About two weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to the New England Mobile Book Fair. It was truly marvelous (though I don’t see where the “mobile” part comes in…I didn’t see any wheels).
It’s organized primarily by publisher, which I thought was cool, though not terribly useful for non-publishing-industry people. I wandered around, looked through their catalog on the computer, browsed some more. And then…
I read this in serialized form online in The Guardian, but I didn’t know it had been published – in fact, it was only published earlier this year. I was so glad to find a copy. (In case the print in the image is too small to read, it’s The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry, The Three Incestuous Sisters, and The Adventuress.)
I’ve been enjoying an infusion of excellent reading and listening material lately. The Night Bookmobile was a great find and I was happy to add it to my library; I also indulged in another (significantly longer) re-read, Tana French’s The Likeness – my favorite of the three of her Irish psychological mystery novels I’ve read. In the Woods came out first, and the depth of character was astoundingly good, but I was disappointed and a little angry that the initial mystery was never resolved. Faithful Place came out recently, and I enjoyed it very much, but it didn’t grip me in quite the same way as the first two. Thus, The Likeness was my favorite; it has a unique premise, to say the least, and features Cassie, a character introduced in In the Woods. (Likewise, the main character in Faithful Place is also a character in both In the Woods and The Likeness.)
As for new reading material, I finally got around to reading Margot Livesey’s Eva Moves the Furniture, which I bought at the Strand a year and a half ago on a friend’s recommendation. Somehow I never wanted to read it badly enough, and it kept getting bumped down in the queue, but finally I began it, and – of course – fell in love. It’s what some in the publishing industry would call a “quiet” novel – nothing sensational or splashy, no big “hook” to reel in readers, no literary pyrotechnics – just a well-written story with a fully imagined main character, Eva, and her world, internal and external. Eva Moves the Furniture is set in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century, and the setting is marvelously understated and realistic. From a young age, Eva has companions, a woman and a girl, who no one else can see; they follow her throughout her life, first in a small town with her father and her aunt, then to Glasgow as she trains as a nurse, and finally to another small village near her mother’s birthplace. Their identities are revealed only toward the heartbreaking – and I don’t use that word lightly – end of the story. I actually cried during the last few pages of this, and I can list on an amputee’s hand how many books have had that effect on me. I’m so glad Eva finally made her way to the top of my to-read pile.
I’ve also recently enjoyed a couple of titles sent to me by a friend who works at Random House – The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer, and Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow. Thieves was an entertaining send-up of the New York literary world, which I very much enjoyed. It was tongue-in-cheek and certainly intended for a specific audience, but did not overstep that fine line where the author is showing off his/her literary skill and cleverness. Langer is clearly a good writer, and I was hooked from the beginning, but the book really gained momentum about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through; it became, improbably, an adventure story. Homer & Langley, on the other hand – though it did have a certain sense of humor about it – was a much more serious (and, in the end, sad) portrait of the two Collyer brothers. Homer, who went blind in adolescence, narrates the story to his muse, Jacqueline, whose existence is only hinted at for most of the story. Homer & Langley tells a history of New York, the United States, and the world – through Langley’s experience in the First World War, the brothers’ parents’ deaths of the Spanish flu, Homer’s music, Langley’s obsession with creating an “eternally current, dateless newspaper.” I have to confess, I only now learned – thank you, Wikipedia – that the “legendary” Collyer brothers were not invented, only fictionalized. (I’m actually glad I did not know this while reading; the haunting end of the story was able to sneak up on me this way.) To my own opinion, I’ll add a snippet from a year-old review:
“Where other writers, titillated by the brothers’ ghoulish history, have asked, “How did they die?,” Doctorow asks the more respectful, and thus more surprising, question: “How did they live?” Reaching back to their Gilded Age beginnings and extending their life span into the 1980s, he resurrects 10 decades through the brothers’ imagined experience — matching the accumulation of junk within the Collyer home with the accumulation of epochal events in the world outside their walls.” –Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review, September 8, 2009
Finally, another recent find, lent to me by my mother, was The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. The “uncommon reader” of the title is actually the Queen of England, who discovers, later in life, a passion for reading when she follows her corgis into a bookmobile and then feels obliged to take out a book. She gets off to a slow start, but the Queen is gradually transformed from someone who reads only out of duty to one who reads for pleasure. This book is a quick read with a lovely dry sense of humor and an arch tone; and, aside from being a pleasure in and of itself, it reminds those of us in the library and educational settings that young readers should be encouraged to read anything, not just what teachers and parents think is “good for them.” Forcing kids to read material they think is boring can turn them off reading altogether, and I think we can all agree that that is worse than if they enjoy reading something – even if that something is not a “literary classic.” If a kid wants to read a graphic novel or a comic book or a fantasy novel or manga – furthermore, if they want to read it on a screen of some sort (computer, e-reader, iPhone) rather than from a printed book – GREAT. At least they’re interested in reading something.
End of rant. Go read!