For the Love of Reading

Emma Approved and Other Jane Austen Inspirations

Pride and PrejudiceLast year I blogged about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which was a really wonderful and Emmy winning video series that told the modern day story of Lizzie Bennet and her sisters based on the original characters from Pride and Prejudice.

Fans of that series now have something new to watch! Emma Approved is a video series from the same producers and again is a modern day retelling of a classic Austen work. I was able to get caught up on the first five episodes today during lunch. They might be harder to get into because Emma Woodhouse isn’t initially as likeable of a character as Elizabeth Bennet, but having read the book (both for school and leisure!) I am feeling confident that she will grow on me with time. It isn’t too late to get caught up with either story, no matter if you are an Austen super fan or just a casual admirer.

Award Nominatons and Literary Fiction

LowlandsIf we were to believe the media, summer reading is a time for light beachy reads. Thrillers, romance and other guilty pleasures seem to fall in this category. I fall strictly into the camp that you can read anything you want at any time, but one thing we can agree on? It isn’t summer anymore! So maybe it is the perfect time for a literary read. Literary fiction is often denser, more lyrical and the characters spend less time doing things and more time reflecting or reacting to things. They can be beautiful to read, have complex issues, but also sometimes dark and sad. Warning: literary fiction books often have open or ambigious endings! You will be in for a surprise if you normally read romance or mysteries.

Literary fiction fans often refer to awards lists – and two of my go-to lists have recently announced their nominees. The Man Booker prize is awarded to British authors and those from the Commonwealth of Nations. Their recently announced short list is very diverse – four of the six are women and are from the far reaches of Zimbabwe, New Zealand, India, and Canada. The entire list:

A Year of Loss

Paul Harding’s second novel after his Pulitzer-prize winning Tinkers is heartbreak of a novel.  One Sunday in the lovely New England village of Enon, Charlie Crosby takes a solitary walk at a bird sanctuary. He had invited his 13 year-old daughter Kate but she chose to go swimming instead with her girlfriend.  That afternoon while she is biking home from the lake, a distracted mother runs over her.  Charlie’s life changes forever.

The first casualty of Kate’s death is Charlie’s marriage to Susan.  Apparently, Kate had been the glue holding their union together, and when he is so overcome with grief that he can do nothing but lie on the couch and cry, his wife first begs for his help then gets angry.

Then in an intense moment of grief, wanting to feel real physical pain, he pounds the stairway wall and breaks his wrist. Susan takes him to the emergency room but a few days later leaves for her parent’s house in Minnesota.

The novel is essentially focused on two characters, the village of Enon—it’s presence is almost human and palpable--and Charlie, who has long studied the village’s history.  Charlie, who starts to abuse prescription drugs and alcohol, wanders the village mostly under cover of night. 

The Garden of Evening Mists

This beautiful historical novel is set in an exotic place, rural Malaya, after World War II before it became the country of Malaysia. It’s also one of the rare novels that is centered on a Japanese garden.

The narrator, Teoh Jun Ling, a woman of Straits Chinese heritage, has just retired from her career judging war criminal cases. Previous to that, she was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. In fact, she was the only person to survive; after being tortured there, she developed a great hatred for all things Japanese. Yet her dear sister, Yun Hong, who died at camp, always had a passion for Japanese gardens after she had visited the island nation as a child.

Yun Ling returns to the highlands to see old friends and also to visit the tea plantation of Yugiri where an ex-Japanese, Aritomo, has long worked a spectacular garden.  Although she is repulsed at asking a favor from someone Japanese, she requests that Aritomo build a Japanese garden in her sister’s memory.

He adamantly refuses. But then a few days later suggests an alternative. If she is willing to serve as his apprentice, he will teach her how to create her own.

Hippie Child: How a Young Boy Helped Parent his New-Age Mom

Think your childhood was non-mainstream? A little kooky? Perhaps on the bizarre side? Well check out the hand Josh Safran was dealt being born in the early 70s in a commune in San Francisco during the height of Flower Power and the counter-culture.

Safran makes his childhood—first in city communes; later in remote cabins in the mountain wilderness actually sound happy.  Credit his mother, Claudia, for that.  Highly intelligent, emotionally warm, full of passion for political change and hope for a just world, Claudia imparted to Josh many values.  Yet, she also barely kept food on his plate and never gave him a beautiful home. In fact for one three month period, they lived in a visqueen shelter on tree stumps in a rain forest. Yet these are failings of poverty not intent. Much worse were allowing her lovers to abuse him and to threaten them both by driving under the influence of alcohol on icy mountain roads, often in the dark.

The book is sad, poignant, funny, and a surprising page turner from beginning to end. Check out this hook of an opening sentence “By the time I was ten, I had hitchhiked thousands of miles and befriended hundreds of remarkably strange people.”  Here’s a short list of them: Crazy John, Uncle Tony (no blood relation), conniving Bob, deal-making

While You’re Waiting For ….. Never Go Back by Lee Child

In this 17th Jack Reacher novel, Child gives his antihero some things to think about. He is on his way to D. C. to take Major Susan Turner to dinner, a first. When he arrives, she is in the brig and he is arrested on trumped up charges. In Jack Reacher style, they break out and head cross country to clear their names. Meanwhile a woman from his past is suing him for child support for his alleged daughter.

Lee Child’s novels can be described as bleak, edgy, suspenseful, fast paced with complex plots and violent action. His hero, Jack Reacher, can be described as an introspective loner,  tough and macho, but with a strong moral code. The following authors have similar heroes. Try some of these series’ while you wait for Reacher.

James Lee Burke with hero Dave Robicheaux, Michael Connelly with hero Harry Bosch, Barry Eisler with hero John Rain, Vince Flynn with hero Mitch Rapp and Stephen Hunter with heroes Bob Lee Swagger and Ray Cruz.

Pages