Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Book Chase: The July 2020 Reading Plan

I managed to stay fairly close to my reading plan in June, having read five of the ten titles on the list and almost finishing a sixth. As usual, my library did surprise me by releasing some of my holds early, so I had to work those books into my schedule because of the 14-day clock that immediately starts ticking when that happens. (I've come to expect now that when my library indicates that a book will be available in "less than three weeks," that really means "any day now, be ready.") 

As it turns out, I will have read nine books total during the month of June; five from the list, three unexpected library books, and one NetGalley ARC I hadn't planned to read before August. Considering all the distractions, mood swings, and stay-at-home boredom I experienced, I suppose it wasn't all that bad a reading month.

Now, the July list:

Saul Bellow wrote The Dangling Man in 1944 but his reputation was not really made until 1953's The Adventures of Augie March, a novel I've long admired. One of my 2020 goals is to read some "classic" literature from the first half of the 20th century that I've missed, so this one fits right in to that goal. Too, it's part of my Library of America collection - and I really need to delve deeper into the 106 volumes than I  have so far acquired. I'm already over half way through with this one going into the new month.

2. The Dead Don't Sleep is about a soldier who managed to survive the Vietnam war in one piece despite all he saw and did there. He even managed to carve out a nice peaceful, and rather normal, life for himself when he got back home. But then, in a chance meeting at a firing range, one of the ghosts from his past, a fellow veteran of that war comes back to haunt him. Now, all bets are off. If nothing else, this one promises to be very different from what I've been reading lately. Why I keep postponing it, mystifies me. This one has been on the list for two months already.

Ian Rankin's Strip Jack falls squarely into another of my 2020 goals: reading the earliest books from my favorite detective series. This is the fourth book in the John Rebus series and it was first published in 1992. I own it in the paperback version of the hardcover I've used to illustrate it here (same cover, different color). I haven't read any of the three Rebus novels in this collection, so this will let me catch up on books four, five, and six. Rankin is a Scottish author and his fascinating Rebus stories are set in Edinburgh. This one is a holdover from the June list.

If You Tell by Greg Olson is a true crime story about three sisters who somehow managed to survive life with their psychotic mother. Others, apparently, were not so fortunate. I'm in the mood for more nonfiction than I've been reading so far this year, and I think this one should be pretty good. Actually, it serves another purpose, too. I have something like 350 ebooks on my reader, of which I've only read about 75, and I need to start reading them - or quit buying them (and I know that won't happen). This is another one from June's list.

. William Kruger's This Tender Land is a book I've been wanting to read since last year but never managed to get to. As it turns out, this is one of the library holds that got to me way earlier than I expected it to, so I'm finally reading it. In fact, I'm about half-way through it, and I'm still not sure what to think. It receives great reviews from most readers and critics, but I'm not feeling anything but a 3-star book at this point. No big surprises yet in this coming-of-age story. We'll see how the second half goes.

. Strangely enough, The Story I Am: Mad About the Writing Life by Roger Rosenblatt is a book I can't quite  figure out why I have. It showed up in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and it is so exactly the kind of book that I most enjoy reading, that I surely must have asked for this review copy. But I'm drawing a blank. This is a collection of the author's pieces about his lifetime love of the writing art, and a quick flip-through of the book makes me think it's going to be pretty good. 

. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson is a book that was nowhere on my radar screen this time last month. And then I started doing one of those "Great Courses," this one on "How Great Science Fiction Works," that rekindled my interest in classic science fiction, especially novels about "generation ships," those spaceships that travel literally for generations before reaching their final destination. This is a 2015 generation ship novel, a more modern take on a classic theme.

8. Kissing Fidel: A Memoir of Cuban-American Terrorism in the United States is a memoir by Magda Montiel Davis recalling how her life was almost ruined after she made the terrible mistake of "kissing" Fidel Castro in public while in Cuba attending an international conference. The Cuban-American recounts how her own Miami community turned on her even to the point where she feared for her life. (Sounds very familiar in our own days of "culture canceling.")

9. James Agee's A Death in the Family is one of those books I tried reading years ago but didn't manage to finish. Perhaps back then (I'm hoping), the timing just wasn't right. This is the novel that Agee left unfinished at the time of his death, but because it was so close to completion, Agee's editor was able to edit and release the book two years after its author died. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a year later (1958). How about that?

. I'm betting that this library hold will be available to me by mid-July, so I'm going to put Deacon King Kong on the list. I'm a big admirer of James McBride's writing, and I can't wait to read this one about a church deacon who decides to do the "right" thing for his community by gunning down a local drug dealer. This is a character study that doesn't stop with the deacon; it looks at how other members of the community are impacted by his decision to take the law into his own hands. If you haven't read his The Good Lord Bird, you really need to fix that. 

So that's the plan for July, what will surely be another long month in the world's battle against the Covid-19 virus. I'm wondering today just how much progress we will make on that front in the next month - or how much worse off the world will be by the end of July. Frankly, I'm not nearly as optimistic - or as naive - about the virus and its impact as I was going into the month of June.


  1. It is hard to be optimistic about the future right now, isn't it? I keep hoping things will get better and instead they seem to only get worse. I guess we're in this thing for the long haul. At least books are still available as one solace. And it looks like you have some good ones to read in the days ahead. :)

    1. Harder and harder, Lark. That's especially the case for anyone who lives in a big city, I think. Cities are a lot more fragile than we think they are; it doesn't take much to tip the balance.

      Books are a blessing. Sometimes I feel like I live in my home library because I probably spend at least 12 hours a day in here. The room and surrounding provide a measure of stability and comfort that I don't feel anyplace else.

  2. And the news doesn't help, constant negative stuff. Now I know there is not heaps of good news out there at the moment (article tonight about how Covid can cause strokes) but the constant bombardment is exhausting. We're watching less and less.

    On to a more cheerful subject... that's a great bunch of books for July. At least we have our books and our reading to plan and that helps me to keep sane. Having said in my post that I'd read five this month and would not finish any more I finished one more today and almost finished another. I'll count them for July but it feels like cheating. I think they call it pedantic...

    1. Most people I know are struggling to maintain some sense of normality in their lifestyles. I think that avid readers are among the most fortunate of people because books have been a constant in our lives since we were small children. Still having access to new and old books the way we do even now, is a real blessing that lots of other people don't have.

      It would be easier if we could see an end to this, but I don't get the feeling that we are any closer to that than we were four months ago.

      I hope your husband is having a good week and that you are doing well. Do say hello for me.

  3. My holds seem to be taking FOREVER to come in these days. That's okay, though - I'm just grateful I can still get books from the library. And since my library doesn't charge book fines, I keep them for as long as I need to :)

    IF YOU TELL sounds interesting. I find true crime books intriguing as long as they're not TOO disturbing. It's fascinating to learn what makes people tick, isn't it?

    1. What really fascinates me about true crime books is how easy it is for people to do awful things, sometimes for years and years, right under the noses of their neighbors, family, and friends. That old book, "The Sociopath Next Door," got it right.

      So far, all of my library holds have been e-books or audiobooks. I do have one hold right now that is available only in a physical version, but that's the first one since the library shutdown started. I'm finding that e-books hold-time estimates are way too pessimistic.

  4. What an interesting selection! I'm eager to see what you think as we go through July.

  5. "This Tender Land" was over 450 pages and the one I'm spending most of my reading time on now, "Aurora" is 480 pages, so this may turn into a shorter completion list than normal.

    "Aurora" has been a very pleasant surprise so far - I'm about 30% of the way through it.