October's Reading

Farther Afield by Miss Read - Miss Read breaks her ankle, leaving her dependent on friends and neighbours for help. She stays with her friend, Amy, for a while, and ends up joining her on an unexpected vacation to Greece when Amy's husband is unable/unwilling to go. Much of this one takes place outside of Fairacre, which is a change, but a nice one. I think I have only a couple left in the Fairacre series. I hate to see it end, but the Thrush Green series awaits. I try to avoid series generally, but these books are absolutely delicious.

The Break by Katherena Vermette -  The "break" is a large empty lot in the city of Winnipeg where a young Aboriginal girl is beaten and raped. The story is about her family and how they relate to her and to one another in the aftermath. As in all families, things are complicated and healing is hard to come by, but it does come. Full of strong female characters, vivid, heart-breaking and heart-warming, this story will stay with you. It doesn't feel like fiction, and I expect it's all too real for many women. A must read.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino - a wonderful, unique reading experience. It begins with "The Reader" getting ready to read the book. He reads it and finds that there is a problem with the copy he has. He goes back to the bookstore only to find the "Other Reader" has had the same problem. They get new books that they think will continue the story they began in the last one, but alas it is a new beginning altogether. Things continue along this vein, with each new beginning effortlessly reeling you in. "The Reader" and "The Other Reader" set out to get to the bottom of this conundrum, developing a romantic relationship as they work. It's great fun to read, but it will get in your head a bit and have you questioning why you read and how and whether it matters. This is a literary experiment gone right and I loved it.

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene - It took me many longs months of reading this in small increments to get through it. It's one of those science books that is supposed to be written for non-scientists, but this non-scientist got seriously bogged down in the middle chapters. I was, though, sort of able to follow a basic thread of thought through it and I learned a lot and had my mind blown by some of it. I love reading about how the world works, from the quantum realm to the cosmic. I wouldn't be able to explain the information to anyone else, but I do enjoy taking it in. This one is well written and is put together in such a way that when I got lost, in just a few paragraphs he would take me back to something more general and familiar to help me find my way again. This is fascinating stuff. 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - In the early years of the Russian revolution, 30 yr old Count Rostov is convicted of being a "Former Person" whose loyalty cannot be counted upon, and  sentenced to a life of house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. The book takes us through the next three decades of his life within the confines of the hotel, as he finds a way to become a person of purpose, develops relationships with the employees and guests, and becomes a father figure to a child unexpectedly left in his care. It has to be said that imprisonment in a luxury hotel is far from the unspeakable hardship millions of other Russian people suffered in labor camps, so I couldn't work up a lot of sympathy for the Count on that front, but I did admire him and come to like him. In the face of losing his freedom, he didn't wallow in self-pity but instead set about making the most of what he had left and trying to be of some use to others. A few times it felt like things were coming a little too easy for him, but it did make for a good read. And oh, the writing - it's nothing short of sparkling and had me reading the same lines over and over just to take the phrasing in again. It was a fresh, creative concept for a story, with  quirky characters and luminous writing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Aug 2022 Update. I read this again for a book club discussion, and got even more enjoyment from it this time around. Since I was to lead the discussion I read it much more carefully, finding connections and clues to the ending that  I hadn't noticed before. This books is brilliantly written and organized. It is full of incidences that are interesting on their own but then begin to add up to something quite unexpected. When you get to the end and look back you see how the whole thing is one big, glorious puzzle. I love this book!    

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn - I read this immediately after A Gentleman in Moscow because I wanted to remind myself of the reality of Stalin's Russia. He was a ruthless dictator who killed millions for something as simple as saying the wrong thing, and who deliberately starved many more millions to death. His labour camps were places where people were dehumanized by brutal conditions and treatment. Many never got out, dying of starvation, freezing to death, or being worked beyond what their bodies could stand. A book like A Gentleman in Moscow can make you forget all that but I don't want to forget. Ivan Denisovitch lived that prison camp life for his ten year sentence. He lived in deplorable conditions, with insufficient food that was barely fit for human consumption, and with people aiming guns at him all day. The physical and mental torment would be enough to cause most to despair, but Ivan kept going, kept hoping his sentence would finish in 2 years and he'd go home, thought he knew even that was a long-shot because they could arbitrarily decide to add another 10 or 25 years to his sentence with no explanation. This was one of the first books out of Russia that showed the truth about the prison camps, which made Solzhenitsyn not just a brilliant writer, but a hero who exposed the truth. Everybody should read this so no one ever forgets the horrific crimes against humanity committed by Stalin and the communist party.