I’ve been reading about 7 books per month this year (which is not on pace to hit 100 books, but isn’t terrible), in June I actually managed to read 9 (bringing me to 43 for the year so far)! But, I didn’t manage to blog about most of them, so here’s a quick round-up:

I’ve been reading a few from the Tournament of Book Summer long list, first up was Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (this actually made the TOB short list for the summer, the other two I’ve read so far did not). This is a rather strange book. It’s not exactly magical realism, some reviewers say it’s ‘twee.’ The premise is that a woman (Bertha Truitt) is found, alive, in a cemetery with a candle-pin bowling ball and pin, and she goes on to build a bowling alley and introduce the town to candle-pin bowling. The novel actually spans a few generations, and you learn ON THE BOOK FLAP that Bertha dies in a freak accident. I really found the book less interesting once she died, I wasn’t that interested in most of the rest of the characters. I don’t regret reading this one, because I did sort of enjoy the ridiculousness of it, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it unless you’re really interested in a long narrative centered around a family owned bowling alley.

I also read Kaddish.com by  Nathan Englander from the TOB long list. This novel tells the story of Larry who, when the novel opens is no longer spiritually Jewish but his family is orthodox Jewish. His father has just died, and so because he’s the son, he’s supposed to say the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead) every day for 11 months.  Larry isn’t going to do this, so instead to appease his orthodox Jewish sister, he finds a website called Kaddish.com to recite the daily prayer for him. I’m not Jewish, I’m sort of Jewish adjacent because my husband’s family is Jewish, and in general what I know of Jewish rituals around death I really appreciate. I’m terrible though because since it isn’t my religion, I tend to use the things that are helpful to me, while not taking part in the things that aren’t, so I did sort of sympathize with Larry — he no longer feels connected to this religious practice, it’s just not how he wants to mourn his father. But of course, his sister is so sincerely upset that Larry is dooming their father’s soul.

The novel immediately takes a twist in part two, jumping ahead significantly, and I was actually kind of disappointed by this, I was really interested in the Larry/sister dynamic as they were grieving, and the book moves on from that pretty quickly. But, that said, overall I enjoyed the quirkiness of the novel from that point on. Also I’m fascinated by the fact that Kaddish.com is real website, I wonder what their views are on this novel?

Finally from the TOB summer long list, I read If, Then by Kate Hope Day. This is one of my favorites of this entire year. I just really enjoyed the characters and found myself completely invested in each story. The novel takes place in Clearing, Oregon, which sits on the flanks of a ‘dormant’ volcano. There are three different stories of three neighbors on the same street – Cass, a PhD student who is taking a break from her program and has just had a baby, Ginny and Mark who are in a difficult marriage, and Samara mourning her mother’s recent death. As per the book flap (I’m a firm believer, if it’s on the book flap, it’s not a spoiler), their lives are upended when they start to see themselves in parallel realities, and as you read, you realize the characters all appear in each other’s stories, but you’re not reading three stories set in the same reality. It adds an interesting layer to the novel.

Maybe I liked this so much because it was really easy for me to identify with the characters – Samara’s grief over her mother’s death felt exactly right to me, often she can hear her mother’s voice, but sometimes it’s frustratingly silent (“But for once Ashmina’s voice is silent. She can’t think of a single thing her mother would say.”). And Cass, dealing with adjusting to motherhood and getting so much judgment from those who she certainly didn’t ask for advice (“Don’t take too much time off … I had a graduate student a few years ago. Very talented. Brilliant even. She took a year off to have a baby. Or maybe it was to take care of a sick baby… Doesn’t matter. The point is, the year turned into two years. And then I never heard from her again.” Thanks for that helpful person…).  I marked a lot of passages in this novel, and I really commend it to you as a book with enough heft, but can still be a great summer read.

Additionally read a few more books about birth/child rearing — The Big Book of Birth by Erica Lyon, Cribsheet: A Data Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting From Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster, and Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond by Nancy Bardacke.

The Big Book of Birth is actually pretty regular sized, and I thought it was a nice overview of labor and postpartum. Mindful Birthing is much more about whether you’d like to bring mindfulness and meditation into your labor prep and parenting — I’m personally pretty sold on this, but it’s not for everyone. This is not a super hippie book, but if you’re not interested in meditation at all, you won’t be interested in this book. I also really like Cribsheet, mostly because Oster’s main thrust is that you need to think about what’s right for your family and everyone needs to get as much sleep as they can — lots of horrible things people tell you (if you don’t breastfeed you’re dooming your child, sleep training is torture, etc etc etc) just isn’t borne out by data, or is more complicated, and it’s interesting to really dig in on these issues in an academic way.

Coming up in June round up part two: The Ash Family, Born A Crime, and Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Currently reading: Trust Exercise and Lost Children Archive