Thursday, June 24, 2010

This Week in Jen's World...

What are you reading this summer? Here are my picks -- straight from this week's Jen's World.

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When I was in grade school, my friend Kelly and I regularly sang the entire Grease album at sleepovers. We belted out “You’re the One That I Want” with diva-tude and layered on the drama for “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” But “Summer Nights” was our piece de resistance. Somehow, Kelly always landed the Sandy part while I was stuck with Danny.

While reminiscing and humming “Summer Nights” the other day (and taking both parts, thank you very much), I realized something: Instead of singing, “Summer lovin’…” I was saying, “Summer… reading.” As in, “Summer reading, had me a blast…”
What is up with that? Am I so boring now that summer reading trumps summer lovin’?

Geez, I hope not.

At any rate, it got me thinking about the book I just finished, which, seeing as it’s June, is officially summer reading. Now, I’ve got a personal problem and it’s called whenever-I-read-a-good-book, I-want-everyone-else-to-read-it,-too. I’ve told dozens of people—from my mom to my writing students to that guy at Kwik Trip who made the mistake of saying, “How are ya?”—about the book I just read. But apparently that’s not enough, because I thought, “Hey! Why not spread the word to all my reader-friends, too?”

So excuse me while I turn all Oprah on you and list my summer must-reads. Consider it the Jen’s World Book Club.

I get a little nervous about this, because the books I love you could think are absolute drivel. In fact, I once recommended a book I thought was pure genius (it's actually titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) to a friend who couldn't get through the first chapter. I later redeemed myself, though, when I recommended it to another friend who loved it so much that she claimed to want to “lick the author's feet.” So, you know, I'm going to take a chance:

1. Right now I’m reading Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. You may be familiar with Bryson as a travel writer. In Thunderbolt Kid, though, Bryson writes about growing up in Iowa in the 50s. A gifted and entertaining storyteller, Bryson’s anecdotes are heavy on the wit and laced with humor. On a recent road trip, I read excerpts to my husband and kids, and had them laughing out loud.

2. Considerably less funny is Abigail Thomas’ A Three Dog Life. In this memoir, Thomas’—an author and teacher living in New York—writes about her life and marriage after a traumatic brain injury irretrievably changes her husband. Thomas writes sparsely, and the book isn’t heavy with emotion or sentimentality as you might expect. It had such an impact on me that I read it twice, back to back.

3. Population: 485 is written by Wisconsin’s own Michael Perry, who also happens to front Michael Perry and the Long Beds, a band that played in Winona recently. Population: 485 recounts the people Perry meets when he returns to his hometown as volunteer firefighter/writer. And really. Who doesn’t like a book that features an entire chapter on a cross-eyed butcher called Bob the One-Eyed Beagle?

I have more recommendations—ranging from Dr. Suess to Anne Lamott. (And if you’ve never read Joan Didion, find her essay, “On Going Home,” and just try not to shake your head and mutter, “wow” when you’re done.)

But I’ll hold those for another time. Until then, this has been the first edition of the Jen’s World Book Club. There’ll be no quiz later. But if you decide to pick up one of these reads, I’ll be interested to know what you think.

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