Since we came back from France, I’ve been reading. A lot. I hardly read for the month we were away. When we were in Paris, I started a book by Laura Lippman, whose writing I usually like. It’s about two teens, who were convicted of abducting and killing a child when they were thirteen. The book starts with their release from prison and their attempts to rebuild their lives. But twenty or so pages in, I knew this was NOT going to go well. I reread the blurb on the back of the book: “And now another child has disappeared, under freakishly similar circumstances…” What the heck had I been thinking? This was NOT what I wanted to be reading on our holiday. I set it aside. Paris was calling me, anyway. No time for reading.
Then a week or so later, I tried to read a book that I had downloaded onto my i-pad. It was a mystery set in France; it should be appropriate holiday-in-France reading, non? Sigh. I simply could not adjust to reading on the screen. Really, really did not like it. Plus I didn’t really like the book. Plus I kept switching away to read blogs. Or Instagram. I gave up. So no reading, of books anyway, for me, for most of May.
But the day after we came home… actually it might have been the same night we came home… I got stuck into a book. Right after I started the first load of laundry (of course) and made a cup of tea.
This is the book I read first. I picked it up at the airport in Paris when I was wandering/waiting/trying not to sit down too much right before I would have to sit for seven hours on the plane. Hubby and I always do this, take turns going for walks, while we wait in airports.
I loved this book. I laughed out loud in places. Stephen Clarke is very funny. The main character, Paul West, is kind of a cross between Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones. Paul West, an Englishman living in France, has a French girlfriend, a French ex-girlfriend, is looking for love while trying to open an English-style tea room on the Champs-Élysées and keeps getting into one scrape after another. I’d never say you should read it for the plot, which does get a bit tedious after a while. But the funny bits are so funny, I was glad I persisted. I think I’d read it just for the scenes where Paul’s English accent turns a harmless French word into a profane and totally inappropriate word, or for his tussles with French round-abouts, or arguments with the language police about his English menus (something Canadians will find particularly funny.)
The next book I read was the newest Adrian McKinty. Gun Street Girl is the fourth book in McKinty’s series set in 1980’s Belfast during the “Troubles.” His character Sean Duffy is a Catholic detective-inspector in the almost entirely Protestant RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary.) McKinty is a fabulous writer. A must read as far as I’m concerned. That’s all I’m going to say about the book now because I’ll be doing a mystery and crime post in a week or so.
Right now I’m reading The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. I can’t remember where I heard about this book; maybe I read about it last year on someone’s recommended book list or in an article somewhere. Anyway we’re reading it for one of my book clubs this month. And it’s a perfect summer read.
Set in the 1920’s, it’s the story of the Grey children and their summer on the Marne River in France. Their planned holiday adventure aborted due to the illness and hospitalization of their mother, they wait for her recovery at Les Oeillets, under the “care” of Eliot, a charming Englishman who comes to their rescue, his lover Mademoiselle Zizi, the cook Monsieur Armand, an odd assortment of house maids and desk clerks, and Paul the orphaned serving boy.
Rosie Thomas in her Guardian article
, describes Godden’s books as having a “timeless shimmer,” as having “never lost a shred of their almost hypnotic appeal.” Although Thomas is speaking specifically of Godden’s India books, the timeless quality and hypnotic appeal, certainly apply to The Greengage Summer.
I was captivated immediately by Godden’s luscious descriptions which evoke those hot and endless summers of childhood. And by the Girl’s Own Annual
type of story, of children left to their own devices, with minimal adult supervision, and the ensuing mystery, adventure, and loss of innocence. I’ve never actually read the Girl’s Own Annual,
but growing up, we had a bookcase of boy’s books that had belonged to my father. And I remember devouring the Boy’s Own Annual,
reading how to make your own ice boat and such things. And of course I read Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden avidly. And dreamed of that magical place where children sailed ice boats and had amazing adventures with no interference from adults.
The Greengage Summer is based on actual events that happened the summer Godden was fifteen. When, just like in the novel, her mother took Rumer and her siblings to France to see the battlefields, so that when the children saw “the rows and rows of crosses for those young men who gave their lives for [them], it might make [them] stop and think of [their] selfishness.” And just like in the novel, Rumer’s mother fell ill and events did not go as planned. It seems that most of Godden’s early life could have been lifted from the pages of fiction, with her adventures in India, Calcutta, and Kashmir. I love that she once said, “I always thank God that we did not have sensible parents.” The shot below is of Godden and her two daughters in 1949. Gorgeous cheekbones obviously run in that family.
I hope that I like Rumer Godden’s other books as well… I just ordered a couple from our library. Summer is a great time for reading, and a great time to explore new writers. So, while I was on the Ottawa Public Library website, I also ordered a few more books by writers who are new to me.
Like the book below by American writer Vendela Vida. I had never heard of her until I read about her latest book The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty
in the June issue of Vogue.
(It’s not just
for fashion, you know.) The idea of a novel set in Casablanca, and involving mystery, intrigue and self discovery seems made for summer reading, doesn’t it? And Vida’s work is highly praised in articles in The New York Times
and The Guardian
. Just to be sure, I checked out the first few pages of the novel on Amazon.com. I tell you, I was hooked. Can’t wait to read the rest of the book.
And I ordered this first novel by French writer Philippe Georget, a mystery set in the tourist town of Perpigan, on the Mediterranean, during “a long hot summer.” Detectives Sebag and Molino, bored with the seemingly endless array of petty crimes and plagued with their own “existential angst” encounter a few juicy and entirely unexpected murders. What’s not to love? Sounds like great camping reading to me. And I love the title.
I also have yet to read Jane Urquhart’s new novel, The Night Stages,
set in Ireland.
My friend Susan and I attended an Ottawa Writer’s Festival luncheon in April, where Urquhart read from her book and we had a lovely lunch. But Paris was looming and I didn’t ever get around to reading the book. But I will. Soon.
And here’s one book that I’ve decided that I won’t be reading. I heard an interview with Daniel Levitin on CBC radio a few months ago. He talked about the brain, as well as how in today’s wired world we are “drowning in data,” and “are expected to make more and faster decisions about our lives than ever before.” He went on to discuss how this information overload affects us, and what we might do about that. The interview was fascinating. But from reader reviews on the OPL website, I gathered that Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload is somewhat less fascinating. One reader said that at 496 pages, the book itself was contributing to “information overload.” Another said that while the advice Levitin offered might be useful, he doubted if anyone would follow it. This reader went on to say that maybe someone should write a “self-help book on why we ignore self-help books.” And then I saw that there were 506 holds on the book. If I wanted to read it I would be 507th in line. Gad. By the time I made it to the top of the list I’d probably be too deep into senility to care, anyway.
So that’s some of what I’ve been up to the last couple of weeks… as far as reading goes anyway. And a few books that are on my ever expanding, and growing longer every day, summer reading list. Now I really must get back to my chair; I haven’t finished the Rumer Godden book. And I’ve a stack of other books waiting on deck. On deck. Not on the deck… get it? Oh, not funny. I think I’ve been blogging too long.
What are you reading this summer? Do tell.
One’s list can never be too long. After all, there’s nothing to say that a summer reading list can’t morph into an autumn reading list, is there?