Pile of books waiting to be read

Pile of books waiting to be read

Perhaps you are looking for something good to read this summer.  Of the many books I have read lately, I’ve made this list of a few worth recommending:

 

” . . . there were many hours when Humphrey was left all alone, which he did not mind in the least, for he was by temperament a bookish child, and the child who is at home in the world of books never lacks for companionship, entertainment, or adventure.” — Jacqueline Kelly, Return to the Willows

Detail of painting by Jeff Weeks, "Three Moons," Bainbridge Art Museum

Detail of painting by Jeff Weekly, “Three Moons,” Bainbridge Island Museum of Art

Detail of painting by Jeff Weekly, "Girl Behind the Books," Bainbridge Island Museum of Ar

Detail of painting by Jeff Weekly, “Girl Behind the Books,” Bainbridge Island Museum of  Art

I read a lot of books, and here are a few from recent months that I consider quite unique and exceptional:

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund.  This book provides much food for thought about the inner world of reading.  Mendelsund says, “We imagine that the experience of reading is like that of watching a film.  But this is not what actually happens — this is neither what reading is, nor what it is like.”  He talks about how fictional characters are revealed incrementally, gradually materializing in our imaginations from a few distilled facts.  Our mental  images of them can remain quite vague, but our feelings about the characters are more firmly defined, and therein is where we find meaning.  This is true for me.

The sketchiness is part of the charm of reading.  That is at least part of the reason that seeing a film adaptation of a favorite book is often disenchanting.  “One should watch a film adaptation of a favorite book only after considering, very carefully, the fact that the casting of the film may very well become the permanent casting of the book in one’s mind.  This is a very real hazard.

When we read, we go back and make adjustments to our reconstructions of characters based on the play of elements and new details. And we each bring our own experiences to bear on our imaginings.  That is one reason why re-reading a novel can be a new and rewarding experience — we’ve changed since our last reading, and our impressions of the characters change, too.

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Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast.  Many, many people like graphic novels, but I have never been drawn to this genre.  I can remember reading just one graphic novel, Persepolis by Marjane Strapi, which was also an autobiographical story — very good.  However, I highly recommend Chast’s memoir to anyone who has cared for or is caring for elderly parents.  This is a poignantly honest portrayal of her role as daughter, a role that is constantly changing as her parents become increasingly frail and lose their ability to cope with living independently in their New York apartment.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  This novel is a heartwarming testament to the healing power of community, even when “community” is a pesky, boisterous family who insinuates itself into the quiet life of a widow next door.  Ove, at 59, has recently lost his wife and then is involuntarily forced to retire from his job.  Life holds no meaning nor the promise of anything worthwhile, and Ove has practically become a hermit.  He decides to kill himself, but before he can get the job done, he is dragged back to life by the intrusiveness, and loving kindness, of his new neighbors.

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Worn Stories by Emily Spivack.  In this book, Spivack has collected stories about special garments people have held on to over the years.  She says, “We all have a memoir in miniature living in a garment we’ve worn.”  What a fascinating idea for a book.  The stories will make you think about the provenance of clothes in your closet and their meaning in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

Books I’ve Enjoyed Lately

December 27, 2012

I am already a book addict, so it is a guilty pleasure to read all those year-end compilations of “best” books of 2012.  I can’t begin to list all of the wonderful books I read this past year, but I will share a few enjoyable reads from the past couple of months.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train

Mrs Queen Takes the Train

Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn is a charming tale about the weary yet resourceful Queen Elizabeth, who on the spur of the moment decides to take the train to Scotland to see once again her beloved but decommissioned yacht.  Not exactly running away from home (palace), for the Queen is an adult after all.  But quite out of character for the aging monarch, who (unlike others in the Royal family) has spent her life doing the right thing.  This is such an endearing, human portrait of the Queen.

Return to the Willolws

Return to the Willows

One of the full-page illustrations from this book

One of the full-page illustrations by Clint Young

If you are a fan of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (and I am — I own several editions of this classic), you will enjoy Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly (who wrote one of my favorite books last year, too, called The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.)  This sequel furthers the adventures of Mole, Rat and Toad in a seamless continuation of Grahame’s work.  Kelly seems to delight in the language and “translates” from British to American English in footnotes.

World Enough and Time

World Enough and Time

World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen is a book of essays that explores so many of the themes that interest me:  silence and solitude, walking, mindfulness, etc.  McEwen feels like a kindred spirit, and just reading this book was an island of calm in a busy world.

Glaciers, a Novel

Glaciers, a Novel

Glaciers by Alexis Smith is a quiet novel about a librarian who repairs and restores damaged books. (I do like books about librarians!).  She’s drawn to thrift-shop finds and salvages other people’s cast-offs.  And this novel focuses on a few days in her life at work, where she is tip-toeing around a budding relationship with a colleague.

“Her story could be told in other people’s things.  The postcards and the photographs.  A garnet ring and a needlepoint of the homestead.  The aprons hanging from her kitchen door, Her soft, faded dog-eared copy of Little House in the Big Woods.  A closet full of dresses sewn before she was born.
All these things tell a story, but is it hers?  It has always been more than an aesthetic choice, holding on to the past; it’s a kind of mourning for the things that do not last.
We do not last, she thinks.   In the end, only the stories survive.”

Travels with Epicurus

Travels with Epicurus

Daniel Klein’s Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life will make you want to remove yourself to the slow pace of the village of Kamini on the island of Hydra.  Klein ruminates about how to have an authentic old age, with lessons from Epicurus forming a platform for his musings.  “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” — Epicurus

Paris vs. New York (breads)

Paris vs. New York (breads)

And finally, Paris vs. New York:  A Tally of Two Cities by Vahram Muratyan is one of the most imaginative and creative books I’ve read.  Each double-page spread compares an aspect of city culture as it is experienced in NYC and in Paris.  The clean designs are striking and a marvel.

Paris vs. New York (coffee)

Paris vs. New York (coffee)

Paris vs. New York

Paris vs. New York