It's strange, a few months ago it was like I fell out of love with books. I've been a lifelong bookworm but I just couldn't garner the excitement about reading that I have for the past 9/10ths of my life. Book depression maybe? The 37-year-itch? Student overload? Adult onset ADD? Whatever the cause, it made the rest of my life seem a little blah, too. I'd pick up a book, flip a few pages, put it down. Repeat. I think I get some kind of vitamins from reading so I've probably been suffering from mental scurvy without the nourishment from books and stories.
Well, I'm back! (<-- read with Jack Nicholson voice if you so desire). I think it has a lot to do with the last few books I've read so I thought I'd pass them along. If they can bring me out of book gloom, maybe you'll like them, too.
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I uploaded The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet to my kindle last summer but only made it a few pages in before turning to other, more beachy reads (hey, it was summer). A week or two ago, I had nothing else to do (ha!) or read so I gave it another try. So my advice: give it a few chapters to draw you in. While a pirate-like setting in a distant trading post in the late 18th century might not sound like your cup of tea, give it a chance.
In 1799, the Dutch East Indies Company is in Nagasaki Harbor, where Jacob de Zoet, a devout and principled clerk is trying to earn enough money to go home and marry his fiancee in Holland. As the years turn, he falls in love with a disfigured midwife and his principles are tested as he encounters devious and selfish men on both side of the cultural divide as well as challenges to his faith, principles and affections. My one complaint is that the ending part, the rest-of-his-life summary is too brief and felt tacked on.
Mitchell is a fantasic storyteller. As one of the other reviewers noted, he won't baby you with constant action (and sometimes it's hard to keep track of all the characters, well-developed though they are) but his descriptions and characters and words dazzle. I've started reading all of his others, hoping to maintain the book-thirst he gave me with this one.
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From my Good Reads review: Caleb's Crossing is a vivid historical novel based on Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a Wampanoag who was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard (1665), as told through the narrative of fictional character (and strong female voice) Bethia Mayfield. The two meet on Martha's Vineyard when they are both about 12; what follows as Bethia and then others educate Caleb is Brooks's lyrical story addressing faith, friendship, culture, love, education, and freedom. Lofty principles, yes, but approachable and real in the telling.
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Honorable mentions: Lest you think I'm all high-minded in my reading, I also devoured Rob Lowe's autobiography Stories I Only Tell My Friends and really liked it. Not your typical celebrity bio, I found it a compelling and interesting read. (Guys, Rob Lowe can write!) But then again, I am a child of the 80s and fondly remember The Outsiders and St. Elmo's Fire and, later, loved The West Wing so I was interested in the inside stories. True to the title, it did feel like a good dose of all his best stories from over the years, complete with salty language now and then (profanity alert).
Also: In Every Last One, Anna Quindlen (whom I really love) creates a true-feeling, detailed picture of a modern day suburban family and then takes them through a harrowing, painful HUGE tragedy. This isn't going to be for everyone, but I admired Quindlen's deftness and insights. Also, in the author interview at the end, she talked about her favorite book lately, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which made me pick it up and try again. So, thanks, Anna.
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What makes a book a winner for you? Here are my criteria for a recommended, 4- or 5- star book:
1) it makes me crave writing something
2) I would read it again. And, possibly, again and again and again.
3) I want to underline passages (and usually do)
4) it's difficult to put down
5) it transports me to the world of the story
6) it inspires me in some way
What about you? Any great reads lately?
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Top image via Say Yes to Hoboken