Lillian Beckwith is best known for her series of memoirs that recapture what it was like living in a tiny village in the Hebrides. But in this book she takes us back to the years when her father ran a small corner grocery store in a rural English village during the years in between the two world wars. Its a charming book filled with fascinating details about a way of life that has completely vanished a time when nothing came pre-packaged and everything had to be carefully weighed and measured or sliced and trimmed to the customers satisfaction and then carefully wrapped in paper that was tied with string from a special dispenser that hung above the cash register. The grocers shop was the center of the community and everyone knew everyone else although that wasnt always such a good thing. A quick and delightful read, this is the kind of book that keeps my Anglophile heart happy and makes me homesick for a way of life Ive never known. But even though it sounds quaint and charming most likely I wouldn't really have found life in a tiny little village in the twenties and thirties nearly as much fun to live as it is to read about.
1. Each year I try to make sure that at least one of the books I read has achieved the status of classic. This years choice was Huckleberry Finn, the timeless (one of the marks of a classic) coming of age story that also fits into the picaresque category in that it is an adventure tale about a hero with a rather shady past who comes from a bad family, lacks traditional values, isnt always honest and sets off on a journey with a sidekick. Thats Huck, all right. Timeless classics like this one earn that distinction for other reasons as well. Not only does Huckleberry Finn reveal something about the historical era in which it was set, but it also passes the test of time because it deals with universal themes and issues that have to do with the complexities, the heartbreak and the joy of being human. Love, and loyalty as well as betrayal and forgiveness are all there in the relationship between Huck and Jim, and the characters they meet on their trip down the Mississippi are each a portrait of some aspect of human nature (not necessarily the most uplifting!) Huckleberry Finn has been accused of being a rascist novel a criticism I find difficult to understand since it seems to me that Twains purpose in writing it was to expose and condemn rather than go along with attitudes about blacks that were so prevalent at the time the novel was written. My only criticism of the novel has to do with the last part when Tom Sawyer appears upon the scene. It seems like from that point on the focus shifts away from Huck and Jim and on to a character who has very little if anything to do with both the story and what it stands for. Somehow it just didnt feel right and I cant help but wonder what Twains purpose was.
While Im not all that familiar with Canadian writers, if Alias Grace is any indication of what Ive been missing by not reading more of Margaret Atwood, then I fully intend to go back for more. This novel had a lot going for it to begin with Atwood is obviously a talented writer with a knack for telling a compelling story. At the same time she expects the reader to do a fair share of the work as well. In this case were introduced early on to the fact that a terrible crime has been committed, but were not so sure that the woman who has been convicted of it really is guilty. Or (and here things get even more interesting) if she is guilty, was she really aware of what she was doing? Was she an unwilling partner in a crime she didnt want to commit but was forced to assist with in order to save her own life? Her story unfolds layer by layer and along the way we meet a cast of intriguing characters each of whom play an important part in helping us learn more about Grace and why she was imprisoned. Especially noteworthy is the character of Dr. Simon Jordon, a young doctor whose initial interest in Grace stems from his interest in new methods of treating persons with mental illness. Even though the novel was based on events that actually took place (there really was a Grace Marks who was tried for the murder of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery in 1843, sentenced to prison, ended up in the lunatic asylum for a while and was eventually granted a pardon) what I enjoyed the most about the book had to do with the way Atwood developed the plot through the eyes of the characters and the relationships they had with one another.
The title of this complex novel about a marriage between two unlikely persons intrigued me from the first. "The angle of repose" is an engineering term, and as I understand it (being no engineer) it has to do with the angle at which bulky materials, like soil, finally settle and come to rest after being dumped onto a surface. Aside from also being a wonderful image, the title also gives the reader a clue about the way the novel will end -- after years and years of struggling to come to terms with the challenges of a marriage filled with conflicting priorities, the protagonist finally is able to come to an uneasy peace with it. There are actually two protagonists in this story, each dealing with difficult marriages, each finally arriving at their own angles of repose: Lyman Ward, crippled with a disease that has left him totally dependent on others to care for him, has come back to his Grandparents home to sort through papers and correspondence in order to piece together the details of their tumultuous life together. That's how we meet the other protagonist, Susan Burling Ward a lively and talented artist from the East who is used to living in an Edith Wharton kind of world until she meets and marries Oliver Ward,an ambitious mining engineer whose career depends on being able to relocate from one mining camp to another all along the great Western frontier. One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the interplay between fact (what Lyman was able to discover through newspaper clippings and published accounts of what actually was going on) and conjecture (based on what he inferred when reading between the lines of his grandmother's letters.) As he says "What interests me in all these papers is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spend their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlike particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where i knew them. That's where the interest is. That's where the meaning will be if I find any." The fact that he does find meaning, and that it is so relevant to him in terms of his own crumbling marriage makes this a particularly good novel. Stegner does a masterful job of weaving together plot lines, and creating vivid multidimensional characters. The details he provides about aspects of the American West in the 19th century give the reader a glimpse into an especially rich and colorful part of our history. But it is the insights into marriage that I feel make this such a brilliant novel. Stegner has beautifully captured the heartbreaking complexity of a marriage between two people whose deep love for each other ends up diminishing them both.
from the back cover..."By sharing his own inner journey and introducing the reader to some of the original intuitions of classical spiritual writers, Finley has produced a source of guidance and encouragement for those who seek intimacy with God in the silence of contemplative prayer."
Mary Rose O'Reilley must be one fascinating lady!! Someone who can move easily between the world of her Catholic past, to a year spent taking care of sheep, into Plum Village Buddhist monastery with Thich N'hat Hanh, to the classroom as an English teacher, and home again to her Quaker community. Her book, which has been called a cross between Katheen Norris and James Herriot, is filled with insights about the spiritual journey -- but it's a journey that is firmly grounded in the not always neat and tidy business of living intentionally wherever you happen to be. As a matter of fact you won't find much in this book about out of body experiences, but you'll find plenty of information about what it's like to muck around in sheep pens. And that's really the whole point. She makes it clear that living a spiritual life is a simply matter of paying attention to what's going on here and now and recognizing the significance of it.
A warm and poignant story despite it's unlikely plot -- a group of diplomats and distinguished guests of the president of a south american country are taken hostage by a group of terrorists. In the course of the novel we come to understand what motivates people's deepest yearnings and desires, and to care very much about the characters we are meeting.
What I enjoyed about this book was its setting and the fact that the narrator was a 14th century bookseller. As far as the mysteryâ¦. it was pretty easy to figure out, unlike what usually happens when I read mysteries. Most of the time I miss all the important clues or fail to understand them. But it never makes any difference since I read mysteries for the ambience and the characters rather than the plot. And that's exactly why I wanted to read this one.
Swinfen has done a nice job filling in details about life in the University town of Oxford in 1353 not long after the Plague had decimated the population. The book is narrated by Nicholas Elyot, a bookseller who had given up an Oxford fellowship in order to marry the daughter of a shopkeeper because in order to hold an academic position a man had to be a celibate. (I once found a short poem written in the middle ages that spelled it out this way: âA student at his books so placed that wealth he might have won. From book to wife did fly in haste, from wealth to woe did run. Now who hath played a feater cast since juggling first begun in knitting of himself so fast, himself he hath undone.)
For anyone who loves books, this novel is an interesting glimpse into what it was like when each book had to be laboriously written and illustrated by hand using carefully trimmed feather quills with costly inks on parchment made from animal skins and then bound in leather. As a result books were outrageously expensive and Oxford's students couldn't afford their own copies. Instead they went to bookshops like the one in this novel in order to rent peciae, specific sections of a manuscript that had been assigned for them to study.
It's interesting to think about how things have changed when you consider that these days you can read whatever you want without ever setting foot in a bookshop or even opening the pages of a book. Much as I enjoy the convenience I still prefer it the old way and even though I wouldn't have been able to afford owning an illuminated manuscript like those in Nicholas Elyot's shop, it would have been great just to have been able to do a little window shopping there.
A really fascinating glimpse into medieval Italy and the political issues that were part of the Renaissance going on in Florence. Great details about the daily lives of the people behind all the art and architecture!!
This is the last book in a 4-volume series about a British family during the years that span the beginning and end of WWII. I suppose in some ways the books could be described as dressed-up soap operas with a historical twist. Nonetheless, I'm a sucker for family sagas - especially when the characters are well developed like these were so that it's possible to get to know them and understand their reasons for the things they do. I like feeling like I'm connected to the family - sort of like a long lost cousin. An added dimension to this saga is its setting and time period since I'm fascinated with stories about the second world war and England is one of my favorite places to go when I'm reading. So even though this hardly qualifies as serious reading, I thoroughly enjoyed all four books in the series and am a little sad about having to say good-bye to the Cazalet family.
I chose this book because I have decided to take a literary tour of the United States. Having been to the south with Eudora Welty and the Optimist's Daughter, I decided to go West. And I couldn't have chosen a better guide than Michener (whom I have never read before.) I was absolutely fascinated by the details and historical information - beginning way back some billion years ago when the cooling earth began to shape itself into what is now known as Colorado. Each chapter of this book was like reading a separate novel except that they all fit together in one sweeping progression that took me from the age of the dinosaurs right on through to the present time. I grew attached to all of the characters - even the beavers, the horses and the buffalo but especially the people - the Indians, the settlers, the fur traders, the cattle Ranchers, cowbows, hunters, farmers, even the scoundrels, swindlers and politicians - because they were so carefully portrayed. But this wasn't primarily an epic story about people and families (although it was fun watching them or their descendants show up from one era to the next)It was an epic story about the west itself and what happened there over the thousands and thousands of years that have made it what it is. What a trip!
A complex book that's beautifully written despite the subject matter - an Irish American family's struggles to love, support and come to terms with the relationships they have to each other, one of whom is an alcoholic. What I loved about this book in addition to Alice McDermott's brillian way of telling a story, was the fact that there were no villains. Things were not black or white and there wer no solutions - only very real problems and very real people who loved on another not necessarily as well as they should have, but as best they could.
I would probably never have come across this Canadian writer had it not been for my friend Janes recommendation and so Im grateful she mentioned it. The book was interesting for many reasons most notably because it was written in the form of an epistolary a narrative technique that consists entirely of letters, diaries and personal reflections. It seems like it would be a tricky genre for a writer to tackle but Wright has succeeded in using it to great effect to tell the story of two sisters Clara and Nora Callan whose lives unfold in a series of letters that fly back and forth between them after Nora leaves the little Ontario town she grew up in to pursue a career as radio actress in New York. Her older sister remains behind and while it may appear that Nora has chosen the most glamorous option, its Clara whose wit, intelligence and fierce determination to be her own person makes her stand out as the more interesting of the two sisters. I was intrigued by how vividly Wright managed to convey a sense of time and place glamorous New York and stodgy little Whitfield, Ontario in the 1930s between the depression and the beginning of WWII. And the fact that he did it all through letters and personal reflections made it all the more realistic. (The letters were a sobering reminder of what has happened to the art of personal correspondence now that its been replaced by e-mail!) Being a fan of old time radio, thanks to Sirius satellite, I enjoyed the references to the radio dramas and soap operas of the period and how they were produced. But what made this book such a good read was its power to evoke strong women characters, each searching for something solid to hang on to in their lives despite disappointment, betrayal and more than their share of bad luck. I was surprised at how well a male author was able to use the voices of women to write this book and to do such a good job capturing their perspectives and insights. That could be another reason the novel has won several prestigious Canadian prizes for fiction.
English history intrigues me so I greatly injoyed this book about Eleanor of Acquitaine, who lived in the 12 century during a fascinating period - when the Church was even more powerful than kings and when going off on crusades to save the Holy Land was considered the height of glory. Eleanor was a gutsy lady - way ahead of her time - who sounds like she would have done very well living in the 21st century instead of the 12th. But nevertheless she managed to make quite a mark for herself as it was - married to two kings (Louis VII of France and Henry II of England) and mother of two more (Richard the Lion-hearted and John.) She had nine children and had most of them taken away while they were very young to be raised elsewhere because their betrothals -and in some cases their weddings -took place purely for political reasons. Although this book was a novel, it was carefully researched (The bibliography alone took up two full pages)and appeared to stick pretty closely to the facts without a lot of embellishment. Which makes sense. The period itself was colorful enough and so was Eleanor's life. No need to make up plots and invent details when what really happened was so fascinating. [close]
marvellous glimpse into the life of the pulitzer prize winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, this is the story of her lif3e in the remote area of the Florida everglades where she lived for 13 years.
This book was aptly titled! It was dark indeed, at times oppressively so. I had a hard time sticking with it and probably would have abandoned it entirely except for the fact that it was set in Ireland - one of my favorite places to go in a book. In this case most of the action took place in a rural Irish village sometime in the middle of the 20th century (I think!)and centered around the plight of a young boy and the decisions he was trying to make about his future. It was especially complicated for him because of his troubling relationship with his widowed,abusive father and his conflicted feelings about whether or not to become a priest or continue his schooling in pursuit of a university scholarship. What kept me reading had less to do with the plot or the characters or the setting. Rather, it was McGahern's interesting way of switching the narrative voice from the third person to the second person to the first person. I'm guessing it had to do with mood and the thematic elements that were interwoven throughout the novel, however I have to admit I wasn't interested enough to pay close enough attention in order to get the full effect.