Dense, interesting summer reading suggestions

Ahh, summer: full of big, open stretches of time to read. I love having hours to dig into a big, sprawling novel with intricate, gorgeous language. Below are my suggestions for  interesting fiction books, the second of my four favorite types of summer reading.

These are dense, engaging books that we feel like we need time and mental space to properly read and absorb.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is full of political machinations, magic posturing, and competing visions of the world. I loved it. The writing is reminiscent of a dense nineteenth century novel, full of ludicrous names, very specific details, and  footnotes. Heavy enough to hurt if you drop it on yourself, I recommend reading this book with a cup of tea overlooking a mountain forest.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore follows a Shakespearean-esque gender-bending adventure of passion (for art and love), injustice, and miscommunication set in pre-revolutionary war Boston. The writing is dense and lovely, and requires attention when reading. There is explicit sex, so consider yourself warned. You can read my Goodreads review here.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón freaked me out. In a wonderful, horrible, creepy, full of dread kind of way. Similar to the Master and Margarita, nothing to overtly horribly happens in most of the book, but I was far happier to read this book in bright sunlight. Aside from that, the book is a wonderful glimpse into Barcelona, Spain in the first half of the twentieth century. Read it.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Summer reading: what makes a good beach read?

Reading at the beach. Credit: Minh Nguyen

Reading at the beach. Credit: Minh Nguyen

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reading during the summer (and on vacation). For many of us, the summer is an opportunity to unwind and catch up on our reading. If I’m actually at the beach, I love reading a book and being able to look up over the edge of the book (or e-reader) and see the ocean waves. But what makes a good summer read? I have several kinds of summer reads that I adore, and certainly let me know if you have additional thoughts.

For me, the most traditional summer read is an escape. Not so much that the book has to be very simple or completely different from my regular life, but that I am transported somewhere while reading the book. I love a book that causes me to forget where I am or what I am worrying about these days. These are often fantasy or adventure novels. I have two book series I particularly enjoy for escapist summer reading.

I also love an interesting book that I don’t think I’ll have time or mental energy to read at other times of the year. I know this is bit of an illusion that I only have time during the summer, although for books that take a substantial amount of time to read, it is nice to not lose the thread of the book. For me, these summer reads are very intricate novels or lengthy history books. I love these three dense, interesting fiction books.

Summer reading can be related to work — but only if it’s something I’m excited to read. If it’s been assigned or feels like an obligation, I end up carting the book around with me and not reading it. Maybe I will absorb the information through my fingers? But I do like a chance to step back from my day-to-day labors and think more broadly about the work I am doing. I usually only have no more than one of these books in me each summer.

In a similar vein, my summer reading can also include a self-help book. This book could be a more philosophical reflection on our world or full of practical strategies or techniques for surviving life. A summer vacation can be a great time to step back and take stock of how I’m living life, as well as an opportunity to change habits and behaviors.

And of course, all of these things could apply to reading year round, if I can make the time!

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Delightful things from April 2016

April has been lovely in Portland, Oregon, and we are full of delightful things (take that aslilac you will). Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Little Free Libraries: I keep stumbling across these wonderful little boxes of books, and I’m a bit happier every time. These are all over the world!
  2. BodyVox: one more weekend to see their fun and thought-provoking dance show, Pearl Dive Project, here in Portland. Eight dances choreographed by non-choreographers. Very cool.
  3. Portland Art Museum: a fascinating exhibit of photography by contemporary Native American photographers: Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star, and Will Wilson. I really liked getting to see their work with Edward Curtis’ photography from a hundred years ago.
  4. Finishing Pandemic Legacy: this game is really fun. If you’re already playing Pandemic, you should treat yourself and a couple of friends to playing this serial game over twelve months of fighting a pandemic. More on Board Game Geek.
  5. Lady Rizo: I always love getting to see Lady Rizo, and the show this last week at Star Theater in Portland was particularly wonderful/awesome/inspiring. I’m not sure why I love how she eats a glove, but it makes me so happy every time.
  6. Bikeytown is coming to Portland!!! I’m terribly excited about bike share. So often I want to ride in one direction and walk in another, or take a bus, or hitch a ride with someone. I also hate locking my bike up on the street.

Some March favorite things

So many wonderful things! Here are some of my most favorite things from the last few weeks in March.

  1. 2016-03-23 19.11.31The 21 Balloons by William Pène du Bois. An entertainingly weird children’s story that I’ve recently enjoyed as a bedtime story for myself.
  2. Chesa: Spanish food in NE Portland, including paella and delicious gin & tonics.
  3. Twilight Imperium: Okay, this board game is a doozy, but I have accidentally managed to really learn to rules. So despite my preference for 90 minute games, I am looking forward to a day of Twilight Imperium every three to six months. And I have an evil plan for the next time. Shhh, don’t tell anyone I play with…
  4. Prism Dice. It’s on Kickstarter. Based in Portland. They are so pretty.
  5. Sex and the City: I was home sick and ended up watching much of the first season. I’d maybe watched an episode or two before, but never enough to follow the intrigue. I’m enjoying it more than I expected! Also, I’m really, really boring compared to them. I like to sleep and I hate uncomfortable shoes. I guess I do like wine and cocktails, so we do have that.
  6. Getting to see The Godfather on the big screen at Hollywood Theatre in NE Portland. That was great fun!

Some awesome (and not so awesome) things from last week

All sorts of fun and frustration this last week. In no particular order, some cool stuff!

  1. The Twitter hashtag #SciArt pulls up some amazingly beautiful stuff. I’ve added a nature photo of my own below, but you should go see the real art.
  2. Frustration/sadness with the discovery that scalpers are a very real thing — tried to buy pre-sale tickets for the Flight of the Conchords show and was unable to do so (at least initially), but tons of great seats immediately started showing up on the ticket re-sale sites. Very sad. Fortunately, I found sympathy with other fans online and then tried again some more a day later and managed to get a couple of seat waaaaay in the back. Spent some time speculating over dinner about how to counter scalpers — and didn’t come up with any realistic/non-intrusive ways to pull it off for larger performances.
  3. Wonderful food, wine, and drinks at Coopers Hall in Portland, Oregon. Delightful evening with friends, but check that they are not closed for a private party before going. It’s funny to buy a glass of wine that costs as much as I often spend on a whole bottle, but it’s also a delicious treat.
  4. I quite love Ghostbusters and I’m looking forward to seeing the new Ghostbusters this summer. If you too have a fondness for ectoplasm, snot, vomit, and ghostly (demonic?) possession, enjoy this preview. That being said, this is Ghostbusters people: keep your expectations under control.
  5. Craig Robinson is on tour. Go see him if you can. He’s in Portland at Helium Comedy Club at the end of March. I’m missing him. 🙁 But it’s okay, I can hear him singing highly inappropriate things very quietly in my ear.
  6. I’m working my way through the Rama series for the first time since I was a young teenager, and while they aren’t perfect, they’re a fun imagining about a very cool alien spaceship and how humanity responds. And we all know about my feelings about spaceships…  Buy the Rama books from an independent bookstore (I’ve linked to Broadway Books in NE Portland this time).

Good afternoon, Mr Tarragon. I’m going to eat you! Bwahahahahaha. #garden #herbs #dinner

A photo posted by Taylor Rush (@rush.taylor) on

Favorite things from the last week

  1. Comedy Bang Bang: thank god they only release one podcast a week. I would get nothing done.
  2. Radar PDX: lovely meal and drinks in Portland, OR.
  3. James Herriot: just what I need to relax in the bathtub before falling asleep. There’s nothing like descriptions of birthing lambs in an open field with blowing snow to make bed seem really fabulous.
  4. Bunk Sandwiches: I would engage in an inappropriate relationship with their chicken salad sandwich.
  5. Race for the Galaxy: information on Board Game Geek.
  6. Discovering McQuixote Books & Coffee and wanting to take a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky.
  7. Delicious Fennel and Kale Gratin from the New York Times — good for breakfast, too!
  8. Better Block PDX has some cool things planned for 2016.