What I Read in August

Sep 7, 2018

Well, hey there. My posts seem to be getting fewer and farther between. That's what happens when you start adding in other activities and hobbies and responsibilities. Something has to give. But I still love keeping a record of the books I'm reading, and so I'll continue to hold my place here on my corner of the internet by popping in a few times each month.

In August, I only managed to read three books, which surprised me. But I think that's because I had several others that I thought I was going to finish before the end of the month but didn't (although one of them I literally finished on September 1st). Here's a little recap:

1. A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins
This felt like just the right book for the last days of summer.

Derby Clark and her family are drifters. They travel around in their camper, stopping for short stretches of time and working odd jobs. But they always come back to Ridge Creek, Virginia every summer for the baseball season. They open up shop right outside the stadium and serve up hamburgers and fries all season long. They have friends there (June and Marcus and even Betsy) and warm familiarity. But this summer, something just doesn't feel right, and Derby has to dig deep to find out what it is and then figure out how to fix it.

I thought this was a sweet book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it except for one thing: for the life of me, I couldn't keep track of information--who the various characters were, why they were doing such and such, or what had happened in the past. I felt like I was constantly flipping back through the book to recall bits of details, only to find myself questioning what was going on yet again. I don't think this had anything to do with the writing. I'm taking full responsibility for my confusion. For whatever reason, I just must not have been completely engaged when I was reading, and it showed.

I loved this thought from Derby's dad, Garland, towards the end of the book. Derby had just confessed to a bit of dishonesty, and Garland said, "Well, Derby, sometimes big hearts make bad decisions." What a great dad, right? He highlighted the good ("you did this because you have a big heart that loves other people) while still admitting the mistake ("it wasn't a great decision"). And I think that's kind of the theme of the book: how to strike a balance between helping someone without hurting someone else. And Derby gets there in the end.

2. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and One Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
After having several failed attempts at introducing some of my favorite books too early to my boys (most notably, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane), I've been holding off on The Penderwicks. But finally, this summer, I decided to give it a try.

Not only did my kids love it more than I thought possible, but I was reminded why the Penderwicks and summer are a match made in heaven. This story takes all of the joy and magic and feeling of summer and compresses it all into one perfect book.

Now, to be completely honest, this actually is not my favorite Penderwick story. That award goes to the third one (although number four is a worthy contender, and I haven't read the last one yet). My love for the Penderwicks definitely deepens with the series (they really are a little bit bratty in this one, and, much as I hate to say it, I think I might have reacted similarly to Mrs. Tifton if I had four girls and a dog constantly trouncing through my gardens after I'd asked them not to). However, it was delightful to go back to the beginning of the series and see things from a new angle.

But back to why it's a perfect book even if it's not my favorite: because you can't completely nail summer and not have it be perfect. I'm sorry, that's just the way it is.

And my kids adored it. It was funny and adventurous and a little suspenseful, and it had a truly despicable villain.

We finished it on the first day of school, and I don't think I could have planned a better ending to our summer.

3. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Every year, I make one or two reading goals that are specifically designed to push me outside my comfort zone, become acquainted with famous authors, or help me become more well-read.

This year, one of those goals was to read a book by Virginia Woolf, an author who has long been on my to-read list. My reason for choosing To the Lighthouse was perhaps a silly one. I think Mrs. Dalloway or A Room of One's Own are probably Virginia Woolf's most well known novels, but I was listening to a podcast one day that mentioned that knitting played a part in To the Lighthouse, and it immediately piqued my interest because of my current knitting obsession.

But other than that little knitting reference, I had no idea what I was getting into, and, oh wow, it was hard. For those of you who love Ms. Woolf, I applaud you. But honestly, I struggled with this one. In fact, after listening to the first few chapters twice, I gave in and pulled up a chapter-by-chapter summary just so that I could make sure I wasn't missing subtle nuances which might prove to be crucial to the storyline later on. It was extremely helpful, especially at one juncture where a rather life-altering occurrence is mentioned in one nonchalant sentence, and I had to confirm that what I thought happened actually had happened (it had).

I don't even really know how to sum up the story. There really isn't much of one. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay have eight children; every summer they stay in their home on the coast where they are bombarded with visitors. Mr. Ramsay needs constant sympathy and praise, which Mrs. Ramsay is sometimes inclined to give him and sometimes not. His children hate him. The lighthouse becomes a metaphor of sorts when their youngest son, James, wants to visit it, and Mrs. Ramsay offers hope that maybe they can go tomorrow, and Mr. Ramsay dashes it, saying that the weather will be bad. (And, if you're wondering, Mrs. Ramsay does indeed knit on a pair of socks, which she intends to gift to the little boy who lives at the lighthouse.)

There was just a lot of this character thinking about that character, first in a positive way and then in a negative way and switching without warning to the past or the imagined past or the future or the imagined future and then introducing a completely different character but maybe just for a sentence or two (but maybe several pages) before rushing back to where it was before and where it was before that. Is it any wonder I was so confused?

The only thing I really knew about Virginia Woolf's writing before reading this book was that she was unabashedly feminist, and that came through quite strongly, both in things that Mrs. Ramsay thought about others and that others thought about her. I'll just give you one little taste because it amused me:

[Mr. Ramsay sees his wife reading a book]: "He wondered what she was reading and exaggerated her ignorance, her simplicity, for he liked to think that she was not clever, not book learned at all. He wondered if she understood what she was reading. Probably not, he thought. She was astonishingly beautiful."

In spite of not enjoying this book, I can totally see why Virginia Woolf is the focus of many college classes. There was a lot to unpack with this novel, and I could have easily found a dozen themes to write about in an assigned paper. And I think if I really had the opportunity to study and cross-analyze, I would like it a lot more. But am I going to create that opportunity for myself? No, I think I'll just bid this one a happy farewell.

What have you been reading lately? Do you assign yourself books or do you let your whims guide you?

1 comment:

  1. My kids also loved the Penderwicks -- we listened to most of them while driving to Utah from the West Coast. Hmm, I guess this means they haven't read the last one, because they think of them as audios. I did like the last one, although the author is always most interested in which ever kid is closest to about ten, so the attention is no longer on the four girls.

    I remember liking To the Lighthouse, but I think it would be hard to read on audio because it's kind of written as wandering around in the characters' thoughts and I think that if I was listening I'd tend to wander off into my own thoughts and miss what was going on. On the page your eye can kind of pause while you do that, but the recording might not know to wait. But it's now officially on your Read list, so congratulations!


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