Kindred Spirits and Books

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

I remember many years ago reading L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables for the first time. And reading about Anne’s first meeting with Matthew Cuthbert when she knew right away that he was a “kindred spirit.” I love that phrase. In fact, I loved all of Montgomery’s books which, alongside Mary Grannan’s Maggie Muggins books, were the seminal books of my childhood.

I’ve used the phrase “kindred spirit” many, many times since. To describe those friends whom I am always happy to see, who never stand on ceremony, who make me want to put the kettle on, curl up with my cup of tea, and settle in for a long chat. With kindred spirits, the time we have together is always too short because we never run out of things to say. Our lives may have little in common on the surface. Our cares and struggles might be quite different. But we always understand each other.

Frequently my kindred spirits are women with whom I share a love of reading. I still remember back in the eighties when my friend Grace and I started working together and she recommended Anne Tyler’s book The Accidental Tourist to me. She said she could see me loving that book. And I did. And that was the beginning of our beautiful friendship.

Or the day when I mentioned to another new colleague that I had just read Barbara Pym’s book Excellent Women. I said I’d picked it up at a used book store in my neighbourhood, and waffled on about how much I’d loved it and that I’d never even heard of Barbara Pym, because “who had?” Well, she had. And the next morning I found a stack of Pym’s books on my desk. I don’t know if Susan remembers that story, but that was the day I knew we’d become good friends. I mean… who else had heard of Barbara Pym?

Or the yearly long, long lunches I had with my friend Barb who passed away almost two years ago. We initially bonded at work back in the nineties over a discussion of twin sets and the Mitford family. And every year when we met we yakked and yakked about fashion, her Hermes scarf collection, our respective travels, and the best books we’d read since we’d last seen each other. I miss Barb. We didn’t see each other often but, still, I miss the idea of her out there, thinking of me, and noting down in the little book she always carried in her bag the titles of books she’ll tell me about when we next meet.

So, yeah, sharing a love of books with a friend can be wonderful. Especially if you love the same books. A shared passion for the same books makes a friend a true kindred spirit in my view.

Some of my "to read" books. Some are written by kindred spirits.
Some of my “to read” pile

But what if you find out that an author, whose books you love, loves the same books as you do? Say there’s a writer whose writing you admire, who creates plots which keep you gripped and wonderfully real characters… and you find out that that writer loves the same books you do. Wouldn’t that make that author, whom you’ve never even met, a kindred spirit? I like to think so.

But I’d better go back a bit here and explain.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon the books of Susie Steiner at the library in Manotick. Steiner writes wonderful mystery novels. I read both of her Manon Bradshaw books on a camping trip that summer, and barely surfaced to do anything else for four days. I wrote a post at the time about Steiner’s Missing, Presumed and Persons Unknown. You can read it here if you’re interested. Since then, I’ve waited patiently, and sometimes impatiently, for the third book to be published.

A couple of weeks ago I bought Steiner’s latest book Remain Silent. I haven’t read it yet. I’m saving it for when Hubby goes canoeing later this week.

Then, thanks to Meg’s comment on my last post, I read this article in the Guardian. Written by Susie Steiner herself, it’s about her latest book and her battle with brain cancer. Aggressive glioblastoma, to be precise. The article is unsurprisingly wonderful. I mean, she is a wonderful writer. But it’s also sad, terribly sad. And honest. And in it Steiner describes how she uses reading to help her through her ordeal. She reads lots of non-fiction some of which she describes in her article. But it is the fiction that helps her the most. She says she thinks that’s due to the “imaginative empathy” found in fiction.

Steiner mentions Helen Garner’s novel The Spare Room, about a woman who takes a dying friend to live with her, in her “spare room”, and which deals with the very real struggles of both patient and caregiver. And she says the best fiction about illness and empathy she has read is Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Again. That Elizabeth Strout writes about “sadness and frailty like no other modern writer.”

I adored Strout’s latest book too. And I couldn’t imagine what the heck the people who damned Olive Again with faint praise were talking about. Actually, I think when I read those comments my language was a bit more colourful. I’m so pleased that someone who writes as well as Steiner, and who knows about illness and fear and frailty, loves Strout’s book too. And I’m glad she found it helpful and sustaining.

But what really blew me away in Steiner’s article, aside from the news that she is ill, was this line: “Thank goodness,” she writes, “I discovered the genteel fiction of the 1930s in the form of Dorothy Whipple. I devoured three on the trot.” Oh my goodness. She knows about Dorothy Whipple? These are the books that I “devoured on the trot” when I was home at my mum’s in New Brunswick the spring that my brother Terry was so ill. When we were afraid he might not live through the night. Night after night. I remember I took my sister Connie’s advice, made a cup or tea, and each evening tried to bury myself in a comforting book. Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance and The Priory helped me immeasurably. I wrote about that here.

So yeah. I think that if I met Susie Steiner in real life, I’d find her a kindred spirit. Which makes the news of her illness even more terrible. Not for her, of course. I mean, it doesn’t get much worse than a glioblastoma diagnosis. Only 25% of those who suffer from this form of cancer survive more then a year. But selfishly, now that I know we share a love of the same books, it feels worse… for me. And I hope against hope that Susie Steiner will be one of the 25%.

After all, we need all the wonderful writers we can get. And all the wonderful readers. And all the kindred spirits. We can’t afford to lose the Susie Steiners of this world. So you should absolutely read Steiner’s article. And then, if you haven’t done so already, get all three of her Manon Bradshaw books.

Here’s a look at the trailer for the 1985 television production of Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows as Anne, Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla, and the wonderful Richard Farnsworth as Matthew. Next to the book, this is the quintessential version, in my opinion. And Farnsworth is the epitome of Matthew, Anne’s shy, kindred spirit. In fact, no other Matthew will do for me.

I seem to be having wonderful luck with my reading lately. I was lucky to find Anne Enright’s book Actress on the Ottawa Public Library website, and adored it. But I told you all about that book in my video last week.

I just finished the new Ann Cleeves Vera Stanhope mystery, The Darkest Evening. This book is vintage Cleeves. I love the Vera books. And now that I think of it, the character of Vera reminds me quite a lot of Olive Kitteridge. In The Darkest Evening we see numerous examples of Vera’s “blunt kindness”, as Steiner describes Olive’s ability to brusquely say exactly what someone suffering needs to hear. I kept putting Cleeves’ book down this week, and walking away to do something else. Not because I wanted to put it down, but because I didn’t want to rush the book, to finish it too quickly.

And at the moment I’m reading Britt Bennett’s The Vanishing Half for my book club meeting later this month. I expected it to be good. But not this engrossing. I’m loving it, but I’ll tell you more about Bennett’s book after my book club meeting.

You know, I must try to find out what Anne Enright, Ann Cleeves, and Britt Bennett like to read. Maybe they’re kindred spirits as well.

And as for you, my friends, I already know that many of you are kindred spirits when it comes to books. So what have you been lucky enough to read lately? Eh?

Links to the recommended books: Ann Cleeves’ The Darkest Evening. Britt Bennett’s The Vanishing Half. Anne Enright’s Actress. Susie Steiner’s Remain Silent, Persons Unknown, and Missing, Presumed. Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Again. Helen Garner’s The Spare Room. Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance, and The Priory. Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women.

P.S. A word about affiliate links. The links within the text of this post are to Bookshop.org, which funnels a percentage of its profits to independent bookstores across the States. But since they do not ship outside of the U.S. I have included the Amazon links to all my recommended titles above. As usual, if you make a purchase after clicking any of my links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

From the archives

fashion

Fashion Inspiration Gets Me Off the Couch.

I’ve spent way too much time on the couch this winter, with one cold or another. I needed some fashion inspiration to finally get me off the couch and back in action.

travel

Travelling and Unravelling

This week we’re travelling. Camping in the Ottawa Valley. And as we sit by the campfire we’ll be waxing nostalgic about other trips we’ve taken.

life

Wobbly Weekend

I had a wobbly weekend, my friends. Felt a bit of isolation anxiety. But like those toys from the seventies, I wobbled, but I didn’t fall down.

Email delivery

Would you like to have new stories automatically delivered to your inbox? When a new story appears on the website, we’ll send the story right to your inbox. 

* indicates required

47 thoughts on “Kindred Spirits and Books”

  1. My lockdown discovery is the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. The latest in the 15 book series, The American Agent, was just the thing when my bookclub got its act together and had our first Zoom meeting in April. Set in London during the Blitz. A real villain! Citizens (and leaders and journalists) making shared sacrifice and behaving honorably. Such a rich discussion we had comparing the fear and isolation and uncertainty we were all feeling with that of a different and seemingly simpler time.

    And then the complex heroine of Maisie Dobbs! The book stood just fine on its own but there were just enough references to her back story that I started all the way back at the first of the series, because the character was so well done. I have not been disappointed yet, as every one so far has told a story showing the complexity of humanity with great sympathy. And Maisie has grown in every one.

    I’m also enjoying the escape to a story where our present fears, travails, and frustrations seem so far away. They are serious, well done and satisfying reads. Escapist without being at all fanciful.

  2. I’m so sorry for Susie Steiner-what a wonderful article,the feelings that are so sincere,but only someone in a similar situation could understand all the implications. I’ve read all of her Manon Bradshaw mysteries,liked them a lot – Remaining Silent was slightly different and I was thinking that she will end with Manon here and was sad and a little bit angry. My apologies to her and fingers crossed.
    Talking about books with friends is a rare treasure,there are not many,especially with the similar taste in books,I love this community here and had many happy moments reading some of the recommendations. Thank you!
    I’ve read Olive Again,as well,a beautiful,real and poignant story.
    The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley is not only a documentary kind of memoirs in fashion,but a story of success where it was not so easy and predictable. And about good and less good people,kindness of a strangers and letting down of friends…
    I’ve read The Darkest Evening as well,looking for the next Ann Cleeves already…,new Louise Penny’s All the Devils are Here (also a little bit different from the others Gamache novels,set in Paris this time). I’ve read Finding Freedom from Scobie and Durand about Meghan and Harry-nothing new….Now,I’m reading Actress
    Dottoressa
    P. S. Have you got my mail? I’ve answered the same or the next day

    1. I did get your e-mail, Dottoressa. So wonderful to sit down to a long newsy e-mail. And as a result I’ve been seeking that André Leon Talley book. I love good fashion memoirs. Not the “how to” books, but the ones like Grace Coddington’s book which narrate a life in fashion. I think I will save Talley’s book to offset the new Hilary Mantel which I am saving for a snowy winter weekend.

  3. I have so enjoyed your book recommendations during this time. One author in particular that I have loved is O Douglas. Even though these books were written close to a hundred years ago, they feel so modern. I love the in depth dialogue between the characters, something that is missing in most books of today. Also, people of the time had survived both the 1918 influenza outbreak and WW1 and they still found a way to be hopeful and enjoy life. I also discovered Susie Steiner through you and am very sad to hear of her cancer diagnosis. I am going to try the Dorothy Whipple books soon. Also, have you read any Ursula Orange books? I may have found them through you as well-lol! They are fun reads too. Enjoy these early fall days!!!

    1. I read O Douglas as a result if a reader’s recommendation last year. Was that you? If it was, thank-you! I loved The Day of Small Things, and The Proper Place. Gentle but not saccharine, well written, and such an enjoyable read in a chaotic time. Love the Ursula Orange books too.

  4. I read the Guardian article on Susie Steiner too & found it very moving . I’ve just finished her first book & have the other two on kindle . It’s tempting to binge read them but I’m trying to appreciate the first one before I dive into the others . Is it just me who feels that way about really good books ? There’s so much crime stuff out there , a great deal of it pretty mediocre with poor characterisation & unbelievable plots . It’s hard to pick your way through them . So I’m very grateful for all the recommendations here . Other books I’ve enjoyed recently – Spencer’s List by Lissa Evans , always enjoy her books -Dancing Backwards by Salley Vickery , she’s becoming another favourite & Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland , there’s romance there but it’s far more than that . None of these are murders – But Susie Steiner is calling now .

    1. It’s definitely not just you, Wendy. It’s hard to find a great mystery writer. They’re out there but you have to wade through a lot of bad stuff first. Even some writers whose writing I love and characters I enjoy have capitulated… packing plot twists and fast-paced mindless violence into their books. The other day I was thinking how wonderful it would be to be just now discovering Peter May or P.D. James. Hope you are able to get up to Scotland soon, my friend.

  5. Just before I read your post, I read an email from my daughter, who shares a Kobo account with me. She had to tell me that she had just ploughed through Louise Penny’s latest, All the Devils Are Here. I always buy Penny’s latest, as I can’t bear to wait for the hold queue at the library. The Gamache series is truly captivating.

    I am currently reading the latest Elly Griffiths novel, The Lantern
    Men, another in her series featuring the forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway. Set in Norfolk, Griffith’s novels are also descriptively evocative and, like the Three Pines novels of Louise Penny, feature the same cast of appealing characters throughout the series. I love revisiting these books, as much to catch up on the lives of these colourful characters as for the new mystery to be solved.
    Elizabeth Strout’s Olive is one of my favourite characters of all time, and you must read Anne Enright’s The Green Road, one of my very favourite novels.
    I love your book posts, love that you seem to enjoy many of the same books as I do, and that you write so eloquently of them.
    Kindred book spirits?

    1. That latest Elly Griffiths is really good. I was worried about her for a bit because a few of her books seemed less good than the early ones, but she’s recovered her form. I read Anne Enright’s The Green Road a couple of years ago. Oddly enough we were reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix for my book club at the same time. And since both books are about family breakdown, I couldn’t help comparing them. I really did NOT like The Nest, but Enright’s books was wonderful, real, captivating and so well written. So was Actress, I might add. I think we might just be kindred spirits… except for Louise Penny who I have tried hard to like and somehow don’t. But I won’t hold that against you. Ha. Lots of women whose reading taste I admire like her.

  6. After reading the beginning of this post I broke off and reserved the Susie Steiner novels at my local library – curbside pick up is such a wonderful thing for me right now, although it does involve a bit of delayed gratification!

    As always your book recommendations are a great service.

    ceci

  7. Thanks to you, I’ve read and loved Susie Steiner’s mysteries. . . and also Denise Mina’s and most of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books. . .
    I’ve just finished Melissa Harrison’s In Hawthorn Time — I think you’d like her books if you haven’t read them. Beautifully observant nature-writing which is also very thoughtful — and thought-provoking — about humanity. She links together disparate characters in gentle, often surprising, ways. Followed that up by staying in England, but a more murderous one, with Peter Robinson’s Careless Love. . .

    1. I love Peter Robinson’s books. For the writing and characters but also because I just love Yorkshire, and that part of the world. I will go look for that Melissa Harrison book right now. 🙂

  8. I love your book posts, although they make me sad that I have so little time for reading…I love that feeling of having a book that’s so good, you must ration it a little at a time, so you won’t be finished too soon! I agree that liking the same books is the surest indicator people will be “kindred spirits”. I think I’d really enjoy sitting down for a cuppa with you, Sue.

  9. You don’t know me but I feel like you’re my kindred spirit. I knew it when I read in one post mentions of Barbara Pam, Jane Austen and something on fashion. Someone else who had read Pam. I haven’t read the Dorothy Whipple books yet but I have read Angela Thirkell and Margery Sharp, who I think are quite similar. I just ordered the Susie Steiner books from the library. At 68 I don’t like to read anything too gruesome or violent so I thank you for the term “gentle” books. I enjoyed the Lewis trilogy immensely. Keep up the good work, I appreciate it.

    1. If you like Angela Thirkell you will like Dorothy Whipple. My two favourites are Someone from a Distance and The Priory. I wish I still had the pleasure of reading the Lewis trilogy in front of me instead of behind. I’d love to visit the Hebrides or the Shetland Islands one day. We’ve been to the Orkneys and loved our time there.

  10. Once again a great post and I couldn’t agree more about relationships with people who like to read. Kindred spirits indeed. I have just finished The Vanishing Half and thoroughly enjoyed this book and it will be in my top ten of the year if not the top. I have also been reading more Jim Kelly as they are set in an area I know well. I particularly enjoyed The Great Darkness as it is set in Cambridge, UK, at the start of WW2. Thank you for all your writing on books and I often find new authors through you and your commentors.

  11. A wealth of information and excellent reading in your post and in the comments. Many kindred spirits here.

    Steiner’s article is one I plan to print out and keep.

  12. I just finished Dear Edward this morning and Big Lies in a Small Town. I just got a skip the line notice for TheVanishing Half . So happy to start it! I think I otherwise had a 10 week wait. I hate it when a favorite author does. Still mourning Vince Flynn.

  13. Thank you all for book recommendations. I am late to the table for Susie Stiener, just bought “Missing ” on my nook, will start tonight. I have spent coronavirus rereading favorites, Dorothy Eden, Deanna Raybourn with an occasional wander through Michael Connelly and Lady Glenconner, and of course Sense and Sensibility for the hundredth time.

    1. Ha. I laughed when you said Sense and Sensibility for the hundredth time. After our book club party, I will always identify you as THE Jane Austen fan. I listened to Rosamund Pike narrate both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice last year. How wonderful she is as a reader. I noticed bits that I had missed when I read it myself.

  14. I remember that moment well and knew instantly that I had someone in an English department who was a reader of my kind of fiction. I should say that my husband had recommended Barbara Pym based on comments he had read by Philip Larkin. I have read many of the authors you mention, often based on your recommendations.

    Books and tea may have made life endurable for many people during this awful year.

  15. Oh my goodness! Anne of Green Gables, The Accidental Tourist, AND Excellent Women! At the risk of sounding like a fangirl, we truly are kindred book spirits.

    You mentioned the Mitford sisters. I adored The Pursuit of Love and Love in A Cold Climate.

    What about I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith? Utterly charming….

    And I’m a fan of most of the other authors mentioned by you and your readers. What a compatible gathering!

  16. Sue, what a post! So much to reflect on and so many excellent reading recommendations.
    Currently, reading Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi. I think it was a New York Times recommendation. Enjoying it very much.
    Here’s to kindred spirits. I met a kindred spirit some years ago, while travelling on a garden tour. On my last trip to Canada, yes, I am the person who has been to New Brunswick. On that trip, it included a few days on PEI. My friend insisted I visit the Green Gables Farms for her, and of course, I did. Anne of Green Gables was one of the books I read through childhood sickness. Thank you Mum.
    The Maisie Dobbs series are a wonderful read, and I second Kristin Hamlett’s endorsement.

  17. Thank you for all the wonderful book ideas. Anyone who loves Austen is a candidate for kindred spirit status with me. I’m currently reading The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan having read and enjoyed her earlier book The Ruin (Irish crime fiction). Highlights of my coronavirus reading include Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner and Tara Westover’s Educated. I’m about to start The Anarchy: the Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple.

  18. I am in the situation just now that my son Tomas, 34, has brain cancer, just a few days ago diagnosed. It’s a nightmare.
    I am not yet prepared to read Steiners story. But I take comfort in all your stories eventually.

  19. We love so many of the same books. I have all of Barbara Pym’s books and my daughter has all of Anne Tyler’s books (we share). We also love Elizabeth Strout. I have ordered the first two of Susie Steiner’s books and read her article – so moving and honest. I also use these term “kindred spirt” with my friends and loved the 1985 “Anne of Green Gables”. ❤️

  20. Oh no:(. I’m truly sad about Susie Steiner. My best friend of almost 30 years was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in May, on her 60th birthday. So I know the prognosis, and the process, and I’m very sorry. Sue, thank you for introducing me to her. It’s much appreciated.

  21. How interesting. First, I am quite sure that although you are all doubtless lovely, you would likely not be kindred spirits based on book choice. I grew up loving Robert E Howard, HP Lovecraft, George Orwell, Zamyatin, of course all of Shakespeare’s comedies, Gorky, Jim Butcher, Larry Corriea, GRR Martin, Rigney Jr…in fact the only female writer I remember enjoying is Agatha Christie. I remember when Margaret Atwood made a snide comment about how science fiction was beneath her, and that she refused to be categorized along with squids in space. I have hated her ever since. So, maybe I am the wrong person to suggest this….but isn’t your reading a bit confined? Have you ever considered branching out?

    1. Hmmm. Well, I’m not sure what you mean by branching out. I enjoy lots of male writers. Lots of literary fiction, since that is my background. British, Irish, and Scottish writers. Can’t wait to start the new Hilary Mantel book. I do confess a special fondness for Canadian fiction. Some of the very early stuff, by Martha Ostenso, I love. And of course contemporary Canadian fiction, which comprised a lot of the content I chose for my senior classes. American fiction is another interest of mine: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Edith Wharton. Australian writers too, since we have travelled there, especially Tim Winton. I do need to read more African writers and South American ones if that’s what you mean. I am expanding a bit thanks to suggestions from blog readers, and just this week ordered a new Turkish writer who I heard about from a loyal reader. It is, of course, too late to change those books which affected me as a child. But thanks to two grandmothers who read constantly, and kept me well supplied with books, I did read a bit farther afield than the post might suggest.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *