I’ve been on an extended camping/road-trip for about six weeks now. Our business Hike Maui has been shut down since March due to COVID19 so we are out of the house in an attempt to stay sane. Time to get out into nature, hike, explore, read and write. The best books #amreading this month are:
Revelation: The Makah Island Mysteries by Amy Drayer
Whenever I travel, I search for a book that’s set where I’m going. I love reading about a place while I’m there. So, I’ve been saving fellow Lighthouse Book Project graduate Amy Drayer’s book Revelation: The Makah Island Mysteries for my trip to the Pacific Northwest. I’m not sure Makah Island is a real place (couldn’t find it in google maps) but guessing it represents many of the islands sprinkled off the Washington coast. Though I just started it last night, I’m already steeped in the eerie, moss covered tree drippiness of the wet Olympic Peninsula. I’m also questioning whether I should have eaten clams yesterday, but since it’s a mystery, that is yet to be discovered.
Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
Speaking of haunting stories… it’s taken days for me to quit dwelling on this story about men, their fathers, their sons, and the legacy of violence. There are some tough, violent moments in Cry Father where the protagonist Patterson seeks drink and distraction to mourn the loss of his young son. Full of meth-heads, drug dealers, violence, and crime, Patterson continually tries to do the right thing, and I found myself rooting for him even though he doesn’t always succeed. Tough, unpredictable, melancholy ending. Written by Lighthouse teacher Ben Whitmer who I now want to buy a whiskey and bombard with questions.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Perhaps my choice of themes this month reflects 2020: dark, distressing, and depressing like a rash you’ve had for four years. Though it’s often an uncomfortable story, Eileen’s ending is not only a surprise but ultimately hopeful. You feel sorry for young Eileen and the life she has caring for her alcoholic father and working in a boys’ prison. She is lonely, has no self-esteem, and no one to prod her toward something better until Rebecca comes along. Eileen will do anything for Rebecca… which ultimately saves her but at a cost. I liked it, hence why it made my best books list. This debut won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was short listed for the Man Booker Prize. Obviously, other people liked it, too.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
Imagine a family of twelve children growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s then discover that six of them have schizophrenia. This true story is fascinating, overwhelming, sad, and full of resilience, determination, and hope. Hidden Valley Road tells the history of this brave family and portrays the history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. A very humanizing portrait of a devastating disease.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
After all that heavy stuff, #amreading something lighter and spent two days devouring The Jane Austen Society. Given that I love all stories Jane Austen, reading this best book was like hanging out with good friends for a weekend. It’s about five characters post-WWII seeking solace and purpose in life who unite around Jane Austen. Unpredictable but wrapped up nicely at the end, just as Jane would have written it. The writer in me appreciated several of the themes: the idea that purpose and relationships help us through grief, and it’s the small, daily things in life that often times help us survive. I also appreciated Jenner’s creativity and research and the echoes to Austen’s stories. It was such an enjoyable read, I was surprised to find I wasn’t annotating or thinking about craft and style, I just enjoyed the story. Thanks, Natalie!
P.S. I often get asked about camping for six weeks: what’s the sleeping, showering, cooking and working set-up. My husband tells me what we’re doing is now called overlanding (self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.) Here’s a sneak preview: