I thought that every home was the same. I had a rude awakening in my first year at university. For a "Teaching literature to children course" we spent a morning in a local primary school asking 9 year olds about their reading habits. We had to ask them questions such as......
Does someone read to you every day?
Do you own a book?
Do you go to the library?
Does your home have a daily newspaper/magazines?
Do other people in your family read?
Have you ever been given a book as a gift?
In my own home the answers to these questions were so obviously YES, that I was staggered as child after child replied NO to 2 or 3 or even all the questions.
As an aspiring teacher this confirmed for me, the importance of reading to my future students every day and having quiet time for them to read themselves. I realized that immersing them in the pleasure of the written word as much as possible was a lofty goal perhaps, but a priority.
As an 18 year old I realized how incredibly lucky I was, that a love of books had been instilled in me and that in my gilded world books, newsprint and literature were the norm.
As a parent I am passionate that my three boys enjoy reading for pleasure. As I tell them it is something you can do for your whole life, by yourself and for free with the library system!
So I am an avid reader and since we are back at the beach with a pile of books and kindle on my ipad I thought I would share some of my favorite reads with you. Some are old some are new, but the fact that they have stuck in my memory, unlike most things, sets them apart.
So in no particular order here they are:-
( You can read more about every book I recommend on the Amazon link on the right of this post.)
1. Year of Wonders By Geraldine Brooks
Don't let the fact that this is a book about the plague put you off. The year is 1666 in a small village in England. The plague has struck and the village magnanimously decides to shut its gates allowing noone in or out to keep the plague from spreading.The female protagonist is gutsy and dynamic in a world where women are maids and playthings. I read it 9 years ago and heard Geraldine Brooks speak about it at Barnes and Noble. It only made me love the book more.
2. My Year of Meat By Ruth L Ozeki
I read this in Hong Kong before coming to America. It is a story at one level about hormones in the American meat industry,but it is also about housewives in America showcasing, how to cook meat to the Japanese market so that they will buy more American beef. Politics, culture clash and early puberty collide in this expose of the meat industry. I loved it.
3.The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbera Kingsolver ( I know-I can't count)
I have a very soft spot for The Poisonwood Bible. I read it every night when I was feeding Jacob as a newborn 11 1/2 years ago. I actually was pleased when he woke so that I could carry on reading!
A bullying missionary, Nathan Price and his wife and four daughters head to the Congo to "save" their new flock.This epic story tells of how unprepared they are for living in a different culture. How they survive in the midst of political conflict, heat, changed diets and culture shock and how each three dimensional member of the family fares as they grow up and make their way in the world.
Animal,Vegetable, Miracle is Kingsolver's autobiographical tale of how she and her family choose to live self sufficiently on a farm only eating what they can grow or find locally. It is wonderful to read in contrast to the Price family's change of location in The Poisonwood Bible.
4. Expecting Adam By Martha Beck
This is an autobiography that me laugh and cry in the same paragraph. I love Martha Beck's writing and in another life I would like to come back with her gift.
She begins her story as a Harvard postdoctoral student when she finds out that the baby she is expecting has Downs syndrome. The academics around her expect that she will abort a Downs child who would get in the way of her research. But she is determined to keep him and this book tells the story of her pregnancy and the spiritual experiences she has during that time. If you choose only one book from this list choose this one.
5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Twins abandoned at birth in a hospital where their British doctor father and Indian nun mother had worked, are adopted by remaining staff and grow up to become doctors themselves. Their relationships, passions and intelligence develop in different ways, but blood is thicker than water and the need to find out who they are is crucial. This is set against the backdrop of Ethiopia on the verge of revolution and spans continents and life times.This is a rich, engrossing, medically accurate book(the author is a doctor). Once you get into it, this book is gripping.
6.The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This is a perfect beach read. Victoria Jones has spent her childhood in a harsh foster care system and at 18 is tossed out into the world to fend for herself. She has learned two things-to keep her emotional distance from others and the Victorian language of flowers which helps her secure a job in a florist and discover a gift for picking the right flowers for each person who comes to buy them. Even though prickly Victoria is emotionally damaged, the flowers help her thaw and through a tentative relationship, she confronts her painful past. I couldn't put it down.
7.The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson ( Jonny picked this!)
Set at the time of the World fair in 1893, this novel is a work of historical fiction, based on the true story of the architect of the world fair and a skillful serial killer who designed and built The World Fair Hotel to use to lure his victims to their deaths. This book is gripping because of its artful narration and factual basis.
8.The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
This book was intended for a young adult readership,but if it has passed you by then pick it up quickly for a remarkable read. The simplicity of it only heightens its power. It is the story of Liesel Meminger a foster child in Germany during WWII who, owning nothing, chooses of all things to steal books. With the help of her foster father,she learns to read, read to others in air raid shelters and the Jewish man hiding in their basement. It is narrated by death who comes over as a sympathetic presence who reluctantly takes the bodies he has to acquire. You will not be able to put this book down and it will stay with you long after you have read the final page.
9. Bel Canto, The Patron Saint of Liars and State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett (OK this is 3 books but I couldn't choose just one!)
I think you either love or hate Ann Patchett. I am a big fan. Each of these is very different and each is placed in an unusual setting.. The first is about a hostage taking in an embassy and the relationships that develop between captors and captives. The second is about a home for unwed expectant mothers to go to to have their babies in secret and the third focuses on a scientist who is sent into the jungle to look into the mysterious death of her colleague and the authenticity of the research that is supposedly taking place there.
10.The Invisible Bridge
This is an evocative saga that stretches from Hungary to Paris and back from 1939 to 1945 and follows the children of a Jewish family who set off with such high hopes and dreams -one to be an architect another a doctor but who's lives are interrupted by the onset of the second world war. It is a study of the Jews of Hungary not often a focus of Holocaust literature and the fallout they suffered indirectly from the rise of Nazi Germany.I particularly loved the descriptions of the Paris scenes-I wanted to rush to Paris and follow the protagonist's footsteps through the streets and be with him as he created his architectural designs in 3 D models,never mind swooning for him as an almost too perfect lover!
If you have a favorite book or a comment on one I have suggested -please share it in the comments section-we all need good recommendations.
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