As part of our honeymoon, Steven and I visited Portland, Maine. We were only there for a few days, we stayed in a beautiful B&B, and we did some of my favourite things; ate incredible cakes, mooched in a very fine stationery shop and spent hours in a wonderful bookstore.
I don’t know about you guys, but I love a proper bricks-and-mortar book shop. Back in MK I used to love Ottakars, and then it became Waterstones. There’s nothing wrong with Waterstones, of course, but it wasn’t really the same (except that it kind of was, in every way, they just changed the name over the door). Here in Bath we have plenty of book shops. Topping and Company is my favourite, with it’s uneven wooden floors, swooshy ceiling fans and booky smell – they even give you free tea and coffee!
But I digress. In Portland I bought three new books, Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake and Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons.
(A fan of books, be still my beating heart! Photo by me.)
Maine was a piece of pure chick lit. The story of one family told by three generations of women, all totally diverse, but all the same on the most important levels (can you hear my faux-psychologist voice?) You know, schmaltzy but immersive and fun. I bought it because so much of the action takes place in towns and locations we visited on our honeymoon. For me it’s the literary version of postcards, and really what could be better than that? I’d give it a 3 out of 5 – light reading, especially good for by the pool on holiday, and wonderful for the memories it evokes for me personally.
(Don’t you just want to be lying on a beach right now? Photo by me.)
As you may have guessed, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake is a collection of short stories. (Before we continue, yes, the author is called Breece D’J Pancake, no, D’J is not a name – it was a misprint of D.J. (for Dexter John) in a magazine that printed one of his stories and he stuck with it, and yes, his last name really is Pancake – I’m jealous too.) I’ve read half of the stories, pretty much all based in West Virginia during the 1960s and I really enjoyed them. Pancake has been compare to Hemingway many times and I can absolutely see the resemblance. Pancake’s stories have the same brutal honesty and simplicity, the same intensity of feeling and focus on physical manly work, and in they are also very depressing. That’s why I’ve only read half of them I will go back to the rest, but I had to take a break from all the pain. It was putting a real downer on my morning reading! Perhaps one at a time is the way to go. 4 out of 5 – beautiful and thought provoking, but hard going.
(Little foxy face! Photo by me.)
Ellen Foster is a revelation. I’d never heard of Kaye Gibbons, but I’m going to have to look out for more of her work. This, her first novel, is short, possibly more of a novella, and I read it in just a week. I like it all the more for that. I was so sucked in by the narrative, the voice of an 11-year-old girl who is trying to find a family, that I didn’t want to stop reading.
(Fancy font for a fantastic book. Photo by me.)
There’s nothing sentimental about this story. It’s blunt in a lot of ways and it doesn’t shy away from racism, narrow-mindedness, suicide, murder and really awful relatives. But it’s all told with a refreshingly simple point of view. Yes, the things she goes through are horrible, but she’s happy as long as she gets her frozen meals and her microscope. The innocence counters the darkness beautifully, and when you reach the end, you see so much more in it all.
There are quite a lot of characters, for such a short book, and you don’t get the kind of depth into most of them that I usually like, but it works with the narrator – a young child isn’t going to give you a deep analytical response to the people around them, they’re just going to tell you what they think, simply and honestly.
I thoroughly recommend Ellen Foster, to everyone. At just 126 pages, it’s not a mammoth undertaking, and it’s worth however long you take to read it. I promise.
What are you guys reading at the moment? Check back soon for more knitting news!