Lots of people I talk to about books say they don’t enjoy books made up of letters. Not letters as in the alphabet, but epistles. I try to understand where they’re coming from, but I think they must have just had a bad experience. Think of all the great books made up of letters! For example: The Screwtape Letters. I do understand that books solely or largely made up of letters can be harder to follow. You have to read between the letters, imagine what is happening and realize that each time you read someone’s accounting of an event, it’s already happened and so much can change between one letter to the next. In our world of email and instant messages, maybe it’s become difficult to imagine a dependence on snail mail.
When the e-reader began to gain popularity, I was firmly staked in the “paper books are the only real books!” camp. As I wrote in a previous post, the crinkly pages of an old book are therapeutic to me, and the crispness of a freshly made book is delightful, as well. Just let me step foot in a used bookstore and I’m nearly transported to my own version of heaven. How could holding an electronic device compare? I was sure I voiced this deeply felt opinion to those closest to me. Didn’t I?
You can imagine my surprise when my husband presented me with a Nook on an ordinary summer day (not my birthday, or anniversary, just a dry summer day). Maybe he felt guilty that we were moving our family out of our house and temporarily into his parents’ house (which, by the way, was 25 minutes from the closest library and 45 minutes from a decent library) when our youngest was six weeks old. Or maybe (likely) he just loves me and thought I would enjoy an e-reader. I love books and his field is technology, so really, how could he resist? But here’s the thought that popped into my mind: “Holy cow, my husband doesn’t really know me.” Oh, but I was wrong.
I started figuring out the Nook. I downloaded my first book, which I think was either Book of A Thousand Days (enjoyable YA summer read) or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (not at all my piece of cake). And I had to admit, the ease of getting a book from the library’s downloadable website without loading up my 2-year-old and infant in the car and actually going to the library was a definite plus. I love going to the library and taking my children with me has been a regular outing of ours since they were infants, but there are days when you just know taking a baby to the library isn’t a good idea. You know, the squallish days. Also, I tend to read big books like Little Dorrit and Les Miserables, so it’s no small thing that holding an e-reader while nursing a baby is way easier than actually holding Dickens. No, not the man, the volume. Speaking of Dickens, the best part of an e-reader, the one that really sealed my fate as an e-reader owner, was that I could download A Tale of Two Cities, Wives and Daughters, or any number of classics from Project Gutenberg and always have them at my fingertips wherever I am. Plus, I can just look stuff up when I’m curious about it without ever actually putting the book down. Oh yes, I’m sold. I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and I use my Nook for about 30-40% of my reading.
Here are some books I’ve enjoyed on my Nook recently.
I don’t read very much French literature beyond Victor Hugo and (Gustave Flaubert in college), but I must say, The Elegance of the Hedgehog has made me wonder what other French authors I’m missing out on. Muriel Barbery’s writing is stunning. Her characters are intriguing and likable if you keep reading past the prickly beginning. There are so many metaphors and images and symbols to ponder–it’s a rich book. It’s a bit short on the gripping plot side, so if that’s what you read for, this book may not be for you. Also, the parts narrated by the child character, while some of my favorite, were a bit of a stretch. It’s hard to write from a child’s perspective when you aren’t a child anymore and you aren’t writing for children. But if you love literature mixed with philosophy and beautiful wordsmithery, pick this book up. Or download it. Whatever.
Digging to America was my first Anne Tyler book. I have since read two others. It amazes me how her books can be so simple on the surface but ask so many deep questions. This one actually seemed to have a happier tone than the other two I’ve read. I have often thought about adoption and how I feel about it (mostly gung-ho), and this book is a searching comparison of two adopting families and the hard parts and good parts of international adoption. Even if adoption isn’t something you think about often, it is a great read, because, well, it’s Anne Tyler. I don’t see eye to eye with her when it comes to theology in some of her books, but I do enjoy her talent as a writer.
And there’s The Book Thief. My husband read this one, as well, and we both were impressed with the unique narration and syntax. The words were just words, but they were arranged and chosen so carefully. This was the first in a long line of World War II novels set in Germany that I read in the last year. It set me on the trail of finding out what Germans endured during the war. Before this book, I’d read mostly French and English viewpoints. Also, I’d be interested to know what an atheist thinks about the narrator of the book, the Angel of Death. It was strange to me that the angel was the narrator but God was not often mentioned.
I still prefer paper books, but my husband proved he knows me better than I know myself when he gave me an e-reader. Words are words and I am truly an American word lover. If I can access them more easily and quickly on an e-reader, I’m going to do so. However, when I decide to buy a book, I pick the paper every time. =)
I don’t travel a whole lot (much less than I would like), but when I do, I love to have a book with me that’s set in the place I am visiting. When I was in London several years ago, I was reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. The feel of stepping into a place that has been set in a famous book and has been there for over a hundred years is surreal. More often, though, my reading happens when I’m not traveling, but firmly set at home. That’s why I love a book that describes a place so well, I can imagine being there. There are some places I am dying to go see because I’ve read books about them. In the past few months, I’ve read a couple of books set on two coasts that are now calling my name.
The first coastal call came from The Violets of March by Sarah Jio. Set on Bainbridge Island in Washington’s Pugent Sound, it’s one of those books that sucks you right into the setting. I enjoyed how Jio described the area so vividly without going on and on about it. She has the rare gift of weaving the setting into the plot seamlessly. How many times have you read a book and gotten sick of all the descriptions? I wouldn’t worry about that if you’re thinking of reading this book. The plot started out a little shaky: a 30-something woman dealing with a washed up marriage is living in New York but is forced to go back to her roots. Sweet Home Alabama, anyone? Thankfully, the plot is much more exciting than the kind of book that deals only with past emotions. Yes, there’s some emotional baggage the main character, Emily, is working through, but there’s also a mystery to unravel. And I love a well written mystery. I’m of the opinion they’re pretty rare. Sometimes the tone reminds me of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, though it’s not quite so dark. I’d recommend The Violets of March to just about anyone.
The next coastal book I read brought me back home to the East Coast. Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart is about a woman who lives in New York City, is about to get married, and has to return to her hometown, Edisto, to take care of her family in a crisis. Wait…am I getting these two books confused? Because, hello Sweet Home Alabama again. No, they’re different books, but I’m now realizing the starting premises of these books are fairly similar. However, Moon Over Edisto doesn’t turn into a mystery to be solved, but a story of how to forgive and the freedom and healing forgiveness brings. The setting is very intertwined with the plot, as two main characters are artists. A lot of the scenery is built on the description of what artworks these two characters are creating. I wish I owned the real paintings and not just descriptions of their art, because it sounds beautiful. Though I’ve lived in South Carolina my whole life and visit the coast often, I’ve never been to Edisto. I know, it’s sad. After reading this book, I realize even more it’s a problem that must be remedied soon.
I can’t embrace travel literature–I need a good plot and intriguing characters to keep me reading–but I think mental travel is one of reading’s greatest qualities. And even if you’re not looking for a book to take you to a new place, these two books are pretty good light reads apart from their settings. I’d love to hear what you think if you decide to pick one up!