Monday, September 9, 2013

Books (Part 1)

When I started this blog, I planned to include brief reviews of books, as I read them. This has turned out to be more challenging than I imagined. I recently looked in old posts for some of these reviews, and - gasp - they were not there. In fact, I came up with a rather longish list of books that had gone unmentioned.

I'm trying to remedy that with several brief blog posts, containing even briefer reviews. This first batch contains several favorites.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

I just finished Joyce's book the other day; it was delicious.

One day, Harold Fry receives a letter from an old acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy, telling him that she is dying. Harold writes a quick response and walks to town to mail it, but instead keeps walking (both to his and his wife Maureen's surprise). He simply puts one foot in front of the other, walking without any sort of plan, other than his goal to reach Queenie (some 600-miles north) before she dies. He figures things out as he goes, and spends the miles thinking about Maureen, and his son David, and his friend Queenie (and about blisters). He ponders moments from his past and considers the world around him. He talks with strangers, who willingly help him toward his goal (granted, some of them are a bit off-kilter). Ultimately, he opens his eyes to the truth in his own life, and to what really matters, and exchanges his pride for happiness.

My sister recommended this to me, and I recommend it to you - it left me feeling quite happy and content.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

This is a beautiful book, about how we live, and also a bit about death. The Hubermann family face the challenge of living in a small German town during World War II, and it is a joy to see how they rise to the occasion. At the same time, Death talks about his job, carrying souls away from their dead bodies. A brief excerpt from Death's diary:
On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil. The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down. . . .
Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.

I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it. In complete desolation, I looked at the world above. I watched the sky as it turned from silver to gray to the color of rain. Even the clouds were trying to get away.

Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye. They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.
The writing is lyrical and moving. This is one of my very favorite books, I think. I just read that the movie version comes out in November. It is hard to believe they can do the book justice; my little review certainly hasn't done it justice. We will see...

The Beginner's Goodbye, and The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler

I love Anne Tyler's books, and these two did not disappoint. Of the two, The Accidental Tourist is my current favorite (and so I'm going to ignore The Beginner's Goodbye, for now; you can read a review at the link above). Macon Leary, a travel writer, hates to travel. Frankly, he hates anything that disrupts his routine. But when his wife leaves him, a year after their son is killed, his routine is destroyed. Tyler guides us, with humor and kindness, through Leary's life as he moves back in with his unusual siblings, hires the quirky Muriel to train his dog, and wonders if he could ever make a decision for himself. This book just makes me smile.

The Accidental Tourist was made into a movie in 1988 - this is not a recent book! - and they did a nice job with it.

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There. Three down, and some more to go. It's a start.

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