Reading in the Dark (or, what was on my iPad this summer)


Everyone knows you can’t read your tablet in the bright sun of the beach (a reason many folks still prefer the Kindle). I love carrying a paperback around in a beach bag, but most of my summer reading took place on the screen of my iPhone. Discreet and compact, I can jog through a chapter of whatever book I’m currently reading, at any moment — say in a doctor’s office or at half-time of a sporting event.

It was a long, hot summer and there were lots of fun titles on the shelves.  Oftentimes, for a breath of cool air, I took my ‘book’ outside for a read. I read Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, devoted to his ability to wrangle and recount stories from the front lines of neuroscience research.  Turns out, Lehrer’s journalistic credentials were stripped mid-June after a Bob Dylan expert pointed out that he’d strung two Dylan quotes together incorrectly. Who knows if he’ll be able to recover his stature as one of a handful of journalists who are able to explain the complexities of science to mere mortals. I have his second book, Imagine, on my iPad and will read it this fall, despite his fall from grace.

Probably the most-discussed read of the summer was Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn, a ripping mystery chronicling the downfall of a marriage, that topped Best Seller lists on both coasts. A twist on the normal murder mystery that I’d have to spoil if I wrote anything further, let’s just say that this is one relationship in which a couple is never going to live happily-ever-after. You can read it in a weekend, and will want to do nothing else. Warning: you may well look differently at your spouse after you turn the last page.

Oprah lent her lit cred to a book this summer, Wild: A Novel by Cheryl Strayed, which I read in a single evening, outside by a pool on a hot summer’s night. In this true story, a young woman has the foolish notion to hike the Pacific Coast Trail without adequate preparation. It’s a miracle she survives at all, and I admit to being spooked reading about her travails in the wilderness while sitting alone outside late into an evening. The book was sustained by Strayed’s description of how the journey turned her into a writer.  She stashed her favorite books in her heavy pack, and ripped the pages out as she finished them, burning them in the fire to make her pack lighter for the next day’s journey.

Next, while following my son’s soccer team to San Diego for a tournament, I read a strange book that was not only written by a San Diegan native but set in (relatively) the same place I was staying.  The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker is about the planet slowing down on its rotation. Walker imagines how society divides and crumbles as some people choose to follow ‘clock time’ and others go off the grid to follow the increasingly extended periods of day and night in what has become ‘real time’.  Not necessarily a memorable book, but one that left a temporary, eerie footprint because I read it in the place where the author had set her story.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed a romp of a story called Where’d you Go, Bernadette: A Novel about a successful woman architect who follows her husband to Seattle and puts her own career on hold to raise her daughter – the results are hilarious and disastrous, a fair warning to us all. Author Maria Semple excoriates Seattle in a very satisfying fashion (esp. if you’re an Angeleno) and writes her prose in epistolary form.  I read this novel on my iPad, over the course of about 48 hours while my kids rolled their eyes as I giggled at Semple’s portrays the nutty behavior of mothers in the elementary school aged years. A perfect end-of-summer discovery.

My book club read Louise Erdich’s Love Medicine in July, which was on many member to-do list, and immerses us in the Chippewa nation, presenting multiple points of view of the same extended family. Erdich’s ability to represent the Chippewa world with empathy is matched only by the depth of her understanding of a world with which few of us come in contact. As much as I didn’t ‘like’ many of the characters, I came to love them as the stories wove together.  I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s Bringing in the Bodies and will hopefully finish it before my book club’s mid-September meeting. I adored Wolf Hall, her first book, even though wading through her thickly populated and richly researched landscape took a particular energy. Perhaps it’s not a summer book, after all – I will need to read it in hardcover and give it the proper respect it’s Booker Prize winning author deserves.

Finally, keeping a book around on the iPad is nice because it’s easy to drop in on titles that are old friends, and living on my virtual shelves. Like Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children which should be required reading in every household.  Every household, required reading – if you read only one book on this list, here’s the one to read. But, gird your loins for some facts that will knock you in the teeth. Here is the authors’ website that continues the conversation.