06 August 2010

Feel-Good Reads

Books read:
The House of Arden: A Story for Children by E. Nesbit. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1923, 1908. Kindle edition. Finished 14 July 2010.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009. From Rainy Days Books. Finished 18 July.
False Mermaid by Erin Hart. New York: Scribner, 2010. From Common Good Books. Finished 20 July.
Summer at Tiffany: A Memoir by Marjorie Hart. New York: Avon, 2010, 2007. Rainy Days, 18 July. Finished (read in one sitting) 21 July.
Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2009. Bought at Harry Truman historic site in Independence, Missouri. Finished 23 July 2010.
Hot (Broke) Messes: How to Have Your Latte and Drink It Too by Nancy Trejos. New York: Business Plus, 2010. Bought at Common Good. Finished 25 July.
The Quickening Maze by Adam Foults. New York: Penguin, 2009. Amazon. Read (in one sitting) 27 July.
Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd. Berkeley, Calif.: Parnassus Press, 1963. From the St. Paul Public Library. Read 28 July.
All in Good Time by Edward Ormondroyd. Berkeley, Calif.: Parnassus Press, 1975. Via inter-library loan from the University of Minnesota at Morris. Finished 4 August.

Summer at Tiffany [see above]
Becoming Jane Austen: A Life by Jon Spence. London & New York: Continuum, 2009, 2003. Rainy Days, 19 July.
The New Stranded Colorwork: Techniques & Patterns for Vibrant Knitwear by Mary Scott Huff. Loveland, Colo.: Interweave Press, 2009. Between Friends (Brainerd), 19 July.
Cable Confidence: A Guide to Textured Knitting by Sara Louise Harper. Woodinville, Wash.: Martingale, 2008. Between Friends, 19 July.
North Country: The Making of Minnesota by Mary Lethert Wingerd. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Bought at Book World in Baxter 22 July.
The Quickening Maze [see above].
Myths from Mesapotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Edited and translated by Stephanie Dalley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, 1989. From Amazon, July 2010.

Becoming Jane Austen [see above]
Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. From the St. Paul Public Library.
Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005. From the St. Paul Public Library. (Got halfway through with this before I learned that it is not August's pick for my book group. Apparently I talked everyone into The Echo Maker instead, then forgot I'd done so.)
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. New York: Picador, 2007.

Still Reading:
Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2010.
The Stargazing Year: A Backyard Astronomer's Journey Through the Seasons of the Night Sky by Charles Laird Calia. New York: Penguin, 2005. From the St. Paul Public Library.

As you can see, leisure time at the lake (or rather, as we say in Minnesota, at The Lake) worked its magic: Look at all the books I knocked off my list! You will notice, however, that I quickly filled in all the gaps I created by my industry — it turns out that there are three bookstores (and two libraries) within easy reach of The Lake. So I won't be running out of reading material anytime soon.

In between books, and swimming, and eating, I mused on the nature of literary happiness. After all, leisure reading is almost by definition books that make us feel good. Of course we all have different happiness triggers. I am not really a "thriller" fan, for instance, although, if you believe magazine book columns and airport-bookstore displays, that's supposed to be what all of America reaches for on the way to a beach vacation. Why? Who knows. I'm by no means immune to the page-turner, but I have a low tolerance for all but the most cartoonish violence. Reading about extreme human pain does not make me feel good (sorry, John Sandford). But that's just me.

I wrote a little bit ago about a friend who asked me to recommend books that would make her happy. Here you see some of the grocery-bag full of books that I lent her then: Jack Finney's Time and Again, Laurie Colwin's Happy All the Time, Laurel Doud's This Body, Elizabeth Jane Howard's The Light Years trilogy, Jane Hamilton's Laura Rider's Masterpiece, Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, and mysteries by Josephine Tey and Jo Dereske. I barely remember the plots, but I will always remember how wonderful I felt while I was reading them. A Suitable Boy in particular was like a vacation in itself. We bought it (all 1,350 pages!) at Oslo's English-language bookstore the year we lived in Norway. My husband and I were so hungry for English words — you get that way when you're surrounded by a foreign language — that we devoured it like starving creatures. I think we even fought over whose turn it was to read it. Opening its pages was a direct doorway to Vikram Seth's world: a large Dickensian family in India whose problems and personalities became an extension of our own.

That trying on of different worlds is what makes a Great Escape for me. (What's the Emily Dickinson line? "A book is like a frigate"?) And my ability to be immersed in those worlds is probably what has kept me off drugs all these years. My father used to say, "If libraries were bars, you and your sisters would be drunks!" — which was more or less the literal truth. The public library was about halfway between my small-town high school and home, and after a particularly rough day I would stop there to find solace in Madeleine L'Engle or Agatha Christie. These were my double scotches, my Marlboros, my cocaine; I was lucky they were there.

I had to pause in the middle of this to look up the poem I was misremembering before. Here's the whole thing, number 1263 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1960), edited by Thomas H. Johnson:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry —
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll —
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

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