Happy Wednesday! I hope you’re all surviving these first few days of August. Based on your comments from my post on Monday, August is a tough month for a lot of us. And I think most of us are thankful for the air conditioner and good books to help us through! I’ve gotten a good start with reading in August and I hope that mojo hangs around for a while longer. Today I’m talking about the books I’ve finished since last Wednesday and what I’m planning to read for the rest of the month, so let’s get caught up!
FINISHED THIS WEEK
My Year of Meats was Ruth Ozeki’s debut and published in 1999. I wasn’t a big fan when the book began, but got hooked about halfway. I adore how Ozeki manages to blend Japanese and American culture so beautifully. This book has parallel storylines: Jane, a Japanese-American producing a television show that teaches Japanese families about traditional American families and our love of meat, which is sponsored by a beef company; and Akiko, a Japanese woman married to another producer for the same show. While filming, Jane finds ways to challenge the way the world thinks about the All-American family and inspires Akiko to examine her own life and happiness.
Jane also filmed horrifying tidbits about how meat is produced in the US, especially at the big feedlots. I learned that throughout the history of feedlots, the ranchers were quite creative about the things they fed their cattle including cement dust and plastic hay, which genuinely surprised me despite believing that I’d done a lot of reading about meat production in the US. And of course, we see the effect of the dangerous hormones that harm some people who eat the meat and those who work in the meat industry. I read Fast Food Nation about 20 years ago and My Year of Meats felt like a thoughtful, fictionalized version of it. This was a reminder to support my local farmers and ranchers who operate on smaller scales, which leaves them very little margin of error. Farming and ranching has only become more difficult, especially for those who want to do it the right way. There was so much (literal) food for thought in this book.
Booth is on this year’s Booker Longlist and man — I’m so glad it is! This is such an interesting telling of the life of John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin. We don’t hear directly from Booth; instead, we learn about his childhood and life from his siblings. This book is worth slowing down for and is brilliantly researched. The author’s acknowledgments said that she was inspired to write this book after one of the many mass shootings here in the states. She wondered about the family of the shooter – how do they go on after such a thing? How much do they blame themselves? Could they have stopped it? In this novel, Fowler put the puzzle together based on books, journals, and letters written by the Booth children. John Wilkes Booth’s home life was fascinating, full of Shakespeare’s tragedies and life on the stage. He was larger than life and in the end, it makes perfect sense that he would reach for this level of drama. Interspersed in the lives of the Booth children, we hear from Lincoln via speeches and letters. He foretold so much of today’s politics in America that it’s startling. 5 stars and I hope this makes the short list! (Also, I couldn’t help but compare this to Hamnet as I was reading, despite it being set in a totally different time period and about a different family. They had such a similar vibe to me.)
A Thousand Acres, the 1992 Pulitzer winner, was the Fiction Matters Group Read in July. I have learned that this is a retelling of King Lear, of which I have zero familiarity, so I’ll have to take everyone’s word for it. I found the beginning to be slow, but it really picked up in the second half. This is about a family farm in Iowa and what happens when it begins to change hands. Family secrets, ambitions, and long-kept resentments couldn’t help but seep out at every turn. Is King Lear a tragedy? Because this most certainly was, but told in such a straight-forward and matter-of-fact sort of way that I wasn’t weeping into a hankie, but shaking my head in disbelief. The story was dark and sad and made me happy that my family doesn’t have any property or money to fight over; we can find enough to disagree about without it. I gave this book 4 stars because I couldn’t put it down once I got to the second half. I needed to know what was going to happen to this family!
(Bookish coincidences: I love it when my books accidentally overlap in some way and that happened twice with this week’s list. A Thousand Acres and My Year of Meats both included bits about the chemical dangers of big farming/ranching. This reinforced my thoughts about supporting local farmers and being careful about what we eat. A Thousand Acres was a retelling of a Shakespeare play while Booth was full of Shakespeare, which made me a bit embarrassed that I know next to nothing about Shakespeare!)
August Reading Plans
As always, I’ve been overly ambitious with my list this month. I doubt that I’ll get to them all and I’m sure I’ll throw in a few cozy things here and there. And of course, there’s a few books that have been on my TBR for months and are still patiently waiting for me. Here’s my August queue:
- The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
- The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich – Erdrich-Along catch up
- Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich – Erdrich-Along
- Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym – buddy read with Laila catch up
- Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree – buddy read on Fiction Matters
- Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin
- The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier
- Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – MMD Austen in August pick
- Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward
- Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda – Fiction Matters Group Read
- The Maid by Nita Prose
- Trust by Hernan Diaz – Booker Longlist
- After Sappho by Selby Lyn Schwartz – Booker Longlist / ordered from Blackwell’s
- Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo – Booker Longlist / this month’s Audible credit
- Treacle Walker by Alan Ganner – Booker Longlist / ordered from Blackwell’s
Will you join me in reading any of them? What’s waiting for you this month? I started The Shell Seekers last night and the opening pages are so cozy and perfect that I can’t even stand it. I’m looking forward to more of this story!
I hope to be back on Friday with a quick update. Until then – take good care!