I’m going to list some favorite reads off the top of my head, with or without notes as I have the time. I may come back and add to the list later. And please all of you feel free to chime in with your own recommendations!
I’m thinking of books that aren’t already on all the lists of classics and don’t-misses. These are don’t-misses, in my opinion, but I never seem to see them on the lists.
Novels I’ve read recently and especially enjoyed (and posted about—check the lefthand sidebar for links):
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
• Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. True account of a Harvard academic’s discovery that the baby she carries has Down’s Syndrome. A deeply moving narrative about the strange, inexplicable, often difficult events of her pregnancy—all the more moving because this is not a woman for whom the decision to bear her child regardless of his condition was a given. She seems almost surprised to discover that she and her husband cannot bring themselves to consider aborting the child, although nearly everyone she knows—doctors, professors, family—are urging them to do just that.
• The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. One of Montgomery’s only books written for an adult audience. Not her best novel by far, but I find it curiously enchanting and reread it about once a year. The story of a timid, browbeaten 28-year-old woman who, for reasons best discovered as you read, throws caution to the wind and defies convention and family opinion by moving out of her mother’s house to nurse a disgraced and dying friend—the daughter of the town drunk. If you’ve read many of Montgomery’s short stories, you know that she is mighty fond of Giant Coincidence as a means of moving a plot forward, and this trait is laid on at its thickest in this novel. But somehow—it works and makes for a heartily satisfying read.
• I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I’ve only read the first 30 pages! But I’m loving it, and everywhere I turn this book pops up on someone’s list of Favorite Books Ever. I don’t know how I missed it—it only came across my radar a couple of years ago in Noel Perrin’s A Child’s Delight—but it went into my TBR pile immediately. I made the mistake, however, of buying it—which means library books and review copies keep usurping its place at the top of the pile. That’s not at all fair of me, though, because I also bought The Actor and the Housewife, didn’t I, and I read that one right away. Maybe it was because Scott pinched it from me, which spurred me to pinch it back.
• If you haven’t read the grown-up Betsy-Tacy books, then for heaven’s sake put them on the list—Betsy and the Great World and Betsy’s Wedding. And—no, more than and—especially!—especially the related but not-Betsy-Tacy book, Emily of Deep Valley. I’ve written about that one before, a long while back. Hmm, maybe I need to do some more writing about Betsy et al. Anyway, here’s what I had to say about Emily—
Emily is the kind of character we don’t often see in these days of “you have to do what’s right for you.” What seems “right” for Emily, devoted scholar, is a college education like the rest of her high-school chums. But she lives with a very elderly grandfather, and somehow, somehow, she can’t bring herself to leave him alone. That, her conscience whispers, wouldn’t be right.
Sometimes, you see, “right for you” isn’t the same as just plain Right.
Doing the real right thing, Emily finds, is often the hardest thing. She also finds out that the Right Thing can be like a doorway, and when you step through it, you find beauty on the other side, beauty in places you never knew existed.
• Oh! I know what not to miss. I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell, and its several sequels. Oh my goodness, these too warrant their own post or series of posts. Fred Chappell is one of the primary influences on my writing—and reading—life. I had the great privilege of studying under him in grad school—he was actually the reason I chose that particular MFA writing program; I turned down a full scholarship at another MFA program for a no-scholarship deal at UNC-Greensboro in order to learn from Fred. Next to saying yes to Scott, it was the best decision I ever made. Okay, so I Am One of You Forever: enchanting. Prose written like poetry written like tall tale. No, wait, this really does need to be its own post. So never mind, or stay tuned, or do mind and go read the book and then we can talk, or something. A feeble sentence of plot summary: boy growing up in the mountains of North Carolina enjoys visits from a series of eccentric relatives. One of those books that’s make-you-cry funny and then turns around and outright makes you cry. And the language, oh my Lord, just gorgeous. Sentences like fat ripe plums you want to sink your teeth into, and the juice runs down your chin.
That’s five (plus the four from the sidebar). I could keep at this all night, but there’s a baby who needs me. Enough for now? Shall we keep this going? Sharing our favorite books for getting lost in?
‘You don’t put your life into books. You find it there.’
Booknotes: The Dangerous World of Butterflies
Books I’d Like to Finish Before the Year Is Out
Exploring Scotland with Martha Morse
Duke Ellington Meets Tchaikovsky