It’s going to be a long, hot summer folks. A good book can be a welcome distraction. Here’s what I’ve read (and liked) lately:
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. A delightful read. I guess this book has also been turned into a miniseries, and there might be a sequel to it, but all I know about is this first book itself. This book was written waaaaay back in the early ’80s, and there are some dated references (unannounced visitors being the main one– why doesn’t anyone just text? Oh, right.). I also found Mayle’s obvious narrative position of privilege a little stifling at times. Yes, Peter, we’d all love to run off and buy a house in the south of France, but oh wait, some of us also live in Reality Land. That aside, this was a really great book. Mayle presents a humorous, compassionate view of his time in his adopted country, allowing the reader to adapt to Provence just as he and his wife are learning to do so. I was struck at the similarities between his description of Provence– filled with yokels who hunt for squirrels, eat fatty food, live life at a slower pace than their Paris compatriots, and have their prejudices– and the way the Southern United States is perceived (and maybe really is). So why are Provence and its inhabitants admired while the South is mocked? I suppose French rednecks are still French, after all. I suppose many Southerners claim the same privilege about being US citizens. At any rate, this was a really nice read, a great “vacation in a book” in lieu of the real thing.
The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy. Ok, I haven’t actually reread these in the past couple of months, but I have read and thought a lot about them lately. Together they tell a really tremendous story, and I would totally reread these books if I could find copies for free anywhere (my old copies have either disintegrated or been filched by family members). These stories deal with cousins Kate and Jancsi growing up together in the Hungarian countryside just before World War I. The Singing Tree deals with the cousins when World War I itself arrives. I love this book because it doesn’t shy away from the emotional truth of war– that is, that it’s an awful thing that destroys everything beautiful– but it still offers a message of hope. I don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t want to give anything away. I just think it’s a marvelous book. WWI is somewhat neglected in literature, having been quickly overshadowed by the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust, and that’s even more true in children’s lit. Seredy’s insights and gentleness towards her characters and her target audience make for some really sweet and tender fiction.
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. An intense, dramatic love story for literary-minded adults. Helen Adams goes to Vietnam during the US involvement there in order to prove herself as a photojournalist. Along the way she falls in love first with her mentor, Sam Darrow, then with Linh, the Vietnamese informer who works with them, and finally with Vietnam itself. There’s plenty of sadness to go around in this novel, but also plenty of integrity, ambition, and genuine love. The only drawback I found was its pacing. It was slow, slow, slow, until nearly the end of the book. Soli rushed through all the interesting parts– but perhaps her pacing was intended to reflect something about the pace of life there during the Vietnam war or something else. I think this is a book that would reward rereading, if one has the patience to dig a little.
Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs. This was a great book. Now, I’ve talked about Jacobs on this blog before (no, I’m not linking to those reviews. They embarrass me a little, frankly, or at least I feel like they ought to.), and not always entirely positively. But I really enjoyed this book. Jacobs has a wonderfully readable narrative voice. I didn’t feel lectured at, or like Jacobs was Educating The Reader (though in fact he was doing both of those things); I just felt like we were learning together while he experimented with different things people do to their bodies to make them “better” (Jacobs doesn’t bother to define that. He lets our cultural assumptions fill in the blanks.). Thanks to this book, I learned about all kinds of things that seem crazy to me (Paleo? Really? There’s a reason FIRE was invented, folks.), but at the time they seemed totally plausible. This book lacked some of the intimacy of A Year of Living Biblically, but that might be just because I care more about religion than I do about fitness. And while food is an intimate and complicated subject, religion might inherently lend itself to the confessional mode more easily. Anyway, this book was laugh-out-loud funny while being genuinely informative. I can’t wait to see what Jacobs is going to do to himself next. I really hope he lives through it long enough to write another book.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. OH MY GOODNESS. Go read this book RIGHT NOW. Go on, I’ll wait. Are you done? AAAAAA! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? I KNOW!!! Ok, now for those of you who did not go and read it, I’ll try to explain as best I can: No, that’s impossible. Here is a short summary. This book is about twin sisters who inherit a flat in London that is inhabited by the ghost (OR IS SHE?) of their mother’s (OR IS SHE?) twin sister (OR IS SHE?- sike! There really are two sets of twins.). It’s also about a lot of other things. It’s a fascinating, captivating plot that gives the reader a chance to think about love, death, sacrifice, selfishness, and identity. It’s kind of perfect. Now, since you didn’t already go read it– I know you people, you blog-readers– DO IT NOW. And then call me when you’re done. We can gasp in awe together and then decide how satisfying the ending is.