My July reads have been shaped largely by the fact I’ve been traveling.
First, as I do every summer I can manage it, I came home to Greece. Granted, I was born and raised in the US. But both of my parents are from Greece. Whenever I return, my favorite uncle says to me, “Welcome home.” It feels like coming home.
If you happen to be the first generation born in the United States, perhaps you know what I mean. We have a tendency to wonder where *home* is and whether we’ll find it. We tend to fear we’ll always be torn between two places that define us in equal measure.
At any rate, coming to Greece feels like coming home. When the pilot informs us we’re approaching Athens, I peer out the window. I see the islands fanned out against the royal blue sea. I see low white boxy buildings clustered among the mountains. And it’s as if some archaic homing device is activated. I just smile and smile. My spirit feels … balanced.
From Greece, I also traveled through Russia for 10 days on a family vacation. Those 10 days—the last 10 in July—were filled to bursting with sightseeing. (And we still barely scratched the surface of the country’s awe-inspiring sights.)
All this is to say, most of my July reads happened in the first three weeks of the month. My reading focus continues to be books from and about Ancient Greece. Though I did read one book from my backlist and a whole mess of new books I bought (ahem).
As you may have guessed from my previous sentence, I did a dreadful job of reading my own books this month (and the books bought section is mortifying). I’ve put an asterisk next to the read books I already owned.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell *
Rowell’s sweet love story about two teens who live on the social margins, for very different reasons, has been sitting in my Nook library for years. This and the two Percy Jackson books I read this month are my only #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks wins this month. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
This is Greece by Miroslav Sasek
Sasek has a whole series of these “This is …” books. We had London, Paris, and New York in my house. I cannot believe I didn’t know this one existed until a month ago. I found it in the Athens Airport’s Public, an a-little-of-everything store that has an excellent books section.
This is Greece is delightful—vibrant illustrations that feature iconic Greece from ancient times, to the Byzantine Empire, to the present.
Helping Hercules by Francesca Simon
I also discovered this at the Athens Airport: A truculent young girl possesses a magical coin that transports her to ancient Greece. There, she helps various heroes, Herakles (here called Hercules) among them, complete their quests. Funny and clever, it’s girl power meets Greek mythology—what a combo!
One pet peeve, though: It drives me batty when the hero who completed 12 labors in ancient Greece is called Hercules. In Greek, he is Herakles. Hercules is his Roman name. I just had to say that.
Yet another Athens Airport find, this novel is about a man, and others like him, who ages at a glacial pace. I believe a sequel is forthcoming?
The Thesmophoriazusae by Aristophanes
I heard Natalie Haynes mention this exceedingly bawdy comic play in an interview with Simon of SavidgeReads. The plot goes like this: Women are angry with Euripides. They don’t like how he has portrayed them in his plays and are planning to try him. Euripides gets his father-in-law to dress up as a women, infiltrate their women-only festival, and present a pro-Euripides case. Only things don’t go as planned. (Do they ever?)
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this play. I’ve typically found Euripides’ plays empathetic towards women. On the other hand, Aristophanes’ play seems to make women appear silly, shallow, sneaky untrustworthy. Some examples: they’re angry at Euripides for exposing their secrets and lies to their husbands. They’re easily fooled by Euripides’ father-in-law. When they finally do figure out what he’s up to, they’re fooled again when he escapes.
I’d love to hear thoughts from anyone who has read it, expert or lay reader!
I first read, and thoroughly enjoyed, this series a few years back. As I’ve been rereading Greek mythology this year, I thought it would be fun to reread Percy Jackson as well. And it IS fun—and funny and clever. With the myths fresh in my mind, I feel like I’m picking up more of the references than I did the first time. Book two, Sea on Monsters, is in my reading queue.
The Wishing Spell (Land of Stories #1) by Chris Colfer
My friend Jessica has been urging me to read this for at least a year now. Having read it, I can see why it has been such a big hit with young readers: It cleverly weaves traditional fairy tale elements with mystery and surprising reveals.
Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan *
Riordan’s ancient Greek myth retellings, narrated in the voice of Percy Jackson, are hilarious. They were my bedtime reading throughout July.
(But again, why is Herakles called Hercules, Rick Riordan? Whyyy?)
Of course I had to read something topical while I was in Russia. Several of my favorite Russian novels live on my Nook. But I had so little time to read. Then a Russian professor of history we met recommended this collection of Wells’ 1920 reporting pieces. He wrote them about his visit to the new Bolshevik Russian state and to argue why Western countries should support it despite ideological differences. Over the course of several articles, Wells describes his experiences traveling in Petersburg (as he calls it) and Moscow as well as meeting with Lenin.
It’s All Greek to Me! By John Mole
Why yes, as a matter of fact, I did buy this at the Athens Airport. I have the uncomfortable feeling I already own a copy. But anyway. It’s a funny, charming account of a British man renovating a dilapidated house on a Greek island in the 1970s. His scenes of Greek village life are transporting.
In any given month, my general goal is for my bought books not to exceed my read books. I believe we can agree this is a reasonable goal … at which I failed spectacularly in July. The only mitigating effect is that I read several of the books I bought within the month I bought them.
It went down (pun intended) in three phases:
Phase 1: I arrive in Greece. The airport has a bookstore with many books of interest to me (i.e. books related to/about Greece, especially ancient Greece). I visit this bookstore before flying out of Athens for the island where I stay with my family. Many books are purchased.
This is Greece by Miroslav Sasek (I actually bought this as a gift, but I had to read it first to make sure it was appropriate for the intended audience—obviously)
Helping Hercules by Francesca Simon
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
House of Names by Colm Toibin
It’s All Greek to Me! By John Mole
Phase 2: I am flying from Athens to St. Petersburg. Athens Airport is involved. I visit the bookstore again.
Blue Skies & Black Olives by John Humphrys and Christopher Hynphrys
The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza
Phase 3: I return to Athens and am set to fly back to the island. My Olympic Airlines flight was overbooked, no pun intended. The airline requested volunteers to give up their seats and offered a cash incentive. Have I mentioned there is also a great bookstore a short train ride from the airport? Well, there is, and I spent my six extra hours in Athens using my cash incentive to load up on books.
Ithaka by Patrick Dillon
The Glorious Adventure by Richard Halliburton
Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein
Words of Wisdom from Ancient Greece translated by Alexander Zafiriou
The Golden Verses by Pythagoras
I think that covers all my purchases, but I’m not making any promises.
How about you: What were your July reads? What are you reading now?