Books and Summer Reads

I just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, which is a follow up to Oryx and Crake. If you have read and loved, as most do, her Handmaid’s Tale, you might like this dovetailed pair. As with Handmaid’s, these take place in a dystopian, not too distant future world where animals have been gene spliced to create new species and the social ills of civilization are taking their toll on everything. It is a fast forward look at where our consumerism, vanity, corporeal and corporate corruption might take us.

As with Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s imagination brings to life women who patiently navigate their way through dangerous situations that threaten their individuality, bodies, and mental states with hushed tones and secret conveyances while planning a way to escape and/or to survive. Oryx and Crake begins with a man isolated in a world recently wiped out by plague, in which the boots of guards dead outside biological engineering companies still bake in the sun, and where compound animal species (such as rakunks) roam the forest that is taking over what was once civilization. He tells the story of the man who was responsible for the destruction of everything and in the end finds others who are still alive. The Year of the Flood tells a parallel story of a group of subversive “greenies” who are called God’s Gardeners and who seek to live an anti-consumerist, ecologically friendly life and to spread the word before the “waterless flood” destroys the world. This story ends at the same place the other one does, except from the other side of the camp fire, so to speak. I really liked the way the two books were not a series in the traditional sense, where one story follows another. Instead, they are concurrent stories that converge in the same spot.

Other books I can recommend: If you have not already read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, it is a great summer read. It is a modern day Salem witch story that oscillates back and forth between a young woman discovering her heritage in Salem today and the story of a real witch from the Salem Witch Trials. I actually just added it to a list of choice books in my upcoming American Literature class. In an attempt to actually get kids to like reading, we try to assign enjoyable, contemporary novels that pick up on themes or subjects from the canon, as outside, independent reading and I thought the kids would really like in connection to the early New England works we read in class.

In relation to Howe’s book, I can also recommend if you like witchy women and historical fiction: Daughter’s of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. This is an excellent piece of historical fiction that takes place in the early 17th century in England – centering on a “cunning woman” trying to make ends meet with folk magic mixed with the then forbidden Catholic faith. It takes place during the reign of James I, and his Daemonologie, which was the basis for interrogations and examinations precluding the various witch trials across Europe and New England.

I also recently read Joe Hill’s Horns. This was a very interesting new type of “horror” story – I guess, written by none other than the son of Stephen King. For some bizarre reason, the agent I met with at the conference I went to recently suggested I compare myself to Joe Hill. By this comment, I am not sure if she even read my pages. But – this book – about a guy who wakes up one morning with devil horns on his head – is a unique and good read.

I am interested to hear in books others have to recommend. As school is getting out soon, I will be reading probably two books a week, so bring it on. I just returned from the library and, as always, came away with an armload of books. One I just picked up that seems interesting is a nonfiction book on the history of poison and chemistry. The chemical revolution is something I researched for DISTILLATION – from alchemy to modern day pharmaceuticals and my brain is ticking away at some ideas for the new story I am writing.

I also plan on reading some classics this summer – which I always plan – but do not always actually get to. Currently, I have Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (just coming off Hamlet at school and this is a must) and Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned on my list.

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