In November 2016, I collected 24 book recommendations from readers and commenters on this blog, and set about reading them. I have read 21 now and have 3 left!
Since my last update, I have read these 4:
- Before We Met – Lucie Whitehead – recommended by Amy Rutter
- Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss – recommended by Janet Brown @ Someone, Somewhere
- Cripple Creek Days – Mabel Barbee Lee – recommended by Cat @ The Eco Cat Lady Speaks
- The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver – recommended by reader Jamie
Before We Met was a psychological thriller. (I haven’t read any of the other thrillers like Girl on a Train, Gone Girl or The Woman in Cabin 10). As the story begins, Hannah and Mark have been married a short time and they travel often between London and New York. He is rich; she is unsettled. Soon we find out that although they met through friends, they married in haste and did not know each other well. Soon he fails to return home after a business trip, fails to provide good reasons, and appears to have absconded with her money. But why? He is the moneyed one!
At first, I was impatient with Hannah and thought she was not very bright for marrying a stranger and knowing so little about his business dealings. But I warmed up to her, and soon actually admired her because of the open way in which she contacted his and her friends, family and associates to track down what happened.
The ending was completely different from what I expected. For a while, I even thought Mark was involved in the trafficking of human organs! It kept me interested and maybe I will go back and read some of those other thrillers.
Bodies of Light follows Alethia’s journey to become a doctor in 1860s/70s Manchester. It’s a sober tale, rather than a rah-rah inspirational one. Alethia’s (Ally’s) life is shockingly difficult. Her mother is devoted to improving the lot of poor women, with a zeal that doesn’t allow any affection or compassion for her own children. Ally desperately tries to please her mother by being a perfect student and studying to become a doctor. She is diagnosed with “hysterical attacks” (anxiety and panic) which cause her mother to respond mercilessly.
I read the book with a sense of foreboding. It seemed impossible things could turn out well. (They do…mostly!) Ultimately, the author brings together themes of gender and patriarchy in history, mental health, kindness and self-care. Anyone who has achieved goals while dealing with mental health struggles (and poor medical care) will find this life-affirming. It was not an easy read, but a very memorable one.
Cripple Creek Days was a “wow” memoir I couldn’t put down! Here is my review from Goodreads:
A prospector heads for Colorado in search of gold, bringing his reluctant wife and daughter, in 1892. They commence a hard-scrabble existence in the mining camps, hoping the hard-drinking but honest dad will strike it rich. This is the story of a little girl, Mabel (Mabs), telling us about her family, town, and mining life, from the perspective of an 8-year-old. As she grows up, she comes to know about gambling parlours and bordellos and high rollers with new money – alongside a background of raging plagues, raging fires and raging outlaws. It is intimate and epic at the same time: Mabs watches her weakened, coughing father come down the hills from the mines, and at the same time, watches her town fill up with new train stations, grand hotels and millionaires’ mansions. She is a clear-eyed, unsentimental child. The book was published in 1958 when the author was 74. She integrated a complete social history of the town and the era.
I loved it!
The Poisonwood Bible is another book that kept me at the edge of my seat. An American preacher brings his family to the Congo (DRC) just before the country attempts its independence. Dad Nathan rules his family with an iron fist and believes he is sent by God to convert the heathens. Mother Oleanna and the 4 Price daughters miss the “society” trappings of their home town, but later they miss cleanliness, and health, and safety, and food. We find out that Dad has not secured resources from the missionary society and none of them are equipped to survive. The dad becomes truly unhinged and the womenfolk must fend for themselves.
The story is told in turns by the mother and the 4 daughters, each of whom has a distinct voice. The most remarkable thing about the book is that the narrators are racist colonialists, just as you would expect such a family to be in that time, in that place. For the most part, they are self-centred, whiny, judgmental, and very real. It was hard to read the language they used to refer to the local people. In the first chapter, the mom looks back and comments on her family’s role (and the role of other non-Africans) in the DRC’s story. It appeared she had some regrets, so I wanted to see how she got there.
The mother and each of the four daughters show a pioneering spirit and they adapt to their new circumstances, each in her own way – through friendship, or political awakening, or manipulation, or opportunism, or cooperation.
Their story is a microcosm of how white colonialism and international interference destroyed countries and people. Although not all the Prices come to appreciate the DRC or its people, the reader certainly does – sometimes by reading between the lines. Yet there are also threads of bravery and perseverance in the Price family, much like the Thornhill family in The Secret River. I “enjoyed” both books but was also sickened by the actions of our ancestors and their lack of acknowledgement of the humanity of others.
It was also a good companion to Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, which I also read for this book club.
So, some heavy and some light, but lots of good reading and food for thought. Thank you ever so much to my recommenders!
I have 3 more books to read:
- Fools Rush In – Bill Carter
- The Secret History – Donna Tartt
- Justice – Michael J. Sandel
Have you read any of these books? What else have you been reading?
Previous posts about the series are here: