I got myself reading glasses two or three years ago and there has not been a day when I haven't been thankful for them. It is truly miraculous to be able to read print so easily. But clearly in the time I've had them I haven't read lots and lots. How do I know? Because this holidays I read a vast amount and the bridge of my nose where my glasses sit is slightly tender. But so worth it. It has been a joyous time with so many good books.
This summer's reading commenced with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I have declared this to be the best novel of 2015, which is a big call so early into the year. Harold receives a letter from Queenie, a friend and work colleague from many years previous, letting him know she is dying and is thankful for his many kindnesses shown to her all those years ago. In shock, he pens a quick letter back and sets off to post it. When he reaches the mail box, deep in thought and memory, he isn't quite ready to let his letter go and head home so he decides to walk to the next letter box, and then the next and then the next...and ultimately he walks the entire length of England from south to north, to deliver the letter in person. But does he make it in time? This is a tale about a journey, reflection, atonement, transitions, moving on.
Speaking of telling the same story from different points of view, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is the story of Sarah, a white American, and Handful, her black African slave given to Sarah on her 11th birthday. Both are of similar age. The story commences in the early 1800s - a time when intelligence in women and racial differences were not honoured. (That is putting it positively...) The story spans their lives, told in the first person alternating chapter by chapter between Sarah and Handful, with some delightful twists and surprises for the reader especially towards the end. It doesn't make for easy reading at times - it is difficult subject matter - but Sue Monk Kidd has an astonishingly large and elegant vocabulary and her turn of phrase time and again was breathtaking - and it was her beautiful command of the English language that kept me turning the pages especially in the more torrid sections. Very worthwhile reading.
And then Lila. For anyone else who loves reading the same story from a different point of view and loves a novel by Marilynne Robinson, this one ticks all the boxes and more. Companion volume to Gilead and Home, it felt like a sad book at times but at the same time full of hope, light and blessing too. A tale of transitions from harsh life to gentle life.
Us reads like a cheery, chatty blog with short, cheery chapters. Douglas (54) is married to Connie and they have one son named Albie (18). Douglas and Connie plan to take Albie on a Grand Tour of Europe to see all the great works of art before he heads off to university. It ends up being a grand tour in which Douglas seeks to save his marriage and reconnect with his increasingly distant son. If you love art and Europe this is a fun read. I admit that it was losing me at Amsterdam - which is the cleverness of the writing because Nicholls captures the hallmark elements of each location with each change of scenery - and I only held on because Italy (ah, bell'Italia) was approaching. But I found my happy place in Italy and the novel finished well. It was fun. I would like to get One Day from the library and have a read some time soon.
Speaking of wanting to read more of a particular author, I haven't read any Bill Bryson before but it won't be too long before I put his book Down Under (and maybe even some others by him) on reserve at the library. At Home. This is not a novel. It's a history book. And it's fantastic. I haven't finished it yet. Bryson takes the reader on a tour of his home - a rectory in Engand - room by room, recounting the history of domestic life. Things like why we even have rooms - a relatively recent thing historically speaking - for starters. Things like why we have salt and pepper on our tables and not some other spice, why forks have four tines, a history of lighting and electricity in houses. Windows. How did houses come to have windows? Sounds a bit dry? I do it no justice. This books is a laugh out loud (and I generally laugh on the inside when I am reading but not with this one) and fascinating page turner. The best I can say is that of the eight books I read this summer, this is one of three that I own - not reading this from the library - and it is one I am very pleased to be able to keep on my shelf and share with my friends.
I stopped At Home for a few days because my request at the library for The Rosie Effect, the sequel to The Rosie Project, came up. (And At Home is a book you can comfortably pick up and put down without losing the momentum.) The Rosie Project is a fun read and so is this - good for holidays although you know how sequels are often never quite as good... Compared with The Rosie Project the plot in this one is busy, which is structurally right given the move from single man living and working in Australia to married man living and working in New York. Mix Apserger Syndrome (fairly high end) into the equation and you get the idea. The book captures the changes perfectly. Chaotic at times but it all came together in a very satisfying way in the end.
At one stage I was in between books, waiting for The Rosie Effect to come up on reserve at the library and for At Home to arrive in the mail, so I pulled The Happiest Refugee off the shelf where we were staying. Ahn Do is a Vietnamese refugee, family man and actor/comedian/author. The Happiest Refugee shows life as a refugee (what life was like before escaping, the horrible, horrible escape and what life is like in a new country with few rights and no resources) in a light way. Enough to get a very clear sense of what it is like to be a refugee without leaving the reader having nightmares - enough to engender empathy and response without being paralysed by the horror and with plenty to entertain along the way. And Ahn Do shows gratitude in action. Good work Ahn Do. He also has a series of kids books - the Weir Do series - that does the same thing for children and our boys loved them.
But for now, it's back to At Home for me.