I read more than usual in July, thanks to a week’s vacation. I am lucky to have a fantastic used bookstore in my town so I went in to stock up for my trip. I couldn’t find anything on my reading list, so I checked for yet-unread titles by my favorite authors. That’s how I found The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I cannot deny that I am a shameless fangirl for Elizabeth Gilbert. Say what you like about Eat Pray Love; it was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to and I loved it! Her book about creativity, Big Magic, lives on my bedside table. So I had high hopes for Signature of All Things—maybe too high, alas. On the positive side, I found the main character—a large, lonely, plant-loving woman who is preoccupied with sex but never gets any—highly relatable. I mean, we’re practically twins. Also, the book is written in Gilbert’s warm, funny style, and features one of her favorite (and my favorite) themes: the intersection of earthly and divine. On the negative side, it might be a little too long. After an exciting start, it drags a bit in the middle; it might get tedious if you do not love Elizabeth Gilbert with your whole heart. But I do. So for me, it was a satisfying read anyway. I really enjoyed the historical context, too, and I think about it often.
While I was at the used book store, carrying my big, hardcover Signature of All Things, I thought, “This doesn’t seem like poolside reading. Maybe I should look for something light.” Lo and behold, I found a book called Something Light, so I had to buy it. It’s an old book, published in 1960, and the first few lines promised interesting wit and perspective. Apparently the author, Margery Sharp, was prolific and popular throughout the mid twentieth century. She wrote The Rescuers, which was made into a Disney animated film in 1977–coincidentally, the first film I remember seeing in a movie theater. Something Light was indeed light, full of clever prose and funny observations, along with some pretty outdated views, per its publication date. It’s a predictable story about a woman determined to catch a husband, so adjust your expectations accordingly. Still, it was a fun, if silly, read.
The cast-off book shelf at my office yielded the best read of the month: Eventide by Ken Haruf. I only picked it up because it was free and the title rang a vague bell in my memory. A peek inside revealed that Haruf writes without using quotation marks. I confess that this technique stresses me out because I need the structure of punctuation to keep my ADHD brain focused, so I almost rejected this one. I’m so glad I didn’t. This slice-of-life novel about a rural Colorado town is full of characters so dear, you’ll want to hug the book to your chest and tuck it into bed at night. It’s the second in a series so if you’re interested, start with the first book, Plainsong. I’ll read it with you.
I choose audiobooks according to their commute value: I need something that will take my mind off the L.A. traffic, but not so riveting that I plow into the car in front of me. My July audiobook, Something in the Water, fit the bill perfectly. A reviewer described the main character of this thriller as “too stupid to live,” and I’m afraid that was a spot-on description. You know in a horror movie, when you shout at the screen, “DON’T GO OUTSIDE!!” and the idiot characters still go outside? This book was full of those moments. Also, you can see the big plot twist coming a mile away. I kinda liked it anyway. I kept listening, anxious to hear how the author would tie it all up. Also, I usually hate when authors read their own audiobooks (unless it’s a memoir, like Eat Pray Love.) I didn’t realize that this author, Catherine Steadman, is a well-known British actress. Her outstanding performance imbued the book with greater presence and drama than I would have, had I read it with my own eyeballs. She made the main character sound a lot smarter than her “too stupid to live” choices.
I also tried an audiobook called The Weight of Ink, which tells the story of modern day historians exploring a discovery of 300-year-old letters written by members of a community of Jews in London around the time of Shakespeare. I thought the premise was fascinating, but I gave the audiobook three hours of my life and still couldn’t get into it. It may have been the terribly dull performance, which featured the worst attempt at an American accent I have ever heard. I really wanted to learn about 16th century Jews in London, but I finally gave up. That book was twenty-two hours long; I couldn’t sit through 19 more hours of it.
For a much shorter glimpse of cross-cultural human interaction, try this beautiful short story about a group of tenants in a dumpy apartment building and what happens when they are given notice to vacate. I struggle with fiction writing, but this well-crafted story makes me want to try harder.
Speaking of trying harder, this essay about sabotaging your writing really hit home for me. The author is the same age as me and her description of her life—prioritizing family, making a career in marketing, trying to convince yourself that the childhood dream of writing really doesn’t matter anymore—wow, could it be any closer to home? Read it if you’ve been procrastinating on your dream of writing for publication.
Finally, this thought-provoking essay about work and how society values it really resonated with me. It also gave me this concise list of things (beyond money and status) that make life worth living: play, pleasure, art, friendship, curiosity and love.
Hope you enjoy your last month of summer, and let me know what you’re reading!
PS: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click through and buy one of these books on Amazon, I’ll get a teensy weensy commission which will not affect the price you pay for the book.