“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life
June has officially come to an end, and I’ve decided to post my first wrap-up piece as I wait for my flight back home at O’Hare.
Last week, after my mid-July flight got canceled with no explanation, I broke down and cried. I had left to spend time with my boyfriend until it was time to leave the country; I had already made a reservation on the flight for my cat Vivi. All her documents to enter Turkey are time-sensitive so I had meticulously scheduled her appointments with the vet and the Department of Agriculture.
After spending hours–and I mean, HOURS– on the phone with Turkish Airlines for a few days, we were able to reschedule our flight.
I’m grateful, and relieved beyond relief, that I’m finally waiting for my flight at the gate with my cat, ready to depart. But I’m still not at ease. The airport, one of my favorite places ever, is now bleak; it is empty and quiet. Everything is closed. The vibrant O’Hare we all know is gone.
The last few months since the lockdown have, not so gently, reminded us of the illusion of control. In many ways, we’ve all been compelled to confront the fact that there are some things we cannot control and change.
Amidst the coronavirus chaos in June, I turned thirty-one, started my new job, spent more time working on this page, moved out of my apartment in two days, and packed my ten years into a single suitcase. I feel fortunate that I’ve had invaluable support from my close friends and boyfriend, but as always I also took refuge in books; I’ve written about how I seek solace in the world of literature before. Since I don’t write about all the books I read (not because I don’t want to– but because I aim to write pieces that are of high quality), the monthly wrap-ups will be a wonderful opportunity to quickly mention these books that comforted me in June.
The content of these posts will, I’m sure, evolve and change. For now, I share with you a list of the books I’ve read this month, some of my favorite articles/posts that I read from other sites and sources in June, and a list of books that I’m planning to read in July.
Books & Reviews
I started June by reading Ilana Masad’s novel All My Mother’s Lovers which was on my most anticipated books of 2020 list. A powerful debut, All My Mother’s Lovers was every bit up to my expectations. Its boldness challenged me as a reader, and Masad explores sexuality, gender, love, friendship and identity in a refreshing manner that helps change the discourse.
I read My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbie Waxman as I was reading Children of War by Ahmet Yorulmaz and re-reading So Long a Letter by Mariama Bá. You see, I like to read “lighter” books particularly before bed if my day-time reading list is on the heavy side.
Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life follows Katie Brenner, a young Londoner who is on a journey to find out who she is. Kinsella is always a dependable feel-good read, but My Not So Perfect Life was a bit too long for me. This is certainly a matter of personal taste, though–I like my feel-good reads short.
On that note, I was drawn more to the story of Nina Hill, your typical book lover who is forced to venture outside her comfort zone when she learns about her estranged, now deceased father. I enjoyed Waxman’s witty language and saw a bit of myself in Nina. A character you could be friends with is not easy to come by.
Lastly, in The Art of Mindful Living, Thich Nhat Hanh offers insight into the ways in which we can bring love, compassion and mindfulness into our lives. It is a recording of a two-hour teaching session where he uses simple yet powerful imagery to discuss the art of being present. I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s other books, but I couldn’t get into this audiobook. It could be that I’m already familiar with his work and was expecting this to be just as profound. Nonetheless, this would be a good start for beginners.
To Be Read in July
Since I’ll be busy grading during the summer semester in July, this remains a tentative list. But here are the books on my reading list in July:
A Door Between Us by Iranian American writer Ehsaneh Sadr is a tale about family and the struggle for freedom in Iran. Its expected publication date is September 1, 2020. I received a free copy of Sadr’s debut in June, but travel plans made it impossible to start it. I look forward to reading it this month.
Impostures by al-Ḥarīrī’ is the most recent English translation (by Michael Cooperson) of Iraqi poet and scholar al-Ḥarīrī’ (1054-1122) known for his rhymed prose narratives, the maqamat.
Esther Allen, translator of Zama, winner of the 2017 National Translation Award writes:
“One might describe al-Ḥarīrī’s twelfth-century Arabic classic as ‘Melville’s Confidence-Man meets Queneau’s Exercices de style,’ but in this remarkable Oulipean carnival of a translation by Michael Cooperson, there are so many other voices―and languages: Singlish, Spanglish, Shakespeare, middle management-speak, Harlem jive, the rogue’s lexicon, Naijá… Impostures is a wild romp through languages and literatures, places and times, that bears out and celebrates Borges’s dictum: ‘Erudition is the modern form of the fantastic.”
I’ve been quite excited about Arab American writer Hala Alyan’s second novel The Arsonists’ City which will be released next year on March 9, 2021. Like her debut Salt Houses, The Arsonists’ City is a family saga about immigration and what it means to be home.
Lily King’s Writers & Lovers has been on my reading list since it was published in March 2020. The novel follows its 31 year old protagonist as she makes meaning of her life as a struggling writer.
June Selected Readings
I read wonderful posts/articles written by many talented writers in June, and here are some of my favorites:
The Monthly Booking is one of my favorite sites across the blogsphere; writer and translator Eleanor reviews books in translation, German literature and books from independent publishers. In her review of Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, she writes:
“anyone who cares for early-twentieth-century history, literature, the idea of Europe and, I would argue, humanity itself, would do well to read The World of Yesterday. Without once setting out to be overtly emotional, it is imbued with immense poignancy and offered, for me at least, an extraordinarily ‘felt’ reading experience.”
The founder of Debutiful, a page dedicated to celebrating debut authors, Adam Vitcavage offers a list of the debuts that will be released through July and November. Spoiler: The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna and Luster by Raven Leilani make it to Vitcavage’s list.
Alison Fischer reviews Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold, a book that I look forward to reading. Her perspective is quite interesting; she argues that Kawaguchi “puts forward a regressive vision of happiness for women.”
In her essay, poet and writer Jaswinder Bolina writes about Americana and what it means to be an immigrant in today’s America. “So many of us have gotten it wrong in arriving here, whether by birth or by migration,” she writes, “too many have sought to claim this country for themselves alone. We all want to believe we have earned it, but believing such a thing requires us to lie to ourselves, to create myths that demand we antagonize, wall off, deport, or eradicate anyone who would challenge them. To confront those myths is to surrender some power, but in surrender there can be a greater strength.”
I will end this monthly wrap-up with a picture of my cat Venus doing so well on our flight to Chicago. 🙂
I’d also like to thank those of you who have donated to support Reading Under the Olive Tree. Your support means a lot and is used to sustain our WordPress membership.
Have you read any of the books mentioned here? What did you think? What are you reading right now? I’d love to hear about your recommendations.