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An Open Book

by Robin Rieger

So here we are, another September unfolding in front of us. Back to school shopping is done or maybe you are still in the middle of it, making do with whatever supplies your child needs to get through the first week of school. Among the items you will send with them are the summer homework assignments they were given in June. Remember the math packet that contained samples and problems from lessons learned throughout the year? That and of course the summer reading list, now with a number of books checked off.

Our son, who is heading into fourth grade, started his math homework as soon as he took it out of his knapsack on the last day of school. In July he did a bit more. We lost it, then managed to find it by August and he finished it up. Our daughter, a seventh grader this year, did some online math and was glad for the refresher. Both have done some summer reading, him at our request, her any time she has a free moment.

If there is a habit of mine and Tom’s we’re happy our daughter has picked up, it’s reading. She always has a book with her, and Tom and I usually do, as well. I still enjoy holding a book in my hands, but in the event I can’t get to one of the local branches of the Burlington County Library, I love being able to check out books electronically. The book gets automatically returned in two weeks and the bonus there is you can’t lose the book or owe a late fee!

When a friend decided to start a book club in our community a while back, I was in and so were plenty of other women who would enjoy reading the group’s selection and discussing it at the home of a different book club member each month. Because of the kids’ schedules for sports and Tom’s out of town schedule with the 76ers I only made one meeting, but I did keep up the reading and enjoyed the books they chose. A few of these made my list of favorite (fiction) books; and I wanted to share now that the kids are back in school, so that some of you may be able to spend a little time each day enjoying an author's wit, woes and words.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
You will want to laugh out loud from your couch as I did while reading this book. In fact, as my family watched a football game last fall I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what happens to a mother named Bernadette who disappears from her husband and daughter and their life in Seattle. The story is the first I’ve ever read told in different formats including emails, letters and correspondence between different characters in the book, all of which move the hilarious storyline along.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Warning: May elicit tears; have tissues handy. A story about a man who wants to be a race car driver, who falls in love, has a child, suffers loss and tries to endure. May not sound so unusual for a novel’s storyline except this entire story is told from the perspective of the man’s loyal companion, his dog Enzo. It’s great. When I recall this story I always appreciate a friend’s recommendation of it.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
This book started out with the main character’s interpretation of English, which makes you sympathize with her plight of feeling lonely and out of place in America. She misses her life and family in India and is in a loveless marriage. How she handles her feelings ultimately leads her to a psychologist who tries to help her but crosses the line by offering friendship. The women get to know each other and start to reveal secrets about their own lives. The result is a compelling story that will make you look for other books by this author when you are done.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This is a long book; and in my opinion, it got a little off track, but it was worth sticking it out despite finding myself flipping quickly through descriptions of the main character’s troubles that kept repeating. The beginning of the book is explosive and the fallout is what happens when the main character, who knows the difference between right and wrong, makes a bad decision that impacts the rest of his life. I kept thinking as I read, “If only he...”

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Hard to put down. Sister Mary Joseph Praise crosses paths with surgeon Dr. Thomas Stone and the result is a story of twin brothers who grow up as foster children only to be separated by political events in Ethiopia and a betrayal in the family. There are so many facets to this story that come together. You continue to hope the main character gets the answers and the peace he’s been searching for. In the end you will understand the book’s title.

In a nod to an author from New Jersey, I believe I have read every book Harlan Coben has written and I always look for word of a new release, whether it’s another Myron Bolitar novel or something with new characters. I’ve gotten my mom interested in reading them and we make suggestions to each other or trade books often. Other favorites include Michael Connelly and John Lescroart books. I am grateful to the well-read clerk in the Riverton Library who recently saw that I was returning two Edith Wharton books, including The Age of Innocence. I told him I couldn’t get past the first 20 pages for some reason. He suggested I try her book, Ethan Frome, and I was glad I listened to him. The setting of the book is as harsh as the plot.

No matter what you read it’s supposed to be good for your brain and body, increasing your vocabulary and reducing stress. While you may no longer be able to flip the pages on the beach, put your feet up somewhere else and read. If you go to your local library, it’s free. And that thought can be a mood booster too, considering what you might have spent getting the kids ready to go back to school.

Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 6 (September, 2015).
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