Somehow, being able to wade into a book and stay there has become a benchmark of mental health for me in recent years. Happy to report then that I must be doing great, because this was a really good summer for reading. Besides some rather serious non-fiction books about health care in America…sigh, those were depressing… here are a few that I’m happy to recommend for your own very late summer – ok, autumnal – reading.
Children of Men by P.D. James – I picked this out of a bag of books my mother was giving away when she downsized earlier this year, and grabbed it up for a trip my husband and I took in June. It was lightweight and fit into my carry-on bag, the only criteria that mattered in the moment. I had no idea what it was about, but soon learned that, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this story too is disturbingly possible. If you saw the movie, you did not experience the nuances and gradual unfolding of James’ story. I couldn’t wait to see the film after reading the book, but I soon learned that the book and movie have almost nothing in common. Honestly, I haven’t disliked a movie so much in a long time. Books don’t always triumph over film adaptations…well, actually I think they probably do.
Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman and The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83¼ Years Old by an unknown author: These two books were enthusiastically recommended by friends, neither of whom was really thinking about the fact that they would hit very close to home for me. As my mother journeys into dementia, and I learn to be the daughter she needs me to be, these are both books that gave me insights and a few laughs and reminded me that I am not alone in all of the watching, worrying, and loving that I’ve done these past few years as I travel alongside her into a future that frightens us.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: One of the most popular books this summer, thanks to Reese Witherspoon, who picked up where Oprah left off. I don’t often enough connect with the rest of popular culture, and this was my chance to do so. The author, well known already for writing about her conservation work in Africa, wanted to explore human nature by writing about nature, and she exposes the dark sides of both. And I used to so love fireflies…
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: This one was given to me by my son, and I was immediately drawn into the story, even though so very little actually happens. He asked me recently if I had finished it and I admitted that I didn’t completely understand the author’s intent, and wished for a different ending. He responded by text: “yeah, I know what you mean, but I think it’s about dehumanization of the other in general, and how easily we can see others based on some criteria as less than human, but also it’s about what it means to be human etc… But yeah, so tragic a story in general.” Getting that text alone made reading the book worthwhile.
All of these books are in one way or another about marginalizing “the other,” but as I think about it, isn’t much great art an attempt to explore that theme?
There’s one more, and it’s the truth that gets marginalized in this one: Fake, by my friend John DeDakis, is the fifth in his series of mysteries. The reader is given an insider’s glimpse into the world of journalism, politics, and the all too real experience of being unable to detect the truth amid the posturing and agendas of those we allow to be in positions of power.
Have you seen some of the studies about the the effect that reading fiction has on our brains? Science tells us that it helps us develop greater empathy and emotional intelligence. Read more. So, no more guilt about escaping the stress of your day with a good book.