention last year. It’s nonfiction, and the premise is that the author decided to find out if it really was possible to live on the typical working wage in the U.S. She took jobs in housecleaning, waitressing, and at the Wal-Mart, and tried to support herself, with mixed results. This book kind of bugged me, because I felt like she had too many advantages the working poor do not, which made the whole experiment sort of dicey. Still, it was interesting reading, if you like nonfiction.

4. Losing Gemma, by Katy Gardner. This book kicks butt. I was so into it, dying to know what was going to happen, that I had to restrain myself from flipping ahead to see.( And I never do that.) Here’s the premise: Esther and Gemma are lifelong friends, and they take a backpacking trip to India. But things go wrong. Very wrong. The detail in this book is flat-out amazing: I’ve never been to India, but I was sucked in by the description. Just a really, really good book.

5. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, Ann Packer. Good Morning America has been plugging this book like crazy, but it is really good. Carrie and Mike have been sweethearts all through middle and high school, but she’s slowly losing interest and can’t figure out how to break it off with him. Then, one summer day, in an attempt to show off for her, he dives off a local pier and gets paralyzed. Does she stay with him out of obligation, or not? This is a book that occasionally made me squirm: it’s hard to stick with a narrator that at times seems so cold. But it’s a good read.

5. Twelve, by Nick McDonell. Okay, so this book I just finished and I’m not sure exactly what I think about it. All I know is that I started it at 4, finished at 11—I raced through it. McDonell is eighteen years old, so that’s impressive on its own. It’s all about drugs, sex, money and teenagers in Manhattan, and at times I got a little bogged down in all the introspection. Plus the ending sort of felt jumbled. Still, this is a book with serious momentum, and again, I don’t see much of that in the books I get sent. It’s worth picking up.

Whew. So there you go. My little bit for summe reading. Now, in the true spirit of books, I’m going to go and try to get some writing done…..