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My childhood memories of summer revolve around beaches and summer reading.
Having grown up in ‘the Hamptons,’ (Southampton, to be precise), I spent most of my childhood sitting on the beach.
Reveling in the luxurious sounds of waves crashing against the shore and seagulls singing, I would lie down on my towel not to sunbathe, but to settle in and read a good book.
Back then we didn’t have Amazon.com. No, my mom would take us to Rodger’s Memorial Library on Jobs Lane in my adopted hometown, Southampton, NY where we would borrow books.
Nothing beats a voluminous page-turner. You know, those particularly engrossing books you cannot put down, not even to eat lunch.
I no longer spend summer reading on the beach (sadly), but I still associate the season with reading.
Whether you are lying on a beach or sitting in an air-conditioned comfort zone, here are my favorite inspirational books this summer (and beyond).
- The Unquiet Daughter, Danielle Flood. Once you start reading this gem, you won’t be able to peel your eyes away from this one. Words cannot describe how this book resonated with me. If Facebook had existed during the author’s youth, her mother’s status would have read ‘It’s Complicated.’
A childhood punctuated by a dysfunctional, manipulative mother who vacillates between leading a bohemian lifestyle as an exotic dancer to life as a fur coat-loving ‘femme entretenue’ (kept woman), Flood is to be admired for her survival skills.
Abandonment issues constantly linger in the background as Danielle’s smart, loving and world-savvy stepfather suddenly ‘vanishes,’ taking with him Flood’s (2) beloved half sisters. Left behind and treated not as a daughter but as her mother’s servant, Flood becomes nursemaid to her younger half sister, “The Baby,” making it difficult to keep up with schoolwork.
Flood is shipped to strict boarding schools and is ultimately, cold-heartedly pushed prematurely out of the nest (as a high school student) into the working world to earn her keep as a live-in mother’s helper. This premature push out of the nest is triggeredy by her refusal to perform ‘sumimasen’ (Japanese for sorry), a ritual her mother creates whereby Flood is forced to bow up and down, pleading for pardon for so-called misdeeds.
Flood weaves a tapestry as she traces her roots, from her mother’s privileged upbringing in Indochina when France had colonized Vietnam to the dramatic rise in anti-colonialism violence, leading to Flood’s mother’s escape to America. Stymied when her mom reveals that her father is not her biological dad, but is, in fact, her stepfather, Flood is haunted throughout her childhood and cannot get the answers she needs from her mom about the identity of her father. Instead, her mom perpetually invents scenarios.
Following in her stepfather’s footsteps as a journalist, Flood uses her investigative reporter skills to track down her biological father. She finds clues in Graham Greene’s 1955 novel, The Quiet American.
Flood documents her quest, one born from struggling to pick up and make sense of the shattered pieces of her childhood. It’s a poignant reminder that of how roots are intricately tangled with and shape one’s identity.
Warning–you won’t be able to put down this page-turner once you start reading!
- Men Without Women: Stories, Haruki Murakami.
My perennial favorite, Haruki Murakami, has written another collection of short stories. This time the connecting theme is, as the title suggests, men without women. The men in his stories do not have a woman for a host of reasons.
What I enjoy most about Murakami is how he weaves tales out of what seems to be the ordinary, yet somehow seductively pulls you into the mundane, and every so often, inserts some magic. In reading this particular collection of short stories, I am reminded of Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘all about nothing’ hit series. Yes, Murakami is the Jerry Seinfeld of short story writers!
You won’t regret reading this Murakami. Each story holds its own, so you can read a short story and pick up anywhere you’d like, if you so desire. Perfect beach reading!!
- Shona Bramble’s Letters to Girls Who Dream of Flying holds a special place in my heart. Bramble is a former coworker who persevered and gave birth to this book despite many obstacles. She interviewed women from diverse backgrounds and created this collection of inspiring and empowering stories.
Please feel free to recommend your favorite inspirational books in the comments! These books are not just good for summer reading–if you are like me, any free time is fair game for reading!