Traditionally, fall is the time that I rediscover my love of reading after a long and busy summer. But this summer we spent more time at home and less time on the road, and I’ve been reading at the beach and in the evenings pretty consistently for months now. There’s been a corresponding influx of books into the house. Literary treasures abound here on the island, most found on the free shelf at the recycling centre (I love this!), at the library or for extremely cheap at the second hand store. Every time I go to the recycling centre I find another book or two to bring home, and now there are stacks of books pretty much everywhere around my house. But I love it. Book clutter = the best kind of clutter there is. Here are some of the best books I’ve read lately:
Kids Books and Early Readers
The Mercy Watson series by Kate Di Camillo – OK, so I’ll just put it out here at the start and say that Kate Di Camillo is my new favourite author. You know when you read something and then go on a mission to read every single book that person has written? That’s where I’m at with Di Camillo right now. I love love love her writing – it is precise, clean and evocative. She has a gift for creating dynamic characters and places without excessive wordiness. This is writing that feels like it has been very carefully crafted, and it’s joyful, silly, melancholy and profound. Even when it’s an early reader about a pig that lives in a house, eats hot buttered toast and gets up to crazy hijinks.
Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Desperaux by Kate Di Camillo. We’re moving on to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane or The Magician’s Elephant next.
The His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) – We listened to these as audiobooks while in the car, and I will admit that the story is so engaging that I sometimes missed my exit off the highway and had to double back. This is the kind of book I LOVED as a kid, the magical science fiction adventure story. Heck, I still love this kind of story. It’s important to be aware that these books are controversial because of Pullman’s portrayal of the church, which is an evil force in his books. I still think the books are worth reading, using the story as a jumping off point to ask questions and talk about those issues with your kids. Parts of the story were too scary for Claire, but Bea loved it.
Novels and Adult Non-Fiction
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – I read this around the same time I read Because of Winn-Dixie and had one of those “Everything in my life is pointing to the same thing!” moments. I learned a lot about life in the South, the American Civil War, the abolition of slavery and what it means to be moral. The copy I was reading was printed in the 40s, with a cloth covered binding and not a barcode in sight. Sinking into Scarlett’s world every night was delicious in a way that surfing the internet just isn’t, and it was a fantastic way to unplug.
Buddha: A Tale of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra – This book is a bit of a paradox. It tells the story of Buddha’s life from his birth as Prince Siddhartha, through his ascetic life as Guatama and the beginning of his life as Buddha. The novel, while based in fact, reads like an adventure movie, complete with battle scenes and love scenes. So it’s basically the Hollywood version of a spiritual leader’s biography. Needless to say, I don’t know how much has been fabricated and how much is truth, although when it comes to stories about prominent people from ancient times it’s hard to tell how much of the traditional version of the stories is truth either. That said, it is a very engaging read and I had a hard time putting it down. It does not explicitly set out to teach the reader the basics of Buddhism, although there is a small appendix at the back that covers the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Short, brutal and disturbing pretty much sums this one up. I read it because it is one of those classic books that I never did read in High School. When I got to the end I wondered, “How would this story turn out if there were girls stranded on the island instead of boys? Or if there were girls there with the boys?” I bet you anything the girls would have tended the fire gladly and well, built the shelters and looked after the little’uns, thus eliminating the dramatic conflict.
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks – Anyone who sees things that aren’t there or hears voices that nobody else can hear is usually written off as crazy, but Oliver Sacks shows us how the truth is much more subtle and fascinating than that. Sacks explains the difference between various types of hallucinations, how hallucinations are different from delusions and shares lots of his own experience, both treating patients with hallucinations and experiencing drug-induced hallucinations himself in the 60s. Reading Sack’s books is like listening to him chatting about a subject, and I learned a lot without feeling like I was reading a textbook.
What have you been reading lately? I’m especially interested in epic adventure stories/series to listen to in the car!