July Reading List

August 1, 2011 @ 5:47 pm | Filed under:

It was a month for quality, if not quantity:

Letter from New York, the Helene Hanff book I sighed happily over in this post. First time rereading it since, I’m guessing, 1994. It was rather goosebumpy to revisit: so much of my first year in New York was tied to that book. The neighborhoods I explored, the way I looked at the city, the way Miss Hanff taught me to seek out the small interesting details and big colorful people that give a place character. As I savored her letters, I kept thinking how much these spoken essays she wrote for BBC radio read like blog posts—and I could see her influence in my own blog style, over fifteen years later.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. When I first read it last year, I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to be immersed that intense, disturbing world again: but I did. I found myself thinking about the novel quite often and wanting to return to the rich, tapestried world Byatt creates, suffused with art and lore. The puppets: I am really in awe at how vividly she is able to describe the marionette plays so that you see them, really see them. And the pottery, the Dungeness seaweeds, the strands of Olive’s various stories, the huge cast of distinct, painfully real characters, the currents of culture and history. It’s a hard book, a dark one, but ultimately hopeful, I think, and worth the effort.

Besides those two, there were the usual piles of picture books, and small increments of progress on Calpurnia Tate with Beanie and Rose. July, for us, is really only three weeks long, because a full week of it gets swallowed up by SDCC.

Nonetheless I did think I’d read more, myself, than simply the Hanff and the Byatt. I began a few things, review copies I’ve received, but since the Byatt I haven’t been able to settle into anything else. Just now, looking up the link for my 2010 post about The Children’s Book, I noticed on that year’s booklog that right after it, I reread a large chunk of To Serve Them All My Days—R.F. Delderfield’s sweeping tale about a shellshocked WWI soldier who becomes a teacher in an English boys’ school. That makes me smile because that is exactly the kind of book I’m craving right now, post-Byatt: big, sweeping, warm, moving, funny, and, if sad in places, not dark. Herriott might work. Or: I’ve never read Brideshead Revisited. Would that work? Or is it grim?

Actually, there’s Blackout, I’ve just remembered. I had to set it aside for one reason or another. Connie Willis sweeps me away in just the right way, I always think. Maybe that’s the ticket.

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16 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Jessica@ My Ardent Life says:

    Ooh, Brideshead Revisited is not quite grim but probably not going to offer the warm and moving elements you are looking for. Have you tried Standing in the Rainbow by Flagg? Not as sweeping but lovely and well-written. Or if you would like more in the post WWI era, you might consider the Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series. The first Mary Russell is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Neither series fits the sweeping novel descrption, either, but both are good reads, with Russell being a dog-eared favorite.

  2. Penny says:

    I love Brideshead, it’s one of my top 25 books. I also love Standing in the Rainbow by Flagg, as well as her Can’t Wait to get to Heaven and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (which is SO SO much better than the movie). In fact, Flagg books are some of my must reread every summer books – she’s a wonderful storyteller.

    And if you want make you feel good, time period novels – I STILL HIGHLY recommend Village School and Village Diary and all the other Fairacre books by Miss Read. Village School first. 🙂

  3. Lisa says:

    I absolutely LOVED “To Serve Them All My Days”” both the book and the mini-series on Masterpiece Theater (it’s on cd). Such a great story.


  4. Kathryn says:

    Really, you should read Brideshead. I think you would love it. Or maybe more Delderfield?

  5. Caryl says:

    Have you read L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle? It’s not a sweeping novel, but I just finished it, and I think you’d love it. It’s one of the few books she wrote for adults (I think a teen would like it, too) and her only book that doesn’t take place on Prince Edward Island.

  6. Melissa Wiley says:

    Blue Castle is one of my favorite LMM books. 🙂 Have read at least a dozen times—but it has been a couple of years and maybe I’m due!

  7. Rachael in Australia says:

    Blackout certainly swept me away when I read it earlier this year. A word of warning though – if you don’t have the sequel “All Clear” ready to go as soon as you’ve finished the first book, you’ll be very, very frustrated.

  8. Leslie in VA says:

    What? Never read Brideshead? I cannot believe it! Not too long, please try it! If not, the movie is actually excellent, very true to the book. Super delicious!

  9. Penny says:

    One more: The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett. Marvelous book. Read that and Brideshead too. And everything else.

    And yes, I woke up, thought of this, and am writing to you very late, that’s how important your reading lists are to me!

  10. Melissa Wiley says:

    Penny: nice to know you have your priorities straight! 😉

  11. Melissa Wiley says:

    P.S. Just downloaded Pointed Firs to my Kindle—free. Thanks! Have Brideshead here also (codex) and I saw Pastwatch on the shelf today—a book Scott has been telling me for YEARS I will enjoy. He’s always right about that sort of thing…

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Lisa—I enjoyed that post you linked, thanks!

    Kathryn (or anyone)—what’s your favorite Delderfield besides To Serve Them?

  13. MelanieB says:

    Oh do read Blackout. Please do. I’ll also second Jessica’s recommendation of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice if you haven’t read that. Bees… how can you resist?

  14. Mary Alice says:

    Have you read the Guersny Literary and PotatoPeelPie Society? It is about as wonderful as book can be. I read it just after brideshead, actually, and they were sort of perfect together

  15. Melissa Wiley says:

    Oh yes, I adored Guernsey!


  16. yvonne says:

    Just wanted to thank Caryl for recommending The Blue Castle. I read it over the weekend and adored it. I passed it on to my teenager who also adored it. A real keeper.