An Open Book: What I Read in August

So many books, and so few hours in the day to read them all.

I’m a revolving reader, my nightstand a collection of numerous books in varying stages of being read. There is always one fiction and one non-fiction read in the mix, but there are often many others as well – a quick middle-grade read here, a sketchbook there, the random biography or book of essays – because sometimes I have the urge to jump into something different than what I’ve been reading. Regardless of the genre, it’s not uncommon for me to be reading four or five books at a time, plus I always have one audio book in the works, which I listen to when I run. I know some people can’t stand the idea of running without music, but I can’t imagine not taking advantage of this extra time to “read” another book.

In addition to the dozens of books on our bookshelf that I have yet to crack open, I keep track of other things I’d like to read on my Goodreads account. Lately, I’ve learned about many new books of interest on Brain Pickings, which I often discover and immediately order from the library.

I will never have enough time to tackle them all (a frequent lament of all avid readers), but I certainly appreciate the time I have to read what I can. Here are the books I completed in August:

Sonata for MiriamSonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson

Three-line review: A tangling tale of a man who loses his daughter, discovers secrets of his past, travels across the world and reunites with his estranged wife in 273 pages. Olsson’s prose is lyrical and lovely, but the story is loose and not compelling. While I enjoyed the language choices, I’m glad this was a quick read.

Favorite lines:

Memories are unreliable. I carry memories that are now so worn I can’t possibly tell if they are accurate. I’m sure they have been shaped by my handling.

The streets were clean, but it seemed to be not so much the result of efficient maintenance as an inherent lack of rubbish.

You remained sitting exactly where you were, with your thigh touching mine and your feet dangling over the surface of the water, but I felt as if the distance between us were growing in minute increments – too small to see, yet absolute and irrevocable.

Yet when I visualize my life, it looks like a thin gray pencil line until the December night when I met her. Then an explosion of colors and flavors opened into a bright, all-encompassing world of light. And then again, just as abruptly, a thin trail again.

But I do think we have to give ourselves the same amount of leeway that we give others. Forgive ourselves. Have pity on ourselves. And perhaps even love ourselves a little.

I have come to know the sky here on the island. I live with it in a way I never had before, particularly the night sky. The soft black August sky that sparkles with stars that seem to burn in layer upon layer, the depths revealed only to the very patient observer. The misty gray November sky that touches the smoking sea and blends with it. The sharp January sky, brittle like black glass. And the early-summer sky, just a paler version of the day, the night that never is. But the March sky that day was of a noncommittal kind, colorless and empty.

You nodded, and perhaps you felt as I did. That if we kept it at bay, we could draw out this moment that seemed to sit between the past and the present, perilously balancing between memory and hope.

The Boy Who Loved MathThe Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Three-line review: An awesome children’s book about Paul Erdös, a mathematical genius who passed away in 1996. Though there are lots of biographies out there about well-known characters who dabbled in math and science, I was thrilled to discover this one about someone who was completely unknown to me. The illustrations are one of this book’s best attributes; be sure to read the notes from the illustrator to fully appreciate them.

 Jane, The Fox and MeJane, The Fox and Me by Fanny Britt

Three-line review: A young girl bullied by her classmates finds solace in the book Jane Eyre and a fox she meets at camp. I liked the imagery and color choices in this graphic novel, but felt the message regarding bullying could have been better handled, especially since this book is geared toward young readers. It would have been nice to see more fox and less Jane Eyre.

Breaking Into PrintBreaking Into Print: Before and After the Invention of the Printing Press by Stephen Krensky

Three-line review: Unlike most books with similar titles, this piece of young reader non-fiction focuses not on the craft of writing but the advent of the printing press, without which we wouldn’t be able to read as freely as we do. This is a great overview of all the essential facts as they relate to how the printed book has come to be, and how it has changed access to education for everyone. I’m particularly fond of the finely decorated pages and interesting facts inserted into the side designs of each page.

I, GalileoI, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen

Three-line review: A brief history of Galileo, who conducted numerous important scientific studies and invented or improved upon such items as the thermometer, telescope and microscope, told from the scientist’s point of view. While this was a good overview of the man himself, I found the first-person narrative a bit off, especially since the book ends when he is imprisoned for suggesting the Earth rotates around the sun and not the other way around. An interesting fact from the author’s note at the end: It wasn’t until 1992 that the Catholic Church officially admitted it had been wrong in condemning Galileo and that he had been right all along.

This Moose Belongs to MeThis Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers

Three-line review: Have there ever been drawings as cute as those in this children’s book? I’m absolutely in love with this story about a young boy who encounters a moose and claims it for himself (including adorable rules that he makes up to prove the moose is his), just to discover that others have also claimed the moose as their own. It just goes to show that none of us really have a claim on anything in nature, but we can still love and appreciate those things we find anyway.

PoolPool by JiHyeon Lee

Three-line review: Sometimes it takes very few words or, in this case at all, no words at all to develop a relationship between two people. In Pool, two young, shy people meet each other at a crowded swimming pool but dive deep into their imaginations to share an exciting adventure below the water. The imagery in this picture book is stellar, and I closed the book feeling a little choked up over the connection felt by the main characters.

Desert QueenDesert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach

Three-line review: An interesting and complicated biography of one of the Middle East’s most important figureheads (and because the Middle East is complicated, it can be hard to keep track of all the characters). Though I found Bell to be a bit snobbish when it came to her views on her position as a woman of power versus women in general, I can’t fault the author for this character flaw. Drawn primarily from Bell’s personal letters and diaries, this book is filled with raw, detailed and beautiful passages that transported me straight to the desert as it was during Bell’s lifetime.

I listened to this as an audio book while hiking the John Muir Trail this summer so I was unable to mark passages that I particularly enjoyed.

2 Responses to “An Open Book: What I Read in August”

  1. Jill

    Thanks for these reviews! For many years I lost track of the latest in kids literature, but recently recommitted to scoping it out every month or so. It’s good to see that excellent books are still out there. And despite the popularity of e-readers, I still believe children’s books should always be shared as REAL, actual books.

    • JoAnna

      I can’t ever imagine reading children’s books as e-books. And while I do read the occasional adult book in that manner, I’ll always prefer to have an acutal book in my hand.


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