Well, Mr. Darcy, I’ve been doing a lot of extensive reading these days. Summer vacation means that the time usually earmarked for grading gets repurposed for other, more enjoyable pursuits, such as cracking open a good book. Here are a few of the ones I’ve enjoyed lately.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
This one started off at a very leisurely pace, sort of like a summer afternoon …. so leisurely that at first, I wondered where the book’s sense of urgency was. But I kept going, and before long, the story and characters had me hooked. Read this to immerse yourself into life in a small English town at the time of WWI.
East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood
Sometimes you just want to dive into a thick Victorian saga. When I’m in that sort of mood, I usually go for something by Wilkie Collins (try The Woman in White if you’ve never read him before). This time I tried East Lynne, which has all the expected components: English country houses, unsolved crimes, hidden identities, unprincipled rakes, women in a swoon. Great fun.
The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West
What makes a saint? What is the definition of “holy”? This was a very different sort of novel, about a dying priest who is sent to a small remote Italian village to investigate the life of a dead man who is being called a saint by many. Each of the people in the village has his/her own memories of the deceased, as well as his/her own motivation for wanting the investigation to proceed in a certain way. It raised good ethical questions, and provided a lot of food for thought. If you liked Graham Greene, you might enjoy this one.
Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
Rumer Godden was an Englishwoman who spent a lot of her early life in India, and this novel is apparently heavily drawn from her own experiences. It’s the story of a well-meaning English widow with two children who decides to go live in a remote village in Kashmir, seeing it as a sort of Eden in the mountains. Her optimistic naivete and her inability to honor (or even to perceive) the cultural differences between her family and the villagers leads to conflict and, ultimately, a near-tragedy. I’d call it required reading for anyone going to live in a different culture, whichever culture it is, because it’s a case study of how even a well-meaning person can really mess it up. And Godden’s prose is, as always, breathtaking. This was my favorite of the summer so far.
Why Bother Praying? by Richard Leonard, S.J.
I heard Fr. Leonard speak at LA Congress last year, and he was wonderful. I happened to pick this up at a retreat center a while back, and it’s a very engaging book about the many effects of prayer. There’s wonderful wisdom in here, along with a bunch of memorable personal anecdotes (some of them hilarious) that really ground the book and make it speak not just to the head, but to the heart.
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
This was the perfect book to take a long cross-country flight. The effortless narrative voice and the engaging plot (it’s about a young woman at a professional dead-end who takes a job as a companion to a quadriplegic) all made for a very fast six hours. That said, I’d have given the book a different ending — if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean — but still, it was an excellent summer read and I can safely say that Moyes has a new fan (and, as my younger son pointed out, only one letter separates her last name from mine. I love how kids notice these things.)
What are you reading now? Do tell!