The Stack | Summer '19
A bit late to the game here, but I read some good books this summer! I’ll be honest, the list is a little shorter than I’d like — I let work and some writing projects of my own get away from me for sure — but here’s what I thought of those I did get around to.
Without further adieu…
The River, Peter Heller. A thriller in the truest sense. Peter Heller somehow managed to do that thing movies do where you can feel a sense of foreboding and adrenaline — but, you know, with none of the background music, visual cues, etc. That’s such masterful writing. I actually found myself short of breath a few times while reading it — like, actually had to pause and remind myself that I was on vacation and not in a canoe in a wildfire on, like, a manhunt, so I could continue inhaling oxygen at my normal rate. It’s always a great surprise to find myself so completely sucked into a book, and it’s even more rare that it happens with a piece of fiction. Fun, immersive, lightly stressful, well worth your time. Two words to the wise, though: 1) Prepare to be upset for a few days after about a twist at the end. You’ve been warned. 2) It’s worth it to have a little bit of canoeing/camping knowledge, as specific as that may sound. Heller doesn’t spend time or break rhythm to explain the terms he’s using, and I saw a lot of reviews from people who were like, “I don’t really get the hype!” when you could tell from the rest of their review that they simply didn’t understand what was going on during the story, and therefore weren’t as engaged in/affected by it.
Rough Magic, Lara Prior-Palmer. More like my usual reads in that it’s nonfiction, much less in the writing style. Lara Prior-Palmer’s memoir of entering (and winning) the Mongol Derby is what I’d normally call — for lack of a better word — flowery in voice, but it’s completely genuine. A poetic, overly-descriptive writing voice is like an accent. I don’t mind if you have one, I mind if you fake one. Does that make sense? This book is the real thing, a dreamy, wild account of a once-in-a-lifetime experience and incredible accomplishment that I get the feeling conveys the surreal emotions of the whole thing really accurately. Will make you want to go ride a horse, also. And THAT COVER. That cover. Are you kidding me with it. (Kudos to designer Nicole Caputo — trying to get better about actually learning who is behind the work I love!)
Keep Going, Austin Kleon. As always, a highly practical, empathetic masterpiece. If your work is creative in any way and you haven’t read Austin’s books yet, I don’t know how to help you. Just do it. Seriously.
The Library Book, Susan Orlean. Good, but dense. I feel blasphemous for saying this, because Susan Orlean is a journalistic queen and someone I definitely look up to as a writer, but for some reason, I had a lot of trouble staying in this book and fell off about halfway through. I know part of the blame goes to trying to read it while working on a writing project of my own, but it also didn’t feel like it had a super strong narrative thread tugging me along — it was more informative. Great for people who love all things books, for sure; just wasn’t the story for me in the season I was reading it. I’m sure it’s one I’ll return to.
Learning to Fly, Steph Davis. I have really mixed feelings about this book, if we’re being honest. A fascinating and courageously raw memoir from a woman who, in the small world of climbing/action sports, is something of a legend. Her life is incredible, no arguing that. I just felt the whole time I was reading it this really strong awareness of how differently we approach things — some of the decisions and opinions she expressed, especially about risk management, were written with such authority and I disagreed with them so much. But that comes down to worldview, and it was interesting and important for me to read a book that gave such honest insight into the beliefs and thought patterns that, frankly, a lot of people who are dear to me probably share. And of course, it’s worth it just for the amazing stories this woman has experienced. She’s one of those athletes that will go down in history books, at least in the arenas she plays in. (I had also completely forgotten she was married to Dean Potter, so that whole storyline was one long mind-blown moment.)
There you have it, summer reads for 2019. What have you read and loved recently? Looking for recommendations!