2015 Book List

booksThis year, I only made four resolutions, but I should really add a fifth: read more. While I still prioritize getting lost in a good book, I noticed that over the course of 2014, I didn’t read as much as I’d like for a variety of reasons (coughSherlock, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwifecough). B isn’t much of a reader, so lots of times I’ll choose to watch a movie with him instead and I’m afraid this is becoming a bad habit.

So! Because reading is one of my favorite things and to get me going again, here’s the top (first) novels I want to read this year:

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson: I first discovered Kate Atkinson in grad school and fell even deeper in love last spring while reading the brilliant Life After Life. Human Croquet is one of her earlier novels and follows the course of siblings Isobel and Charles. I don’t know anymore about the plot than that, but don’t need to. Atkinson’s writing is as evocative, lyrical and sharp as it gets.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: This is one of the classics that, for me, has always slipped between the cracks. This is probably the first book I’m going to get my hands on and, while I’m happily married, I already feel like I relate to Emma Bovary. Sometimes life feels so routine; who doesn’t dream about an escape?

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I recently joined a book club and Anita Diamant’s newest novel (an Amazon Best Book of 2014) is this month’s read. B and I were recently in Boston, so I’m looking forward to exploring the city through the eyes of a young immigrant woman at the turn of the century.

Anything by Ian McEwan: Every once in a while you come across a writer who thrills you, so when it comes to Ian McEwan, I can’t choose which of his novels to read first—I want to read them all. I’ll let you know what I end up choosing, but Sweet Tooth (since I didn’t get around to it last year) and Saturday top the list.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I’ve read nothing but beautiful reviews regarding this New York Times bestseller set in occupied France during the second world war, and have already been waiting weeks to get my hands on it (all copies are checked out at the library). I’ve become fascinated by the countless faucets of WWII, but hardly know a thing about the occupation of France. Trusting in this novel to educate and delight me.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Was there ever a more glamorous time in literary history than 1920s Paris? Accepting this might be the closest I ever get to this magical decade, A Moveable Feast is a must.

The Mermaid’s Daughter by Jo Baker: Longbourn was easily among the best books I read in 2014, and Baker’s newest novel, to be released in March, sounds even more strange and wonderful. I rarely read fantasy novels, but trust Baker to create a world in which I don’t want to leave.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster: Until I have the chance to explore this breathtaking place for myself, I’ve been getting my fix of India through great novels. (I’d highly recommend Behind the Beautiful Forevers and The Space Between Us). I find the intersection of Indian and British culture and identity especially interesting, making Forster’s novel an essential read.

What great books did you read last year? I’d love your recommendations!
Em
P.S.  I finished A Farewell to Arms last night and I’m still making up my mind about it (love the writing, digesting the plot). At times like this I miss being a student for the rich discussion opportunities! And I’m a geek.

P.S. S. There’s still a couple novels from last year’s list I still need to read, but plans got derailed when I decided to finally sink into The Harry Potter series. See! I told you I’m a geek.
Picture courtesy of littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com

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On the Shelf: Jo Baker’s Longbourn

   I’ve wanted to read Longbourn, the clever and original new novel from Jo Baker, all year. Last week, I finally got my hands on it and it proved to be one of the first novels I’ve read in awhile that I absolutely devoured.  As in, staying up too late night after night even though I know I’ll wake up bleary-eyed the next morning.

Set in eighteenth-century England, Longbourn follows the ‘downstairs lives’ of the servants scarcely mentioned in Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice.  Austenites will find the novel especially delightful, but even if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, readers with a taste for evocative language and a setting which feels real enough to live in, will want to curl up with this cosy read.

Like millions of readers, I was enchanted by Pride and Prejudice; by the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr. Darcy; appalled at the self-importance of Mr. Collins and humored by the high-strung antics of Mrs. Bennet. Longbourn not only heightened this interest, but offered a deeply satisfying and engrossing perspective on P&P’s other world through the observations and experiences of the servants.

Baker’s careful and considered details brought regency England to life while her realistically-drawn characters offered fascinating insights into what life was like for most people. This is not the England of ball gowns and pump rooms, but one in which day to day living is only wrought by cracked hands, sore backs and hour after hour of exhausting labor.

Above all, you’ll become deeply concerned for Sarah, a young servant discovering what it means to find happiness and fulfillment in a class-constrained world. You’ll cheer on her budding romance with James and effortlessly turn the pages for hints, clues and lush details about the characters’ past and present lives which are anything but simple.

If you enjoyed Crusoe’s Daughter, you’ll definitely enjoy Longbourn.

How Do You Find Perspective?

words
I stumbled on this Bill Cosby quote a few days ago and after a week of questions and doubts, it snapped my perspective back into focus. To be more specific, do you remember me returning to school for my teaching license? In December I completed my first class and this past week I began two others. Yet, even before these courses started I began questioning whether this really was the right step for me. On the day I took the MTLEs (tests necessary towards getting licensed) I was ill with a 103 temperature. My program application had been lost twice by the school. This past Tuesday confirmed my hesitation as I learned earning my license would take at least three years instead of two…even with my masters!

I withdrew from the program the next day, experiencing a rush of clarity and levity, but now the future once again feels unsettled and I find myself again wavering with the idea of completing my doctorate. Since college, I’ve long considered becoming a professor, but completing six more years of school still feels overwhelming (not to mention the strenuous application process). Fortunately, time is on my side and I know I don’t have to rush into any decisions, but the nonetheless, clarity would be nice. Maybe, like Cosby advocates, we simply need to overrule our fears, but how do we trust our gut amid the rush of everyday life?

How do you get perspective when faced with a tough decision? I’d love to know your insights!

On the Shelf: Women in Love

ImageDuring my year at Bristol, one of the first things I learned was how much I didn’t know. My literary education paled in comparison to my professors. D.H. Lawrence was one such writer I had never read, and during second semester, I picked up a copy of Women in Love at a second-hand shop with the best intentions of finishing it one dreary English day. Said day(s) were consistently consumed with course reading, and thus it wasn’t until last month that I finally began chapter one.

Written in 1916, Women in Love is the complex story of schoolteachers and sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, and their resulting relationships with Gerald Crich and his close friend Rupert Birkin. This is a novel I now wish would have been on my course syllabus; understanding the frequent nuances and shifting complexities would, I think, be much more palatable through discussion. Even so, I admired Lawrence’s ability to vividly describe a character’s feelings while, at other times, effortlessly concealing them.

Beyond the fierce affairs of the four protagonists, Lawrence creates an equally engaging subtext on the relationships between women and women, and the spheres of the male world. The exchanges between Hermione Roddice and Gudrun divulge as much knowledge of the nature of women as does Gerald and Rupert’s often homoerotic conversations.

This novel felt especially true to life for me because the time period was the same as ‘Downtown Abbey.’ (And yes I mention Downtown because this isn’t a graded essay!!). Just as the Crawley family creates a vibrant picture of the class system along with Downtown’s urgent need to embrace modernization to save the estate, so does Women in Love confront the consequences of England’s class system and the question of how to manage modernity in light of long-held traditional systems of management.

Perhaps the best way to describe this novel is as a decadent eight course meal—a grand dinner for a special occasion intended to be savored, slowly digested, and inherently praised. Except in the case of Women in Love, the reader isn’t served the final course. We are prevented from enjoying our dessert because we are either too full from the seven other plates or, perhaps more accurately, because Lawrence planned to leave the reader wanting just a bit more.

On the Shelf: Crusoe’s Daughter

bookThis novel isn’t new, but a reprint of British writer Jane Gardam’s “favorite novel” originally published in 1985. My sister lent this novel to me a few months back, and I’m very grateful for it. Missing Bristol and my English friends very much, this novel was the perfect Anglophile fix, and an engrossing read. Set throughout the course of twentieth century England, we meet Polly Flint, our candid, often comical narrator, at the age of six. An orphan, little Polly is sent to live with her two odd aunts in the ‘Yellow House’ in moody Northern England. From this early age and on wards, Polly relies on the novel Robinson Crusoe and depends deeply on Crusoe’s practical stoicism and independence as a compass to navigate the highs and lows of her own life.

Perhaps the subject matter is outwardly simple, but Gardam’s writing and her flesh and blood Polly Flint is alive, dazzling, and immediately lovable. Polly’s impressions on relationships, love and family are humorously sad and despite the eccentric individuals she befriends, and loves, Polly stays rooted to the Yellow House all her life. Even as World War I and II strikes England, Polly watches the world through the windows of the Yellow House, a passive existence until she finds unexpected purpose in middle-age.

Readers will fall in love with Polly as they did with Jane Eyre and Anne Shirley. You will stay surprised by the hand of fate at work in the novel, yet reach the last chapter satisfied—despite the evocative ‘what-ifs’ filling the pages. I loved every bit of this book.