Well, so here is another book for us to enjoy during Advent, but this one is definitely more for the babes in your family than for the babies. I have actually included Holidays on Ice in a Advent calendar book basket before, but it has earned a repeat appearance this year because the whole collection of stories and musings is wonderful, and because it includes one of the funniest essays I have ever listened to in my life. Don't you love audiobooks that give you the author reading his or her own words?
"Six to Eight Black Men" starts out as an essay discussing the ways that the author -- the snort-wine-through-your-nose funny David Sedaris -- familiarizes himself with the culture of a place. He asserts that a great way to learn about the true heart of a culture is to ask people about their Christmas customs and traditions. And that's when you'll start shrieking with laughter. Seriously. This essay shuts me right down.
The girl in charge is a voracious reader -- and has never been one to hold back an opinion. Here's her in-progress report on one of my favorite novels.
People, I weep.
And by the way, hold back on the obituaries for the liberal arts education. This girl (loving her theater class and tolerating her Victorian literature class) plans to major in the sciences. Oxford College of Emory University -- gotta love it!
So I read this book this past summer and just adored it. It's like nothing I've read before. I've been pressing it on all of my friends ever since, because it's just lovely. The girl in charge had to be convinced to give it a try, but then proceeded to stay up all night, devouring it in one big delicious gulp.
It's that good.
So my girl and I were both so happy when we discovered that the audio version of the book has been recorded by someone we regard as an old friend.
Jim Dale narrates all seven books of the American editions of the Harry Potter series -- and he is a chameleon-voiced treasure. The British editions are read by Stephen Fry, a delicious treat of a different flavor -- but we are faithful to the version we have been listening to since the urchins were very small.
We have even been known to listen to books based solely on the fact that they are narrated by Jim Dale -- which is how we discovered this fabulous novel, which concerns an American acting troupe, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and some time-traveling magic!
Well, so I loved reading the book version of The Night Circus, and I love to listen to Jim Dale read anything, so throw the two together and it makes the happies explode!
So I am not one of those people who can name her All-Time Top Five Favorite Books, or who keeps a list like, "Books I Would Never Be Without On A Desert Island," or some such exercise in futility. I say this is futile because, while I love to read such compilations made by other people (and mock their choices), the very idea of such a list for myself paralyzes me with indecision.
How could I ever decide, for example, between that funny, tragic, romantically beautiful re-telling of the King Arthur story, The Once and Future King, and my favorite Jane Austen novel, the melancholy love story, Persuasion?
And what about series fiction? Do all of the Little House books count as one big delicious book? I say yes, but then do I bring my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder books to the island at the expense of the six volumes of the Lymond Chronicles -- filled with Scottish history and gasp-causing intrigue and yearning romance, and written in the most gorgeous prose? NO! -- I couldn't bear it!
Even within one author's works, I could never choose: The Solace of Leaving Early stays on the list because I love the two little girls at the heart of the story so much (Eloise and Madeline, who must change their names to Immaculata and Epiphany), but -- leave the stoic and heroic Cassie Claiborne of Something Rising (Light and Swift) behind? I don't think so!
You see my dilemma.
My book group companions -- and well, really just about every one of my friends -- have seen me get worked up while describing any particularly fabulous book. But I will say that there is one book that has literally caused a "When Harry Met Sally" moment for the people who watched me recommend it.
This one -- let's call her Mary -- was there to witness it. She and I had traveled for the day to the Green Valley Book Fair, which is just as wonderful as it sounds. It has gotten a lot fancier, by which I mean air-conditioned, since she and I went, but the main concept is the same: four times a year, this book fair (really a series of inter-connected barns) opens its doors and lucky book-lovers can wander among thousands and thousands of book titles, and buy books at a bargain, bargain, bargain cost. It's heaven, I'm telling you. The books are sometimes shelved like at a regular bookstore, but they are also sometimes displayed in piles on tables. Mary and I were standing at opposite sides of a table, on which were stacked about ten copies of Possession, the Booker Prize-winning novel by A.S. Byatt. She casually asked if I had read it.
Had I read it? Oh, my dears.
I immediately and rapturously began to tell her all the ways it is wonderful: it reveals the intertwined stories of two fictional Victorian poets and the modern day researchers who discover a startling relationship between the nineteenth century writers. It's a multi-layered love story, and a witty commentary on the wily ways of modern academic researchers, and it's filled with lush poetry and diary entries that shock the reader and passionate love letters -- all created by Byatt herself . . . . As I rhapsodized about the book, I picked up a copy from the pile on the table. Look how stunning the cover is! I love all the Pre-Raphaelite painters, so the cover makes me cherish the book even more. I gazed at the illustration adoringly as I continued on. Gosh -- it was so pretty! I began to stroke the book lovingly as I talked, and Mary began to smirk as, one by one, the other shoppers in the room (all women) began to take copies of the book for themselves. When I came up for air, I was holding the only remaining copy of the book.
Mary just looked at me, and then held out her hand and said, "I guess I'll buy it then."
Image credit: "Book List" (2010) by Patricia Mumau
As we head into the weekend, I've got way too much to to -- and I would really just rather be reading.
So I thought I would show you what I'm reading right now instead of doing laundry. Check out the double meaning in the previous sentence!
The tall boy bought this book as a thank-you gift for one of his teachers -- and got one for me too! I'm enjoying it very much, in bits and pieces. Check out how much George V of Great Britain and Nicholas II of Russia looked alike! Here in the States we like to call this in-breeding.
This hilarious book is part of my family's collection of novels in the zombie/vampire/romantic comedy genre. [The teenaged urchins are preparing for the zombie apocalypse; apparently the best way to defeat them (the zombies, not the urchins) is with witty sarcasm.] A sample of this author's style: "Miss Tarabotti was a proper English young lady, aside from not having a soul and being half Italian." Now that's funny!
I love the way Kathleen Norris writes about her faith; she always makes me think. The Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace are among my favorites of her spiritual memoirs. This book is wonderful if somewhat convicting; she writes movingly about acedia, which might be described as spiritual laziness, except that the notion of laziness doesn't really capture how insidious acedia can be. Acedia, also called accidie and translated most compellingly as the Deadly Sin of Sloth, can eat into one's connection to God, as well as into one's emotional and physical relationships -- and is way more dangerous than zombies!
I am one of the few people on the planet who actually liked the movie version of this book, starring Kevin Costner -- but the movie did not do the book justice. Isn't that pretty much a universal truth? The book is always better than the movie. I would wear that on a t-shirt!
The Postman takes place in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, and this genre of books pleases me.
What does this say about me, that I like to read about lonely wanderers in a devastated land? Troubling . . . . But I do love Stephen King's The Stand, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, and oh have mercy, but the gorgeous and bleak The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
The title character of The Postman roams throughout the Pacific northwest, hoping to find a pocket of humanity that will take him in. When he happens upon an abandoned Postal Service truck, he acquires the uniform of a postman -- glad to have a warm coat. But when he is mistaken for a "real" postman, he inspires hope for a broken world.
Hope you and I both get a chance to curl up and read this weekend!