The books I read in June took me all over the world, from Ireland to South Carolina to Uganda to Hong Kong. It’s as good a substitute for real travel as I can find. I’ve spent most of the long, warm evenings this month curled up on the love-seat on the front porch, reading until the last streaks of sunlight disappear from the sky by 10 p.m. I love this time of year. Here’s what’s been occupying my mind:
1. “The Beauty Experiment” by Phoebe Baker Hyde
I already wrote about my impressions of this book in this post, so I won’t go into details now. This book was my suggestion for the new book group I’m a part of and we meet next week to talk about it. I’m interested to see what others have to say about Hyde’s year-long ‘diet’ from beauty and its trappings.
2. “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
What a delightful, wonderful book this was! I haven’t seen the movie but now I want to very much. Set in the southern U.S. in the 1960s, it’s about a young girl who runs away from her abusive father and finds love and security living with a group of African-American sisters, who are also beekeepers. Even though the story has some upsetting twists, it was a book that left me feeling happy, satisfied, and hopeful about the power of compassion.
3. “Galway Bay” by Mary Pat Kelly
This hefty novel is about the struggles of an Irish family during the Potato Famine of the 1840s. Eventually, after enduring much tragedy, they immigrate to Chicago with seven children and struggle to make a go of it. This book was mediocre. The first half was engaging, but the second half, set after arriving in the U.S., was tedious. What kept me reading was the compelling story set in Ireland, based on the author’s own family. The potato famine is just so horrific and fascinating in a tragic way — a holocaust of sorts inflicted by the British, who wanted Irish land and were happy to allow their Irish subjects to die off like flies without raising a finger. And yet no one talks about it in that way because the British have been powerful ever since — and the victor always writes history, don’t they?
4. “The Iron Bridge” by Anton Piatigorsky
This book was both fascinating and disturbing to me. It contains six excellent, subtle, and detailed stories about the weird childhoods of some of the world’s worst dictators — Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Rafael Trujillo, Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. Not a subject I’d normally be interested in, I read this book in two evenings because I couldn’t put it down. It was upsetting to see how abuse and anger in childhood can fester to the point of grown men wanting to take out their revenge on the world. Also scary was witnessing the nascent insanity of Pol Pot, Trujillo, and Hitler, in particular.
This book has a bit of a personal connection for me, since I lived with Anton Piatigorsky and his wife Ava during my first year of university. Anton was researching this book at the time, so reading “The Iron Bridge” gave me a glimpse into what he was creating during all those hours upstairs in his writing room.
5. “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd
I loved “The Secret Life of Bees” so much that I checked out Kidd’s next novel from the library. It was written with her lovely, easy style, but the story was so bizarre that I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Involving voluntary finger dismemberments, obsessive Catholicism, and a bored married woman having a love affair with a monk on a South Carolina barrier island full of egrets, it was a strange book that’s got me still scratching my head.