Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit post to share what I've been reading. In the past two months I've read three novels and three nonfiction books, all of which were very good.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I just love Morton's writing. She's published four novels, and I've now read all of them. She has a new one coming out next month, though. (Next month!!?? How can we be expected to wait that long?)
At the beginning of The Secret Keeper, 16-year-old Laurel witnesses a crime involving her mother Dorothy and a strange man, but it gets hushed up and isn't mentioned again until fifty years later, when Dorothy is dying and her children come home to care for her. Laurel's desire to find out what really happened between her mother and the stranger leads her even deeper into the past; Laurel discovers shocking truths about Dorothy's wartime relationship with her photographer boyfriend Jimmy and with her beautiful, aloof neighbour Vivien. Morton is brilliant at weaving a suspenseful plot that keeps you guessing right up until the final pages -- this book has a huge surprise that I don't think any reader could possibly see coming! -- while at the same time recreating the historical period in vivid detail and bringing to life characters that the reader can really care about.
Longbourn by Jo Baker. This novel is told from the viewpoints of Sarah, James, and Mrs. Hill, who all work as servants for the Bennet family from Pride & Prejudice. It's not a sequel, nor is it an attempt to reproduce Jane Austen's style; it's just an excellent stand-alone novel that imagines a possible back-story for P&P and that shows what life in domestic service in the 19th century would really have been like.
A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay is about Norma Joyce, an odd little girl growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1930's, and how her life and that of her sister and father are changed by the appearance of Maurice, a young botanist who comes to town. At times Hay can be a bit "Hello, here I am being an accomplished writer!" but I was completely drawn into this story, mainly because Norma Joyce is such an interesting and unique character. Hay is great at plumbing the significance of small conversations and moments, and there's lots of beautiful writing, especially toward the end. Well worth reading.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
describes his attempt to hike the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail with his
eccentric friend Katz. It's very funny (for instance,
after describing different opinions about whether one should run or play
dead when confronted with a bear, he settles on run because "It will give you something to do
with the last seven seconds of your life"); but it also gives fascinating information about parks and trail development, environmentalism, mining, and other issues in the United States. If you've read Cheryl Strayed's Wild,
this book is very different: Strayed's hike of the Pacific Crest Trail
was a deliberate attempt to deal with her personal demons, whereas it's
hard to imagine Bryson having any demons to deal with.
didn't know until after I'd finished the book that a movie version was
coming out this month. I'm not sure a movie could fully do justice to this book's delightful mix of humour, personal journey, and social
commentary. Also, considering that Bryson
and Katz were in their 40's when they did this hike, it seems weird to have their roles played by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, who are in their 70's.)
Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism and Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing by Julie Brown. Brown, a professor of literature, discusses several famous authors including Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, and Lewis Carroll: in each instance she gives convincing evidence for the possibility that the writer was on the autism spectrum, and then explores how that fact affected the writer's genre choices, subject matter, themes, and style. Then in a final chapter she looks at several autobiographies by people with autism or Asperger's, including Temple Grandin.
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. Tammet is one of the people Brown (above) includes in her chapter on autism autobiographies. He is an English man in his 30's who has Asperger Syndrome and is also a savant with incredible memory and mathematical abilities. He experiences numbers as having colour and texture, and he can do complex calculations and recite Pi to over 22,000 digits. He also has an incredible facility with languages and was able to learn Icelandic (an extremely difficult language) in a week. Tammet tells of his struggles and triumphs in a clear, engaging style.
What have you been reading lately?