Today I had to wear a jacket to the market. Autumn is in the air! And it could not have come sooner for me. We have, for the first time in the nearly 7 years I have lived here, had a serious summer. The kind with several, long heatwaves. As you know from my FB updates, it was way too hot for me, especially the two weeks I spent on the Costa Brava and in Provence.
One good thing about the long, hot summer, though, was that it was also a summer of reading. Somewhere in this house there is a notebook where I wrote down all the books I read, but, quelle surprise, right now I cannot find the notebook. So I will try to recreate the list from memory.
Here’s the list.
- Burial Rites
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North
- Hold Still
- Have You Been Good?
- Miss Hargreaves
- Traveller’s Prelude
- Kingsley Amis: Memoirs
Random notes: Burial Rites is a first novel, about the last woman to be beheaded in Iceland. So evocative and deeply felt.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North was one of the most harrowing books I have read in ages. A novel about the experience of an Australian POW doing slave labor building the Burmese railway. An astonishing achievement.
Hold Still, by Sally Mann, the famous photographer of the Shenandoah Valley, gets my vote for book of the year. About family and art and hard times and the creative life and so many more things. As a fellow Southerner, I saw it all coming, like being hit head-on by the Southern Crescent, back in the day. Highly, highly recommended.
Because I am a Bloomsbury completist, for better or for worse, I read everything by anyone who was even remotely connected to that complex and complicated group. Vanessa Nicolson is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West, the sometime lover of Virginia Woolf; I once met Vita’s son Nigel, so that is my 6 degrees of separation connection. A sad story of her life and the death of one of her daughters.
I have always collected the works of Freya Stark, the great explorer of the Middle East, but never has one of her books so completely captivated me as the first volume of her autobiography, Traveller’s Prelude. She is simply a magnificent writer and had an extraordinary life. I have just ordered all 8 volumes of her letters and am looking forward to a hard winter of deep snow and sitting by the fire reading them.
At some little village near Lorgues, I stumbled across a junk shop–less brocante and more random tchotchkes. It was a blistering hot day and the shop was sweltering, but when I came to a back room full of English books–good English books, provided by a real reader–I persevered, despite the sweat pouring off me. It was there that I found several of the books on this list. I finally read Slipstream, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s autobiography, and the memoirs of the one of the several men to whom she was married, Kingsley Amis. Lives of literary achievement and tumultuous relationships and affairs and whatnot. Enjoyed them both, though unconvinced I would have liked either one of them.
What are YOU reading?