My Year of Reading Dangerously – July

Finished a few books I started last month, chased a couple of authors whose works I enjoyed previously, and grabbed another one I missed mid-MBA. A very productive month, reading-wise, and probably some of my favorite books of the entire year so far!

Fair Play – Tove Jansson: Following my compulsion to read Scandinavian authors, I picked up this piece by Finnish author Jansson. There’s some argument whether to call it a collection of short stories or a short novel, but I’m going to weigh in on the side of the short novel. In most short story collections, the characters, subjects, and contexts are different, whereas Jansson follows the same characters and context throughout this book. Plus, the overall theme of the book are the twin ideas of fairness and playfulness (hence the title, “Fair Play”) being central to a good relationship, and the basis of enduring love. Jansson reminds me greatly of master short story author Alice Munro, which in turn reminded me I needed to read more Munro (and Jansson!).

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth: This was published during my MBA time, and I knew I needed to read it when Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take” (one book I DID read DURING my MBA!) and a professor at Wharton, promoted it on LinkedIn. I also encountered some discussion about Duckworth’s Grit Scale experiments at West Point Naval Academy in some of my MBA reading, which further piqued my interest. This one was totally worth the wait – it was a practical look at growing your own grit, inspiring it in others, and building an environment that nurtures its development. Fantastic for anyone who desires a roadmap for personal growth.

The Secret History – Donna Tartt: So I read Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” during a previous month after wanting to read it for a while, and decided that since it was so enjoyable, I should delve a little deeper into her oeuvre. Happy to report that it was definitely worth my while. This book follows another likeable protagonist from unfortunate circumstances into a world where he’s out of his depth and finds himself involved with some pretty outrageous characters with major flaws. For writers, Tartt’s prose and character drawing are wonderful, as always. Look forward to reading more of her books in the future!

Silent Spring – Rachel Carson: I was an environmental studies minor in college. The coursework centered on the interplay between science, government, politics, private enterprise and public good, and while this book wasn’t required reading for any of my coursework, it should have been. While the science and the chemistry involved are outdated (we now have things like government conservation wardens for farm chemicals and the EPA), none of those safeguards, programs, protections, or laws would exist without “Silent Spring.” In a pre-information age world, where TV screens turned to static after the evening news, Carson galvanized a nation to sweeping environmental change by collecting, recording, and explaining the effects of chemicals like DDT, dieldrin and 2-4D. When she documents backyard songbird kills or explains the multi-generational implications of salmon spawn interruptions as a result of decimated gadfly populations, readers can feel their mental lightbulbs turning on. This should be required reading for a modern, environmentally-responsible life.

A Spy’s Guide to Thinking – John Braddock: Every once in awhile, I pick up a book from Amazon based on name only. This one got me because I’m always interested in cultivating better critical thinking skills, and that’s not something that many people write about. This was a good, quick read with a compelling storyline (a vignette from the author’s spy days complete with critical thinking breakdown of the situation), but it wasn’t deep enough for me to find it truly helpful.

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland – Rebekah Crane: I’m a closet YA (young adult) fan, which means I have a penchant to picking up the occasional YA title. This one, about a summer camp for “dysfunctional” teenagers was equal parts silly romp and serious story about finding your way by losing yourself. A solid read, even for those of us outside of the “YA” demographic.

Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self – Alex Tizon: A cousin and fellow book nerd posted a link to Alex Tizon’s story about his family’s modern-day slave, Lola. It was a great piece…until you looked beneath the surface. After some discussion about his motivations, his journalistic integrity, and his all-too-human desire to hide from the world something that shamed him, I decided to check out Tizon’s book about searching for his Asian identity. While the book didn’t provide me with any resounding insights about his motivations for the slavery pieces, it did give me an up-close and personal view of someone who struggled daily with his own sense of self, of his worth, and of his role. And maybe that’s the same thing.

What Jamie Saw – Carolyn Coman: A 1996 Newberry Award Honor Book and National Book Award finalist, this little book was in a stack of freebies at my local library. The Newberry Award is presented to authors who have written outstanding children’s literature, and its winner’s ranks include people like Madeleine L’Engle, Neil Gaiman, and Lois Lowry.  Honor books are runner ups to the main award, but always excellent in their own right. The book is written stream-of-consciousness style from the perspective of the 9-year-old narrator, and it’s a power testament to the multiple traumas incurred by children in abusive homes.

Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women – Kate Moore: I have absolutely saved the best book of the month for last. When nonfiction is well-written, well-researched, and well-paced, it.just.SINGS. And that is this book. I first heard of it from an interview with the author on Minnesota Public Radio and was interested in the storyline. Then, as I jumped into the book, I realized it revolved around a factory in Ottawa, Illinois, where several members of my husband’s family lived when he was growing up, and where he visited frequently throughout his youth. Ottawa’s not particularly notable otherwise (typical small Midwestern town surrounded by cornfields and bypassed by the interstate), so I was surprised to find this riveting story hiding beneath its innocuous exterior. This is a great book for anyone interest in history, workers’ rights, women’s rights, legal history, medical history or just a fantastic story. Probably one of the top 5 books I’ve read this year.

This month’s total of 9 books brings the grand total to a nice, round 60 for the year – well on my way to the goal and on pace for meeting it early!