Never having read the first book about Olive, the book that won the Pulitzer for Strout, I did not know what to expect. As I read, I often laughed out loud and then later thought, “What!” Olive is quite the character, sometimes almost blunt to the point of cruelty, sometimes unexpectedly considerate and kind, and always strongly opinionated about things I did not expect. She also has the ability to sometimes look at herself accurately and question herself, which would seem to be a good characteristic. Olive goes on in spite of numerous setbacks, mishaps, and illnesses, including the realities of old age. Strout’s portrayal of some of these realities seems stark, almost brutal. Yes, it’s accurate and she’s good at it, but I kept thinking, “Do I really want to read this?” If I get like this, they can just shoot me. But they won’t.
A habit I acquired years ago, perhaps even during my childhood, is reading just before I go to sleep. Picking the right books remains key unless you want to stay up half the night either reading or thinking about something horrifying or depressing you’ve read. Lately, my reading has not been conducive to sweet dreams. Earlier this week I finished Among the Ruins, an Iranian mystery of sorts, by Ausma Zehanat Khan. It’s fiction but one of the characters writes letters from prison which are anything but cheery. Now I am reading the Pulitzer Prize winner, The Return. Since Hisham Matar never saw his father again after he was captured and hauled off to a Libyan prison, sleep inducing it is not. Last night I decided perhaps for bedtime I needed to find something not exactly boring but somewhat less stimulating. It may take me all summer given that The Silk Roads, A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan is 505 pages. If I get bored with that, I can go back to two books I reread off and on and save for bedtime reading, When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams and Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, Selected Works translated by Edith Grossman. Both inspire reflection and contemplation. For those who do not know Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, she lived in Mexico in the 1600s. She became famous for her intellectual capacity, her poetry, and was referred to as “the Phoenix of Mexico” when women rarely rose to such heights.
What are you reading this summer?