Midnight in Siberia – David Greene
Interesting timing on reading this. Greene is a former NPR reporter who was the network’s Moscow bureau chief in the early 2010s. Late in his tenure, he took the Trans-Siberian Railway 6000 miles across Russia. In 2014, he returned to take the same journey and write about it.

It is a fascinating read because of where Russia was in 2014 and where it is now. In 2014 the country seemed to be growing impatient with Vladimir Putin’s leadership, and he was countering that by making his first encroachments into Ukraine. Of course today he is fighting a full-scale war in Ukraine and has crushed all his internal opposition.

In 2014 Greene was cautiously optimistic that Russians wanted something closer to western democracy and Putin’s powers would continue to wane. He missed on that, big time.

The book reads like a series of NPR vignettes rather than a deep look into the psyches of Russians or the history of the country. Because of that I found it a bit lacking in context and depth, Greene’s conclusions are often hasty so he can move on to the next subject.

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
I’ve read several of Bryson’s books, but somehow never read this one, the mid–90s accounting of his attempt to walk the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. An old college buddy with some serious issues joins him, and their partnership is not the smoothest. Bryson’s stories of his actual travels can be a little snooty at times; I was disappointed at how often he made fun of the people he encountered. But the little historical sections each chapter begins with were typically well-researched and written.

The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
Summerwater – Sarah Moss
Two small books about summer. Both are about the routines and boredom that come with summer.

In Jansson’s book, first published in 1972, there are two main characters: a young girl and her grandmother, living on an island in the Gulf of Finland where their family summers. The girl’s mother has recently died and she is in a fragile emotional state because of this. Her father, in his own battles with grief, isolates himself in his fishing at sea, leaving the girl alone with her grandmother. The book is a series of vignettes about some of the most mundane aspects of their lives and there’s no real momentum to them that pushes the story forward. But if you ever had a boring summer somewhere that was isolated, you will connect with some of these small stories.

Moss’ book, on the other hand, is much easier to connect with. She places it in a Scottish vacation area that is filled with small cabins. Each chapter gets into the head of one of the various people spending a dreary, rainy day in one of the cabins. Kids angry they have been forced to travel with their parents, an elderly couple who are set in their routines and don’t like them upset, a soon-to-be-married couple who spend most of the day having sex but thinking very different things while doing it, a woman who takes long runs every morning that are her only escape from motherhood/marriage, and so on. Each of them is somehow disappointed with their lives, and sitting in an isolated cabin where the rain doesn’t end just focuses those frustrations rather than eases them.

All these people see each other, but never really interact. And one cabin is filled with people who are a little different than the rest, and become the focus of everyone else’s anger. Moss brings all that together in the final, shocking chapter. It seemed a little over-the-top, but given how absolutely bonkers the world is right now, maybe her climax makes perfect sense.