When you read a good book, do you look up the author? Contemporary authors often have an interesting personal web site where you can get to know their experiences and interests, giving you insight into the authenticity of the book and the approach of the person who wrote it. In the absence of a personal web site, you can learn something about the author’s background on Goodreads , the publisher’s web site, or the many book reviews which are readily available on line.
After six years of graduate school, I have the habit of looking up authors, but a problem with finding books to read. My shelves are crammed full of history books (the print kind), including a few that are reasonably readable but in June 2014, free from academia and starved for fiction, I plunged into binge reading in which I devoured anything with a good plot. It has been wonderful. I read all of Henning Mankell’s books and all of the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz plus a few novels here and there. While publishing my own book, I discovered the growing world of self-published authors and was drawn into the futuristic worlds of Hugh Howey’s Silo Series http://www.hughhowey.com/about/ and Cyberattack by Matthew Mather http://matthewmather.com/ . Check them out! Self-published authors tend to have vivid and engaging web sites.
Fortunately, friends turned out to be a rich resource of reading diversity. Through their recommendations I stocked a virtual bookshelf (most of my reading is on Kindle now) of books I might never have found with my normal hit-and-miss browsing. Keeping a habit from graduate school, I looked up the author to learn about the person who had labored to write the words I was reading. Here are some of the novels that pulled me in recently with their graceful writing and depth of spirit:
Hotel du Lac, the 1984 Booker Prize winner by Anita Brookner (1928-2016), recreates a fantasy of mine, that is to stay in a quiet hotel on Lake Geneva doing nothing more than reading, writing, taking walks, and showing up for tea and dinner. (My favorite daydream back in the years of the toddlers). Edith Hope, a writer, has escaped from her match-making friends after dodging a wedding at the last minute. She takes refuge in a lakeside hotel to try to sort out her life amidst the few guests remaining at the season’s end.
If you take up this book, be sure to read the delightful interview with Anita Brookner in the Paris Review at http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2630/the-art-of-fiction-no-98-anita-brookner in which she discusses writing, her favorite authors, and why she considers existentialism a “romantic creed.” While you’re at it, take a look at Anne Tyler’s New York Times review at http://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/03/books/a-solitary-life-is-still-worth-living.html .
In a similar way, Our Souls at Night (2015) examines the quiet struggle to defy the expectation of others and lead one’s own life. In simple unadorned prose, Kent Haruf tells of two neighbors, their children and spouses long gone, who find friendship late in life. The story begins with a simple sentence: “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.” You are drawn into their growing closeness and the inevitable consequences of Addie’s decision. I was saddened to see on Goodreads that Haruf died of cancer in 2014 soon after finishing this book. See http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23602562-our-souls-at-night . At least I can look forward to reading his earlier books.
All the Light We Cannot See (2014), the Pullitzer Prize winning novel by Anthony Doerr, is built around the chance encounter of two teenagers in a destroyed city. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who transmits radio codes for the French Resistance, while Werner is a gifted German orphan trained to track down resistance radio transmitters. Both are struggling for survival in the Allied bombing of the French city of St. Malo at the end of World War II. To hear the author describe in his own words his vision in writing this exquisite book, see his video on the publisher’s web page: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Anthony-Doerr/1945358
That brings us up to the present. Currently I’m in the middle of The Spirit Keeper (2013) by K. B. Laugheed. This story of a young Irish girl taken from her harsh life on the Pennsylvania frontier by two Native Americans who are convinced through a vision that she has special gifts. As the small group begin to depend on one another during their long westward journey Katie goes from frightened captive to partner in survival on an uncertain odyssey, showing us the peoples and the environment of western North America through the unsophisticated eyes of an eighteenth-century teenager. The author has an engaging web site (http://www.kblaugheed.com/ ) in which she discusses her interest in Native American cultures of the Pacific Northwest and her interest in plants as “an organic gardener and master naturalist.” As I follow the adventure, I can’t help but hope for some mention of Native American medicinal plants which were, after all, the subject of my dissertation.
I would not have discovered these books without asking my friends about their recent reading. The discoveries I’ve made about them on line has made them even more enjoyable. I’m also reading some remarkable nonfiction works but those are for another article. In the meantime, please tell me what you have been reading lately so I can continue my quest. Enjoy your summer!