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Summertime reading and audiobook listening is the best! Lots of walks with our newest family member (a sweet rescue who had several litters and now gets to just be a dog!) have given me more time with audiobooks–including some extra long ones.
I don’t usually call out my current reads, but because I’m loving it so much, I have to share that I’m almost finished with Julia Whelan’s latest novel, Thank You for Listening.
A romance about audiobook narrators, written and narrated by my favorite audiobook narrator is perfect summer listening–I actually don’t want it to end. It’s out August 2, so get your pre-orders in for your end-of-summer listens!
Also, don’t miss my best books of 2022–so far. I’d love to know yours!
Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:
Fiona and Jane are Taiwanese American women who have been friends since their childhood in Los Angeles. Jane never leaves, staying in LA to grieve her father and find her footing. Fiona moves to New York to pursue her ambitions–and fumble through several destructive relationships. Through their life changes, Fiona and Jane’s friendship ebbs and flows, but they always find their way back to one another.
I love stories of friendship and while this book had some poignant moments–especially related to Jane’s father–I struggled to feel the pull of Fiona and Jane to one another. The alternating vignettes often had the two apart, and the ones with them together just didn’t reinforce their bond for me. This had a solid foundation, but I wished it would have been built out a bit more.
I have to say, Unlikely Animals is one of my favorite weird reads ever. To start: this book is collectively narrated by the…residents?…of a local cemetery. Really, they’re all a bunch of gossips, deeply interested in the lives of the people who live in their New Hampshire town.
Their focus in this story is the Starling family. Emma has returned to town from California, where she was supposed to be in medical school (but wasn’t), and now is back because her father, Clive, is dying of a brain disease. Clive is having hallucinations–of animals and of ghosts who keep him company. He’s also obsessed with finding Emma’s former best friend, Crystal, who has disappeared. No one else seems concerned–they assume she’s another victim of the opioid crisis running rampant through their town–and Clive is generally dismissed because of this disease.
On top of all this, Emma also has a touch of magic about her–the ability to heal small things, which seems to have disappeared. So between the magic, the ghosts, the visions, and the gossips in the cemetery, there’s a lot of levity to be had here, mixed in with the very real crises of drugs, disease, and the disappearance of a young woman. Despite these dark themes, it’s not a spoiler to say that this had one of the most delightful endings in recent memory.
The high mountains exemplify immensity, intensity, and inspiration. In essence, I climb to seek awe.Jim Davidson
Climbing books aren’t usually at the top of my reading list, but after I met Jim Davidson last year (he is my neighbor) and heard about his adventures, I had to read his book. The quote above is one of the things that kept me reading, especially as I wondered why anyone would subject themselves to the brutal conditions of Everest: it’s awe.
The idea of awe has been on my mind this year after reading this article from the BBC about how awe and wonder positively affect our well-being, memory, and creativity, and may help with anxiety.
Anyway, Davidson is a relentless pursuer of awe at the tops of mountains, even when faced with the most difficult of circumstances. His previous bestselling book, The Ledge, details a tragic climbing expedition that left his friend dead and him climbing out of a deep crevasse to survive.
In The Next Everest, Davidson tells of his attempt to climb Everest in 2015–a lifelong dream cut short by the largest earthquake in Nepal in 81 years. Almost 9,000 people died, and Davidson was stranded on the mountain. He made it off in a dicey rescue and wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to return. He did, in 2017, and he tells the story of leaving a devastated Nepal in 2015, training and working up the courage to return, and finally reaching the summit in 2017.
I didn’t know much about Everest before, including the long process of acclimatizing and making short expeditions before the big push to the summit. Davidson also has great respect for the people and landscape of Nepal; Everest is important to the economy and he respects his place in supporting it and keeping the mountain clean and healthy for future climbers.
So while his story didn’t leave me with a desire to start climbing, I enjoyed the read and learned a great deal about Nepal, Everest, and what it takes to reach the top.
After living a quiet life alone with his cat and working as a postman, Albert Entwistle is informed that it’s time for him to retire. He realizes that he’s about to lose the only way he connects with other people, so he sets out to change that. Albert starts trying to make friends, and he also thinks it may be time to share who he really is–and find George, the love of his life who he lost years before.
I loved listening to Albert’s journey to connection and acceptance. His deep shame and fear about his sexuality being discovered were so sad and affected his entire life–in ways that were probably not uncommon. Albert is a lovely character and he forms a number of delightful friendships. If you liked A Man Called Ove, give this one a try.
The Bad Muslim Discount follows two characters–Anvar, from Pakistan, and Safwa, from Iraq–both Muslims who follow different paths to California. Anvar is a skeptic who pushes against the traditions of his family and faith, and as a man and a legal immigrant, has the freedom to live as he chooses–but not without cost.
Safwa is a young woman who illegally immigrates with her father and another man, both of whom are violent and controlling. Their stories eventually come together and the outcome rocks their lives and their community.
This was an excellent listen with just the right touch of humor to the serious examinations of identity, immigration, religion, and violence. I noticed criticism of the Muslim representation in this novel among some reviews on Goodreads, and I can’t speak to that (I welcome thoughts or recommendations of other novels), but I enjoyed the journeys of these two particular characters.
The Lincoln Highway was my second audiobook listen of an Amor Towles book this year, and though it was much different from A Gentleman in Moscow, with its refined settings and characters, Towles complex storytelling style is just as on-point.
Eighteen-year-old Emmett has just been released from the work farm where he was serving time for involuntary manslaughter. His father has recently died and the family farm in Nebraska has been foreclosed. He and his young brother hatch a plan to drive west and start a new life–but two other boys from the work farm show up with different plants for Emmett.
I went into this expecting a road trip story, and it was–in a way–but the journey was just as unexpected for the reader as it was for Emmett. The story is told from multiple viewpoint and each is surprising and charming. Each character has his or her own agenda and it’s fascinating to witness them moving in such opposition to one another. While not a page-turner, excellent narration, intriguing characters, and unexpected turns kept me listening.