In the last month, I have been sustained on long flights, changed flights, delayed flights and cancelled flights by a wonderful collection of books that I’d like to share. And yes, Luddite that I am, I love books as books not tablets. You don’t need to be stranded, just tucked up inside from the tundra and the frigid temps!
“Eighty Days”, by Matthew Goodman, Press, is a diverting tale, fiction based on fact. Set in 1889, it tells the true tale of Nellie Bly, one of America’s first women journalists who covered hard news stories, not ‘women’s articles and society’. On November 14, 1889, Nellie left New York City to travel ‘around the world in 80 days’ in emulation of the fictional hero Phineas Fogg of 1873 legendary book. A magazine editor, hearing of this quest, immediately charged his staff writer, Elizabeth Bisland, to race Nellie. Bly traveled eastward, crossing the US last; Bisland went across the US traveling westward first. Nellie was racing against a calendar, Elizabeth racing against Nellie. It makes a delightful story of women’s roles in that time, of travel conditions and life in the countries visited during this 28,000 mile journey.
The beautiful cover, unusual in a paperback, sold me on this book even before I read the premise. Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book” provided hours of fascinating reading. The story ranges over four centuries through the history of making and owning the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated Jewish prayer book created in Spain in 1655 when such books were rarely illustrated. It centers on a modern day Australian book conservator who is asked to examine and authenticate Haggadah, once believed to have been lost. Interwoven between her story, are the stories of the creators and the hands the book have passed through – another fiction based on fact.
In “And the Dark and Sacred Night”, Julia Glass weaves characters from her National Book Award Winner “The Three Junes” while telling the tale of a displaced father of young children who goes on a quest for his own biological father. I liked it better than “…Junes” . Part of it is set in horrific snows of northern Vermont, with which this month, I can easily identify. She has a lyrical way with description.
Fans of Joanna Tollope’s books will enjoy her reworking of Jane Austen in Trollope’s “Sense & Sensibility” set in modern day England. Count me in as a big Austen fan, plus I almost can’t resist any book set in England, and add to that Trollope is a good storyteller like her distant relative, Antony Trollope.
“The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty” are read and discussed in a class I attend each Wednesday at the Salisbury Library. I confess I’ve never read Welty, so this is an eye- and brain- opener with some of the most beautiful evocative prose I’ve ever read. The stories are very carefully constructed and can be very dense and would often stay impenetrable without Mark’s enthusiastic teaching.
This is another book that I chose because of its cover which shows an enchanting book-arts sculpture by the British designer, Su Blackwell. Although I read “The Crane Wife” by Patrick Ness through, I wasn’t totally convinced. The premise was interesting… more books, a London bookseller (and amateur artist with book collage) and the plot of the Japanese folk tale – Tsuru Nyobo, Crane Wife — played out in Greater London.
Any of these, while not great literature (except Welty), are good story telling and should hold you until the snows depart for blooming Spring. Interesting too, than none of my mystery mania is in this list. No book reports necessary!