Written in the Rhode

This year, I waited a full 48 hours after the last final exam to look up the summer reading lists for Kid #2’s school, and to start on him about it. He wouldn’t be Kid #2 if he had an ounce of interest in this (whose kid is he? I ask)--and I wouldn't be his mother if I didn't print the list on June 10 and post it in a conspicuous place in the house.

For many years, my summer reading has followed a theme. One year, it was High School re-reads (The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby…). Another year, Books I Had Been Assigned, But Had Only Skimmed. Another year, Books I had Weirdly Never Been Assigned. For a few summers, I exclusively read food-related writing (vacations with MFK Fisher and Julia Child, and with my family being subjected to my rants about the history of Cod). Most summers, I read Books from the High School Summer Reading Lists. The high school lists are a gold mine, because they include books we remember from our own youth and great books that were written since we were last in school.

This summer, it's RI Authors. This happened by accident, when I found out that a fellow soccer parent had published a book--and then it gathered momentum. Here is my not-exhaustive, incomplete, summer book list for Rhody reading (or for bringing a bit of RI with you when you travel):

  • Fillet to Finish: An Awkward Journey to the Ironman (Trent Theroux). I stumbled upon this book last week, completely by accident--realizing a few clicks later that the author and I were at the same college at the same time. It’s a story of a regular guy, who goes out on a regular row in his kayak, when disaster strikes. I have read just an excerpt, and it was harrowing--but it seems like the majority of the book is about the aftermath of/recovery from his injuries and his eventual participation in the Iron Man Triathlon (plus other crazy swim feats). I don’t know where this kind of motivation and grit comes from, and I look forward to finding out.

  • The Book that Matters Most (Ann Hood). Published last August, this is Hood’s latest, and next up on my to-read list. I have read a handful of her other books--it’s telling that I first read one, and then immediately read three more, back to back--but haven't read one in awhile. Ann Hood makes it look easy. She gets the balance of depth and accessibility just right, and weaves believable stories that I can’t put down. Set in Providence, this novel is about a book club, but not about a book club at all. Can’t wait to get into it.

  • Finding (Kim Fuller). The author and her husband (and their two teenagers) adopt a son. Calamity ensues. They are tested, and tested again, by their new son’s challenging behavior. They do not give up. Seems like a simple story, but there is so much more. Through her personal narrative, Fuller shares some experiences and practices which transcend just one family situation, and she does so in a voice that both stirs and settles the reader. I read this book in one day (refusing to go out or do anything). Cannot recommend it enough.

  • At Home in the Studio (Laura Prieto). Did you know that the Providence Art Club is the only such club in the US that has never excluded women, but has included them (as artists and members) from its formation (Go RI!)? I discovered this when I was walking my dog and ran into a neighbor for the first time in awhile. The Art Club came up, and by extension, this book. Women have always made art--but this well-researched, substantial-but-readable cultural history is about their transition into art as a profession, and the barriers that they overcame in creating a place for themselves in the art world.

  • Down City (Leah Carroll). There was a lot of buzz around this title when it hit the shelves. Coinciding with the wildly popular Crimetown podcast (if you have not listened to this, binge-listen on your next beach day--it is as good as any beach book, and all true), it’s the memoir of a girl who was personally affected by some of the darker aspects of RI culture, and how she went back to make sense of it all. This has been in my summer queue for months.

I’m realizing now that these books have a common thread--resilience. Whether it is quiet strength, persistence, or all out bad-assery, the people in these stories (in one case, the fictional characters) fight through, or get around, or carry on in spite of their obstacles. Life-threatening or career-threatening or sanity-threatening obstacles. I think this is a fitting theme for a bunch of books by RI authors.

Book reports are due at the end of August.



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