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Pickle Me This

July 30, 2021

Summerlong

Summer continues! We had a lovely long weekend on Lake Huron recently, and I brought ATTACHMENTS, the first novel by Rainbow Rowell, and loved it so much. I’d had a rough week before we’d headed out of town and so even though I’ve gathered a pile of newly-released thrillers, I knew I wanted something more cheerful. The Rainbow Rowell book was not immediately appealing, however, because I’d found it in a Little Free Library and someone had spilled water on it once upon a time, but it turned out to be perfect, and now I keep recommending it to everyone. Such a great book that manages to be about work and friendship AND a romance all at once. It definitely brought back memories of nascent online culture in the workplace circa 1999/2000. Remember when your emails used to get flagged for using certain language? I worked in an office once where I inadvertently downloaded something that turned my cursor into a fairy wand, and somehow the IT guy knew immediately, and it was very embarrassing, and we didn’t end up dating, but they do in the scene from my next novel that I created out of this situation.

July 19, 2021

Getaway

How I spent my summer vacation! So nice to read such an eclectic selection of fiction.

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is one of the most hyped books of the season, and I really liked it. A fictional oral history of a 1970s’ pop act, it’s also a fascinating treatment of how race and gender can eclipse talent, and a withering indictment of white allyship.

I picked up Picnic at Hanging Rock after it was included on the Topaz Literary Summer Reading Round-Up, and I am so glad I did, because indeed it’s a sultry, languid read, weird and disturbing, the story of the unsolved disappearance of three school girls in turn-of-the-century Australia.

Single Carefree Mellow was everything I was hoping for in a Katherine Heiny book, so sparkling and weird, and definitely a riff on Laurie Colwin who knew better than to assume that love and infidelity were interchangeable, because real life is more messy and complicated. The only problem is that now I’ve read all her books, and so she has to publish another one pronto

I read Burnt Sugar next, by Avni Doshi, so unrelentingly bleak, kind of holding up a magnifying glass to its characters so we could see ever errant hair and enlarged pore, and there was so much ugliness. I didn’t like it, but that’s not to say it wasn’t really good.

And then I read Long Live the Post Horn next, by Vigdis Hjorth, and wasn’t crazy about it initially. I am allergic to the works of Ottessa Mosfegh, and this was kind of similar in the beginning, not far from the bleakness of Burnt Sugar, with characters numb and detached, but then it clicked for me, mostly because it’s about hope and the postal system, which is definitely my jam. And I don’t think I’ve ever read a Norwegian novel before.

After that: Maeve Binchy! I read Circle of Friends years ago when I was a teenager who cut out pictures of Chris O’Donnell from magazines and hung them on my wall, but never read anything else, deciding that Binchy was for biddies, but for the last few months I’ve been listening to the You’re Booked podcast and they talk about her all the time, and so when I found Light a Penny Candle in a Little Free Library, I brought it home, and it was delightful, which I don’t say about most books more than 800 pages long, and it only became COMPLETELY ridiculous in the last few chapters, which is pretty impressive. A really wonderful look at friendship, and also of women who are allowed to be different and now just foils.

And finally, Astra, by Cedar Bowers, which I started on the last night of our trip, a novel in pieces, and I am waiting until I get to the end of give my assessment, but maybe smart people are saying many good things about this book.

July 24, 2020

122 Days

I don’t remember my last swim, though I remember the date. March 11, which stands out for many of us in all kinds of ways, and it was the last day of a lot of things—that evening I would run my cart through the grocery store heaped with cans of beans and bags of chips (necessary supplies for impending disaster). It was the last day my children were both at school, because Iris woke up with a cough on Thursday and I didn’t want to chance it. It was the last day of normal life still seeming like a possibility, through we had cancelled our trip to England, which was due to happen the following week. But on Wednesday March 11, we still weren’t sure we weren’t overreacting. By Thursday morning, I would be overwhelmed with dread and skipping my swim (why chance it?), my towel and bathing suit hanging over the railing in my bedroom where they would stay for the next four months.

I need to have a towel hanging on the railing, even when I’m not swimming at all.

But then last week at the cottage (I think it’s interesting the way we say “at the cottage” as though there were one, as though the specificity mattered in the slightest), there were towels hanging on the railing all week. There were bath towels too, but we didn’t even use them, because nobody is required to shower when you swim in the lake every day. Every day twice a day.

We’ve never had our own personal waterfront before, been just 47 steps from a swim. Though it wasn’t so much more than that in that 100-days-ago era, back when I used to swim every morning, when I would leave the house at 7:00am and be in the pool by 7:15, pushing off for my very first length, never once taking such an extraordinary privilege for granted.

But on summer holiday, there is no such need for early rising, and it’s far more vital to linger in bed with refilled cups of tea. Finally making our way down to the water mid-morning once the heat of the day had started rising, and leaping off the end of the dock. Every day I got to fly.

Truth be told, I’ve been able to fill the swimming void. We do yoga every morning and it makes my body feel the same way swimming does, stretched and limber. For exercise, I’ve been riding a stationary bicycle, which I don’t like—but at least it permits me to read at the same time. It turns out that as much as swimming itself, I missed the aesthetics of swimming. I saw an illustration of a blue circle back in the spring, and it moved me to tears. We bought a smallish pool for our backyard, and while I can’t swim in it, I can sit on an inflatable tube and float, which fulfills nearly all my aquatic needs.

But there is something about a lake, particularly one that’s 47 steps down from the door. A lake on such rugged terrain that there is no seaweed, but instead rock-faces, rocks themselves, and long lost tree trunks. The water so clear that I could see down to the bottom: a kitchen sink, a sunken rowboat.

Every day, I swam across our bay to the beach on the other side, equipped with goggles and earplugs. Last summer I could swim long distance, all the way to the island where we picnic, but now I’m out of practice. There was a point where our inflatable flamingo was taken by the wind, and I chased after it, caught it, so I’ve still got it, is what I’m saying. Not much of it, mind, but it was the most exhilarating swim of the holiday for sure.

I’d wondered about renting a cottage without a beach—it was a “con” as we were choosing a place. But it turned out to be the best thing ever—no sand, not a grain of it, which under normal cottage week situations would be caught up in my bed sheets by Tuesday, and I’d be sweeping the floor at least five times a day. Okay, we were still sweeping the floor, because whoever owned the place appears to have had a very, very fluffy white dog… But the lack of sand was amazing. Who needs sand anyway? Beaches are nothing compared with the end of a dock, the leap and the plunge. The kids who get to show off their swimming skills, nervous as the holiday began, but by the end of the week, they were fish.

We had one last swim before we left on Saturday. (I have completely forgotten about the horseflies, as I knew I would. You can’t see them in the photographs.) Like all the other swims, this one was perfect. Smallish lakes are always the nicest temperature in July, invigorating but inviting. When we got home that afternoon, the towels were still damp, like a memory.

July 20, 2020

Pandemic Vacation

A thing I never knew until 2020 is that there is no vacation like a pandemic vacation—but what a wonderful lesson to learn. If one must live through a pandemic, I mean. Our original summer holiday was cancelled at the end of May, but summer rentals had reopened in Ontario at the same time after being closed since March, which meant there was still some availability and we wasted no time in booking. We weren’t sure what we’d find when we got to the random cottage we’d booked on the internet, or if this holiday would feel second-tier, as sad as 2020 in general. Plus what of spending time together as a family after having been holed up for months… But it was everything, beautiful with amazing swimming (I hadn’t swam for 120 days!), cut off from the world so we could forget about everything except the sky and the trees, and the way the lake was always changing. I read a book every day, relished escape from the city heat, had fun with my family, and delighted in these days of being at peace. Checking out the newspaper midweek too to learn that not much had even happened while we were gone. It was a very good week, and I’ve never been more grateful for a holiday.

July 16, 2019

Summer Reads

Last week was splendid, all the time in the world for swimming, reading, fun with friends, and board games, and chips and butter tarts. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or company, and it was wonderful to return to this lovely lakeside spot that we’ve been enjoying for the past four years and to be reunited with some of our favourite people. Of course, what most distinguishes a perfect holiday for me is that I got all the books read.

My first book was Woman No. 17, by Edan Lepucki, co-host of the Mom Rage Podcast, which I’ve become obsessed with in the last few months. And it was really good, so different, California-lit that put me in mind of Joan Didion or Rachel Kushner. Fucked-up women and what it means to be an artist, and examining motherhood from a fascinating angle—I was really interested in reading how the novel fed into Lepucki’s other projects (both the podcast and also Mothers Before). It was moody and atmospheric, and incredibly interesting. I loved it.

Next up was Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim, a courtroom drama by a lawyer-turned-novelist. An oxygen chamber—designed to treat such things as autism symptoms and infertility—explodes, and two people are dead, and everybody has a secret to hide. Did the mother of a young boy with autism kill her son intentionally? The machine’s owner, a recent immigrant from Korea, is not telling the whole truth either, and the novel is pretty riveting as all the pieces come together. Another book, like Lepucki’s, about motherhood and its demands on those whose children have special needs. Plot-wise, the book is excellent, although I yearned for a bit more subtlety (the last chapter is way too explainy) but I like my summer reading with a hook, so this was fine.

*

I read about How Could She, by Lauren Mechling, in Vanity Fair, which has far too little books coverage in it lately for my liking, and here was a book about female friendship that was partly set in Toronto, so I was most intrigued. It’s about a woman in her late 30s who wants to kickstart her life by moving to Manhattan, where two good friends—one an artist it-girl and the other a new mother—are well established in their lives. On the surface, the book seems light and frothy and somewhat untidy as a narrative, plus there were too many details about Toronto that were all wrong (such as, tragically, we don’t have a Shake Shack), but the whole thing came together really satisfyingly for me, and Mechling really finely articulated the weird and prickly nuance of friendship and its dynamics.

*

I’ve been meaning to read Pachinko for ages, and I’m perhaps the last human being on earth to get around to it. I’ve never heard anything but massive praise for this novel, a sweeping historical narrative about Koreans in Japan. And perhaps I’d been putting it off and putting it off because “sweeping historical narratives” are just not my thing, but I am glad I finally read this one, a five hundred page novel I read in a day. It was compelling in itself, but extra for me because I used to live in Japan and know that the historic prejudice against Koreans is not only historic. And it was fascinating to have a window about Japanese history that I haven’t seen before. It was an emotional and really interesting read.

*

The opposite of a sweeping historical narrative is Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary, which was a little bit stupid, but it was her second novel and I bought it for $8 at the drug store, so what was I expecting? It was terrific fun—family secrets, maybe murder, so much humour, and a map at the beginning!—and came together in such a smart way that foreshadows Moriarty’s eventual strength as a novelist. I also just really love mass market paperbacks and that you can buy novels at the drug store.

*

Not stupid at all was Sally Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, a novel whose hype was so amped that I almost resented buying the book, as though I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’d read Conversations With Friends and liked it well enough, but had been led to expect way more from it than it actually delivered (and I thought it was kind of annoying). I bought Normal People after hearing Sally Rooney on the radio, and in hardcover even, but it was worth every penny. About a mismatched relationship between an outcast girl from a wealthy family and the popular boy whose mother is their cleaner, and what they find in each other and what they take from each other, and the dynamic is never static. Nothing is in this coming-of-age tale of love and friendship, a sad and beautiful heartbreaking story that was both familiar and strange at once. It was everything they said it would be.

*

I read Normal People in a morning on our last day, when it was cool and grey and all I wanted to do was wear sweaters and read on the porch, but then the sun came out and we went back to the beach, and I got to dig in to This is My Life, from Meg Wolitzer’s back catalogue, which I bought at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn in May. And it was a really wonderful book. Flawed as a novel, as Wolitzer admits in her preface to this 2013 edition, but there were paragraphs in it that made me gasp with recognition, so perfectly articulated. It’s interesting to see what Wolitzer was up to so close to the beginning of her career, and I really loved this one. Definitely worth a read (and it was made into a movie in 1992, Nora Ephron’s directorial debut, although it looks like the movie version of the story was very different).

May 30, 2019

The Severed Wasp, and New York City

Peace sculpture at Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was installed after the novel was written, and would probably feature better in ML’s fantasy-inspired works. But seemed fitting.

Sometimes, one’s inflexibilities rub up against each other in complicated ways, for example: yes, one wants to read Madeleine L’Engle’s lesser known novels in chronological order (ie two more Polly O’Keefe books to go before I read The Small Rain/A Severed Wasp) but also: I really want to read A Severed Wasp during the weekend we’re in New York, because of its setting (which is the same setting for The Young Unicorns, a novel I adored). So what to do? Well. because I am all cool and laidback, I just skipped ahead to be the other books, NBD. Ha ha.

So first to The Small Rain, which was Madeleine L’Engle’s first novel, published in 1945, 37 years and 29 books before its sequel, almost 20 years before L’Engle made her great success with A Wrinkle in Time. And…it was not good. There were interesting tastes of what would come to be L’Engle’s literary preoccupations—it begins with a young girl being cared for by a friend of the family, because her musician parents are unable to be there for her, which reminded me of Maggy in Meet the Austins. There is romance, there is melodrama, there are weird dynamics between teenage girls and grown men, there is a sea voyage. There are weird problems with plot and pacing, and I didn’t really like the book–it read like something terribly old fashioned written by someone who was terribly young and trying to be terribly edgy, and the effect was kind of terrible. I am glad I read it, but I desperately hoped that A Severed Wasp would be very different, but then I supposed it would be, written 37 years and 29 books later. Possibly, L’Engle has learned something about writing novels in the meantime.

A book cover with the cathedral in front of the actual cathedral!

A Severed Wasp—published in 1982, and blurbed by no less than Norman Lear!—finds Katherine Forrester in her seventies now, instead of a teenage ingenue. Now widowed and retired after a hugely successful career as a pianist, she has returned to the scene of the previous novel, to New York where she came of age and suffered her first heartbreaks, and she runs into her old friend from Greenwich Village, Felix, who was once a violin-playing beatnik, but now he’s a bishop, which is the way things go in Madeleine L’Engle novels, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on New York’s Upper West Side.

Which is a cathedral I first encountered through L’Engle’s The Young Unicorns (1968), the one book in the Austin series that did not feature Vicky at its centre and which was odd, plot-driven, and very compelling. Dave Davidson, who was a teenage boy in the first book, appears again in this one, now grown and Dean of the cathedral, and married to ACTUAL Suzy Austin, who has realized her dream of becoming a doctor, and is also now a mother of four. Interesting because Suzy had been the one who’d always challenged her own mother’s anti-feminism, and I’d wondered about L’Engle’s emphasis on women who had abandoned dreams of career for families, as though the two were impossible to balance. But here was Suzy, doing it all, which Katherine thinks about a lot, because she is conscious of having failed her own children as she’d travelled and toured for much of her daughter’s childhood, and her daughter now remained quite distant from her—in terms of geography and emotion.

But then we will learn that Katherine’s relationship with her daughter is complicated not just for this reason, but also because the daughter was conceived not with Katherine’s husband who’d been castrated at Auschwitz, but by her Nazi prison guard, with whom she’d had a brief affair right after the war. I know, right? The Katherine of The Small Rain has not lost her taste for melodrama, but the stakes have been raised much higher, plus Katherine is receiving obscene phone calls, Felix is also receiving threats to reveal his homosexual affairs, her pregnant downstairs neighbour’s husband has having an affair with a man, the Bishop’s wife is a former pop-singer whose past involvement with drugs continues to haunt her, the streets of New York are dangerous and riddled with crime, and Suzy Austin’s youngest daughter had lost her leg not long ago after being hit by a car in what may or may not have been an accident.

Suzy turned, pausing to explain. “My offspring love pizza and the best pizza in New York is made just across the street at the V&T—one of our local restaurants.”

Too much, all of it. Also, too many racist stereotypes—the worst. But the plot did unfold in a most compelling way, and actually being in New York as I was reading made the whole thing much more meaningful to me. (I don’t think many people make A Severed Wasp pilgrimages. There wasn’t even a copy of the book in the Toronto Library system. I had to order a secondhand copy. My instagram hashtag was the only one!) We went to the Cathedral on Friday evening (“The very size of the Cathedral was a surprise…” the book begins. It was!) and got there too late to be able to visit or even explore the grounds, but I just wanted to see it anyway. (Would have been interested to see the plaque that is apparently there once the Cathedral was made a literary landmark because of L’Engle in 2012—she was a writer in residence and librarian there for decades.) We did get to the see the albino peacock in the garden, although the peacocks in the novel seemed to have been conventionally coloured.

We had dinner across the road from the cathedral, and then it was very exciting to be reading the next day and realize that the very place we’d eaten at—the V&T—was described by Suzy Austin was “the best pizza in New York.” It really was! And then the next day we visited other parts of the city, and though I never got to Tenth Street, where Katherine lives in Greenwich Village, we were just close enough that I felt her presence and the streets she’s describing. And the book was in my bag the entire weekend, to be taken out and read on long subway journeys—not that Katherine ever took the subway. I don’t think she even knows it exists.

“Odd, how complex and intertwined life is. Every time I think I’m settling for chance and randomness, then pattern enmeshes me in its strands.”

May 28, 2019

New York is Magic

I’m having trouble finding my feet again after a weekend away where everything was extreme: hot, amazing, delicious, fun, expensive, tall, far, sunny, crowded, and wonderful. A record of our adventures can be had over at Instagram, where I will continue to post New York photos into the weekend because it was summer and beautiful there, and here it’s just cold and raining (again). I didn’t spend the entire weekend on bookish pilgrimages, because I want my family to continue to want to go on vacations with me in the future, but I did spend the whole weekend reading Madeleine L’Engle’s now-obscure 1982 novel for adults The Severed Wasp (blurbed by Norman Lear, no less!) which underlined my New York experience in terrific ways, even if the novel was like a soap opera set in a church community (and how come, between L’Engle and Barbara Pym, soap operas set in church communities are my favourite kind of book?). The book was why I wanted to see The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which was not far from where we were staying, so we went there on Friday evening. Saturday we spent walking through Chelsea, just close enough to Greenwich Village that I was channelling my two patron saints, Grace Paley and Jane Jacobs—and while I wanted to go find Faith Darwin in a tree in Washington Square, we went to Union Square instead because it was closer to The Strand Bookstore, and I can’t expect my children to traipse across the entirety of New York City on my bookish whims, because New York is very big and also then my children would hate me.

Sunday’s allusions were more musical, as I went to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a memorial to John Lennon, which was kind of the worst kind of circus, but I suppose that was the case with everything with the Beatles in the end. I was also excited to see The Dakota, not for John Lennon because I don’t like to be morbid, BUT because it was home two to amazing literary characters, Rosemary Woodhouse in Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (well, the film version, at least) and also Laine Cummings, Stacey McGill’s best friend in The Babysitters Club, which was how I learned about many places in New York in the first place. (I wonder if they ever met in the elevator?)

On Monday, we went to Brooklyn, because I wanted to visit Books Are Magic, which everybody in our family really liked for its great aesthetics, chilled out vibe, and good books selection, plus Stuart and Iris got to read stories and lie in the floor, which is always nice at the end of a busy four days of touristing. Which was still not enough to even get a proper sense of the city and all it holds, but it was a very good start, and now we all want to go back again.

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year

No one got sick on our holiday—no pneumonia, or strep throat, and even the colds were fairly unspectacular. No one threw up on Christmas Eve, which is the first time ever that such a miracle has transpired in recent memory, and could be down to the fact that we ate bread and chicken noodle soup for dinner that night, because it had occurred to me that there could possibly be a correlation between the rich foods we eat every December 24 and the inevitable puking, although it’s embarrassing that it took me so many years to figure this out. With bread and broth, however, all the stomachs were settled, and it all has been a very low-key, relaxing, restorative and pleasant holiday.

Mostly, I just read books, so many books, barrelling through titles on my To-Be-Read shelf, and also getting rid of other books that have been sitting there for years and that I’m never ever going to reading. True confession: the piles of books I had before me* have been overwhelming for quite some time, and reading should never feel that way. *These aren’t necessarily the books I’m sent by publishers, because I’m less responsible for these. Instead the ones that I’ve been picked up on my travels, and have not made enough time for. So I skipped the used book sales this fall, and made a point of reading the books I had this holiday, and now I feel much less likely to die in a book avalanche, which is an excellent way to start off the new year.

The downside to this, however, is that now I’m going to around telling everyone about this amazing novel called Beloved, by Toni Morrison, which only came out and won the Pulitzer Prize 30 years ago, so I’m really on the cutting edge, right? So hip and current. But oh my gosh, the book is extraordinary, and I can see how it ties right into the contemporary Black women writers whose work I’ve been loving these last few years. Another buzz worthy pick was The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, which is not quite a new release, instead 97 years old, but I did get the spectacularly designed new edition from Gladstone Press, and it was gorgeous, and such a pleasure to read.

I also really loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, which I asked for for Christmas after reading this profile in The Guardian in October. It starts off kind of clumsily and didactic, more about ideas than being a novel proper, but the ideas were so interesting that I didn’t mind, and I also loved how well the two different storylines worked, that I was interested in both of them. And then partway through the book, the narrative grew legs, and I’ve been thinking about it steadily ever since I finished reading.

But I wasn’t only reading. And how can a person read this many books and not only be reading, you might ask? The answer being: I turned off my wifi for a week for my biannual holiday from the internet. It was glorious. I don’t have data on my phone anyway, so no wifi rendered me entirely internetless, and while I love the internet, since I’ve returned to it it’s only occurred to me that Twitter is wholly joyless, Facebook is pointless, and I like Instagram a lot still, but want to make our relationship more casual. And I want to focus on my blog instead, an online space that as ever is in transition. I’m going to be writing more about this in the coming weeks, about what blogs might be turning into. I’m not sure, but I think that for me, mine might be my online salvation. Stay tuned.

While I wasn’t reading, I was ice skating, checking out museums and galleries, playing card games—we got Rhino Hero for Christmas, and I love it with all my heart. I was knitting and delighting in Fargo Season 3 and watching Mary Poppins Comes Back,  and going to for walks down residential streets and through ravines, and making turkey leftovers into all kinds of different things, and seeing friends, and even cousins (which I don’t have enough exposure to and which have always been my favourite part of Christmas), and also reading. Every day when I woke up, the first thing I did was turn on my bedside lamp and pick up my book, which is my very favourite way to start the day, and sometimes people even brought me tea.

And now it’s a new year, and my house is really tidy, after a marathon clear-out on Sunday (including a thorough pruning of my shelves to make space for the books I read on the holidays). I also have a new coat that doesn’t make me look like a hobo, and bought new bras, which was an errand that was three years overdue. Plus, I am currently in the midst of my ideal state of being, ie I am awaiting the arrival of a teapot in the post. What that I could be suspended in this reality forever, but when it ceases I will have the consolation of a teapot at least.

August 21, 2018

Summer

Summer adventures continue. Follow along on Instagram. 

July 16, 2018

Summer Reading

When we arrived at our rental cottage up north last Saturday, I was surprised to feel troubled, because here we were in the most idyllic place imaginable on a glorious summer day, the beginning of a splendid week. But it was unease that I encountered—so slight but visceral—as I climbed the hill, took in the vista, and walked the paths I last walked almost a year ago. A few moments before it all clicked: it had been the books, of course. And also the weather—last summer the sky was always dark and brooding and there were storms every day. It was such an uneasy summer, climate-wise, and the books I’d brought along with me only complemented the atmosphere. It is possible that anyone would feel disturbed upon returning to the place where they’d read Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, I mean, or experienced the intensity of Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty. Wilde Lake too, which was a modern take on To Kill a Mockingbird, but with more sinister undertones. Our last night there I started reading a Louise Penny novel and the weather in the opening chapter was identical to the thunder storm crashing outside our cabin window, and I began to wonder if the line between fiction and reality had become blurred. It really was intense, all of it, nine books in a week the definition of intensity anyway. So that when I arrived back there, it all came back, those incredible books I’d been so wrapped up in.

Last year’s summer reads.

It’s funny how books stay with you, and not always in the ways you’d expect. I really enjoyed Jessica J. Lee’s Turning: A Year in the Water last year at the cottage, but it wasn’t a book I expected to return to. I gave that book away in the spring, but when I jumped into the lake last week (over and over again) I realized what a mistake I’d made, that here was a book that had changed my life. I’ve been jumping into lakes and pools ever since I read it instead of easing my way in gently (and sloooowly) as in previous summers, thinking, “If Jessica J. Lee can use a hammer to crack the ice and jump in a lake in December, I’m certainly capable of a cannonball in July.” Back in the lake beside which I first read it, I realized how much this memoir needs a space in my book collection. How much all those books I read last summer had gotten under my skin.

I wasn’t sure how the reading was going to pan out this year—we were going on vacation with three other families, and while this was a very good plan, I was concerned that being surrounded on all sides by people I like might get in the way of my reading prowess. But it turned out not to be the case because, a) it turned out no one was interested in surrounding me on all sides 24 hours a day b) everyone else was reading too and c) our friends had brought their children, who whisked mine away for so much freedom, fun and adventure that I scarcely saw them all week long and therefore got to read so much that I almost go bored of reading. (Almost. I did, however, get bored of potato chips, shockingly, but that was only very temporary and things are back to normal.)

Anyway, it turns out that I read nine books again, and it was exhilarating and amazing. Liane Moriarty again, who does not get nearly enough credit for being a literary genius—the nuance and craft in her work is astounding. More Laura Lippman too, because she is just such an astounding novelist. The latest Birder Murder Mystery, A Tiding of Magpies, which was the first anti-Brexit novel I’ve read since Ali Smith’s Autumn (and it made me thinking about whether a good pro-Brexit novel was a literary impossibility). I really liked it, and also Death in a Darkening Mist, by Iona Whishaw, the third book I’ve read in the Lane Winslow mystery series which has really been a highlight of my summer. The new Caitlin Moran, which was so terrific, laugh-out-loud funny, powerful and profound. So glad to read Celeste Ng’s first novel after loving her latest a few months back. I was happy standing in line at Webers, because I had Tish Cohen’s Little Green in my bag, which was a certainly a novel that had me in its thrall. And Rumaan Alam’s That Kind of Mother still has me thinking about all the spaces in between its story and I think I’m haunted by the ending—such a subtly provocative book.

I wonder which of these will still be haunting me a year from now?

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