July 21, 2015

Great Summer Reads For Thinkers Who Like to Be Entertained.

State Library Victoria Collections/Flickr

One of the best things about having an extended summer holiday is that it gives me time to catch up on my reading.

I love reading. It’s one of the things I truly live for and I wish I had more time I could devote to it. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I can’t live without books.”

However, I am not someone who only sticks to the bestseller lists but I am also not a literary snob. More often that not, I mix the high with the low. My bookcase contains The Collected Stories of Flannery O’Connor along side Jenna Jameson’s autobiography. (Don’t judge.)

Sometimes, I have found that it’s the books that I least expect that contain the most profound and spiritual messages.

And while I already have my copy of Go Set a Watchman, it’s nice to keep in mind that there are other books out there that are as equally thought-provoking and worthy of dialogue even if they aren’t attracting the sort of attention that Watchman is.

Therefore, without further ado, here are 4 books that I recommend for anyone looking for something to read this summer:

1. The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Named for the 1989 UK Act which allows “local authorities, courts, parents and other agencies in the United Kingdom to ensure children are safeguarded and their welfare is promoted” the novel tells the tale of a family court judge named Fiona whose job is decide the fate of various children who appear on her docket.

Despite the nature of the cases, Fiona’s rulings appear to always be based on the right thing. However, one day she is confronted with the case of a brilliant, handsome 17 year old named Adam who is months shy from being 18 and is refusing prescribed medical treatment for his leukemia because it conflicts with his religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.

The book raises many questions not the least of which is: what are the consequences of our actions when we inflict things on others against their wishes even when we believe we are acting in an individual’s best interests? It’s that, rather than who is right or who is wrong, that makes this book stand out from others of it’s type. Plus it’s worth noting that McEwan refrains from making any judgements himself.

Even though this is a relatively short read, Children’s Act stayed with me long after I read the last page.

2. Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

A face-paced mystery that sets itself apart from most mysteries in its deeper, underlying themes.

Jane Jenkins, famous for being famous “it” girl à la Paris Hilton, has just been released from prison for killing her socialite mother thanks to a mishandling of evidence. Rather than returning to her old haunts, Jane instead embarks to South Dakota in the hopes of finding out more about her mysterious mother and solving what really happened the night of the murder. Despite not being very likable and even unsure if she was framed or really did it, Jane’s story sucks the reader in.

One thing that sticks out is the notion of someone being tried by the media. Everyone is convinced Jane is guilty and the fact that she isn’t a nice person makes the public root for her demise even more. Furthermore, Jane learns that her mother was not who she appeared to be which raises the questions: can we ever really know anyone including those even closest to us? Why is it so easy for some people to complete a story for themselves which has nothing to do with the truth but nonetheless is accepted by anyone?

I read this in one sitting. Great poolside or beach reading.

3. Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison

Full disclosure: this was one of those guilty pleasures I downloaded on my Kindle and never intended to tell anyone that I ever read it, much less owned it.

However, after reading this, I feel it should be a must-read for anyone (male or female) who wants a career in show business.

Rabbit Hole is the memoir of former Girls Next Door  reality TV star, a girlfriend of Hugh Hefner who met the legendary Playboy founder at the tender age of 21 and quickly moved in to his home as one of his girlfriends. Like many small-town girls, Madison moved to L.A. with the hopes of becoming an actress. While she did find fame, it was not how she originally envisioned it.

While Hefner and others close to him have denied many of the claims Madison makes, her account of wanting to be the ultimate people-pleaser to her elderly boyfriend struck a chord with me. While I have never had a boyfriend that much older than me, I do know what it’s like to go to such lengths to please someone I ultimately lose hold of who I am. Many women can probably relate to this even if they have never dated outside their peer group.

It was interesting to read Madison’s obsession with fame to the point where she notes that she originally wanted to be an actress but ultimately just wanted to be famous for something. Having achieved a level of fame, though, she finds it isn’t what she thought it would be.

Lastly, I was left pondering society’s famous double standard: it was mostly accepted and even seen as cool that a then-70-something man had a harem of girlfriends in their early 20s, but it is highly unlikely that would be true in the case of a woman.

4. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

While many were left reeling over the revelation that the much beloved Atticus Finch is portrayed as a bigot in To Set a Watchman, nothing that I came across mentioned that Scarlett O’Hara, a very beloved literary character whom many people named their kids after, also happens to be a bigot.

As a teenager I loved both the book and the movie and it even occurred to me back then that Scarlett’s views on race—especially those favoring slavery—where ones I could never agree with.

However, she was complex. She loved Mammy and in one of the most memorable episodes of the novel that did not make it into the movie, she expresses outright horror and disgust when a white woman from New England calls the beloved uncle Peter, the Hamilton family slave who raised Charles and Melanie after their parents’ died, the “n word” and assumes he is stupid. In fact, Scarlett is so outraged she even says, “How dare you? Uncle Peter is one of the family!” leaving the confused woman to wonder aloud if the “exceedingly black” Peter is a blood relative.

However, it never occurs to Scarlett that she supported a system and longs for the days when Peter, Mammy and other black people she loves were legally viewed as property. While praising Peter and Mammy’s intelligence and bravery, she also says in other places that “negroes are so stupid” and uses the “n word” many times herself.

If that isn’t bad enough, Scarlett isn’t always very nice to people including her own sister, Rhett, and others who love her but still, there is something about her that makes us root for her thus proving my point that just like people, some of the best characters are very complex.

Happy reading!


Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: State Library Victoria Collections/Flickr

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