For most of my time in recent months, I have been recovering from the move. I have therefore been rereading as this is all I felt strong enough for – Georgette Heyer, Father Brown, Myles na gCopaleen and Saki. However, recently, I have begun to recover (hurrah) and have tried the selection below. I am curious – what do you reread when life is becoming slightly overwhelming?
“When will there be Good News?” by Kate Atkinson
I think that Kate Atkinson is a wonderful writer. I have read all her books and I have yet to be disappointed. She has great plots, interesting characters and she writes so beautifully and insightfully that I sometimes sigh wistfully at her brilliance. When will there be another new Kate Atkinson book?
“Ni d’Adam, ni d’Eve” by Amelie Nothomb
This is the third Amelie Nothomb book I have read and it is far less enjoyable than the other two. It has its moments, I must concede and it can by quite funny but not funny enough to offset her vague musings on Japan. She is, incidentally, quite clearly, nutty as a fruit cake. This both adds to her work (funny) and detracts from it (no, no, too mad). Still she is very Belgian and that must be worth something.
“This Year it Will be Different” by Maeve Binchy
A collection of short stories, some of them quite ancient. All about Christmas and all about men having affairs. Reading them all one after another does make me wonder a little about Maeve’s personal life. Perhaps she only married late because her heart was broken by a philandering bastard.
“Heat” by Bill Buford
Mr. Waffle recommended this. It’s about a man’s attempt to master (and I do mean master) Italian cooking while his very patient wife supports him. It has its moments. He comments that “seafood with butter – or any other dairy ingredient – verges on culinary blasphemy”. I know this to be true because once, in a not at all fancy restaurant in Italy, I asked for parmesan to go on seafood pasta and there was some whispering in the back and then not one but two waiters came up to tell me that I just couldn’t have parmesan with seafood.
“Où on va papa?” by Jean-Louis Fournier
This is a book written by a man who had two handicapped children. I found it very disturbing, very good and entirely compelling. In public discourse, parents don’t seem to be allowed to say that having a handicapped child is very, very hard and a huge disappointment. This man has no such hesitations. This book is, I think, supposed to be funny and there is a certain amount of black humour but overwhelmingly, it is sad. There is an aching sense of loss, of what might have been, of what his boys’ lives would have been like had they not been “different”. It is a brilliant book.
“Mothering” by Rudolph Schaffer
I picked this up in my mother-in-law the psychologist’s house. It dates from the 1970s so all the information may not be entirely up to date. I nearly gave up early on when we had two pages on the infant’s sucking reflex followed by another couple on sleep patterns.
However, I quite enjoyed this bit later on:
“With increasing occupational and social outlets for women a wife need no longer disappear into the confines of the home on marriage, with nothing to do except have and care for children…Having children should be only for those who want children and will actively enjoy children”.
I’m not sure that actively enjoying necessarily follows from wanting, however, I am touched by his vision of the brave new world that the proper use of contraception will entail.
I was lured into reading the book by seeing the author’s description of the Ik tribe in Northern Uganda but this is something of a sensationalist moment compared to the remainder of the text. He says:
“The Ik had formerly been a nomadic tribe of hunters and gatherers….[but] confined to a limited barren area…[on the brink of starvation]…[there] came a virtual disintegration of their social organization: the family as an institution almost ceased to exist, and in the wake of the struggle to remain alive there followed an utterly selfish attitude to life that displace all positive emotions like love, affection and tenderness….Children were regarded as useless appendages who were turned out of the parents’ hut when they reached the age of three years, compelled from then on to make their own way without help or guidance from any adult and certainly without any parental love or affection. Consequently one rarely saw a parent with a child except accidentally or incidentally; when a child hurt himself by falling into the fire the only reaction was amusement; if a predator came and carried off a baby the mother was merely gald at no longer having to care for it. One never saw a parent feed a child over the age of three – on the contrary, such children were regarded as competitors from whom food had to be hidden; if consequently one died of starvation that merely meant one mouth the fewer.”
Not only is it sensationalist but it may not even be true. Wikipedia has some serious reservation about Mr. Turnbull’s research on the Ik, on which the paragraph above is based.
Oh well, I see Mr. Schaffer had a new edition out in 1984 so doubtless he fixed it up then.
I’ve often wondered the same thing about Maeve Binchy. I do enjoy her books, but it seems all the men she knows are either a few bricks short of a load or woefully unfaithful.
I go for To Kill a Mockingbird, John le Carre and Paul Theroux
town mouse says
I’ve been in the sort of italian restaurants where the waiters come and explain that they won’t let you have parmesan on sea food (wasn’t me that committed the blasphemy, I hasten to add) – they’re generally the best kind. And certainly an improvement on the sort of French restaurants where the waiters correct your grammar and/or pronunciation.
Sorry, that got published malgré moi. But yes, Nancy Mitford for pure escapism. David Sedaris essays, and gloomy Scandi or other crime (Donna Leon, Ian Rankin) – I can’t reread these though, I just have to scour around for ones I haven’t read.
Generally I just read and read voraciously in times of crisis – hence the size of the pile of books next to my bed in the last five years!
Ou on va looks good, tu veux me le preter un jour? I also highly recommend Barbara Pym – picture Jane Austen but less glamour and fewer illusions about brooding, handsome men.
Sorry, that was me above!!