Friday, January 27, 2012

Books - An Escape from Reality into Another's World

During our recent ice storm and power outage, there wasn't much to do. The television was silent. There wasn't enough light from our candles and oil lamps to see well after dark.

But Hubby had these handy - dandy head lamps that he uses for bringing in firewood after dark. They fit onto your head like a headband, with an amazingly bright LED headlamp attached to the front. (You can buy these at LL Bean)

And no, you are not going to get pictures. Suffice it to say, we looked ridiculous. And when we looked at each other, it was like looking into the sun. But, they were the perfect thing for reading when the lights go out.

I had started reading the most wonderful memoir shortly before then, by  Elena Gorokhova, written in 2009, called "A Mountain of Crumbs".

It is about growing up in the Soviet Union. She was born in the mid 50's. She grew up in St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad.

I loved every sentence and didn't want it to end. She had a way of narrating her story in a stoic, yet poetic way. Very much like reading her own personal thoughts in the very way a child would think.

I love reading about other people's lives. Especially if they have overcome difficulties.

Another excellent memoir is "The Glass Castle", by Jeannette Walls. This book was published in 2005. She writes about her childhood growing up with a lovable, drunken, but brilliant dreamer of a Father, and an artist Mother who resides in a world of fantasy; who drag their family from pillar to post as they barely survive. She writes with such tenderness towards her unfortunate circumstances and parents; a child having the role of parent. Another book I did not want to end. Despite her childhood, she became college educated and writes for a living.

 And then there is this gem of a book. Shirley Jackson was best known for her short story, "The Lottery", which generated the largest volume of mail ever received by The New Yorker after its appearance there in 1948, which continues to spark controversy, admiration, and terror - perhaps becoming the most famous short story of our time.

She also published six novels and countless other short stories.

But it was this book that led me to her. Her personal account of her life as the 'perfect professor's wife' and mother of 4, living in Bennington, Vermont in the late 40's and 50's.

Of course she wasn't the perfect wife or Mother, and her hilarious accounts of raising 4 children in small town America is priceless reading for anyone who is a parent.

This book is a compilation of short stories she wrote for various publications, spanning the time between 1948 to 1956, but the timeless quality of her experiences transcends any time-line.

It was re-issued in 1998 for Quality Paperback Book Club, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

If you want an endearing and hilarious walk through parenthood, I highly recommend this book.

This incredible work of fiction, "Memoirs of a Geisha", is amazing in two respects. That it is a work of fiction and that it was written by a man. An American man. And if you have seen the movie, try very hard to erase it from your memory because it doesn't even come close in capturing the essence of this book.

This book will transport you into the world of Geisha in a personal, first hand way. It is the story of one young girl, growing up to learn the ways of Geisha, with a powerful story of her own. Read this book if you are interested in Japan, its rapidly vanishing old world customs, subtleties, and way of life.

You will not put it down.

Another work of fiction that reads like a memoir, but from a very surprising perspective is "The Lovely Bones", a first novel by Alice Sebold. Again, this was made into a movie (the very last movie I saw with my Dear Mother). But please, disregard the movie, although it was very good. Because the book is sooooo much better.

Written from the perspective of a murdered girl, this is heartbreaking in its view into the life she left behind and the shattered family left in her wake. But do not get me wrong, this book is uplifting and hopeful with its message of love and healing. This book touched my heart. Very well written and will hold your interest to the very last page.

My glass door bookshelf in my living room holds my very favorite books from childhood to adulthood.

Two worth mentioning, as they fall into the category of 'Memoirs' are "How Green Was My Valley", by Richard Llewellyn and "Green Mansions" by W.H. Hudson

The first, a classic novel, written in 1940, are the reminisces of Huw Morgan; of his golden days as a youth in South Wales in a small coal mining town. This book is so powerfully bittersweet, you will never forget it.

The next book, "Green Mansions" is a haunting tale, hinted at being true, but no proof revealed, of a man lost in the South American Jungle, who eventually finds a remote British outpost and falls in love with a fairy-like young woman. Told in the third person, the foreword reads: "A story actual yet fantastic, which immortalises as passionate a love of all beautiful things as ever was in the heart of man." Hudson, the author states, "The sense of the beautiful is God's best gift to the human soul."

This book was written in 1916. It is not a long book, but it is one that will stay with you forever.

Finally, the last book, "The Land of Painted Caves", is one I have yet to read. The final installment of "The Earth's Children", series, written by Jean M. Auel

This takes  you into the world of Ayla and Jondalar, as they live in the world of Woolly Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers.

These books have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, (even before the last book in the series was released last year) appealing to a wide audience.

Jean M. Auel started writing "The Clan of the Cave Bear" more than 30 years ago on a typewriter at her kitchen table while her 3 daughters were away at college and her two youngest sons still lived at home. She wrote mainly at night (she is a night owl), while raising her 5 children and working full time at Tektronix, designing circuit boards, in Portland, Ore.

She started out with an idea for the series late one night after reading an armload of books from the Multnomah County Central Library about Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.  She quickly became obsessed. It was 1977 and she'd quit her job at Tektronix to get a master's degree in business administration and turned down a well-paying job as a bank manager to see if she could write a novel. She worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and wrote half a million words, an outline for the entire series.

She is 76 years old now and says writing is the hardest thing she has ever done, harder than raising her children, harder than working, harder than going to college.

Thank you, Jean for all of your hard work.  

Books have the power to transport you to places you have never been, times you have never lived, and experiences you may never have. They can take your mind off your troubles. They can entertain you, make you laugh, make you cry, give you new perspectives, and even give you hope.

What are you reading today?


  1. How very interesting. I didn't know that Jean Auel was from Portland. So many great women writers from PDX! (Ursula LeGuin, Beverly Cleary) I love memoirs too. At the moment I'm re-reading Plain Wisdom, by Cindy Woodsmall and Miriam Flaud. It's a kind of "conversation" between an Amish and non-Amish woman about the challenges of life, with some recipes thrown in. I was thinking of re-reading Katharine Raine's Autobiographies next. I tend to do a lot of re-reading of favy books!

    I've found it so very challenging to get through the last while that I've stopped reading stories and fiction, mostly. I just find it too hard to escape into another reality. It's too much emotion, even if it's fictional! I know the day will come again when I can relax a bit more and lose myself in a story without feeling overwhelmed.

    I see from your bookshelf that you are a James Herriot fan. There was a series on t.v. over Christmas about the young James Herriot. I didn't watch it, but it got good reviews.

  2. Hi Christine, Yes, wonderful authors from the Pacific Northwest....I have not read the books you mentioned, but I will put them on my reading list. I have noticed your interest in the Amish...I will have to catch up with you, as they hold my interest, also. I am very fond of reading personal accounts of our early pioneers who lived similarly...Laura Ingalls Wilder comes to mind, and many more, not so famous personal accounts. I also love reading Alaskan lifestyles, and there is a very good author right now writing about it, called Heather Lende. She is also a featured monthly writer in our Woman's Day magazine.

    Yes, I love James Herriot. Such a treasure. I was so sad when he died. I hope that our PBS station aires the program about him that you mentioned. That is where we see British broadcasts.

    I understand how you have to suspend your reading of emotional content. I have had to shield myself this year, also.

    Thanks for sharing and adding to my reading list! xx


Thank you for stopping by! Your comments are important to me and are very much appreciated. xx Karen

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