Reading update, and whatnot

Happy Valentine’s day, all! It has been a very productive reading week for me and I’ve knocked many more items off my reading challenge list. Let’s discuss, shall we?

A classic romance

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

How had I missed this amazing book? Perhaps I overlooked it because Edith Wharton also wrote Ethan Frome, that oft-assigned classic that English teachers so love to use as an example of realism, and I so hate to read. No offense to anyone who loves the book; I find it torture each and every time. It seems my (subconscious) belief that all of Wharton’s works would be the same was, in a word, wrong.

Let me share my synopsis of this book: Newland Archer, the main character, is stuck tightly in New York society in the late 1800s. He’s had his affair and is ready to settle down with the lovely, young, and socially correct May Welland. He’s very taken with May. But then May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska, enters the scene and Newland finds himself with the need to make a choice. I don’t think it’s over-sharing to tell you that he falls in love with Ellen and questions ending his engagement. Throughout the rest of the book, we see an absolutely gorgeous picture of true love, what it means, how it grows and changes, and its effects on the people around us.

I finished the book on a deep sigh and a smile, finding myself overly pleased with how Newland Archer lived his life. He is a wonderfully developed character, really three-dimensional. He did things I wanted to kick him for, and things I wanted to hug him for. He never seemed to forget who and what he was raised to be. I might be  just a little in love with this man. Some of the pictures Edith Wharton painted with her words are still in my head: the image of May with her bow and arrow, the flowers in Ellen’s sitting room, the gold-edged paper on which Newland’s mother wrote out menus, the dining room full of rowdy teachers. The book is lovely in and of itself, but the love story takes it to a whole new level. It’s no wonder it won the Pulitzer in 1921.

A graphic novel

The Homecoming by Ray Bradbury, illustrated by Dave McKean

I may have taken an easy out on this one by choosing a WISP. I was looking for a Neil Gaiman graphic novel at the library, but all they had was The Sandman volumes 5, 7, and 8. I’m not willing to risk starting a series at number 5. So I did some looking for another familiar name and found this lovely little morsel of deliciousness.

The story is short and is atypically typical Bradbury. I expect science fiction, fantasy, mind-bendiness from him and this story does not disappoint. It’s an awesome read in and of itself, but adding McKean’s illustrations takes it to a whole new level. It’s as if he drew what was in my head – he crawled in there, snapped Polaroids, took them home, and painted them. What’s funny is that his illustrations are also in the Sandman series – see how things always loop back on themselves?

Anyway! If you’re not a graphic-novel reader and want to stick your toes into that particular pool to see test the temperature before your cannonball, I highly recommend this book. I imagine other WISPs would also work. Check them out!

A book that takes place in your hometown

Sea Swept by Nora Roberts

I know! I already complained about Nora’s books once and I chose another one. Hear me out on this one: She likes to set her stories in semi-fictional small towns in Maryland, and I live in a not-so-fictional medium-sized town in Maryland, and I decided this would be close enough. It’s set in a town that Ms. Roberts calls St. Christopher, but which seems to actually be Crisfield. One of the main characters lives and works in Princess Anne, where I work. There’s a trip to an unnamed mall which must be in Salisbury – it’s the only mall within fifty miles on Crisfield, and I live in Salisbury. So yeah. It’s close enough for me.

Sea Swept is a love story, of course, and I can see how it can stretch into a trilogy because the main male character has two grown brothers. The brothers were all abused and rough teens who were adopted by a college professor (I bet he taught where I work LOL) and a pediatrician who lived outside St. Christopher. Their mom died a few years before the story starts. They all meet up for the first time in years at the hospital where their dad is dying. Dad’s found another stray, a ten year-old kid, and has taken him in. On his deathbed he gets the three older ones to agree that they will all take care of Seth for him.

In typical Roberts fashion, there are fist fights, people who don’t know they’re in love, people who sleep together after knowing each other for five days, lots of bad language, and frequent references to All Things Maryland. Okay, so these books aren’t literature, and they can be consumed in three to four hours. They don’t stretch my brain or surprise me. They don’t even really make me want to read the next two books in any given trilogy (but I’ll give you a hint – one of the categories is “a book you can read in a day” so Ms. Roberts is probably not done yet!). As I said in my last Nora Roberts post, she’s not going to win a Pulitzer. But she talks about home – I can take a walk at lunchtime and see where the social worker works, and guess where she might live. I can drive the road the brothers took to go to the mall. The familiarity is pretty cool, all things considered.

Currently Reading(*):

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
  • Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

On Deck:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin

* I feel the need to explain why I am almost always reading more than one book at a time. I try for one on my Kindle (Five Days at Memorial) that is portable and easy to read over my lunch at work or on the bike at the gym. I also try to have at least one at home book, which is normally on actual paper. I love the feel and the heft of a book, particularly one like Lonesome Dove, which I think has about 2,748 pages. If my “home” book is fiction, I sometimes add a non-fiction at home. I work on the theory that non-fiction is best read when interruptions are guaranteed because it’s a lot easier to jump in and out of it, and fiction works better for feet-up, cat in my lap, tea at my elbow, hours-long reading.

Could I appreciate each book more if I read one at a time? I’m sure I could. And whenever I get to a can’t put down spot, whatever can’t be put down gets all my reading time. Most recently that was The Age of Innocence (Kindle); everything else including reading emails and stalking random people on Facebook came to a screeching halt at about 62% because it was just plain too good to stop.


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