Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fiction | Rosamunde Pilcher Is Beach Reading At Its Finest

Last summer when I was on vacation, I read Rosamunde Pilcher’s Coming Home. The cover really looks like it’s a romance novel, but I assure you that it is not! Not that I minded that so much, though, because the cover just made it look like the perfect beach read that it was.

Last month when I was visiting home in Nashville and took a trip to McKay’s, I was determined to pick up another Pilcher book—any Pilcher book—for another great summer read. I opted for September, which was written five years before Coming Home but takes place about 40 years after and has equally as awful of a cover.

It is NOT an awful book, though! September takes place in the lush green landscape of Scotland sometime around what I can determine to be the 1980s. (It was written in 1990 and the narrative sounds rather ‘present’ as opposed to ‘past’.) Supposedly this is a very loose follow-up to her most popular, The Shell Seekers, but from what I’ve gathered, it only really has one character that sort of overlaps.

The Scotland in this story is one that still holds tradition close, especially in the upper echelon of society. It’s early summer in a rural Scottish town, and head matriarch, Violet Aird, is helping a neighbor plan a great big party for her daughter. Violet’s son Edmund is a businessman often away working, while his much-younger wife Virginia spends her days around the estate, caring for their 8-year-old son. Longtime friends of the Airds, Isobel and Archie (aka Lord Balmerino) are technically “rulers” of the land and estate, but declining income has brought them down to middle class, requiring them to open their home to vacationers during tourist season. Meanwhile, Edmund’s daughter Alexa has finally found a boyfriend in London (Noel Keeling; here’s where Shell Seekers comes in!); Archie’s free-spirited sister is debating a return to Scotland after decades away; and a mental patient returning home unnerves the entire family.

The great thing about this Pilcher book, like the last one I read, is that the tiny details don’t really matter. Pilcher writes with a style—a sweeping family narrative that has just the right amount of sentiment and drama; it’s never over the top with one or the other. You don’t need the details to get sucked in, and, frankly, you’ll probably forget most of them once you’ve finished. But with Pilcher, you don’t need to remember the details; the process of reading her books is simply enjoyable, and they have enough heft to keep you satisfied for a while. If you don’t even remember the characters’ names a week after turning the last page, you’ll at least recall, “Oh, I really enjoyed reading that. I should read more.”

**Note: The non-romance-y, legit-looking covers of several Pilcher books come from a 2005 re-issue by British publisher Hodder. This now makes sense why I can’t find them anywhere (yet, why are they default cover on Goodreads??).

Monday, August 20, 2012

On Growing Up

That night, lying in bed, I could not help wishing that there wasn’t so much sadness in growing up. It was all so confused in my mind. There had been the long, long days of being young and not wondering about tomorrow at all and thinking in a strange, forgotten child’s world. There were days when my thoughts were as mild as feathers and even an hour seemed like a long time. Then suddenly it was like turning a sharp corner—you were older and the things that counted when you were young didn’t count anymore at all, and looking back, you couldn’t even see them. Growing up crowds your mind with new thoughts and new feelings so that you forget how you used to think and feel.

—From Seventeenth Summer, Maureen Daly, pg. 218

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reading Roundup: Revisiting Graphic Memoirs

I went through a graphic novel kick back in 2010 and found that I reaaaaally enjoy them, particularly graphic memoirs. Actually, I can’t even say I’ve read any graphic fiction; my entire graphic oeuvre is memoirs, but I think the two genres really lend themselves to each other. There’s something so much more personal about reading a story someone wrote and then seeing it through their eyes in the way they decide to show it to you.

This summer, I decided to revisit the graphic memoir genre because of two recent releases that caught my eye…

Way back when (only two years ago, so not incredibly long), I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and absolutely loved it. Therefore I was beyond psyched to find out that she had a new book out, Are You My Mother? While Fun Home focuses much on Bechdel’s father and her own adolescence, Are You My Mother? puts the spotlight on the author’s mother and their own complicated relationship.

Here’s the thing about Bechdel—her books sometimes sound like a psychology lesson. Her use of language is something I commented upon back when I read Fun Home, but then it just seemed almost like a quirk of the author; the heavy use of language is like a humorous contradiction to the story’s comic panels. Are You My Mother?, though, reads like the notes from a deep psychological analysis–notes that no one but the patient and the psychologist should, or need to, read. And it was so meta. She’s writing about writing the book…you know, that sorta thing. Bechdel examines interactions with her mother, the development of her own love life, and her exploration into the literature of psychology. And frankly, it was mostly boring. It lacked the character intrigue and adolescent curiosity that came with Fun Home. And maybe that’s not Bechdel’s fault—I already knew most of her story from Fun Home, and I didn’t feel the need to be clued ito this part of her life. I’m sure writing this book must have been very therapeutic for Bechdel, and if she felt an immense sense of relief after writing this, good for her. I just didn’t need to read about it.

Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg’s To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story popped out at me one day in one of my local bookstores. While I’m considering this a graphic novel, it’s actually got a different format. It looks, upon first viewing, like a chunkster. And from the art on the cover, I expected a graphic memoir in the style of Blankets. But then you open it, and it’s all words with some pictures scattered throughout. It’s less graphic novel, more adult picturebook with illustrations coloring the pages.

Anyway, To Timbuktu is the story of two college kids from different schools who met while studying abroad in Morocco and then adventured through parts of the world together in the years immediately following graduation. This is my kind of story through which to live vicariously, because…helloooo….travel bug. Casey and Steven were both charming characters to get to know. Their recollections of experiences were honest but you never felt bogged down by their troubles; and they shared the little things that made each place and experience so special to them. Successful in inspiring world travel? Yes, indeed.

When you think about it, Casey and Steven’s story isn’t really anything special. Tons of recent grads do what they did—pack up and ship out while you still have the chance. But each and every person’s experience is special, because stories and experiences like these are so huge in shaping lifelong perspectives. And for someone like me, stuck at a desk everyday and dreaming of travel freedom, stories like these help tide you over until you do have the opportunity to pack up and ship out. If you liked Lucy Knisley’s French Milk and Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage, this is in the same vein.