So, it’s the summer, and you want a new book to read. Maybe you’re headed to the beach and you are imagining some quality reading time in between watching the kids and building sandcastles. Maybe you are wanting a new literary journey during naptime. Maybe you’re nursing at midnight and three in the morning and want a dreamy escape. Or maybe, you’re like me, and you squeeze in a little reading while the kids are wrestling with a movie on in the background. (Please tell me some of you do that!) If any of the above apply to you, perhaps I can help you out. I have some suggestions for you to consider. A little nonfiction, a little fiction, some thought-provoking, some heart-wrenching. Here are my top five picks for momma summer reading:
1. All Joy and No Fun. This book was the second book I downloaded on my Nook after Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (by the way you all should read it if you want a laugh). I read it while home with my second son during maternity leave. It was a huge help at the time since my husband and I felt like we were single parents living in the same house. Jennifer Senior, the author of All Joy and No Fun, investigates our modern parenting, which she points out has just become a verb in the last 30 years, through multiple vignettes. She traveled around the country interviewing and observing parents doing life at various stages in diverse environments. The greatest benefit that this book provided for me was the reminder that what I was experiencing as the mother of a second child was not exclusive to me. The feelings of isolation and monotony are common for mothers and fathers, and I was not alone when I felt like we were on an island that felt like Groundhog Day. Senior also includes some valuable research on parenting itself interspersed among the vignettes. I strongly recommend All Joy and No Fun for all of you, no matter your age or the age of your children!
2. Calling Me Home. This novel totally enthralled me and a group of friends who shared it over the course of a couple months. Calling Me Home is one of those rare reads that you devour rapidly and then mourn when it is over. You know when you eat something so delicious that you eat it ravenously and then regret that you didn’t take more time savoring each bite? (Maybe that’s just me because I really love food like I really love books). Well, that’s exactly how I feel about Calling Me Home. Julie Kibler creates a tale of love and friendship that transcends racial and socioeconomic boundaries. The story vacillates between two narrators, one in the present struggling with her own life and the other speaking in flashback of her struggles in the past. It is a novel about love across the racial divide of the 1930s and friendship across the racial gaps of today. If you enjoy historical fiction, then this is a book for you. If you enjoy coming of age novels, then this is a book for you. If you enjoy a good forbidden love story, then this is a book for you. If you enjoy characters that break social conventions for the greater good, then this is a book for you. Pretty much if you breathe and read, you should read it. Okay, that may be hyperbolic, but you get me. It’s a page turner, for sure, but fair warning, you will cry. You may cry several times, but the beauty and truth of Kibler’s great story will help you heal after the tears.
3. A Curious Mind: the Secret to a Bigger Life. My journey with the delightful A Curious Mind began when my husband gifted it to me as atonement for us missing Ed Sheeran and Elton John at Jazz Fest. He knew my love for movies, especially ones that Brian Grazer had produced, and my desire to have a “bigger life.” This recent publication encourages us all to invest in curiosity as a value. Brian Grazer, producer of such films like A Beautiful Mind, American Gangster, Inside Man, Cinderella Man, and Eight Mile as well as the television jewels, Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, fervently believes that curiosity is the force that has helped him achieve so much success. He details how being curious can open us up to relationships, opportunities, experiences, and conversations that can open doors for us along the way. I found this book to be helpful in parenting, wifing (my new word), and teaching. Though not profound, his thesis reveals simple ways that we can increase our lives whether that be in the business world or the home. Grazer presents that every story matters, and that when we inquire about stories in the lives of others, we can improve our empathy and understanding. He also emphasizes that curiosity can be a bridge to new opportunities. A Curious Mind is a great read for those of you who want to look at life, opportunity and conversation a little differently.
4. Into the Free. This is one of those novels that captures you. I know it well, having read it multiple times. Julie Cantrell digs deep into Depression era Mississippi to bring us the memorable character of Millie Reynolds, a girl stuck in a family of poverty, abuse, and addiction. In the middle of this difficult life, though, Millie escapes through reading literature and engaging a traveling group of gypsies who offer her freedom. Millie’s story twists and turns through tragedy and triumph, but as she uncovers family secrets, she also finds a resolve to embrace the life ahead. Yes, the story is intense at times, but the themes of compassion and empathy emerge, which make the journey worth it. Into the Free meets you where you are, and I promise that you will feel a personal connection to it afterwards. This novel speaks to the journey many women and children walk globally just as it relates to the Deep South that we all know and love.
5. The Paris Wife. My last suggestion is always one of the first that I offer when a friend asks what she should read. I am a bit obsessed with the 1920s and the literary figures of the “Lost Generation,” so this foray into Hemingway’s personal life checks off many of my boxes. The Paris Wife explores Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, and her relationship with the famed novelist. Beyond their courting and marriage, though, is Hadley’s evolving identity and discovery of herself. Paula McLain utilizes thorough research and adds texture to the characters based on real people, one that is arguably the most iconic American author. In The Paris Wife, the Hemingways begin in Chicago and move to Paris so Ernest can write. Of course McLain creates marvelous interactions with them and the other notable characters of the period. I became so immersed in this novel that I kind of believed I was friends with the Hemingways. If you’re a fan of American literature or historical fiction or Paris, then this is a must read.
Honorable Mention: The following books are a little strange but fun reads if you’re adventurous:
- Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore—impressionists, art, Paris, and immortality
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender—emotions, sensory, and magical realism