So when I said in my last post that I was playing a game of readaholic catch-up, I wasn’t exaggerating. I’ve become of those people who gets jittery and feels like there’s something missing when I haven’t got a book on the go, even if I’m only progressing at a snail’s pace of a page or two a day.
I think one reason I enjoy reading so much is because I’m a worrier. (What a shocking statement; I bet you didn’t see that one coming 😉 ).
So yes, I worry about a ton of stuff, most of which is completely, unequivocally, 100% out of my control; in other words, all my worrying is time well spent.
(Yes, that last bit is sarcasm, which probably required no clarification; I don’t think I have any readers from Betelgeuse?)*
Anyway … diving headlong into a book is the one sure way to get me out of my head and to quiet those worrying thoughts.
The second reason I’ve become such a reader is because people’s lives — the intricate details, the nitty gritty hows and whys — provide an endless source of fascination to me. And while yes, I do know, thank you very much, that characters in a book aren’t *actually* real, to me … well … they really kind of are. So sitting amongst them and immersing myself in their lives, while curled up in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea, is my idea of one of the coziest, most gezellig, ways to spend an evening.
I seem to go on reading jags. I went through a Margaret Atwood phase, and then a prolonged jog through medieval English historical fiction. There was a longish smattering of bestsellerish stuff (John Irving and Jean M. Auel and Diana Gabaldon). There were the books I read alongside my husband (Douglas Adams, Alexandre Dumas and George Orwell). There are the classics, a seemingly endless list that I’ve been dipping into and out of ever since our daughter was born 19 years ago: Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, E.M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy… There’s been a lot of non-fiction, of the environmental and nutritional variety. And then there’s the children’s and the YA I’ve read, not aloud, but alongside our kids, after or before they’d read the book, so I’d be able to have discussions with them. (And quite often, truth be told, the children’s and YA have not only not been read aloud, they’ve not even been read alongside … but simply just because).
Currently, I’m on a World War II historical fiction jag, and the reason I find this narrow genre so interesting is two-fold:
First, it makes me enormously grateful to be living in a time and place where there’s peace and good government, as well as sufficient food, clothing and shelter. It also hits me at a very personal level, because both my mother and father, as well as my father-in-law, were children in Europe during the war.
My mother is from a small town in The Netherlands, just outside Rotterdam, and she was eight years old when the war began in 1939. She huddled under desks and church pews during bombings; she had to try to sleep in dank, over-crowded cellars; she felt the fear engendered by the German soldiers occupying the community centre directly next door; she went hungry in the latter years of the war when much of the Dutch population faced starvation.
My father, on the other hand, was only two years old when the war began. His German family was living on a farm in Prussia (an area which today is encompassed by both Germany and Poland), and he had older siblings who were part of the Hitler Youth. When the tide of the war turned, his family didn’t heed the warnings to leave; their farm was overrun by Polish soldiers who rounded them up and transported them to a work camp. My father-in-law’s war story is eerily similar to my father’s: he was the same age as my father, also living on a farm in Prussia, and with an older brother in the Hitler Youth, but when the warnings came to his widowed mother to skedaddle, they did. He was seven years old when he and his brother and mother made their way — by foot, by Red Cross train, by hitching rides with anyone who would take them — to relatives in Austria.
Experiences such as these can’t help but colour a person for the rest of their lives, and reading accounts that resemble the conditions in which my parents found themselves as children allows me to understand them more fully, and has helped me come to terms with events that occurred in my own childhood.
The second reason historical books of this vintage fascinate me is because I’m keenly interested in knowing how people used to live. I’m not so naïve as to wish to go back in time and live in a different era (I’m rather fond of medical advances such as antibiotics and such), and while I do have a soft spot for ALL historical fiction, I do feel there could be something to be learned from this relatively recent history. You know, before we embarked upon this age of consumerism and globalization, before plastics and convenience and disposability became so ubiquitous and so pervasive that no one can seem to fathom how to hold a school dance without supplying flats of bottled water and dollar store trinkets…
(Whoops … I guess that’s a mini-rant; my apologies).
So … the books I’ve been reading:
- Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. I loved this book, not just for the historical details, but also for the back and forth, “what if you could re-live your life” aspect, which was a fascinating concept for me.
- The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. I read this alongside our daughter; we both loved it, although it is a very sad read.
- Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay. This seems to be one of those must-reads that people either love or hate. I hated it.
- The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. I wanted to love this book, but I couldn’t quite get there. It’s definitely not a hate, but is somewhat of a meh.
- Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. Our 16 year-old son read this for English last year, so I read it after he did. While I didn’t love it, it was a very compelling read, and the time travel made it very interesting.
- All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. What can I say? I absolutely loved this book. The gorgeous writing, the back and forth in time, the separate stories that came together in the end, the mystery of the gemstone …
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This one had me with the title alone; I loved this post-war story, which is told solely through correspondence between the characters.
- The Occupied Garden, by Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski. I happened across this book while buying stroopwafels with our youngest ( 🙂 ) at a small Dutch deli. It’s a memoir of a market gardener and his wife and family, set in The Netherlands during the war, and ohmygosh hello?! … my own Dutch grandfather was a market gardener who had an orchard and a large vegetable garden behind his house. So, even though I’ve been trying to limit my book purchases and use the library more often, this was one I had to buy. I’m only halfway through, but I’m enjoying it immensely.
I’d love to know what you’re reading now, or, conversely, if you’re not reading, I’d love to hear about that, too. There was a point, when the kids were young, that I hit a wall; it felt almost as though I was reading my life away. It may not look like it (from the list above), but I don’t read ALL the time. On that note, I’m thinking my next post will be about knitting … because that’s gezellig too.
* Shameless literary reference: Betelgeuse is a planet in Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; they don’t have sarcasm there. I feel immensely sorry for them and can’t quite fathom how they manage 😉