Friday, 14 November 2008
Luxury -- a good book and dark chocolate.
I love to read. Whenever I can spare the time and frequently when I can't you will find me with my nose buried in a book. I read in the bathtub, in the intervals of getting meals, whenever I'm stuck in a lineup. I read last thing at night or I can't go to sleep. I borrow novels from the library at the rate of about three a week or borrow from friends and family or purchase secondhand or new, especially if the book is by an author I value. Being able to buy books when I want to is the greatest joy of a securely funded retirement.
Some books by authors I esteem I read again and again. I am on my second set of Jane Austen, for instance, having worn out the paperback versions I first bought. And my second set of Tolkein. I have hardcover copies of most of Nevil Shute that I inherited from my father. I think Shute's fiction is much discounted today, with the possible exception of On The Beach, but several of his other books are just excellent, if dated. Mary Stewart. Tad Williams. And others, that I am getting to.
I read historical fiction for choice or science fiction/fantasy. I want a plot that will hold my attention, characters that I believe in and, most of all, good writing. Well, I'll make exceptions if the first two conditions are met -- I own and reread Jean Auel, for instance, and Mercedes Lackey, both of whom are authors whose editors ought to be smacked across the knuckles. Mind you, you could say the same thing about Dickens, in my opinion. I read poetry and plays as well, but this post is about novels.
There are novels that I own in paperback that are no longer on the library shelves, although that is where I first found them. Novels that are wonderfully written and emotionally compelling. The author in this category that springs first to my mind is Elizabeth Goudge, who wrote both contemporary and historical fiction. My rapidly disintegrating copies of her work are stored in boxes in our sleeping cabin at the moment and I would love to replace them. Look for City of Bells, which I think is her best historical novel, and if you see any of her children's stories, grab them for your daughters. I gather that a lot of her work is still in print.
Another excellent author who still enjoys a loyal following is Georgette Heyer. Her detective fiction has dated, but her historical fiction, based in Regency England, is still available in paperback. The best of her work, for me, is An Infamous Army, a fictional account of the battle of Waterloo that is meticulously researched, and A Civil Contract. I am contemplating replacing my tattered copies of these, too.
I do own in hardcover all of Dorothy Dunnett's historical novels. She has two series, one about Scotland in Henry VIII's time (although the six books in the series range through France, the German states, Russia and Constantinople) and the second based in Holland a century earlier, although these books also cover a lot of geography. Again, the research is amazing. There is one stand alone novel, about MacBeth, called King Hereafter, which is maybe the best novel I have ever read.
And the last one I am going to talk about today, who is still writing and deserves every fan she can get is Barbara . Hambly. She writes science fiction/fantasy, books that are both funny and dramatic and whose casts of characters come alive and stay with you. Her latest two books are historical fiction set in the USA. But her best work for me is a six book series of historical detective fiction set in New Orleans in the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Her protagonist is a man called Benjamin January who is a Free Man of Colour (that's the title of the first book in the series) and the books explore the conditions of slavery and the place of African Americans in New Orleans society in depth and with compassion and outstanding intelligence. At the same time they are top notch detective stories. And Ben is real, I swear he is.
That's got to be enough of that! But if you need something to read, take a look at Hambly. I'm off to see if I can sneak a piece of my husband's mega chocolate bar.