Y'all. I read 10 books last month. I don't even know how. And I know you're thinking it was probably all fluff, but it really wasn't. Sure, a couple of them may have been light, airy beach books, but most of them had serious substance. What can I say? July was just a great month for reading lots of great books.
Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough. I am an avid "This American Life" listener. I downloaded their app a couple of years ago, and until two weeks ago, it was the only podcast I listened to on a regular basis. Ira Glass and his team of journalists may be the best storytellers of our time; I don't think I'm exaggerating. Anyway, I was listening to an old episode about Geoffrey Canada and the work he was doing in Harlem, and the narrator, author Paul Tough, mentioned his new book about Canada and his work, Whatever It Takes. The book is now several years old; in fact, Tough has since written a new book, How Children Succeed, that is currently on my ever-growing "to be read" list. But I dutifully ordered my copy of Whatever It Takes from The Bookshelf, and I became lost in this very real world of poverty and education in America. The book is fascinating and heart-breaking and eye-opening, and if you're an educator or a parent or just need to be shaken up a little bit out of your upper-middle-class world, this book is for you. Tough is never a patronizing narrator, but instead introduces us to Harlem in a way that does it justice but also informs us about the hardships in existence there. I needed to read this book, and you do too.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This book was on my list when it debuted in hardback a year or so ago, but it never made it to the top. Finally, a loyal customer and friend convinced me to turn its pages, and I'm so glad I did. This book is funny and clever; reminiscent of Where'd You Go, Bernadette and The Journal of Best Practices, the novel follows Don Tillman, a socially-awkward but brilliant professor who's on the hunt for a wife that perfectly fits his criteria. Enter The Wife Project and a girl named Rosie. Hilarity and heartbreak ensues.
Descent by Tim Johnson. A well-meaning customer casually mentioned we might need a man to work at The Bookshelf and make recommendations. He could be right, but until that day comes, I'm going to try my darndest to read the occasional book with the men in mind. (I'll spare you a discussion about how good literature bypasses all boundaries of gender.) I received Descent as an ARC (advanced reader copy), and I hate reviewing those, generally, because it doesn't seem fair to you. This book, for example, doesn't release until January, which means you will read this blurb and promptly forget about it, because you can't have it in your hands for months. That being said, try to place Descent somewhere in your memory or on your reading lists, because it's worth it. The book literary and thrilling, dark and moody. Descent takes place in the Rocky Mountains as a family reels from the kidnapping of their daughter. And although we hear glimpses of the daughter's story, the true strength of the book comes from the father and the son coping with the loss of the girl they love.
The From-Aways by CJ Hauser. I read this book, again, thanks to a persistent customer who suggested we host CJ -- a current Tallahassee resident and FSU PhD candidate -- in the store for a signing. We did, and because I try to be a good bookseller, I read her book. Overnight. In fact, I stayed up until well past midnight reading The From-Aways. The book is well-written but fun, and the opening scene with the lobsters just drags you right in. (What scene with lobsters doesn't?) It's the perfect book for these waning days of summer, and since the main characters are both small-town journalists and "from-aways" in their new home in Maine, I found myself feeling a bit kindred with them. I suspect you will, too.
The Heiresses by Sara Shepard. Please, don't roll your eyes at me. Everyone needs a bit of fluff every now and then, and you could do far worse than Sara Shepard, author of the hit YA novels, Pretty Little Liars. (And yes, I watch the show. Judge away. Be my guest.) The Heiresses had a fascinating, Kennedy-esque plot -- the daughters and cousins in a wealthy family begin dying off, one by one, thanks to the family curse -- that drew me in immediately, and I read the story quickly, wanting to reach the end. This isn't literary fiction, and I'm not even sure I'd put it in the beach read category, but I enjoyed it for what it was, and I'd recommend to reluctant readers looking for a bit of escape.
The Defining Decade by Meg Jay. I know I read about this book somewhere, in some list or another of books 20-something need to read. I do what I'm told, so I ordered this book through The Bookshelf, and now I'm recommending it to everyone: fellow 20-somethings, parents with 20-something children, and employers who higher millennials. This book is such a valuable resource and provides important insight into this decade of life. Did you know our brain grows and changes more in our 20s than in any other period of development (with the exception of our first six months)? I didn't even have to go back to my copy of the book to share that snippet; Meg Jay's work really did stick with me, and I could carry on all sorts of interesting dinner table conversation about this one. Fascinating, enlightening, important book.
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. I can barely type about this book without crying. I picked it up off the shelf a few weeks ago on a slow Saturday, and I had to put it down; I was becoming a bit too melancholy, and customers need a cheerful bookseller, don't you think? So brought it instead to the privacy of my own home and devoured it bit by bit. In case you're unfamiliar with the story, Keegan was a popular Yale graduate on her way to the big leagues of the writing world when she died in a car accident; her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel, and Keegan's life was cut short. Her words, though, live on, and you might think her untimely death has brought undeserved fame, but the truth is, Keegan would have become a recognizable writer regardless. Her stories and essays are well-told, and they deserve a place on your shelf. Younger readers might enjoy this one most (Keegan writes from the perspective of a woman in her young 20s, and her stories reflect her own life), but there are a few essays in the collection that cross boundaries of age.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Can this woman do any wrong? (Yes: her book covers are horrendous. Hire this talent another graphic designer, stat.) Moriarty wrote What Alice Forgot, which I still think about, months after putting it down; The Husband's Secret remains one of our most popular titles at the 'Shelf, and Big Little Lies is hysterical, satirical fun. I don't even want to tell you too much about it, but if you're a mom, or you know moms, or you have even the slightest inkling of what mom culture is like in 2014, you're going to love this book. It's just so ridiculous and funny, just as Moriarty intended it, I'm sure.
Let's All Be Brave by Annie Downs. Look: I struggle with Christian fiction and nonfiction in part because of the artwork they insist on putting on our Bible study covers. Not all of us like florals or the color mauve, okay? That being said, I also can struggle with the content, which often feels preachy or trite. I had my hesitations about Let's All Be Brave, but my cousin was reading it, and she kept talking about it and underlining it, so I read it, too. There's nothing too mind-blowing here, but Annie is likeable and funny, and although some of the book did feel a little preachy, mostly it was an encouragement to make brave, bold decisions and to stick with them when it gets tough. I'm in a stage of life where I feel like I'm making brave decisions all the time, and reading Annie's book was like going out to coffee with a good friend and getting a dose of much-needed encouragement.
Life Drawing by Robin Black. The cover and the publicity for Life Drawing paint it as a thriller, but I thought it was really more than that. Robin Black portrays an artistic married couple as beautiful and flawed, and her story of the marriage feels real and gritty. I don't want to give too much away with this one; I think it's best read right off the shelf. I read Life Drawing over the span of a few days, then proceeded to tell my husband about its genius at every chance I got. Fans of Herman Koch's The Dinner will love this one. It's got that same slow burn into suspense.