My dad said to me once, looking up from a book he was reading, "Aren't books wonderful things? Somebody took the time to write all of this down so other people could read it. Magnificent."
My thoughts exactly.
As you probably know, I was off on vacation for a week. I went to one of the best places in the world, ever, and it was beautiful there. I did quite a few outside things, but I also did a ton of reading. I was there with my parents, and at two or three points throughout each day, in between running errands or fixing this & that, we would stop for lunch or a snack and read. At the beginning of the day, we'd start out with the paper, and then as we finished with that, we'd each move to our respective novels and histories. By night time, the three of us would all be sitting around the coffee table -- my dad in the big wooden rocking chair, my mom in the blue upholstered rocking chair, and me on the couch -- reading. Familial bliss.
Want to know what we were reading? Okay.
- Mr Lincoln's Army, and then A Stillness at Appomattox by Bruce Catton. They are 2 of the 3 volumes in the set called The Army of the Potomac. My dad read out loud a few passages to my mom and me, one in which Lincoln paid a visit to General McClellan who was taking his time about things. Lincoln said to McClellan, "If you don't want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while." My dad likes Civil War histories almost as much as he likes World War II histories, but he especially likes Bruce Catton's writing style. John Miller, one of Amazon's reviewers agrees: "If every historian wrote like Bruce Catton, no one would read fiction."
- He finished those two and moved on to Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time-- the Building of the Panama Canal, which is just out this year, and something my mom brought home from the library for him. It has several photographs, and my dad always starts a history book at the photos and reads forward from there. He showed me one photo of the locks when they were closed, no water on the side from which the photo was being taken. I don't know the height of those enormous metal doors, but the person standing in front of them looked about the size of a wee pencil in comparison. He also read out that Panama had several feet of rain one year when the canal was being built. Yes, that's feet.
- Waiting in the wings for him are several P.D. James mysteries. He likes P.D. James quite a bit. He says sometimes the things that happen are distasteful, but he enjoys the writing so much he's willing to overlook the unsavory parts. The next one on top of the pile is A Taste for Death (Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries, No. 7).
- Immediate Family by Eileen Goudge. She told me it's about four friends, one of them a man, and each of the friends has a different and somewhat dramatic thing going on. One of the friends, a woman, really wants a baby. So the wife of the man tells him to go get her pregnant, which he does (reminded me of The Big Chill). In the meantime, someone also seems to have been involved in the shooting of the girlfriend of an aging rock star. My mom said she knew right away who the guilty culprit was, but having figured out that mystery certainly didn't ruin her interest because she read the whole thing in a day or two, even stayed up late one night to finish it.
- I didn't see the title of the next book she started, but I know that she bought a copy of Henri Nouwen's Our Greatest Gift: Meditation on Dying and Caring at the used book store one day. She really likes Henri Nouwen, and when she sees one of his books (used) that she doesn't already have, she'll buy it. She said the way she reads his books is a page or sometimes only a paragraph at a time, and then she puts it down and thinks about it, lets it sink in for a while.
- To make up for the fact that I didn't see the title of the next thing she read, I'll tell you that she also likes novels by Jan Mitford, the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross, and she liked quite a few novels by Elizabeth Berg. Recently, she read One True Thing by Anna Quindlen, and she liked that. She sometimes likes Tess Gerritsen (scary, says my mom), and every once in a while when she can't find anything else she'll read a Danielle Steele and sort of put up with it.
- The Men and the Girls by Joanna Trollope. That is a thoroughly stupid cover and does not fit her writing style at all. Joanna Trollope is one of my recent finds, and fortunately she is wonderfully prolific, so I almost always find a book of hers that I haven't read yet. She takes a situation in marriages or families -- second marriages with step-children, for example, or couples who are unfaithful with friends, or young women who are searching for careers and romance at the same time, or in this case, older men (60s ish) who are married to younger women (early 30s ish) -- and shows how it plays out in two families. Trollope is really good at making the children real and moving among everybody's point of view, keeping you up to date on what everybody is thinking. When they start freaking out, she lets you follow along as they figure out why. She's very big on no self-pity, and if a character gets too caught up with a particular house or apartment at the expense of someone else, you can bet that character is going to wind up the loser.
- I'm also wading through You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates. This is the fourth JCO novel I've read in a row (I have my reasons), and it's getting a little old. She usually combines a tale about somebody who suffers some extraordinary violence at the beginning with some sort of cultural situation. In one book, the cultural situation was the lawyers and how corrupt they can be, in another it was doctors. In this one, it's the Cold War and bomb shelters. That topic never interested me to begin with. The place where I've paused in this book has taken a break from the personal story and is spending time on Eisenhower and bomb shelters and panic about nuclear war, and I find it dull. As soon as the story of incest with the uncle picks up again, I might get back into it. But this might be one that fades away.
- Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel, by William Trevor, is one that I'm reading with great interest. In this novel, Mrs. Eckdorf is a photographer who finds out about very personal, heart-wrenching stories and goes and takes photographs of the people involved and publishes it all in documentary-like coffee table books. She's shown up at the O'Neill Hotel in Dublin because she believes some terrible tragedy happened there in the past, and she's determined to find out what it is and get pictures of everybody still caught up in the tragedy. But the people who live in this dilapidated hotel that is sometimes used for prostitution do not cooperate with Mrs. Eckdorf's plans. Mrs. Eckdorf, sometimes prone to shouting at herself in German in the middle of the street, kind of loses it. I find this book especially interesting to read during our current mania for tell-all memoirs. William Trevor has such a deft and gentle touch, and this novel is no exception. The novels of his I like best are those that deal with people who are off their rockers. So in my estimation, this is at the top of my list of his books.
- From the library, I checked out a copy of Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief on tape, to listen to in the car on my drive back. I like to listen to books on tape as I'm driving long distances, but I make sure to pick novels that don't require intense thought, otherwise I tend to drive past exists and other places where I'm supposed to turn. My mom and I used to read Mrs. Pollifax books back when I was maybe 12 or so, and when she declared that the newer ones weren't as good, I took her word for it and left them behind. This title is the 16th of 22 and it's not too bad. Anyway, if you're not familiar, Emily Pollifax is a grandmother, a member of her garden club, has studied karate for enjoyment for years, and winds up becoming a spy for the CIA. Listening to this book now, I think the CIA sounds more British than American, or at least her two handlers, Carstairs and Bishop, seem far more gentle than I imagine most CIA guys to be. She gets into all kinds of scrapes (in this one, she's in Sicily being followed by many suspicious cars and being tracked by a notorious international assassin). Her adherence to manners, decency, and common sense are what help to get her out again. And she sometimes has the help of a dashing fellow agent named John Sebastian Farrell. In this one, Farrell is wounded and needs her help.
Hopefully, at least one book from all these titles will pique your interest and you'll check it out from your local library or book store. If you're not interested in any of these but you'd like some more suggestions, click on my label entries about art and books, and scroll down to find a few entries about other books and authors.
Or of course, a great place to look is at your local library's web site. Usually, libraries have lists of recommendations under such titles as "Recommended Reads" or "Reader's Advisory" or "If You Liked [Author Name Here]." Your local library is a great resource. Don't be afraid to ask the librarians for suggestions. For a librarian, that's the very best kind of question to be asked -- in my opinion, and I think most librarians would agree -- because you get to talk to people about books and what they like to read. Yum.