I've been pouring through books lately. I read this really great book that left me ravenous and then went two whole days with nothing to read. I ended up at the library scouring the latest Book Review publication for recommendations. I no longer trust only the bestseller lists. First thing I look at are the endorsements. I want to know who's backing the book, and if it's an author or a publication that I respect, then I'm game.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, had been on my to-read list for a while. I had my eye on it when it was first published, waiting for it to be released in paperback. It was worth the wait. Unlike some memoirists, Strayed has both a great story to tell and is a great writer. Sometimes I'm amazed by a story, but so disappointed by the writing, that it ruins it for me. Wild is an incredible story of the 26 year-old Cheryl Strayed's somewhat spontaneous trek across the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from the tip of California to the tip of Washington. She goes into her journey in the midst of a bit of a life crisis - having lost her mom, her marriage, and her sense of direction in life. It is an epic story of perseverance, camaraderie, and the strength of the human spirit. Like so many of my favourite authors, at the start of each section of the book, Strayed has included quotes or lines from a poem. This one stuck with me:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"
After Wild, a friend had recommended Wonder, by RJ Palacio. She said that everyone should read this book, especially every school kid. It's a young adult book, which are sometimes real gems, about a boy named August who has a whole combination of symdroms or diseases that have severely disfigured his face. The story is told mostly from his perspective, about his first time going to a real school and the incredible family and friends who surround him. It is another triumphal story of the human spirit and the human capacity for goodness and light. The book closes at a school award ceremony, where the principal shares these words before August, his class, and their families after a year of struggle and victory, from the great J.M. Barrie's Little White Bird:
Shall we make a new rule of life...always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?
I wrote it down because I wanted to remember it, and the story of August, and make this one of my own rules of life.
I went into a camping trip this past weekend armed with my hammock and a slew of new books. I had read Jeanette Wall's first two books ages ago, when they were first published. She is another of those memoirists who really knows how to tell a story. Her stories are small-town, tragic and triumphant. The families in her books are always quite broken, and her latest, The Silver Star, is no exception. It is a Scout Finch-like story about the determination of two sisters to continue living despite their mom's inadequacies. With the help of a distant uncle, a small town, and sheer tenacity, Liz and Bean make it out just as well and with as many wounds as Jem and Scout.
I am only about 70 pages in to Khaled Hosseini's latest, And the Mountains Echoed, and it is already proving to be another page turner with a heartbreaking story of an Afghani family. He opens with these lines from 13th century poet Rumi:
Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
Summer is not yet over, folks. Here's to many more good reads before the day is done.