Winter reading

I’ve read a surprising number of books since Christmas, keeping track of them in a beautiful notebook my great friend Edith gave me.

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her husband Charles. Anne struggles with the reality that her life is defined and tightly controlled by Charles. As their marriage unfolds, she realizes that her husband was greatly affected by “the dark side of fame.” Despite all their troubles, Charles says that he “only ever wanted to be [her] hero”.

A compelling read.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I have to confess that I did not finish this novel. I found the notion of death as the narrator did not suit me.

Nonetheless, Zusak offers an intriguing approach and a voice that creates an impending sense of doom. This book was recently done as a movie.

The Secret RoomsThe Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

A work of non-fiction I read as a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society. The review won’t be posted until the May issue but as a sneak peek, The Secret Rooms is a terrific story with double-dealing, deliberately destroyed evidence from a Duke’s life, the inner workings of high society, a family curse and world war one.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

The Book of SaltThe Book of Salt by Monique Truong

A fascinating novel chock full of superb prose. I reviewed this recently in Book Club Gals Read The Book of Salt.

Binh is the Vietnamese cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Through his story we are also exposed to those of Gertrude and Alice and the many artists and writers who gathered around them in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Reading Like a WriterReading like a Writer by Francine Prose

Francine Prose discusses words, sentences, paragraphs, character, dialogue, details, gesture and learning from Chekhov.

Many good thoughts for writers. While I found some chapters more helpful than others, my copy is full of underlined passages and ideas that I will try to incorporate into my writing.

The Golden DiceThe Golden Dice by Elisabeth Storrs

A novel set during the wars between the Etruscans and Rome and told through the eyes of three strong women. I was captivated by the story of Caecilia, Semni and Pinna, three very different women, and the men they loved.

Highly recommended.

The ProposalThe Proposal by Margaret Evans Porter

A delightful story about Sophie Pinnock, a lonely young widow, and Cassian Carysfort, a mysterious earl, who clash over a neglected castle garden, a suspicious past, and secrets that threaten their blossoming love.

Porter’s dialogue and descriptions are excellent and she has created a romance that offers depth, as well as twists and turns.

Becoming JosephineBecoming Josephine by Heather Webb

Heather Webb has crafted the story of Rose Tascher originally from Martinique who sails for France to wed Alexander Beauharnais. As France undergoes the turmoil of the revolution, Rose matures. By the time she meets Napoleon Bonaparte, who gives her the name Josephine, she has become an influential woman in her own right. A wonderful read set in a time of great change.

At the moment, I’m reading two more books: The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan and Churchill’s First War by Con Coughlin.

Why read one book when you can juggle two at the same time?

Book Club Gals read The Book of Salt

The Book of SaltThe Book of Salt by Monique Truong promises to serve up “a wholly original take on Paris in the 1930s through the eyes of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Viewing his famous mesdames and their entourage from the kitchen of their rue de Fleurus home, Binh observes their domestic entanglements while seeking his own place in the world. In a mesmerizing tale of yearning and betrayal, Monique Truong explores Paris from the salons of its artists to the dark nightlife of its outsiders and exiles.”

During our initial round-robin of summary thoughts, which is how we always start, last night’s book club gals had the following to say:

  • found the voice monotonous … loved Binh’s voice and being inside his head
  • did not engage me … wonderfully engaging
  • could not decide what this book was really about … it’s about cultural transplantation and being an outsider, about a voyage of courage, about leaving your roots in order to make something of yourself, about exile and the longing for home
  • ending is inconclusive … the author deliberately leaves the ending up to the reader
  • breathtaking observations and descriptions … erotic descriptions of food and food preparation

As you can see, impressions were mixed but the discussion was lively and lengthy, a sure sign of a successful choice.

Having just read Francine Prose‘s Reading Like a Writer, I found Truong’s word choice and sentence structure beautiful.

Paper-white narcissuses, one hundred bulbs in shallow pools of moistened pebbles, their roots exposed, clinging, pale anchors steadying the blooms as the angle toward the sun.

In my ear, anticipation sounds like a strong wind billowing against a taut sail, like a fire when its flames are drunk on a gust of air.

… it slammed shut behind us with such a clash that the sparrows fled from the surrounding trees, a scrap of black lace lifting into the sky, that the butterflies rose from the gladiola spikes, their wings filtering for a moment the strong light of the Saigon sun.

… but the truffle, ah, the truffle is a gift for the nose. Pleasure refined into a singular scent, almost animal, addictive, a lover’s body coming toward yours on a moonless night.

Salt is an ingredient to be considered and carefully weighed like all others. The true taste of salt–the whole of the sea on the tip of the tongue, sorrow’s sting, labor’s smack–has been lost, according to my Madame, to centuries of culinary imprudence.

Winter waited for me on the shores of this country like a vengeful dowager, incensed and cold-shouldered … when she blew the first kiss, I welcomed her with arms opened wide, never suspecting that within days she would make me cry.

Roughly 20% into the novel I had been tempted to give up, for I found myself tangled in dense sentences and a plot line that moved backwards more than it moved forwards. Perseverance was richly rewarded and the key was to lose myself in Binh’s (the protagonist) powerful voice and stop worrying about the plot. Once I did both, The Book of Salt glistened with imagery and poignant longing, and the story revealed itself.

A truly wonderful read.