BOOK EIGHT: Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I now have all of Marilynne Robinson's books sitting on my small end table that is serving a secondary function as a bookshelf in our little home. And in a matter of months, I've inhaled all of her novels. I remember reading Gilead a few years ago, and just not connecting with it. Rereading it this fall was delightful, and I dug into Home shortly thereafter. Finally, Lila appeared on the shelves of bookstores, and I used precious tutoring money (and a lot of it, I'll add) to buy Robinson's latest book (only in hardback and subjected to the hefty Euro) when we wandered into Book in Bar Aix-en-Provence a few weeks ago. I couldn't help myself.
The final book in this trilogy of sorts (though you can read the books independently and in any order) was a beautiful, poetic story of the life of Lila, the woman who wanders into Gilead and though young, marries an aging pastor in town, John Ames. In Gilead and Home, Lila is a bit of a mystery, and this book sheds light into who she is and how she ticks. The whole book is full of quotable sections, but here's one example of the simple, poetic nature of the novel that drew me in: "Lila was glad to be seeing the country again, the fields looking so green in the evening light. Knee-high by the Fourth of July. So it must be June. Every farmhouse in its cloud of trees. There is a way trees stir before a rain, as if they already felt the heaviness. It all just went on and on, the United States of America. It was so easy to forget that most of the world was cornfields."
BOOK NINE: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. Annnnnnd the Harry Potter saga continues! I love this little escape from Muggle world and into the wizarding world of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. My husband was right: it's great. This was was a bulky 870 pages, but I made it through and am on to the next one!
BOOK TEN: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. After reading high praise for this recently published novel on a blog I love, I ordered it on Amazon.es (thanks, family, for Christmas money!). I wasn't disappointed. It asks big questions: What would happen if a flu epidemic swept over the world? How do we survive and rebuild society? What part do we play in the functioning of society? What is our relationship to the world--technology, land, resources--around us? How do we relate to others--are we leaders or followers, and who do we trust? And it gives a fascinating possibility for an answer. It made me think, and I could hardly put it down. I highly recommend getting a copy and curling up in your favorite chair with it and some tea (or coffee, or wine) this weekend.
BOOK ELEVEN: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. If you've read Harry Potter, you know where I am in the journey. And if you haven't read Harry Potter, you need to go to the library, and put your "but" list aside: it's time you entered this magical world. I'm planning to start book seven--the final one!--in the near future.
BOOK TWELVE: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I'm going to make a bold statement, and I don't mean this lightly. Ready? The Bean Trees is one of my (newest) favorite novels. I read it for the first time last week, and I'm adding it to my mental "Favorites" list. I already knew that I liked Kingsolver's witty, down-to-earth writing after reading The Poisonwood Bible last year. I picked this one up at the library last week (much shorter than The Poisonwood Bible) and read it in two days. Her characters found an immediate place in my heart, and it didn't hurt that her writing has a way of making me laugh out loud, even on the bus. For example: "She rubbed her neck and turned her face to the sun again. Lou Ann's face was small and rounded in a pretty way, like an egg sunny side up. But in my mind's eye I could plainly see her dashing out the door on any given day, stopping to say to the mirror: 'Ugly as homemade sin in the heat of summer.'" Maybe it's just my sense of humor, but she has a way with words. The themes of home, adoption, family and deep friendship set against the backdrop of Arizona and Oklahoma, with some from-the-hills-of-Kentucky accents thrown in there made for a beautiful novel.
BOOK THIRTEEN: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I picked this one up in Chester, England at a used bookstore. I've heard friends reference Atwood and thought I'd give her writing a try. I agree with the Daily Telegraph's two-word take on the front cover: "Compulsively Readable." A science fiction, post-apocalyptic tale of America way, way down the road, I was hooked. I thought about The Giver (one of my favorite books, especially after teaching it once, reading it aloud in its entirety five times to students, and reading it on my own multiple times) a lot while I was reading, as well as Station Eleven, which I finished earlier this year. If you liked either of those books, give The Handmaid's Tale a try, though be warned that it's a bit more graphic. I'm curious now what other Margaret Atwood books are like.