THE FOURTH OF JULY, for me, has always been Seattle’s unofficial start of summer. This year that maxim is proving true once again. And with summer comes the ever-popular “summer reading lists.” This year the Patch has partnered with to create a summer reading list for children, which is admirable.
The value of reading (and reading fiction in particular) cannot be understated. Researchers and psychologists recently completed studies that revealed that reading fiction actually improves a person’s ability to connect socially, improves empathy, and improves a person’s understanding of others.
So, as the instructional title of this blog post suggests, I’ve recommended five books below to read this summer, each of which will tickle your fancy in a different way. There is no apparent theme running through these reads; some are new, some are old. These are simply books that I continually find shaping my life in different ways.
Tinkers, by Paul Harding
This short book opens with its protagonist, George Washington Crosby, hallucinating eight days before his death. From there, the story unfolds to recount Crosby’s life and his father's struggles with epilepsy. In its Briefly Noted section, the New Yorker called Tinkers a “skillful evocation” that becomes “a mosaic of memories.” This novel won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is essentially a mediation on our healthcare system and how we chose to die, which is particularly relevant given the Supreme Court’s recent upholding of the Affordable Care Act.
Solar, by Ian McEwan
This is one of Ian McEwan’s funnier books. It traces the life of a washed-up Nobel prize-winning physicist named Michael Beard, who finds himself an unwitting player in freak accident while working to save the planet with solar technology. The book’s publisher commented that “Solar is a novel about one of the most serious threats to our world – global warming – but is also very, very funny.” At times suspenseful, this book will grab you from the beginning and hold you through the end. The book should be enjoyable, not only for its tremendous literary value, but also for its treatment of complex scientific and physics issues, which will resonate with anyone following the recent discovery of the Higgs-Boson particular at CERN.
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
Franzen paints for us one of the most strikingly accurate depictions of the modern American family in Freedom. Similar to Franzen’s 2001 novel The Corrections, this story follows several family members, the Berglunds, during the final decades of the twentieth century and concludes near the beginning of Obama’s presidency. The family members take different paths, which at times intersect where they should not, and at other times fail to meet in places they should. The book ultimately is about acceptance: you are not free until you accept who you are.
The Lost City of Z, by David Grann
The Lost City of Z recounts David Grann’s real life investigation of the early 20th Century British explorer Percy Fawcett’s search for the “Lost City of Z,” a fabled city of gold and treasure in the Amazonian Rain Forrest. At times you’ll be scared, at other times you’ll be devastated. But in reading this book you will always be arrested with the obsessed spirit that drove Fawcett to ultimately sacrifice his own life in pursuit of a dream; a dream that may, or may not, be real.
Little Blue Truck, by Alice Shertle (illustrations by Jill McElmurry)
Finally, this children’s tale is my one-year-old daughter’s favorite book. Each time I read it to her I am reminded how important it is that we treat each other with respect and kindness; you never know when your big tires will be stuck in the mud and you might need a helping hand from a few farmyard friends. More importantly, however, it is good to remember that some of the most important life lessons to be learned, we learned at a very early age.
Trent Latta is an attorney and current member of Kirkland’s Cultural Council. He may be reached at TLatta@mcdougaldlaw.com.