When I was a little girl, one of the best feelings in the world was coming home with a huge stack of library books. I piled them on my little wicker bedside table, and something about the stack comforted me; if I finished one book or simply tired of it, there were always other worlds waiting.
I still always have a pile of books by my bed, even though I don’t go through them nearly as quickly. Some of the books have been there months, or even years. But having that stack gives me the same old feeling of security–that no matter what my mood, I have several escape routes at the ready. Here are a few I’ve finished recently.
Hey fellow children of the ’90s, remember the Dear America series? E.g. fake diaries written by invented characters at different points in U.S. history? The one I re-read multiple times was set near Valley Forge, written by a character named Abigail, and subtitled something like “Bloody Footprints in the Snow.”( THIS JUST IN–looked it up on Amazon, it’s called “The Winter of Red Snow.” Vivid imagery, that). There was also one about the Oregon Trail where the 12 year old diarist accidentally kills a 3 year old by feeding her hemlock (she thought they were harmless parsnips!), and a Mayflower crossing book that vividly described the tragic death (possibly suicide?) of Dorothy Bradford.
What I’m trying to say is that Geraldine Brook’s novel about a young woman in 1660’s Martha Vineyard is basically an adult version of those Dear America diaries I used to inhale like so much candy. It’s written as a first person narrative, and is painstakingly researched. I love Brooks’s descriptions of the island’s wild beauty and her fairly generous portrayals of the characters living in such a different time. She manages to point out the harshness and injustice of early American Puritan society without condemning the people themselves. She goes to great lengths to show that a person might be bound by the ideas of a particular time and place but still fundamentally good and kind. She makes an honest effort to understand the religious convictions and feelings that motivated these societies, and is quick to point out the differences between settlements–not all Puritans are created equal, in other words.
I took three years to read this book, picking it up before bed to read a few pages and let Macfarlane’s poetic prose relax my brain enough to sleep. I’m a sucker for books about walking journeys (see Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between), and this is a catalogue of the author’s walks (well, and boating trips), around the UK, Spain, Asia, and Palestine. The book is organized into four main parts (Tracking, Following, Roaming, Homing), with each part broken down by the geology of the place in question (chalk, silt, peat, etc). Macfarlane is widely read in literature, the natural sciences, and history, and brings them all together for a gorgeous read that’s part memoir, part travel guide, part Zen meditation. And while three years was a bit long, I’m glad I didn’t rush and took time to savor this book; it’s a favorite now.
I never read Eat, Pray, Love, and I really never paid much attention to Elizabeth Gilbert until the last few months. I can’t even remember how I got interested in this book in the first place, but I am so very glad it caught my eye. It’s Gilbert’s manifesto on living the creative life, which mainly consists of get to work and have fun, who cares if anyone likes it. It’s a joyful approach to the act of creating, and I’m even buying my own copy. That’s how much I like it and plan to re-read it.
Women, Modernism, and British Poetry, 1910-1939: Resisting Femininity by Jane Dowson.
Those three subjects in the title? Three of my favorite academic subjects. Combine them and well, I’m a happy girl. As part of the post-exam routine, I’ve been reading for fun in academia as well. Unless something changes radically, my dissertation will not be about gender and Modernist poetry. But I can still write articles about it and hey, I’ve got decades of research possibilities waiting for me after the dissertation. I’m thoroughly enjoying this work and making lots of notes about what I find interesting for future projects.