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GENERATIONS: Doug Lewandowski: A season of summer reads

Doug LewandowskiBy the time you read this, the end of summer will be peeking over the seasonal fence close by. It won't be a full head shot, just eyebrows and wisps of hair blowing in a wind that suggests summer and the leisurely reading that comes with it, is coming to an end. Of course with global warming the season may be stretched; yellowing leaves won't quite be ready for raking any time soon.

There are books and there are books. Some we start, and after a couple pages we ship them off to the recycler or delete them. Others are for fun and at their worst are good sedatives for those nights when sleep gets interrupted by the Harley going by at 2:30 in the morning. Stephen King books probably don't fall in this category. Then there are those reads that linger, that make us pause and consider the human condition.

I know a voracious reader. The library can't keep up with her. It's not like she doesn't have anything else to do or is a social isolate. No, she is a booklover—to the max. So, I thought I would ask her about her favorites. Here they are, and some short whyfors:

"All the Light We Cannot See," (Anthony Doerr) is No. 1 in this non-professional reviewer's assessment. Set in occupied France during World War II, the novel centers on a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths eventually cross. "The book has development of characters over time and how they adapt to changing circumstances." The style of writing is also a big draw.

"Seabiscuit, An American Legend" (Laura Hillenbrand) Again, setting here is key. This is above all else a story of an awkward racehorse that does not look like a winner. The narrative portrays the times around the Great Depression and the inspiration of this down-at-luck horse who persists and becomes an inspiration for the nation.

"Unbroken," (Laura Hillenbrand). While Louie Zamperini was an incredible athlete and most remembered for his Olympic feats, he was not defined by them alone. He survived a plane crash at sea during World War II and spent 47 days drifting on a raft and then endured more than two and a half years as a prisoner of war in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. He was a model of resistance, tenacity, and an illustration that the choices we make can insure a life lived well.

"The Shipping News," (Annie Proulx). Setting and the sense of place make this book an outstanding read. The story centers around Quoyle, a newspaper reporter who returns from upstate New York, to Newfoundland after a series of tragedies. The character development and overcoming great odds clearly demonstrates how a changed life affects not only oneself, but others as well.

"The Boys in the Boat," (Daniel James Brown). Backstories in this book lay out the route for the resolution of conflict later on. The book is about the University of Washington eight-oared crew that represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. They narrowly beat out Italy and Germany to win the gold medal. Great odds against success and overcoming obstacles are further enhanced by the sense of place and time in this narrative.

Switching genres and not being a fan of sci-fi, this ardent booklover thoroughly enjoyed "The Martian," (Andy Weir), and "The Sparrow," (Mary Doria Russell). Andy Weir's story merges a solid scientific knowledge with a determination to survive. The story is about an astronaut who is mistakenly presumed dead and left behind on Mars.

In "The Sparrow," the SETI program at Arecibo Observatory discovers radio broadcasts of music from the vicinity of Alpha Centauri. The first expedition to Rakhat, the world that is sending the music, is organized by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), known for its missionary, linguistic and scientific activities. Maria Doria Russell very subtly exposes us to an alien world that at first glance feels like ours but is very different. The strength to live and survive through the trauma of horrible circumstances and find allies in unexpected places enriches the narrative.

I am sure this bibliophile could come up with an endless list of other books that have provided pleasure and inspiration over the years. Some she has returned to like an old friend because they hold truths that sustain.