The End of Summer Reading: Our 5 Favorite Books

The End of Summer Reading: Our 5 Favorite Books

It’s September and, though Labor Day is almost a week away, the kids are back in school. In Columbus, where I write this, the occasional tree has begun to change its coloring. Here and there yellow leaves peek through green foliage. Two streets over, one tree is already bedecked in riotous orange. Summer is more or less over and, with it, summer reading. Though we’re already looking forward to autumn’s new releases, we are also thinking back and reflecting on a season’s best reads. Here are some we loved most:

Elizabeth Shippen Green, All the World was Play and Cheer, 1904 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Each summer, Jessica revisits a childhood favorite, The Westing Game. This year she spent some time thinking about why she is drawn to the novel:

It’s certainly comforting to return to a childhood favorite, but why this one? The novel is a puzzle mystery, and its very elaborate and complete ending is satisfying. But when I think about this novel, what I think about are its female characters–the tenants of an apartment building who have been named claimants in a mysterious will.

Its protagonist is young Tabitha Ruth “Turtle” Wexler, who’s smart and tomboyish and a bit misanthropic (she likes to kick shins). Her older sister is beautiful and dutiful, giving into her mother’s wishes more often than is good for her. Sydelle Pulaski is middle-aged and starved for attention, so she invents a disease for herself and thumps loudly through the novel on crutches painted to match her outfits. Judge Josie-Jo Ford has sacrificed a great deal for her career, but she perceives the characters of those around her with startling clarity. Two other tenants are both mothers who’ve lost children and reacted to that suffering quite differently.

I see parts of myself in all of them, possible futures in the adults, past childhoods in the children. I love the idea that something strange brought them all together and that their relationships gave them an opportunity to move past what was sticking in their lives. It makes me think about the Westing games of my life, the experiences that brought me together with others and the deep and lasting connections I have with them as a result.”

This summer, Ann made a conscious effort to explore shorter fiction. She explains that

“Wedged between commitments or savored at the end of a long day, short stories and novellas create marvelous opportunities to escape or explore when time permits. I particularly enjoyed Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, a short but compelling story of the power and importance of human companionship. Written in his spare and elegant style, Haruf’s novella (published after his death last year at 71) describes the relationship between long-time widowed neighbors in their 70s who begin to sleep together – not for sex but for company. As they talk together at night and share their stories, Haruf unveils a touching relationship borne of mutual respect and abiding care for each other, and ultimately for a grandchild whose care they undertake together. But the loveliness of their relationship falls prey to the small-mindedness of their small town neighbors and their children. With one more week of summer, there’s still time: Haruf’s novel is a lovely and evocative read that reminds us of the life-giving sustenance of human relationships.”

Felix has been reading Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations About it, Felix questions

“Has human development and technology come to a place where ‘control’ in the workplace can be replaced by a subtle set of procedures that empower individuals and teams? Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations argues that we have, and that some pioneering organizations are practicing empowerment with great success. Haven’t we all experienced that we are at our best when we are being trusted and are glad to be beneficiaries of wise counsel, rather than being told that we missed the mark and better go back to the drawing board to find the ‘right’ answer?  What is intriguing about the book is that Laloux brings examples of companies that have made trust and counsel standard operating procedure rather than desired behavior and are apparently having great success. The notion of giving people a voice and trusting them is so powerful. We see at Books@Work over and over again how employers marvel at the transformation of individuals and teams prompted by a set of reflections and debates in Books@Work seminars.”

Martin Johnson Heade, Summer Showers, c. 1865-1870, Brooklyn Museum [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Martin Johnson Heade, Summer Showers, c. 1865-1870, Brooklyn Museum [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Capria found herself reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. She picked it up for a number of reasons:

“It won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  Many of my book club friends had read it and recommended it. But, also, I had an actual tie to the author  (a first for me).  Well his parents really–they are long-time friends and supporters of Books@Work. Now that I have finished it, I would recommend it to anyone. The book is difficult to describe.  It seems to have a strange cumulative, haunting effect.  As a matter of fact, I have found myself thinking more about the novel in the the time since I finished it than I ever did while I was reading it.  It works on you  slowly, almost imperceptibly, but deeply and meaningfully.  I am certain the world is saturated with books that highlight the atrocities of World War II, but All the Light We Cannot See adds a very necessary humanizing dimension by concentrating on two narrators’ stories (one an orphan German boy and the other a blind French girl).  Doerr does a wonderful job of weaving together some general history and a connection to the geography of the war, as well as pathos mixed with anger at individuals involved in both sides of the conflict.

As for me, this has been a summer of near-continuous reading in my down time–I’ve read more than 40 books! Perhaps my favorite of all, however, was Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie. It was highly recommended in a recent piece on Vanity Fair, “Novels About Real-Life Women are Saving Forgotten History,” which I shared on our Facebook page. Set in Prohibition-Era New York City, Saint Mazie portrays the life of one Mazie Phillips, a woman famous in her own day for her generosity toward others. Attenberg’s novel is formally-innovative and fascinating. It weaves together fact and fiction to tell an unputdownable story about everyday kindness and a woman who deserves to be remembered for hers. Saint Mazie is a necessary reminder of the beauty and novelty in everyday lives. It’s a powerful reminder that stories don’t have to be epic or adventurous to make us want to read, and learn from, them.

Further Reading:

Books For Which I am Thankful

Reasons to Read

The Beauty of the Paperback

Image: Winslow Homer, Girl in the Hammock, 1873, Colby College Museum of Art, Maine [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Hill is the Project Director, NEH for All at the National Humanities Alliance and former member of the Books@Work team.