Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What I Read While Travelling. . .

Thinking back to the years when the biggest challenge to carry-on-only travel was how to fit enough books into our cases, I am ever so appreciative of e-books, especially since I now borrow them so easily from the library -- and can add new ones as I travel, checking into my home library even when I'm thousands of kilometres away.
Train-window views to read by, taken between Paris and Venice last month
On the flight from Vancouver to Paris, for example, as tempted as I was by a great roster of movies (and I did watch a few), I read Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, Night School. I know that some of this series' readers, particularly the female ones, have tired of the books by now, but I still enjoy them as a diversion, and the premise of Night School is an intriguing if troubling one -- the continued existence of nuclear weapons from the earliest days of testing their potential over 60 years ago. . . until when? Where are they all now? And how securely are they sequestered and accounted for?

Next, I read Tessa Hadley's novel, The Past, a study of one extended family's gathering for perhaps the last summer vacation together in the large rambling, semi-rural English home they'd inherited from their grandparents. The "past" of the title is outlined in a separate section of the novel, at its core, and is spectrally, uneasily present throughout. The children's characters and actions throughout -- in both present and past -- are compelling, mostly credible, playing on those edges of perceived innocence and dangerous experience that adults too often easily consign kids to, forgetting or denying the darker corners of childhood.


By the time I'd finished this, on the long train ride from Paris to Venice, the ebooks I'd put on hold before our trip began coming in at a fast and furious pace. Luckily, we still had a few train journeys ahead -- from Venice to Ljubljana, for example, which is when I began reading Lauren Collins' When in French: Love in a Second Language. Within the first two chapters of reading this memoir, I had resolved to get my own print copy once I got back home.  Collins is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, and she writes beautifully -- her metaphors so often flirt with over-the-top-ness, yet manage somehow to work, to be perfectly apt, to illustrate freshly enough to make me laugh. And I laughed so often while reading this, and so often I had to make Paul stop what he was doing to listen to me read a passage out loud. The New Yorker has a large excerpt online, so that you can see what I mean .

What that excerpt doesn't illustrate is the fascinating research Collins weaves into her memoir, so that as much as a personal narrative about falling in love, becoming an ex-pat, learning and loving and living in a second language, it is also a narrative about the United States' changing attitudes about and toward multilingualism, about the growing mistrust of "foreign" languages, about what the ramifications of those attitudinal changes might be in a globalised universe. So interesting. Highly recommended, and do let me know if you read it.

I have three more titles to tell you about, but why not save those for another post. . . . For now, why don't you tell me what you've been reading? I love our conversations about books here, and I've missed you!

19 comments:

  1. Reading and train travel, the perfect companions I think. The last month has seen making books filter through my hands. My library van just keeps on giving wonderful ones. Recently read 'A Country Road, A Tree' by Jo Baker. She wrote Longbourne, which is Pride and Predjudice through the eyes of their servants. A Country Road, A Tree tells the story of an Irish writer living in France at the outbreak of the Second World War with his French girlfriend. Wonderful prose throughout and often harrowing moments. His connections with the resistance fighters is fascinating. Definitely worth a read. I'd forgotten I could get books from the library, I must see what's available. B x

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    1. Sorry lots of typo's. Many not making and ebooks not books....grrr predictive text begone!

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    2. I knew what you meant (and I also growl at predictive text!). I think my blogging friend Sue (High Heels in the Wilderness) recommended A Country Road, A Tree recently. I'll have to add it to the list. It's a long list....And yes, the ebooks from the library are really a boon, although they generally come with a 21-day expiration and they can't be renewed. So if several come in at once, I have to read like a fiend! ;-)

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  2. Thank you for the recommendations! I recently read The Women in the Castle, about German resistance WWII widows, and I listened to Agnes Gray (Anne Bronte) while knitting a baby sweater. Both were good "reads"!

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    1. Duly noted. When in France, we watched Un Village Français which featured resisters (and collaborators) in France -- I suspect I'd find The Women in the Castle interesting.
      Do you ever imagine that something of the audiobook you're listening to goes into the garment you're knitting?

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  3. I'm on an Elizabeth Strout kick. I finished My Name is Lucy Barton for my book group. We rarely agree about books, but this one got thumbs up all around, despite it's difficult subject matter. It was good enough to tempt me to immediately order All Things are Possible- I found it impossibly well written. Poetry- not an extra word- elegant. When I find myself really slowing down while reading- I know I'm onto something good.

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    1. I'm not sure why I haven't read Strout, but I've been meaning to ever since watching Olive Kitteredge, and now I'm going to make sure to. I love your use of the word 'elegant' here -- I've always thought the reference to economy is the most appealing meaning of the adjective.

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  4. I have added When in French to my library request list.

    I didn't travel with any books due to a last-minute purge of weighty items. I don't have a Kindle or equivalent. I was at the mercy of the apartment owners! (I knew there were books. I was sleeping in a sort of library/den, while my daughter mounted a very steep, narrow, winding and no doubt illegal staircase to her large airy bedroom. But we had two sinks! A bathtub! An oven!) In any case, I read Julia Child's My Life in France, one long bedtime read's worth of The Little Paris Bookshop, which in the morning I replaced on the shelf without finishing, and more which I cannot remember.

    Since I cam home I have been rereading Margaret Drabble. I like her women. Practical.

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    1. Some of my favourite books have been found serendipitously on "borrowed" bookshelves. And to sleep in a library/den in Paris. . . . ah!
      And if you can make do with borrowed books in order to adjust the weight of your suitcase, I'd say you're as practical as Drabble's women. Practical and romantic at once, somehow, no?

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  5. Not sure where the comment I left yesterday went... But I was recommending Francis Spufford's extraordinary first novel Golden Hill. Set in 17th century Brooklyn and written in the style of the period, it's such a rich, rewarding read that I did something I've never done before...When I finished, I immediately read it again! Best wishes, Elizabeth

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    1. I've looked this up, see that our public library has a hard copy, and am putting a Hold request for it (although I have to be careful with these -- I see I only have 14 more free Hold requests to go!). Your recommendation is very convincing, thank you!

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  6. I've added your books to my TBR list. Very interested in When In French. I normally take at least two books with me when traveling, but I always make sure they are paperbacks and not ones that I'm heavily invested in (money or emotion).
    I'm currently reading four very different books - yes, all at the same time (Morning/Lunch/Afternoon/Night):
    Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology
    Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies (and her Hallelujah Anyway
    is on my TBR stack)
    The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
    The Drowned Girls by Loreth Ann White

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    1. Before our e-readers, we'd take a couple of paperbacks each, and make sure we'd both be interested in reading each other's, and also that we'd be okay leaving them behind for other readers.
      I like the way you've got different books for different times of the day. I haven't read much Gaiman (although I loved The House at the End of the Lane) -- but I bet he does a smashing job of retelling the Norse myths. I remember being fascinated by those as a child, borrowing books about them from our local library. Haven't read that Lamott either, and haven't heard of The Drowned Girls, but I found Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection very helpful. Thanks for your contribution to future possible reading lists!

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  7. One of my fears always was to be without a book to read on my hollidays (and a lot of little places don't have bookshops or libraries-yes,I even visited libraries during my stay at the seaside),so,I deeply and honestly appreciate e-books and devices to read them. So,it happened that I read almost all my books in english as e-books on my tablet(and a lot on my mobile phone while waiting for hours in different emergency rooms with my father. My one year old Samsung even has a deal of one free e-book monthly)
    I think I would like quite a few books mentioned in the post and comments.
    I've finished (finaly) K. Novak's "The Gypsy,but the most beautiful",one of best books in croatian in 2017,a very complex story about living near,but be very distant,about a lot of moral issues ,refugees and traficking and,as an side effect, with a sad love story. Next season it would be produced as a play in our National Theatre
    Jessie Klein's "You'll Grow Out of it" was nice,as well as (finaly,too) finishing Kate Bolick's "Spinster"(with a lot of ideas for future reading :-)),and I liked three Jasmine Sharp misteries from C. Brookmyre and the first one of Shetland ones " Raven Black" from Ann Cleeves
    When(,and more important,if I were going on holidays),I always take two or three paperback books with letters big enough,for the beach cafe
    Dottoressa

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    1. Like you, despite my initial reservations about/prejudices against e-books, I've come to rely on them very much, although I still buy and borrow many print books as well. What a great idea of someone's to market the Samsung with a monthly free e-book!
      Oh, I wish more of your writers were translated into English -- The gypsy title sounds like something I'd really be interested in.
      And I must get one of those Brookmyre mysteries -- you and Sue Burpee are very convincing!
      Finally, I agree with you that paperback books are much better at the beach, although my old Kobo e-reader had a very easy-to-read "e-ink" screen. It's very tough to read outside on my iPad....

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  8. I read the excerpt of "when in French" and I have to get that book! Unfortunately my library hasn't got it (It is not very well stocked with books in foreign languages), so I will have to buy it.
    At the moment I am on holiday, dividing my days between walking, gardening, cooking (Strawberry jam!), knitting and reading. I am in the middle of "A Strangeness in my Mind" by Orhan Pamuk (In German, of course). I also took along "Télumée" by Simone Schwarz-Bart, "Mornings in Jenin" by Susan Abulhawa (both in German, too) and the Ferrante in Italian which I abandoned some time last year when work at school picked up speed. And then there is a "Cultural History of Climate" waiting for me.

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    1. Oh, I'm sorry I missed this, Eleonore. Distracting family news over the past few weeks.
      What a wonderfully international reading pile you've built by your bedside. A very good way to begin retirement!

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  9. I love checking ebooks out of the library! And regular books as well. When not traveling I seem to have a solid book and an ebook going simultaneously.

    I'm still on the waiting list for the new Lee Child, probably because I signed up for it only last week, so it will be a while. I still enjoy these novels, even though yes troubling, I find them to be a nice interlude, and often thought-provoking simply due to Reacher's strong moral code, whether one agrees with him or not. I've just finished one of Michael Connelly's novels, "The Reversal", the first I've read that had much of Harry Bosch in it. I enjoy these books, but I suspect I'd grow weary of them if I read too many too close together.


    I've also just finished reading "Lincoln In The Bardo" by George Saunders, and rereading "World's End" by Upton Sinclair. They are very different books, with very different purposes, but they both have a strong historical presence, although once again with different intentions. I found they played well together in unexpected ways. I remain fascinated with the Saunders, the way it reminds me of Greek Tragedy, the strong Buddhist influence, but also its really profound look at the world of human interactions through such a small yet revealing lens. Sinclair also has a knack for revealing the multilayered aspects of human endeavors, and each time I reread the books in the Lanny Budd series, I grow more impressed with Sinclair's grasp of history, despite, or is it because of, his biases.

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    1. I think that's a good part of why I like the REacher series -- his moral code is very clear -- you'll see that in a number of places in this latest. I recently read a Michael Connelly, perhaps the latest?, that was almost all Bosch, although I think his half-brother did show up for a bit part. For whatever reason, the Bosch series are the ones that hold my interest -- isn't it funny the way we get to care about these characters and want to know more about their lives, even knowing they're fictional. Funny and obvious, I know, but still. . .
      Almost picked up Lincoln in the Bardo on the Fast Reads shelf at the library, but I had two others coming up to their Due Date with no chance of renewal, so I've left it for now. You're making me want to go back and see if it's still there. . .

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