February 2015 Reading: 6 BOOKS

BOOK EIGHT: Lila by Marilynne RobinsonI 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. RowlingIf 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.

November 2014 Reading

So...I read a lot this month! And the month is not over yet, so I hope to squeeze in one more book before it's over (reading Schooling by Heather McGowan and Home by Marilynne Robinson at the moment). It's a busy week with Thanksgiving festivities and a couple of trips into the city, though, so I'm going to go ahead and publish this list. I am really, really enjoying reading in a way that I haven't previously. Reading hasn't always come naturally to me, but I'm finding that the older I get, the more reading is becoming a pleasure. Here's what was on the bookshelf this month:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr--An enchanting story that allows us to peek into the drastically different lives of a young German soldier and a blind Parisian girl whose lives momentarily intertwine on the coast of France during the second World War. Doerr is one of my favorite authors, and I'm proud to say that I've now read all of his novels (The Shell CollectorAbout GraceFour Seasons in RomeMemory Wall, and All the Light We Cannot See). He has such a grace to his writing, and he sees the details of life (even the minutiae) and then shares it all with us so beautifully.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler--I picked this up at one of the few English bookstores in Madrid because I was craving a physical copy of a book. About two distinctly different families in Baltimore who adopt Korean babies at the same time, I thought I would be more interested in it. A little cheesy and not the best writing, but hey--you win some, you lose some.

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor--Well, this is one I'm going to have to read again. And probably again after that. (And in the meantime, I'm going to listen to a lecture from a Yale professor that's available online.) This is my first Flannery O'Connor novel, and I have to admit--I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. The characters are extremely memorable; in twenty years if you say the name Hazel Motes, I will immediately be transported back to this novel! Anyway, I need to do a little self-study of this book to get more out of it than I did on a first read-through. 

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel--I read Life of Pi a couple of years ago (in Madrid, actually) and I enjoyed it. So I picked this newer novel by Martel up recently in J&J's Books in Madrid. It was definitely a strange story; it had some powerful--as well as disturbing--images related to taxidermy and others harkening back to the Holocaust. Sound like a strange mix, right?  I read a scathing (and poorly written) review of the novel after reading it; it seemed like many people out there truly hated Martel's newest book. However, he asks some good ethical questions and I think it's probably worth reading, especially if you liked Life of Pi. At the very least, Martel is willing to write about some difficult topics in a very out-of-the-box kind of way.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson--I read Gilead a few years ago, and I don't think I appreciated it half as much as I did this second time around. Robinson is a master with words. If you don't know the premise, the novel is a long letter from an aging father to his still-young son, telling him stories of the past and all he wants him to know before he leaves him on his own in the world. There is wisdom, there's humor, and you feel the deep love of a father for his only son. I'm about to embark on Home, Robinson's follow-up novel.

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My Ántonia by Willa Cather--In high school I read O Pioneers! by Cather and I remember enjoying it so much. At some point, I went out and purchased My Ántonia, but of course it sat on my bookshelf all these years and I never read it. I very much enjoyed reading this book on our trip to Rome. It made me remember why I loved Little House on the Prairie and why I dressed up in my pioneer costume and ran around in it outside as an 8-year-old (true story...and yes, I had a pioneer costume). There is something enchanting and wild about the American West, and Willa Cather captures a picture of life there so well. Man, am I impressed by what pioneers had to do to make a life for themselves and survive!