Six Books of Summer Reading

some of my "books read" list
This blog has been politics-heavy lately and will probably continue to be until the November 4th election and even afterward. For now, though, I'd like to take a break to write about reading.

I've been recording the title, author, and date finished of every book I've finished reading since the beginning of my senior year of high school—August 2008. That's over six years of reading records I have now.

I take care to say it's a list of books I finished reading, since there are many other books I began to read or even mostly read that didn't make the list. I don't really have a strict standard for book length, either; some were relatively easy reads that just took a day. Nevertheless, I think the list is dominated by good, full-length books.

My list is now 153 books long, which works out to a grand average of one book finished every 14.51 days, or about 25 books per year. While that rate seems very modest to me, it's above the overall American average of 17 books per year, found by this Pew study. Although I did achieve that rate while doing tons of reading assignments for high school and college courses that didn't lead to finishing books, I also have to admit I've had plenty of leisure time in the past six years—more than I imagine anyone would have while managing a family, a career, and so on.

I doubt I'll be able to keep up that average in the future. In fact, I know my book finishing frequency went down over the past year or more, since my average used to be about one book every 12 days, not 14. Now that I've started my career, I'll have plenty of other things taking up my time. Still, reading is incredibly important, not only for relaxation, but also for work—especially the work of a teacher—and, I think, for maintaining one's sanity amidst all the screens and spoon-fed entertainments of modern first-world life.

Here are the six books I've finished most recently, all read over the course of this summer:

Raven Stole the Moon, by Garth Stein

Garth Stein gained fame through the hit book The Art of Racing in the Rain, which my wife and I both loved. Raven Stole the Moon was his first novel, set in Southeast Alaska, and it's definitely worth the read even if you've never been here. Stein is part Tlingit, and while this novel is not a traditional story, it uses Tlingit beliefs as the basis for its magical realism, which is really refreshing and unique to see.

Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival, by Velma Wallis

Two Old Women is an Alaska classic, and I'm glad I got around to reading it this summer. (I sold many copies of it in a bookstore I worked at years ago.) Although you know what the plot is going to be from the get-go, it's beautiful story because of how simple, direct, and truthful it feels. It's like a poignant painting of the Gwichʼin past that feels real in every way.

(by nateblunt)
The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens, by George R. R. Martin

This is a very cool novella from George R. R. Martin set in the Song of Ice and Fire universe. If you already love Game of Thrones but don't feel you can tackle thousand-page books, or if you've already read A Song of Ice and Fire and now want something more, The Princess and the Queen is perfect. It has everything to love about Westeros—the details, the intrigue, the battles, the twists—while being a self-contained short history set in the time before Eddard Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and all the other characters we've grown to miss, love, and hate.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, by Kazuo Ishiguro

They're short stories, and they're beautiful. My wife just checked this collection out of the library and I decided to read it for the hell of it. Nocturnes really isn't something I'd seem likely to pick out: Vignettes about music set in the present don't really connect with any of my reading interests. Still, I'm glad I picked it up. Each story is like its own soothing, contemplative song that just lets you ponder some of the sadness or silliness people experience in life.

Timeline, by Michael Crichton

I got this book for free at the end of a used book sale, just because it seemed like a Michael Crichton thriller about history would be the best kind of Michael Crichton thriller for me to read, if I was going to read a Michael Crichton thriller. In the end it was a pretty fun read. The premise was ridiculous, and the ending a bit predictable—even in its twist—but I think it was entertainment on par with almost anything produced by Hollywood. You've got to read something superficial every once in a while.

Night Over Water, by Ken Follett

My most recently finished book, Night Over Water, is another airport novel paperback like Timeline. Ken Follett, however, was already one of my favorite authors. In every book of his I've read now (it has to be at least five) he's able to excitingly weave together the interactions of diverse sets of characters. Unlike his other books that I've read, which are epic in scope—Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, Fall of Giants, and Winter of the WorldNight Over Water is highly focused, almost entirely set during a fictional flight across the Atlantic on the eve of the Second World War. That focus made the story highly enjoyable for me: Rather than a tale that carries on for years across the span of long historical events, the novel ends up being an intense single moment of mystery and action enjoyable the whole way through.

Anyway, there's my recent reading. Night Over Water is the only book I've finished since the school year started, and teaching concerns always threaten to take over my at-home time. Still, I really value reading for myself, and plan to start a new book soon. Suggestions are welcome!