Five Books That Are Stuck on My Shelves
Avid readers know all too well how easy it is to acquire books -- it's the letting go that's the difficult part. During the past 20 years, in which books have played a significant role in both my personal and professional lives, I've certainly had my fair share of them (and some might say several others' shares) in my library. Many were read and saved for posterity, others eventually, but still reluctantly, sent back out into the world. But there is also a category of titles that I've clung to for years, as they survived numerous purges, frequent library donations and countless changes of residence. I've yet to read them, but am absolutely certain I will. And should. When, I'm not sure, as I'm constantly distracted by the recent, just published and soon to be published works. Below is a random list of titles that I just can't seem to cast off with a hearty bon voyage.
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth.
I know. I'm a bit embarrassed. The 1993 novel was showered with critical accolades and had an astonishing readership for such a lush, meaty epic. If I remember correctly, the publisher's first printing evaporated almost immediately, only adding to both reviewers' and readers' word-of-mouth praise. Set in post-colonial India, this novel of manners follows the travails and triumphs of four extended families and one young woman's desire to follow her heart despite a risk of serious repercussions. All this set against the tumultuous growing pains of a fledgling democracy.
Constantine's Sword, by James Carroll.
A longtime curiosity about religions the world over, as well as about my own faith, drew me to this sweeping history by Carroll, a National Book Award winner and Boston Globe columnist, in which he tackles Christianity's tense, emotional and often downright hostile relationship with Judaism, and the consequences, both intentional and unexpected. Heralded as a book that would compel disciples of both faiths to rethink their shared history and the accepted wisdom, it is a journey I most certainly mean to take.
Marie Antoinette, by Antonia Fraser.
It inspired a feature film, by a Coppola no less. Reviewers said that Fraser, a deft writer, brings to the life of the doomed queen of France a historian's critical eye and a novelist's flair for captivating the reader -- which makes sense since she has proven herself in both fields. Drawing upon Marie's life as an Austrian princess who is betrothed to the future Louis XVI and thrust into the Byzantine, ruthless milieu of the French court, Fraser's portrait is said to be neither sympathetic nor disparaging, as she fleshes out the truth behind the anti-royalist demagoguery and notes that the foundations of the Revolution were laid long before Marie set foot on French soil.
An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears.
Restoration England is the backdrop of what friends described as a dense, thrilling, most unconventional murder mystery, the plot of which reminded me of Umberto Eco's masterful Name of the Rose. The poisoning of Dr. Robert Grove, a fellow at Oxford University's New College, is told from the perspective of four different narrators, unveiling myriad secrets and surprises. A fan of Pears's charming art mysteries, I feel certain I'll love this book, and my friends' praise only confirms that assumption. Now all I need is a whopping snowstorm and a tall mug of hot chocolate to get me started.
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan.
Perhaps the quintessential book club book (and also a feature film), it's an intergenerational tale focusing on four elderly women who emigrated to America from China after World War II and ON their independent-minded daughters. Now residing in San Francisco, the parents love nothing more than to reminisce and swap stories of their daughters' latest shenanigans while playing endless rounds of mah-jongg. Their children's desire to lead a more Westernized life clashes with their parents' Old World sensibilities. I'm told that a heartwarming and heart-wrenching denouement ensues, but please don't give it away, as I've not even seen the movie. And when I realized my copy had gone astray, I passed on replacing it with a paperback edition, instead buying the hardcover (with that beautiful cover), now in its zillionth printing.
What tomes are waiting patiently on your shelves?
-- Christopher Schoppa
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