Back Again, Bearing Books!

I am back from my trip to Vancouver, where in spite of the rain (even, in some ways, because of it) I had a lovely time visiting with family and friends and drinking in the always inspiring sight of the mountains rising above the city and the sea. It was a a welcome interlude between the end of a challenging term and the beginning of a summer of reflection and writing.

I didn’t end up doing a lot of reading while I was in Vancouver. During the day I was often out and about, and in the evenings we talked and then wound down with a little TV. A particular treat was watching Dr. Thorne, which my Trollope-loving father had saved up for me. I thought it was delightful, though as I rather sheepishly confessed to him, it has been many years since I read the novel (one of his personal favorites) — perhaps it’s time I reread it! In return (?) I introduced my parents to the quirky little comedy Detectorists, which my husband and I found both hilarious and unexpectedly touching. I’m not 100% sure my parents were converted, but at least now they know it’s there.

I did get some travel reading done. I’m nervous on planes, so light or fast-paced books are good as my concentration isn’t always great. En route to Vancouver, I found Miranda Neville’s The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton an excellent diversion, and on the way home I alternated between Georgette Heyer’s Black Sheep (reliably amusing) and Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds, which I’m reviewing for Quill & Quire. I plucked several promising titles off my mother’s well-stocked shelves, but the only one I read cover to cover was Martha Gellhorn’s A Stricken Field. I didn’t think it was a very good novel, but it tells an important story based on Gellhorn’s experience reporting on the plight of refugees from the Sudetenland after its annexation by Nazi Germany: it’s not particularly artful, but it is certainly gripping. I read about two-thirds of a Donna Leon mystery but left it behind unfinished: I might try to find it here, just to know whodunit and why–but I don’t feel highly motivated to as I was finding Leon’s prose terribly stilted.

Though I didn’t manage a lot of good reading while I was away, I did bring back a nice stack of books to read here at home. One ritual my mother and I have on my visits is an expedition to Hager Books, which is a small store with a nice atmosphere and thoughtfully stocked shelves. We peer around at everything and kibitz, in our opinionated and idiosyncratic ways, about authors and titles we’ve read or are interested in–or, for whatever reason, want nothing to do with! I picked out Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata and Anita Brookner’s Providence as part of my “keep independent bookstores in business” project. As I observed when reporting on my last trip to Vancouver, my mother’s personal book collection is another great resource, and recently she has been pruning it, putting some boxes together to donate to the public library’s book sale. I had the bright idea to “just take a look” through them and of course found a few I couldn’t resist, including another by Anita Brookner, one by Angela Huth I haven’t read before (I really like both Invitation to the Married Life and Easy Silence), and Elizabeth Taylor’s A View of the Harbour.

Including The Blinds, then, which had been mailed to Vancouver so I could get started on it sooner rather than later, I came home with 8 more books than I left with. And yet wouldn’t you know it: the book I most want to read next turned out to be waiting for me when I got back to Halifax. It’s Marina Benjamin’s The Middlepause: On Life After Youth, a 50th birthday gift which seems like just the right book to help me think about where my own life is now and what I want to make of it next. That is likely, then, to be the next book I write about here.

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