Laura Petrolino and I have somewhat of a mini book club.
It started when I forced her to read A Little Life and it’s grown from there.
Without talking about it, we started taking turns recommending books for the other to read.
And now we spend time during our weekly one-to-one discussing said books.
Such is the case with The Sun Does Shine, which is, hands-down, the best book I’ve read in 2018.
(We read A Little Life last year or it’d be a tie between the two of them.)
This is a book everyone should read, regardless of your politics and especially regardless of your stance on the death penalty.
It’s the story of Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who was sent to prison without a shred of evidence…and sentenced to death.
Fiction Helps You Escape
He spent 30 years on death row and his cell was right next to the execution chamber.
In that time, he watched 54 men march to their deaths.
As he says it, “Some of them were guilty and some of them were not.”
Because all of the men on death row are in solitary, they get to know one another by clanging on the bars and yelling out.
He becomes friends with a former member of the KKK, a man who raped and killed his cousin, and a man who went on a killing spree with is wife.
He watched them all march by his cell to their deaths.
And, in the end, he describes how some cry, some ask for forgiveness, some remain stalwart.
Some are of sound mind, but most are not—and he can’t understand why we would put someone to death if they don’t know the difference between right and wrong.
During all of his time alone, he discovers his best asset is that he can read.
Using that skill, he is able to escape the monotony of 23 hours and 45 minutes in the cell,
His imagination is what saves his mind…and he sets out to help others do the same with a book club.
Every week, six of the men on death row get to meet in the library to discuss the book they’ve read.
They read everything from To Kill a Mockingbird to 1984.
Read “The Sun Does Shine”
In the end, Ray has an angel in Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative.
He takes his case and believes him when he says he’s innocent.
Then he works tirelessly in a system that doesn’t want to admit they convicted the wrong man.
Ray describes how some of his meetings with Bryan are like two old buddies having a beer together, while others are distraught because they’ve lost.
After 30 years, Ray and Bryan are successful and Ray walks out a free man.
He spent 30 years on death row for something he did not do.
When his best friend Lester, who went to see him every, single week without fail, picks him up, he freaks out because there is “a white woman hiding in the car.”
It was Lester’s GPS.
He doesn’t know about smartphones or the internet or personal computers.
He lost 30 years of his life.
And there is nothing our society can do to ever make it up to that man.
I haven’t given too much away—the book will make you angry, fill you with hope, make you despair, and inspire you.
Read it. It will change the way you think about a lot of things—good and bad.
The Spin Sucks Summer Book Recommendations
Without further ado, here are the rest of our book recommendations for your summer reading:
- A Little Life. Laura joked that she wanted this book to have a “choose your own adventure” type of ending. Want it to go this way? Turn to page 867. Want it to go this way instead? Turn to page 954. It’s not a small book, but it is worth every ounce of time you will spend reading it. My mom described it as a family you didn’t know you had. The characters will stay with you for a very long time.
- The Sun Does Shine. I spent 500 words of this article telling you why you should read this one. Pick it up now. Read it. Absorb it. Come back here and let’s discuss it.
- Educated. This a memoir about a woman who grew up in a Mormon household in Idaho. She didn’t go to school. In fact, their “home schooling” was working the land. To escape the abuse of her father, she teaches herself what she needs to know to pass the ACT…and she goes to college. But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns when she gets there. She’s very, very poor, has no social skills, and doesn’t know how the world works. It’s very good.
- The Great Alone. Written by the author who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The Nightingale, this one is about a family who lives off the grid in Alaska.It is there they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for their lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, the family begins to fracture. It’s a great story about resiliency, love, and what you’ll do to protect a parent.
- The Wife Between Us. This book ended up being much different than I expected—and it was very good. There is a twist at the end I didn’t expect, and I love it when an author can do that to me. It reminds us that what we see on social media and at parties and social outings is not what they always seem.
- The Thirteenth Tale. This is a book that switches between old woman and young girl to tell the story of a tragic past. It is full of twists and turns—and you fall in love with the characters of old and new. It’s not a small book, but it’s worth the time.
- Calling Me Home. This is another book that will stick with you. I’m still angry at one of the characters for the decisions she made early in her life. It’s a story of racism and greed and wealth in a time where all human beings didn’t have the same rights. This is another one that will stick with you for a very long time.
- The Secret History. This is written by the author of The Goldfinch, which I loved, loved, loved. And I liked this more. It’s the story of friends in college who do unspeakable things, and cover for one another. And then turn on one another. Like The Goldfinch, the writing is superb and you will not be able to put it down.
Other Books to Consider
Those are the main book recommendations for your summer.
This year I’ve also read:
- The Outsider. This is Stephen King’s new one. It was meh. The first half was really good and ran along the same compelling lines as 11/22/63. And then he went back to his roots in The Stand and it was just that book rewritten.Meh.
- When Life Gives You Lululemons. This is written by the author who wrote The Devil Wears Prada so I thought it’d be good. It was OK. If you want a good beach book, this one will work.
- Stillhouse Lake. And the subsequent Killman Creek. I liked them both…enough to be upset the third won’t be out until next year. Both easy reads and good for a beach vacation.
- Little Fires Everywhere. This was met with mixed reviews, but I liked it. It’s another pretty easy read so check it out for your summer vacation.
- The Woman in the Window. I will say this: when books are billed as the next Gillian Flynn, you are bound for disappointment. It was good, but it wasn’t that good. It’s a good summer find.
- The Historian. This is an old one, but I just got around to reading it. It sort of tells a coming-of-age story about Dracula. I wasn’t a fan, but if you like that sort of stuff, check it out. It’s well-written. The story just didn’t grab me.
- Fire and Fury. Let’s be real. This was written to capitalize on the mess in our White House. There wasn’t anything in it that we didn’t already know about. It wasn’t shocking and it wasn’t even well-written. Skip it.
- The Alice Network. This is another World War I historical fiction book, which I’m tiring of, but it was really well done. There was a network of women who helped during the war and it tells the story of one in particular who works as a spy. It is disheartening and full of things that will make you distraught, but you’ll also be inspired by the strength of these women during a time when they were treated like second-class citizens.
- Beneath a Scarlet Sky. Another World War II book, this one tells the true story of a man who was the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders. During his time as the driver, he spies and send messages to help the resistance. Because it’s a true story, I gave it a pass on the WWII timeframe.
Phew! Sixteen books in six months. Not too shabby!
Now I leave the floor open to you. What are the best three books you’re read this year?
Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash