Summer Reads

by Darlene Cah

The phrase “summer reads” conjures images of lazy days on the beach and breezy novels that make your heart race—Stephen King or Nora Roberts. I’ve indulged in, and enjoyed, both, not to mention my fair share of Danielle Steele and John Grisham. Yes, at one point in my life, Danielle Steel and Flannery O’Connor occupied the same bookshelf! Oh the drama! When Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Steve Martin and Wendy Wasserstein entered the picture, it was party time. Okay, so focus is not my strong point.

With that, here is my diverse summer reading list:

Prince Los CocuyosThe Prince of Los Cocuyos by Richard Blanco

This past April, I attended the Lanier Library Poetry Festival, in spite of that fact that I’m pretty clueless about the genre. 2013 Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco was the keynote speaker. I would never have discovered this book had he not talked about his family and read excerpts from The Prince of Los Cocuyos in his address. I was hooked. A few of my writer friends and I were invited to dinner with him later that evening, and he was charming, funny and engaging. Happily, his personality comes through in his memoir.

In this heartwarming and heartbreaking coming of age reminiscence, Richard Blanco explores the concepts of home and family, and his identity as the son of Cuban immigrants living in Miami. Though his family’s roots are deeply tied to the romanticized Cuba they constantly recall during conversations with each other, young Riqui yearns to be American, albeit his own Disneyland version of America defined by Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch. As if growing up and trying to find his place in two cultures isn’t hard enough, the now maturing Richard is further confused by his increasing awareness that he is gay.

Beautifully written with vivid imagery, Blanco invites us into his family, with all its rich traditions and characters. I laughed out loud at many of the scenes. Yes, that was me at the chiropractor’s office with my hand over my mouth trying hard not to pop another rib from laughing. If you’re a stickler for strict substantiated facts in memoirs, be aware that he does admit to fabricating some dialogue, changing the names of some people and places, taking liberties with time and using composites to create a few of the characters, but maintains that the book portrays the emotional truth. I feel it does, and his disclaimer didn’t deter me from becoming engaged in the narrative. I found the book to be well-paced, moving, entertaining, inspiring. Not to mention, now I want to visit Cuba, or at least, Miami.

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Storied Life AJ FikryI was wandering around Lanier Library one Sunday afternoon when this book on display, with its funky typography, caught my eye. Indeed, you can sometimes judge a book by its cover. The unique design is reflective of the charming, unexpected and engrossing story within.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

What could be better than a book about books and booksellers!? On Alice Island, where winters are cold and accessibility by ferry is limited, widower A.J. Fikry continues to run his little bookstore, maintaining his high literary standards, in spite of the rapidly changing publishing industry and the cruel curves life has thrown at him. When his prized collection of rare Poe poems is stolen, his already grumpy personality takes a turn for the worse. He withdraws from his few friends and family members, and snaps short, nasty retorts at Amelia, the new quirky, but attractive Knightly Press sales rep.

One evening, someone leaves a mysterious package at the bookstore, and Mr. Fikry’s life takes an unexpected turn that just may bring him a second chance in life. Zevin creates a world filled with lovable characters. Even A.J. at his worst will have you cheering him on, pushing him towards transformation.

Other Recommendations:

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

So what are you reading this summer? Let me know. I’m always looking for my next good read.

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