Like many of you, I am a book addict, so although the arrival of two brown, rectangular packages on my front porch was far from unusual, it nevertheless occasioned a quick intake of breath and a widening of the eyes, if not an actual skip of my heartbeat.

The best part about such parcels is the element of surprise, in that I often don’t remember what I’ve ordered during my mad midnight searches for a satisfying read. The other best part, which is unique to this particular delivery, is that I have been stuck in William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 British satire “Vanity Fair” for nigh on four months, and I am a mere one hundred pages from the end of the eight-hundred-page tome. I can see the light of approaching freedom as sure as the days are (finally) getting longer!

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray – Doesn’t he look like a jolly fellow?

I always read a long, dense novel during the winter, usually of the Russian variety but sometimes an Anthony Trollope, which are lighter but still qualify as dense by virtue of their length. But Thackeray — well, I don’t know if I’ll read another one. It’s not entirely the  book. This winter has been insufferably long and cold and dark and dreadful. It’s not Thackeray’s fault my brother died in December. Still, good riddance to both the book and the winter.

Presents to Myself

It was this anticipation of escape from England in the Napoleonic Age that imparted an extra dose of excitement as I tore into those rectangular packages yesterday. Here, because of your intense interest in my personal life and inner musings, is what I found:

  • Portofino by Frank Schaeffer: This is the first in a trilogy, recommended by one of my favorite friends who is also an author with a great nose for a great read. He used to be an English professor and he reads incessantly. If you don’t know Brian McLaren and his books, especially if you are spiritually inclined, you should visit his website. I was attracted to Portfino because it’s set in Italy, a country that won my heart in one two-week stay four years ago, and because the reviews call it “richly ironic and satirical . . . hilarious . . . laugh-out loud funny.” I need that. It pokes “gentle fun at the foibles of religious zealotry without disparaging the deep dedication behind it.” There’s apparently a character in it who always packs a ski sweater and a small Bible in case the Russians invade and send them to Siberia.
  • Elsewhere by Richard Russo: This is Russo’s recent memoir. I only just discovered him a few years ago, and I enjoy his novels for a light read. He’s amazing at creating characters and local color, and I figure those quirky folks and locales must come from his life experience; I want to meet them. Because I like writing memoir and would like to learn to write it in longer forms, I plan to read a lot of quality memoirs this summer. Do you have any suggestions for me? I’ve got quite a collection started, but am always open to recommendations.
  • Anna: A Daughter’s Life, by William Loizeaux: I am reading this out of a deep respect and fondness for the author, a writing professor I had at Johns Hopkins. This, too, is memoir, and no doubt memoir at its best. Bill taught memoir and personal essay, and this book is about the loss of his infant daughter. It is about grief, which will resonate with me, and it’s based on Bill’s journals, which also tracks with my journaling habit. “Stunning, clear-eyed, and lyrical . . . remarkable eloquence, passion, and honesty,” says the Washington Post (reviewed back when the Post had something useful to say). This sounds exactly like the Bill Loizeaux I know.
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye: My appreciation for poetry is really quite new, so this is a big step for me. Nye’s is only the second book of poetry I’ve ever purchased. I once bought a book of Wendell Berry’s poems because it needed to be on my bookshelf – he’s an icon. I had read an excerpt from Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray” a year ago and found it very moving, so I put her book on my “to buy later when I like poetry better” list. The time was right.

photo (15)

Here is the opening of Naomi Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray”:

∠∠∠

“There was the method of kneeling,

a fine method, if you lived in a country

where stones were smooth.

Women dreamed wistfully of

hidden corners where knee fit rock.

Their prayers, weathered rib bones,

small calcium words uttered in sequence,

as if this shedding of syllables could

fuse them to the sky.

∠∠∠

There were men who had been shepherds so long

they walked like sheep.

Under the olive trees, they raised their arms –

Hear us! We have pain on earth!

We have so much pain there is no place to store it!

But the olives bobbed peacefully

in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.

At night the men ate heartily, flat bread

and white cheese,

and were happy in spite of the pain,

because there was also happiness.”

 

Lovely as her poetry is, I will not allow myself to begin any of these new literary adventures until I make peace with Mr. Thackeray. The daffodils are blooming, and it’s time to leave my winter read behind. Way behind.

What are you reading that’s good? Don’t forget to recommend a memoir for me! Happy Spring.

 

Related Posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/for-book-lovers-only/

Other bookish blogs I like:

http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/best-of-my-bookshelf/

http://teabooksthoughts.wordpress.com/

Although I’m not a huge beer-drinker, check out my friend Oliver’s blog Literature and Libation. He’s a talented writer.

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