Books

My Book Shelf/Self Challenge: July

I am dragging my feet through summer. On one hand, I am terrified by the school year starting. Aren’t we all? There are so many uncertainties… On the other hand, I am looking forward to it, so we can fall into a routine. A routine that hopefully will allow me to read more than the books I read in July. Whatever that looks like, structure will be nice after three months of the big vast unknown known as a summer without purpose.

Two kids reading
I’m sure there are worse places to read at.

The only routine we have succeeded to establish is quiet time. With a nine year old who is transitioning into more complicated chapter books, and a newly minted 6 year old who is a sprouting independent reader, having an hour a day dedicated to reading is important. And all the “teaching” I am willing to do this summer.

So, every day, for one hour after lunch, we all sit in the patio, books in hand. I also have an iced coffee, and a good dose of patience. After all, I have to remind them every ten minutes of so that quiet doesn’t mean impersonating Dogman. And I have to share the last sips of iced coffee with the 6 year old.

Don’t believe for a second that my kids do this for “free”. They do it in exchange of an hour of screen time. But, at the end of the day, this arrangement buys me TWO full quiet hours every day. Everyone wins. And that has allowed me to read four books this month.

The other high of the month was to go back inside a bookshop. The teenager and I ventured into our favorite independent bookstore, Unabridged Bookstore, to get a present for the birthday boy. It looked beautiful, with new decorations, colorful and bright, glorious. Healing. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it. At first I was apprehensive to touch the books. But that lasted a total of two minutes. There are not many scents as comforting as the smell of a new book.

Tiempo de memoria, by Carlos Fonseca

This book had been sitting on a bookshelf, waiting for the perfect moment, for ten years. It is a very special book because it was given to me by the author himself. I got to meet him and have dinner with him and his family here in Chicago, back in 2010. And because of that very reason, I wanted to be able to give it all the proper attention. I also had stayed away from Spanish Civil War novels on purpose. In my previous life, when I was a PhD student, that is one of the fields I was focusing on. Reading on it was painful for years. After all, it reminded me that I never finished my doctorate, that I never got to write the dissertation I had though in my mind dozens of times.

This novel tells the story of a soldier who, at the very beginning of the Civil War, tried to plan an attack on Francisco Franco’s life. Franco would go on to become a dictator and rule Spain for 40 bloody years. It goes back and forth from the present, where a history professor is investigating the past, and 1936. The novel is very well written and researched, and its rhythm will catch you as it caught me. It is also very interesting to read, in the times of turmoil we are living, about how other historical crises unfolded. You can always learn something from the past.

 

Sonnets of the Portuguese and Other Poems, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I keep going through the classics of poetry written in English, trying to focus on women, as my English poetry college professor seemingly only knew male poets. I am making progress filling the gaps, and I am happy to take suggestions. This is a lovely little book. I actually liked Barrett Browning’s poetry better than I liked Emily Dickinson’s. It may be weird, but there was something in these poems that moved me. I can’t quite pinpoint what it was, but it was very fitting for the moment we are living.

 

Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur

This is the best poetry book I have read in ten years. It is so good that I went on to buy several extra copies to give them away to friends, and pass them along between the aisles of Trader Joe’s. Seriously. It talks about loss, and love, and self, and pain, violence and femininity, otherness… I could keep going. The words punch you one after another, while her drawings give you some comfort in their beautiful simplicity. It is not the crafted poetry of the past, but rather poetry from the gut, from the womb. It made me cry, and laugh, and I haven’t been so enthralled by a poetry book in a very long time. Rupi Kaur also has an active Instagram account where you can find some much needed comfort. Seriously, walk out and buy it right away. It may become your next bedside table book. For now, I will hold tight to one micropoem:

 

if the hurt comes,

so will the happiness

 

-be patient

 

La mirada de los ángeles, by Camilla Läckberg

Since the Encyclopedia Browns and Hollisters of my childhood I have always loved mystery novels. As a teenager, I went on to become an Agatha Christie fan. And then, in my thirties, my mom, who shares my taste, introduced me to Sue Grafton and to Nordic mystery writers. Compared to the Scandinavian ones, Grafton’s Californian criminals sound like preschoolers. The first few novels I read by some Swedish writers were so truculent that I kept looking at my mom from behind the pages of the books, wondering how to reconcile my sweet mother with the woman who devoured such dark stories. Läckberg, a Swedish powerhouse, is a little less truculent than most. Just a little. And her novels are perfect summer page turners. Once I start one, I won’t go to sleep until I am done.

The characters of her Fjällbacka series are by now beloved reading companions, in the same way Miss Marple or Poirot are. All her books mix current crimes with crimes of the past, all peppered with an honest look to what modern parenthood entices. And with a dark sense of humor. I read them in Spanish, but they are all translated into English. They won’t win a Nobel prize, but they will be good, entertaining company for a couple of days.

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