Recently I moved into a new apartment building for people age 55-plus: the generations that grew up with books, not digitalia. Their schooling emphasized reading, which means the building’s shared library is a serendipitous treasure trove.
Why is it that a book you find by chance is often more pleasurable than an equally worthy book you specially ordered? Some delightful chance findings:
The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen is a fluent autobiographical fiction about contemporary life in Saudi Arabia as described by an American who grew up there and returned in adulthood as the wife of a Saudi. As the title indicates, that didn’t work out well. Rich visual detail, and the heat of the desert feels palpable.
If My Father Loved Me by Rosie Thomas (McArthur, 2002): more contemporary life, this time in London in all its over-crowded glorious grittiness as portrayed by a dedicated urbanite (opposite of me yet I was entranced, which shows how engaging the author is).
Rich nonfiction for anyone who loves history, science, nature, and intellectual life in the age of geographic exploration, all wrapped up in the story of one ship (child of an acorn via the oak it was made from) is Endeavour by Peter Moore (FSG, 2018). This is the story of Captain Cook’s ship and the seafaring civilization that produced it, and shipped itself across the globe.
In the same era lived James Boswell, who along with his biographical subject Samuel Johnson toured parts of Scotland in 1773. That adventure, the history and people they encountered (Scottish literary and legal scholars in full force) comprise Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. My copy is a tidy light-weight hardback, as easy to read as to hold, as mellifluously engaging today as it must have seemed when first published (1785).
In a library organically developing from a bunch of literate senior citizens’ life-long reading habits you find great reads new and old, which could be overlooked if you take Top Ten lists too seriously.
The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen. HarperCollins, 2010.
Reviewer bio: S.B. Julian writes fiction, nonfiction and plays on the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC, where Captain Cook’s statue stands in the harbour. Her website is: www.overleafbooks.blogspot.com.
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