I did manage to read in July, even though it was too hot to even breathe, which leaves me uninspired to do pretty much anything. But once I'd get comfortable, reading required very little physical movement, so it was an excellent choice for a sweat-free activity! (Note: I do not perspire. I do not glow. I sweat. Sorry if that offends those of you with ladylike sensibilities, but frankly I'm surprised you are here anyway ...)
So here are the three titles that kept my brain going:
Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen. I have always been curious about Buddhism, since I knew very little about it. There is a book/incense/amulet/yoga store near where I work, and one day I asked the clerk what a good book would be for someone who just wanted to find out the basic tenets of Buddhism, and she directed me to this title.
I was fascinated. In the course of my formal education, I've learned at least the basics about a lot of the Christian religions, and Judaism as well. But beyond that, I have only the slightest grasp of other belief systems. Hagen writes very clearly, and provides examples from the everyday world to illustrate what he is talking about. The main thing I got from the book was the Buddhist belief that the world is in a continual flow (I am of course, oversimplifying vastly here), and that each minute we experience is so important, that we must try to really see so that we can appreciate what is happening around us and within us.
I really have no other clue how to describe this book, other than to say that I am glad that I gave it a look. I don't feel anywhere close to really understanding Buddhism, but the book did make me think, and made me want to try and remember to be more conscious and in the moment, which is a hard thing for me most of the time. If you are interested in all about Buddhist beliefs, I think this is a nice introduction.
Next up was The Bear, by William Faulkner. When I originally chose titles for The Southern Reading Challenge, I chose Faulkner's Selected Short Stories. But a lot of people mentioned this one particular story as being one of his best, so I decided to go with that.
It was really interesting. The language was incredibly evocative, in that I could picture the hunters' camp where the narrator stayed on his very first (and subsequent) hunting trips as he came of age. The Bear of the title is one that is legendary because no one has ever been able to even slow him down. There have been stories and eyewitness accounts of the bear having several bullets in him, and he just always gets away.
I liked the story overall, but I am such a wimp that I always experience an impending sense of doom when I start reading a story like this. I know that someplace along the line, one or more animals are going to be killed, maimed, attacked, etc., and that there will be at least one character who is going to die. So it was hard to read it very objectively, since I kept waiting for the inevitable to occur. I do think Faulkner's use of language is very different from other things I've read, and I like his descriptions of people and places. I may give another few of his short stories a try down the line, to get a broader perspective.
The last book I read during July was for The Novella Challenge, and it was Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. This was my first time reading anything written by her, and I was a little bit intimidated, since she seems to be one of those authors (like Faulkner) who people either love or hate, and whose writing is often called difficult and not easily understandable.
I enjoyed the book, though I think I will read it again at a time when I can do so over a shorter period of time. Even though it's not that long, there were often a couple of days in between reading times for me, and getting started again was slow. (As it seems everyone except for me already knew), the story takes place on the day that the title character, Clarissa Dalloway, is planning a dinner party. Over the course of the story, we are introduced to various characters that she knows, or has known at some point in the past. Their stories are intertwined while telling hers.
Reading this book really got me to thinking about the people that any of us come across during the course of any given day, and how we really do only know them in relationship to ourselves. It put me in mind of occasions when I have seen someone I thought I knew really well, in a context other than the usual one. Sometimes it's amazing to see a person familiar to you in a whole different light. I wondered if Mrs. Dalloway ever gave that kind of thing much thought. (Yes, I know she is a fictional character, but she seemed like a very real person.)
As I have been typing this, I realized that July turned out to be a very thought-provoking month - in my case at least, my choices were miles away from my usual summertime reading!