I view books as friends and pick them just as carefully. I don’t waste time with a ridiculous chatterbox or vulgar charlatan, which probably explains more about what I don’t read than it does about the books I choose.
Sometimes I try to match a book’s setting with my own, which is why I read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien to the kids around a winter campfire. Or why strolling the beach while reading Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh makes sense to me. There are books for certain times of year. The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeline L’Engle is of course a summer lakeside cottage read, while Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a winter snow-and-ice read.
Traveling also prompts new areas of interest for me. Seeing the Sistine Chapel in Rome made me crave to know more about the master behind the masterpiece, so I bought Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King and read it all the way home across the Atlantic. This summer, while visiting the book shop at the Biltmore House, the new biography of Frank Law Olmsted, the pioneering landscape architect of Biltmore (and many other famous grounds in America), caught me attention and held it through 400 pages of his extraordinary life story as told in Genius of Place by Justin Martin.
On the other hand, good historical fiction can be just as absorbing. Right now, my favorite books in that genre are by Hilary Mantel. Both Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies explore the life and times of Thomas Cromwell as he navigates the tumultuous politics of Henry VIII’s court. I also enjoyed the novel Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant about the life and times of 14th-century nuns in a Italian convent.
I often ask people what they’re reading. Surprisingly few are reading much of anything. So, when someone lights up at my question, I know I’ve found a kindred spirit. One such conversation happened earlier this month. When I asked a new acquaintance, a pretty, young academic considering a move to Orlando, what she was reading, her response was everything I could have hoped.
“You mean, what books did I pack on this trip and are sitting on my nightstand?” she clarified. I knew we were speaking the same language. Then, she told me about Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik and Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. Guess what books are queuing up on my nightstand now? I just have to finish What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher R. Beha first!
So, what are you reading?