Monday, March 23, 2009

Looking for a few Good Books

Some people say that they like to read, and others (we know who we are) can't imagine getting through a day without a good book to read. Anne Fadiman said in a pinch she'd read a Toyota Manual, but if given a choice we turn to our favorites.
After years of serious reading I find that I can't just read anything. In my younger days I felt obligated to finish books if I started them, but no longer. If it is Not Worthy, I stop reading. My son won't even start reading a book for pleasure unless he has some guarantees of quality.
I have some favorites, and maybe my vast reading public in internetland can recommend some new reading for me while I recover from some minor yet annoying medical issues.

My Reading Rules:

It MUST be well written. I am not picky about genre. I like Science fiction; I like mysteries; I like cookbooks. I loved Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and many of her other books. One of my newer favorites is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. I've read it three times now. It is wonderful. I think I could take a class on this book. It is rich with detail.

A good Book can be read multiple times and reveals new aspects with each reading.
Patrick O'Brian's Royal Navy series are wonderful and I have read each one many times. The characters are well developed, the action flows naturally from one scene to the next. These books are crafted by a master. John Le Carre is another favorite. One summer I read every one of his books one after another. Someone could compile a spy manual out of his novels. I remember reading passages aloud to my family as we drove up to Vermont. The Constant Gardener will always remind me of summer in Stowe.

If the book is a fantasy, I expect the rules to remain consistent. If the author tells me that the hero can walk up walls, then don't set it up so that in the crucial scene he/she can't do that. (Please note this rule, author of Across the Nightingale Floor .You must be magically consistent.)

If it is a period piece, stay true to the period
. No modern slang. I find that modern talk in a 1920's novel distracting. I read a book set in England during the time of the War of the Roses where the hero sent the heroine a bouquet of white roses in late autumn. That took me right out of the story; there were no reblooming roses in Britain at that time. Roses in England before the cross breeding of china roses with native stock only bloomed in spring and summer, once only. I realize only a gardener would KNOW that, but it bothered me then and continues to bother me, even now.

Wit matters. If Lord Peter were a Real Person, I'd seriously reconsider my marriage vows with Mr. Hunting Creek. (Not that Mr. Hunting Creek is not witty. But he doesn't have a butler like Bunter.)Intelligence matters. I can't read Judith Krantz-type novels any more. They are all just so much junk food reading. I have to read something with some brains, now, some native charm. Triple Bonus points if the heroine wears great clothes.
Louise Andrews Kent wrote such a charming descriptions of her debutante clothes at the turn of the previous century I can see each dress in my mind's eye.
I have read every book in my house, except for Mr. Hunting Creek's MBA textbooks on accounting. All of them more than once, in fact. I need some new blood.
So Dear Readers, tell me, what good books have you read lately?

7 comments: said...

Martha Grimes - her Richard Jury series. English mysteries written by an American. The character development over the course of the series is wonderful (definitely not brain candy).

Also Rosemary Sutcliff - I believe I've read only The Lantern Bearers, but she is one of the best historical novelists.

Currently I am thrilled to be introducing Beverly Cleary's books about Beezus, Ramona, Henry and Ribsy to my kids. I am enjoying them immensely and so are they. As a child I never cared for her Ralph S. Mouse series, however.

cidell said...

I use GoodReads a lot. I was once a voracious reader. I think the crafting and love of gossip magazines have edged it out in recent years.

Evie said...

The only two contemporary titles that I love, recommend and return to are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Both are beautifully construction with characters that step from the page, and have ingenious and original story lines.

I can't recommend either of them highly enough. Go buy them now!

melissa said...

Two highly recommendtions:

"The Baroque Cycle" (the first book is "Quicksilver") by Neal Stephenson. It starts slow, but by the end of the third book, I nearly sobbed at the thought that I'd never be able to read it again for the first time. It has everything - piracy, espionage, codebreaking, political drama, strong women, anti-slavery, French court drama, the high seas, and my favourite bit - a woman who uses secret binary codes in her CROSS STITCH to spy on the enemy. Awesome.

And another recent read that came recommended to me by two separate people as "my favorite book ever" is "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" (I can't summon the author's name at the minute). I don't care about comics whatsoever, but the adventure and excitement and long lost love involved are just fantastic.

(oh and if you haven't actually read Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials", you're really missing a treat!)

gwensews said...

Thank you for peeking in at my blog. I appreciate it very much.

How I bind the neckline on a roll collar is: Sew the collar and neckline seam with the facings in place as usual. Sew across the entire neckline. Trim the seam to 1/4". Cut a bias strip of fabric 2 1/4" wide. Fold the strip in half and press. Sew the strip on top of the collar/back neckline seam, matching raw edges,using a 1/4" seam and overlapping the facing by 1/2" on each end. Then, fold the facings into their finished position, fold the bias strip down and topstitch close to the folded edgs.

These instructions are in the book "The Complete Book of Sewing Short Cuts" by Claire Shaeffer.

Christy said...

I came for the sewing and discover a fellow reader!

I totally agree about magical consistency. I hate it when our hero, beset on all sides with enemies, finds he has a brand spanking new power that saves everyone. That's when I throw a book across the room and never read the author again.

I second Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay. And I'm totally with Melissa on Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. It is grand adventure which still taught me more about markets that any number of economics courses did, and painlessly!

Might I suggest Elizbeth Kostova's The Historian? Yeah, yeah, it's about Dracula, the real Vlad, the Impaler. Still, it is well written and lots of fun.

badmomgoodmom said...

I wish I weren't a finisher when it came to bad books. Life is too short to be a consistent finisher with loser books.

From Recurring Themes:
"I notice recurring themes in my reading material. Two years ago, I got into a globalization reading jag. I read the Lexus and the Olive Tree, Globalization and its Discontents and the Corrections. Last year, I read several one word titled books including Middlesex, Salt and Cod.

[My all-time favorite one word title book remains, Home; a short history of an idea. Witold Rybczynski remarked on page 160 that, when men wrote about home design, they were more concerned with comfort--the passive enjoyment of a home. When women wrote about home design, they were more concerned with workplace ergonomics!]

Lately, I have read two books told from the point of view of a woman contemplating divorce, How to be Good and The Wife. Then I started reading books about the Indian diaspora, Interpreter of Maladies and The Arranged Marriage."