Once again I went to the library and stocked up on more books. Of the four I returned, I did not read one, as it looked like it was going to be a somewhat hard, depressing read. Nope, don’t need that. When I brought this latest batch home, I was thinking how starting a new book is like plunging into a river. Is it going to be cold? Will it carry me away? Will I enjoy it? How is the scenery? Some books have illustrations, like the Leacock book I just read. Do those illustrations match my imagination? Do they detract from the book? Is the writer trying too hard to be artsy? Does the story flow well? Am I entranced by it, surprised by it? As you can see, I have a lot of expectations and questions as I jump in. in fact, the library books have a last page with stamps on it for people to express brief opinions– good, bad, so-so. I haven’t expressed mine there– I save it for here.
Some people are switching to Kindles, Koodos, and other electronic reading devices. I am not one. I like feeling the heft of a book, turning the page as I predict the next word and the next sentence, the next idea. I can look ahead to see how many pages remain before the chapter ends. I have a variety of bookmarks so I can see where I am in the book. I like the feel and smell of books and I like the covers. Especially old books have an association with other readers.
So, from the last batch, I read The Coffee Trader by David Liss. Truthfully it kind of dragged, but at the same time it was interesting to read about the Jews in Amsterdam at the time of the Inquisition. The protagonist, Miguel, was a converso from Portugal. He was living in his brother’s basement because he had lost his money in a deal gone sour. The story was about his attempts to make money on coffee trades, a new market, and various characters who helped or hindered him. I think the book would be more interesting to someone who does business and the story did not move very quickly.
Yesterday I chose one book at random and gobbled it up. This was Willful Behavior by Donna Leon. She write mysteries set in Venice. I had heard of her when another mystery writer, Barbara Nadal, did a reading in my cafe. Someone there commented on how some writers did that, setting their stories in a certain location. I would say that Leon is the better writer, but then I read Nadal’s books with a very critical eye, since I knew Turks and Turkey. At any rate, the story revolved around a young woman who had been inquiring about how to get someone pardoned posthumously. It turned out that her grandfather was an agent who bought art at very low prices from people who were trying to flee Italy during the Mussolini regime. There were comments by various people about the current Italian amnesia about those times and the lingering effects. Guido Brunetti was the policeman who investigated the girl’s death and this investigation had him meeting the girl’s ‘grandmother’ who had been in love with the grandfather and now in her 80s lived in poverty in the midst of priceless art. This was a very good story that moved well in an interesting setting.
Another book that I got was Cleopatra’s Sister by Penelope Lively. In fact, this sister was a very small and part of this story. The first part of the book was developing the characters, which I found very brittle. It also developed the story of Callimbia, a nonexistent country between Egypt and Libya, which puts it as part of Tunisia. I found some of the descriptions rather stereotypically wrong. In addition, from time to time there were small sections in italic that seemed to be rather incongruous and did not add to the story at all. The second part of the story was more interesting, as the two characters happened to be on a plane to Nairobi which was diverted to the capital of Callimbia. This part had more action, including the two characters falling in love with other. All of the British travellers were basically imprisoned, first in a barracks and then in a former convent. Along the way they met the current leader of the country, whose mother was British, and who was a fat somewhat mad dictator. Of course all’s well that ends well and the two characters are returned to England, where we assume they went on with their lives. I almost abandoned this book, but I did get sucked into the second section, which had more action. It was a mediocre read, all things considered.
A rather silly read that I enjoyed was The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas. The hero was a fake fakir who had been sent by his village to Ikea in France to buy a new bed of nails (called Hertsyorbak). First he rips off the taxi driver with a fake euro note, which causes said taxi driver, a gypsy, to come after him. Then because he has no money he decides to sleep in the store. He hears people coming, so he hides in a wardrobe and then the adventure begins. He is shipped to the UK, meets some African refugees en route, sent to Spain, where he encounter the taxi driver and family, to Italy, to Libya, and back to France on his own, where he reconnects with the woman he met in the Ikea cafeteria. It is an improbably story, but at the same time, it offers sympathy for many people, most of all the refugees. Some of the word plays were a little tiresome, but mostly it was great fun to read.