18 December 2007

Tuesday's child

One of my greatest pleasures in winter is curling up in my big red chair with a book. It's better, of course, if it's raining outside (and it is!), there's a fire in the fireplace (needs to be cleaned out), the children aren't squabbling about something (they are), and I have a big cup of hot coffee (I do). The cat loves it, too, because he knows that when I park myself in that chair, I'll likely be there for awhile, so he takes advantage of a warm lap.

I read voraciously. I devour books. I read them fast. And if they're really good, I go back and read them again.

Last night, I picked up A.S. Byatt's Possession one more time, even though I've re-read it several times in the years since it was first published. The sheer beauty of her prose in this particular book is astonishing, and her sense of humor is astounding. It's not just that she makes fun of everything to do with the study of literature, it's a humor that is sympathetic toward her characters, even affectionate. And it's all the more astounding because I so thoroughly disliked her Frederica Potter tetralogy.

Possession is lovely. It's about an underemployed, hapless and rather hopeless young man in mid-1980s England who discovers a hitherto unknown relationship between two Victorian poets. His journey of self-discovery is mirrored by literary discovery as he unravels the mystery. Epic and romantic, I'm already lost in it again.

I just finished another go with Alice Thomas Ellis' Inn at the Edge of the World, a tale of a group of people disenchanted with Christmas who gather at a dismal inn to hide from the holiday. Ellis was a staunch Catholic who ran afoul of the Church with her public denouncement of its increasing liberalism. While her fiction hints at a religious agenda, it's wickedly funny and fey, and casts an acerbic eye on the general human condition.

I've also recently reread Ann-Marie Macdonald's Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies. The former is good, but the latter is beautiful, and Macdonald captures both the optimism and the fear of the 1960s, as well as the simplicity and death of childhood.

Other winter-worthy picks:

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy: an enormous, juicy family saga.

The Shellseekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: Pilcher is generally known as a romance novelist, but this multi-generational novel is huge and beautifully realized.

The Avenue by R.F. Delderfield: the lives and fortunes of a neighborhood in London from the end of World War I to the end of World War II.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Set in World War II Germany with Death as the narrator.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: fantastic fun in an alternate London Underground.

And if you're really ambitious:

The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo, two interwoven series by Dorothy Dunnett. Fourteen volumes in all, they tell the incredible sagas of two very singular men set against the backdrop of history.

What are you waiting for? Grab a cup of something warm, a blanket and a book and read!

Go listen to some good music: "Tuesday's Child" from the album Scarlet and Other Stories by All About Eve.

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