Monday, November 22, 2010

Good Books

I haven't been blogging much because I've been doing so much writing! Six articles in October, six in November. Most of them really interesting, too.

But I have had some time to read, and luckily I've just read two wonderful books. Maybe you've read them?

The first was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

I read a review of this book that compared it to a Jane Austen novel. That can mean anything--romance novels often make this comparison! But this book lived up to the comparison. It's a story about society, class, and love in a small English village--a 21st century English village this time.

The characters are intelligent and appealing, and the writing is a delight to read. Major Pettigrew is a widowed man who, at the beginning of the novel, has just heard about the death of his brother. His neighbor, Mrs. Ali, the village shopkeeper just happens to come by and spends some time just being with Major Pettigrew in his grief. The Major tries to understand the role of the past--and how Mrs. Ali fits into his future.

The next book I started to read was My Name Is Mary Sutter. It's a novel about a young midwife during the Civil War who wants to become a doctor. She gets a job as a nurse, and begins to learn medicine--19th century version--as she treats wounded soldiers.

Can I make a confession? I did not finish this novel. I like "difficult" novels that put their main characters through stress. But this one was unrelentingly grim--all the scenes of Civil War-era operating rooms, and death, and disease . . . not to mention I admired but did not like the main character.

So, when I got The Vanishing of Katherina Linden, I was delighted. The main character, 10-year-old Pia, reminded me of the curious and articulate Flavia in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie--and so did the mystery-type plot. In the book, 3 of Pia's classmates disappear suddenly from their small German town, one after the other. Pia and her friend Stephen hear their parents' admonishment to watch for something seltsam (strange), but they think the girls disappeared by magic! Fairy tales, an odd family, and German culture figure into the story, which is set in 1998. There's a cliff-hanger--and somewhat gruesome--ending.

Right now, I'm reading Tom Lutz's book Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, which he published soon after I graduated from UIowa (he taught in the English department there). I'll let you know what I think after I finish!

So what are you reading?

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