A good reading list should be as balanced as our diet: filled with nutritious niblets of several genres, with some servings of pure alcohol, caffeine and chocolate in good measure (or mainlined, whatever.) Biographies, sagas, mysteries, and classics are the food groups of literature, with romance at the top of the pyramid to provide those sugar highs we occasionally crave. A little of everything for any diet is on this list. What these books have in common is they are all beautifully written, with characters so real you expect to look up and find them in your bedroom (or car, or kitchen, wherever you happen to be reading). For the most part, they’re not even new books; but books that I happened to love this year.
What is not on this list is Fifty Shades of Grey (or Fifty Shades of Awful, by my estimation.) Don’t get me started on that trilogy of tragedy.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This book takes you into the mind and struggles of a hermaphrodite, Callie. When was the last time you were there? Ya huh. It’s a family saga that spans three generations, beginning in Smyma in the early 1900′s, and their harrowing emigration to Detroit. It’s filled with colourful characters and poignant moments, and made me ponder the strong relationship between sexuality and identity. It kept me reading into the wee hours; Eugenides deserves his reputation for being a master storyteller.
When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman
Life rarely makes sense. And so it goes for Elly, the heroine of this book. A traumatic event shapes her early years, and as the book unfolds its repercussions are felt, again and again. The book is as quirky as Elly herself. It’s beautifully written, charming and funny in spite of itself.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
She’s best known for her award winning Bel Canto, but my personal favorite of Patchett’s is still The Magician’s Assistant, by the by. A hint of mystery kept me turning the pages of her latest novel, set in the jungle of the Amazon, as the protagonist, Marina, discovers the wonders of the Lakashi people deep in the heart of the rain forest.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
A story before its time, Wharton depicts societal norm as the joke that it really is. Ellen, the protagonist, challenges standards by leaving her loveless marriage. When she meets Newland Archer, who is newly engaged, Ellen and Newland begin a lifelong game of cat and mouse, and a love for all time. If you read one classic this summer, or ever, choose this.
Your Voice in My Head, by Emma Forrest
This memoir by Forrest reminds us that life is filled with ups and downs, and that no relationships are easy. As she spirals into sadness, Forrest finds a light in her therapist; when he dies from cancer she is left wandering in the dark once again. Her hostile and lonely world make for beautiful passages, and a wonderful memoir leaking with truth and life.
Here are the books that are burning a hole in my bedside table, and I’m excited to devour them this July, come sun or what may:
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt (Back to my tomboy days with some country and western. And the author happens to be too chilled for words, great non-vibe from this guy.)
Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (Oooh so excited for this one.)
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (Why have I not read this book?!)
The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman (When my tenth friend told me to read this, I put my hands up in surrender. I surrender!)
I’m hungry just looking at them. Read ‘em and weep. Or read ‘em and eat. Whatever you do, fold yourself into the pages of a delicious dessert this summer. Happy summer reading.
Not for me! I said of the e-reader revolution that was rolling through towns and cities, polarizing readers and providing a hot topic for book clubs. No way, no how, a digital tablet will never replace my relationship with the pure-driven paper variety that I caress each night by the light of my bedside table. As Amazon is my witness.
I love books. I love their weight perched against my bent legs and love their smell, whether hot-off -the-press fresh or mouldy with age. I love the act of turning a page and the feeling of accomplishment it provides (I aim low). I love gazing at my book shelf, where I group my favorites together, and how the briefest glimpse of certain titles can make me feel happy. Books have a visceral impact on me; when the going gets tough, I head to the library or nearest book store.
What I don’t like about books is moving them. I discovered this the year we changed addresses three times. This set me off on a tumultuous relationship with my local library – it’s all friendly and lovey dovey when my books are returned on time, not so much when a hardcover goes missing.
After one such recent episode, I turned my house upside down looking for my latest library book, and then headed to the Emergency Room of our hospital, where I’d last seen my copy, and turned that upside down. Twice. As luck would have it, my book was entitled When God Was a Rabbit, so the nurses in their scrubs looked at me quizzically when I described what I was looking for, wondering if I was a quack or simply a Buddhist.
At some point during this drama, I started to consider the purchase of an e-reader. Then the world began to conspire: I read an article trumpeting how easy the e-ink is on your eyes (way better than the iPad, btw), and on the same day, my friend visiting from Atlanta whipped out her e-reader before I could even pour her glass of wine. She sang its praises, saying it was the best thing since, well, books.
After five minutes of extensive research, I ordered a Kindle. At best, I was mildly curious. At worst, it would gather dust alongside the ab-cruncher I thought I couldn’t live without.
The slim box was delivered a few days later. It was as streamlined as any Apple product I have had the pleasure of opening – no confusing manual to master and no assembly required. I plugged it in and an hour later was off to the virtual Kindle store. I was digging it so far.
I quickly realized there were a couple of clever advantages my gadget had that my native books lacked: an online dictionary, the ability to highlight passages, and of course the ability to have any book I would ever want delivered to my device in about one minute. Inexplicably, I never turned my mind to that last little detail, which is enormously impressive but also potentially as dangerous as crack cocaine to my bank account. Hopefully I can read responsibly.
Here is a familiar scene: I fall into my bed, lights turned low, excited to escape into a fictional world, and I quickly come across a word that I don’t know, and can only guess at its meaning from the context. Or worse, it’s a word that I’m familiar with but unsure of its essence. I would like to know what it means, and suspect if I was the owner of a British accent I would indeed know what it means. But my dictionary resides a couple of staircases below where I am lying, as is my computer, and I am too lazy and forgetful to do anything about it. Two things you can never find in my house are matching socks and working pens, so writing the word down for future reference is also a challenge. Ergo the word remains masked in uncertainty.
E-reader to my rescue: I simply move a cursor anywhere on my page, and the dictionary meaning is automatically displayed in the bottom. The clouds just parted and the sun is shining a light on my swelling vocabulary.
When a passage or a line particularly catches my fancy, I like to make note of it. However, I have an odd phobia about writing in my books – I can’t bring myself to do it, I feel like I’m defacing property. Instead, I write the passage down in a journal, which can take a long time, assuming of course I find a working pen. And if the author happens to be David Mitchell, this can bring on writer’s cramp. With my new gadget, I can easily highlight passages with a press of a button and it will be saved under my notes for that book. Narly stuff.
I find it as easy to hold as a book, and in fact easier than some weighty hardcovers, and I can’t remember the last time I charged it – the battery kicks my laptop’s butt. To be clear, it’s no tablet, but that’s okay with me, since I don’t want to be tempted by the internet during my sacred reading time.
Still, there are drawbacks: puddles and baths pose problems. So many books at my fingertips might be hard on my wallet. The gadget itself isn’t as attractive as the beautiful kaleidoscope of spines on my bookshelf. And what could be more alluring than scouring second-hand book stores for gems? I don’t expect my e-reader to replace physical books altogether, but it only took five minutes to decide it is a brilliant addition to my library.
- Howard Jacobson: We’ll miss the sensuous pleasure of a real book (independent.co.uk)
- Kindle DX (emediatips.wordpress.com)
Something happens to me in bookstores.
Be them old, new, borrowed or blue, when in a library or other place heavy with book shelves, I feel like I am home amongst friends. Although I may have never graced those floors before, I see the old familiar titles on the shelves and I’m calmed. No matter how I felt before walking into the store, once across the threshold I am alive with possibility, awake with new meaning, open to new destinies.
If exercise or caffeine is not doing it, it’s my equivalent to popping an upper.
I feel like each book I’ve read is an old friend. It may sound strange, but I have never guaranteed sanity. I see lots I recognize, oldies but goodies. Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’ubervilles, The Mill on the Floss, Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye.
Oh yes, these I loved once.
I hear of people who have read Jane Eyre seventeen times – who are you and what do you do for a living? I would like to reread these just once, but the stack of books beside my bed is already impinging on the light from my bedside table. Rereading these classics would mean missing out on many others.
So many books, so little time.
Walking amongst the stacks I see many more that I long to spend time with, but haven’t found the opportunity – yet. War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, Freedom. Your time will come.
On the bestseller wall live more recent friends: The Thirteenth Tale, Through Black Spruce, Secret Daughter, Half of a Yellow Sun. We were intimate, myself and these words. I fell in love with them, and they with me, and we sailed off into the sunset. It was lovely.
Not entirely impervious to chick-lit, some of these titles holler to me, reminding me of a time when my attention span was thin and my reading time competed with sleep. The desire to sleep usually won, but when it didn’t I turned to The Nanny Diaries and Sophie Kinsella’s books for silliness and comic relief.
Even the children’s section displays buddies from days gone past, other cherished times. Watership Down, Oh the Places You’ll Go, James and the Giant Peach. Less time consuming and appealing to my children, I have been able to relive these classics. Fewer words but still big in spirit and meaning.
I have a dream.
It involves sitting and reading for a long time.