Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer Reading, Had Me a Blast! (Book Review)

"I am a reader."
Of course you are. The majority of the U.S. adult population is literate. So, when someone says, "Oh, yes, I'm a reader," I sort of want to drive a fork into their eyes.
EVERYbody reads.
What separates us is WHAT we read, you might be thinking. And then everybody gets judgmental and snotty about it and acts like they're too good for Danielle Steele, who just happens to be the Queen of Beach Reads. And if you say you're a "reader" but you've never read Danielle Steele, then you're also a liar.
Saturday will mark the official beginning of summer. (Hear that, Land's End? The BEGINNING of summer. So stop sending me "End of Summer" catalogs and e-mails. I'd like to slow things down and enjoy my life and my summer without you pestering me about still-overpriced sunscreen shirts and tote bags.) And with the launch of summer, I offer you a gentle reminder to plan your summer reading.
You parents who read from your kids' summer reading lists, bravo to you! Perhaps you never read Melville or Hardy as an adolescent and want to catch up, or maybe you are overzealous and want to spend your dinner conversation rehashing the fourth chapter of Billy Budd so your kids will see you as a PARTICIPANT and not just a PARENT. Classics are good -- fine, even. But let the kids have their own fun, while you find a little literary pleasure of your own.
To those who are looking for a few good books that are unlikely candidates for the jr. high summer reading list, I will, in the coming days, offer several book suggestions because, people, I am a reader:


We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg


If I were to ask someone to write my story, to take a chunk of my life and make it into a book, that person would be Elizabeth Berg. But someone else with a much more fascinating tale to tell has already done so.
In the preface to We Are All Welcome Here, Berg recounts a letter she received from a reader wanting Berg to tell her mother's story. The reader's mom had contracted polio while she was pregnant and ultimately gave birth to her while in an iron lung. As if that weren't surprising and tragic enough, her husband also left her.
Berg initially said, "No, I don't write biographies. I wouldn't know how to begin. I am a fiction writer." The conversation continued, and Berg came up with a creative way to tell the story: to take a few details and fictionalize the rest.
The story takes place in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, with the baby now 14 years old and the homebound mom trying to hold everything together as best she can. Berg asked permission of the family to use some facts, but she filled in the gaps with her own imagination.
Parallel to the storyline of mother and daughter struggling against all odds (physically, financially, socially) are the events of "Freedom Summer," as Blacks fought and died for voting rights. Berg weaves the two together in a magnificent way, a way that you won't understand until you finish the final chapter and close the book.
I will tell you nothing more here, other than if you aren't already a Berg fan, this should get you started.
After you finish reading We Are All Welcome Here and admit "that Amy Cates sure can pick a good book," check out Berg's other titles. My favorites: The Art of Mending, The Year of Pleasures, Say When, Never Change and The Pull of the Moon. Visit Berg's website, http://www.elizabeth-berg.net/.


You're welcome.