Books Read in June
- Gilead /Marilynne Robinson is a series of vignettes as shared by Ames, an elderly pastor, written to educate his son after he dies because Ames is an old man at the time he is writing and his son is just seven. In these letters, he shares carefully curated memories, some of which contradict the collection of sermons he has delivered during his ministry and which he fears his wife will use as his remembrance when he dies, words he used to achieve a specific purpose and which never fully represented the scope of his feelings.
- Consider It Pure Joy /Jennifer Jones Austin is the memoir of a 40-something year old woman who suddenly develops leukemia and the experience of dealing with the changes to her life, the frantic search for a bone marrow donor and the long, painful road to recovery.
- The Sense Of An Ending /Julian Barnes is a novel told in two parts. In the first we meet the narrator, Tony and see the development and unraveling of his relationships with his high school friends and a college romance; in the second, we see Tony again as an older man navigating his memories of his past and the effect that his blasé casualness and misspoken words have had on his relationships. Set within a historical context, the personal story illustrates how seemingly inconsequential events can set in motion catastrophic crises.
- In A Free State /V. S. Naipaul is a collection of stories about people traveling from one part of the world to the next and the beliefs that they carry with them and how they help or hinder their ability to assimilate. With each journey, the name he is called and the experience of the traveler varies with his origin and destination as well as his perceived social class, giving rise to a discussion about race and perspective that hasn’t changed in the 40+ years since the book’s publication.
- The Life and Times of Michael K /J. M. Coetzee delivers a gritty comparison of solitude with the reality of companionship. Michael is born with a cleft lip and because his mother fears the rejection that will come with the disfigurement, she keeps him close to her and later, when he lands in a boy’s home, he seems to already have ingrained in him, with the desire for loneliness. Much of the book follows K’s literal and figurative wanderings around Cape Town – the journey to adulthood, the journey to care for his sick mother and return her to her childhood home and a nomadic journey that takes him into the mountains and almost claims his life. While K ‘s hermetic life often puts his physical safety at risk, it is often nothing compared to the disastrous results of his other social encounters provoking a question about whether it isn’t better to be alone.
- Vernon God Little /D. B. C. Pierre chronicles the fall-out when a teenager is accused of being an accessory to a school shooting and the failure of the justice system to protect the innocent, blaming him instead for a crime in which he is also a victim.
- Moon Tiger /Penelope Lively is the fictional creation of an aged historian attempting to write a history of the world using her life as the framework, but offering false memories that expose her secrets instead. Within the short novel, there are 2 or 3 simultaneous and contradicting narratives such that the reader is not always sure what the real story is, but isn’t that the persistent criticism of written history?
For the Booklinks section, I show a common thread between the books I read in succession:
Both of these books have a parent preparing for impending death by writing letters to their young children as a way to leave counsel for their survivors.
Consider It Pure Joy
Both books feature strong maternal characters who orchestrate situations but seem to fade in the background otherwise.
The Sense Of An Ending
Both books show how travel can impact relationships. In Sense of An Ending, Tony is only away from home for a few months when he misses a major event. In Free State, the characters’ lives are permanently changed such that relationships morph and identities are changed as a result of their travel.
In A Free State
Both books have African settings where the political situation at the time functions as the antagonist against which the main character must do battle.
The Life and Times of Michael K
Both main characters are accused of committing crimes and must carry the burden of proving their innocence instead of their accusers having to prove their guilt.
Vernon God Little
Both books have main characters that suffer from parental neglect.
Both books have 76-year-old characters facing impending death and editing their memoirs the way they want it remembered, even if it isn’t entirely the truth.
Gilead (first book)
Click to watch the video on YouTube and subscribe if you haven’t already
That was my reading month. What about you – what was the best book you read in June?