Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading and Other Adventures

"Either write something worth reading, Or do something worth writing."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Hello! Happy February. I hope your holidays were good and you've been enjoying the new year. You may have been wondering where I have been! Well, I have been trying my hand at writing some fiction and it has been challenging, satisfying, and completely absorbing. I have enjoyed stretching myself and, if you are at all inclined, I highly recommend it. Finding a creative outlet has to be one of the most enriching of human experiences. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, "The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless."

Fortunately I have been able to keep up with some fabulous books that I am currently reading and wanted to share with you.

Nutshell by Ian McEwan:

I loved this book. Just as he did in "The Children Act," Ian McEwan manages to pack a powerful punch in a small number of pages, just under 200 here. The concept of the book sounds a bit crazy, but if you are willing to "suspend disbelief," it works. The narrator is an unborn baby who can hear everything that is happening around his mother, including the conversation between her and her lover to kill the baby's father. Her lover is the father's brother. Sound familiar? Yes, echoes of Hamlet here. The book is a bit of a sly comedy and I laughed out loud many times. The mother drinks prodigious amounts of wine (which is an awful reality that McEwan mines for some dark humor) during her pregnancy and there is quite a bit of humor as the baby-to-be becomes a wine connoisseur, commenting throughout the book on the quality of the wine as well as enjoying a contact high. The baby has learned about world events through the mother's habit of listening to podcasts and offers observations on the state of the world. He is full of disdain for his mother's lover who is crass and unintelligent. He also ponders the fact that his father is about to be murdered. What will happen to him after he is born, the baby uneasily wonders, since his mother and her lover never seem to consider this about-to-be-born human when plotting the murder. It is a very clever novel written by one of the best writers working today. I highly recommend it!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles:

A friend of mine remarked that this book reminded her of the film The Hotel Budapest. I agree. There is a whimsical and light-hearted quality to it. I am only halfway through, but suffice it to say that I am completely entranced by the voice of its central character, the charming and witty Count Rostov. It is 1922 in Russia and, as you can imagine, not a good time to be a Count. His crime was writing a poem. However, the Count's imprisonment will not be Siberia, but rather house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, the nicest hotel in Moscow. The hotel becomes a world unto itself for the Count and the events of the outside world enter only when his friends come to tell him what is going in revolutionary Russia. He shares their dismay. At one point he considers suicide, but decides to move on and manages to live a full and rich life within the confines of the hotel. The key to his contentment seems to be meaningful relationships with hotel guests and staff, an interest in everything around him, reading great books, and a determination to choose optimism over despair. The book is written with all the wit and charm of "Rules of Civility," Amor Towles first book, which I loved. I'm anxious to finish this one and see what ultimately happens to Count Rostov, an unforgettable character who is easy to love.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins:

A big, sprawling Victorian mystery that I have read before, this is a book I love. T.S. Eliot called it "the first and greatest of English detective novels." As soon as you open the first page you will be pulled into the tale of the moonstone, a famous diamond that originated in India and continues to be stolen from whomever is its unlucky owner. The mystery begins two years after the diamond was stolen from Rachel Verinder, who received it as a gift from her uncle on the occasion of her 18th-birthday. There are multiple narrators including the Robinson Crusoe-loving butler Gabriel Betteridge, Rachel's dashing cousin Franklin Blake, and the detective Sergeant Cuff. They all tell their story of the missing gem and its eventual recovery. Just like a Dickens novel, the book is filled with memorable characters and evocative Victorian atmosphere. This is one of those books that will take you to a cozy place.

It's raining cats and dogs this weekend in Los Angeles and it will be the perfect time to curl up with a classic novel like "The Moonstone." I'm also reading up on the Brontes as I plan my next trip to England. This time I will visit Haworth in Yorkshire and finally make the pilgrimage to the Bronte Parsonage where the Bronte family lived. Did you know that every night the Bronte sisters would walk around the table in their dining room discussing their writing? After Emily and Anne died, Charlotte continued this tradition to honor her sisters.

Let me know what you are reading and anything special you may be working on. The new year is the perfect time to follow our dreams!