Saturday, September 11, 2010
Sunday Salon--Back in the Saddle Again
I'm finally ready to blog again, after a crazy-long unintended vacation from the whole thing. It's not that I haven't been reading, it's just that I didn't have much time to spare to think about what I had read. But now that all three kids are back in school and I've had about five minutes to myself, I find myself finally reflecting on what I read over the summer.
When I was a kid we used to travel to the UK to visit my relatives, every other year or so, and while I was young I developed a soft spot for British literature. This summer I did a bit of a British literary tour, sort of by accident. I just got on a roll, you know how it goes.
I read Nick Hornby's novel Juliet, Naked. I always love Hornby's sense of humor and his style, and this novel did not disappoint. This one is about an aging rock star who has gone incognito, the obsessed fans who write about him on the internet, and the girlfriend of one of those fans, who doesn't see what all the fuss is about. Hornby creates really accessible and sympathetic characters, and the budding friendship/love relationship between retired rocker Tucker Crowe and Annie, girlfriend/ex-girlfriend of obsessed fan Duncan is subtle and really satisfying to read. The whole thing is tinged with sadness, but it's the understandable sadness of people who look back on their lives and have some regrets, but who are also trying to be true to themselves now.
Then my sister-in-law lent me another British novel, One Day, by David Nicholls, which I had never heard of before. Like Hornby's book, it was a page-turner. The book has a gimmick--it checks in with the characters on one particular day each year, over a period of twenty or so years, so it's a snapshot of their evolving relationship on that day. I so enjoyed the book's sense of humor, the snappy dialogue, and I'm a sucker for books about star-crossed relationships, so it was a lot of fun. I wasn't a huge fan of the book's (perhaps gratuitously sad) ending, but I'm not going to spoil it for you, and it didn't spoil the book for me, so...I'm keeping my mouth shut.
Then I hopped over to Ireland and read two books by Patrick Taylor in the "Irish Country Doctor" series. I read An Irish Country Doctor, and An Irish Country Village, the first and second books in a series that includes several more novels about a country doctor set in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Now, when I was a kid I was a big fan of James Herriott's books about being a vet in Yorkshire, so I knew I would probably like these books. I don't think they are quite as good as the Herriott books, but I enjoyed their gentle humor, the medical anecdotes and the evocation of the atmosphere of that particular time and place in Irish history.
So this next book was set in France, Britain and mostly America, and it was written by Australian superstar Peter Carey, so it sort of qualifies as a continuation of my British theme. My book group chose Parrot and Olivier in America as one of our summer reads, so I took it on vacation with me. It was a fascinating book, and talk about atmosphere--Carey is a brilliant stylist, and his descriptions of late 18th century America, as perceived by a French aristocrat (a la de Tocqueville) and his down-to-earth British sidekick Parrot, are amazing. All the books I read this summer had humor as a hallmark, and this was no exception--I love Carey's eye for the absurd, and his fabulously unreliable narrators, both definitely on display here. I'm really looking forward to discussing this with my book group in a couple of weeks.
I'm hoping to convince the ol' book group to read Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom. While on vacation in Cape Cod last month, my sister-in-law and I tried to get a copy of Freedom from a local bookstore, only to be told that it wasn't out yet. We had both heard that President Obama had taken the book on vacation with him, and we found out from the bookseller that he had an advance copy! I was so annoyed because I thought I was going to be able to read it on the beach.
Okay, I'm ending with a weird picture of my new running shoes. There's a book out there called Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall, that tells the story of Mexico's Tarahumara indians, and of the joys and benefits of barefoot running. Friends tell me the book is really inspiring and very entertaining, so I plan to get a copy. But just talking about it with friends inspired me to buy some running shoes that approximate barefoot running. So far I have only used them once, and I've been advised not to run too far in them at first. After the first day, my calves are a little sore, so we'll see how it goes next time...
But aren't they funny looking?