One of my favorite discoveries on my recent trip to London was Daunt Books. Located in the charming Marlyebone neighborhood, this amazing shop combines two of my great loves: literature and travel. Located in an original Edwardian bookshop, the books are organized by geographic region! How brilliant. I was able to pick up Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping from the US section and peruse the Middle East section to get ideas for my next read on that area. The books are not all travel books – while there are some amazing guide and photo books from each region, they also stock the best books by native authors. Perfect! So in the US section you would find the great American novels next to US political commentary and photo journalism, guide books, non-fiction, and maybe even a spy novel or two. No Twilight here! Whoever buys the books for this store know his stuff! We only had about thirty minutes to browse before the store closed but I could have spent hours here…delicious hours savoring the feel of heavy photo books and losing myself in a great novel.
As I wasn’t about to be that annoying tourist who disturbs everyone by snapping pictures, these are from their website – which I highly recommend visiting. They have links to reading lists and you can take a virtual tour of their Marlyebone store!
And since I’m on the subject and I haven’t done a book entry in a while, here’s what I’ve been reading.
Since moving to the UK I’ve become increasingly interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Having come from America and it’s very pro-Israel stance, I’d never really thought about the region except to think it would be cool to visit some day – deep, I know. So when I moved over here and saw lots of “Boycott Israel” demonstrations and “Pro-Palestine” rallies I became curious and knew I needed to take a more serious look. Then I started working at this crunchy little store and my manager told me to stop ordering items from Israel as it’s her conviction that it’s right to boycott Israeli goods. That was the clincher and I started looking for books and my friend Amanda recommended I read Friedman’s book. Having listened to The World is Flat this past Christmas, I was a bit apprehensive as Friedman’s writing style struck me as inflated and egotistical. This book is entirely different. It was written nearly twenty years ago so the information is dated but it’s excellent. It gives a lot of historical background to the conflict, including a lengthy but fascinating look at the “desert tribal” mentality that shapes so much of Middle Eastern politics. It’s full of personal anecdotes from Friedman’s twelve year sojourn in Beruit and Jerusalem. This gives faces and humanity to a conflict that is often reduced to political verbiage and makes this book a fascinating read. It hasn’t helped me make any sort of decision as to what side is in the right but it’s given me a respect for how intensely complicated and deeply rooted the conflict is and will continue to be. My next read on the subject is A Peace to End All Peace and I am open to suggestions on other titles.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
This one was a selection for book club and Spark was a new author for me. A story set in Edinburgh and written by an Edinburgh native it was a fitting selection and I enjoyed it, especially the descriptions of the city and revelations that the Old Town was still a somewhat dangerous slum back in the 1930s. It’s also a strange little story with lots of repetition and seems fairly experimental for the time period in which it was written. It’s a modern classic and while the book club consensus was that we liked it, we’re not quite sure why it’s regularly listed among the top 100 works of literature. Not that we’re experts and I’m sure a skilled literature teacher could open up all sorts of deeper meanings that I missed. I am glad that I read it and it was a very good book club book as it fostered good discussion.
How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic
Lent to me by my friend Ashli, I’ve taken nearly a year to finish this book. It’s a book that is easy to pick up, read a bit, and then put down. I think that this is mostly due to the fact that it’s a collection of vignettes about the author’s experiences growing up under communism and eventually moving to NY and then regularly returning. As a feminist writer, her memories revolve around the women she knew and she focusses on how Communism affected them in their everyday lives. Communist leaders, despite their proclaimed beliefs in gender equality failed to produce a system that empowered women in the most basic ways – there were no washing machines, only one color of lipstick (if any at all), no sanitary products. Women were viewed as equals by the state and in Drakulic’s experience this only meant that they worked as hard as men outside of the home only to return to their traditional roles once they were home – doubling their responsibility while eliminating the goods that had made their lives easier pre-Communism. While that description makes the book sound like a feminist historical text, it is more than that. Some of the stories are quite poignant and Drakulic makes good work at showing the psychological effects of living under such a system – how it affected women’s understanding of themselves, how it changed marriages, friendships, and family relationships. Drakulic is clearly not a native English speaker and that comes through in her work – an effect that is at times charming but can be quite confusing.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
This book begins with the curious story of the author riding in a limousine through New York City on her way to a high society dinner when she looks out the window to see her mother digging through a trash can in search of something to eat. Talk about an effective way to capture a reader’s attention! I don’t want to give away too much of this memoir but it’s amazing. Quite disturbing at some points, heartbreaking and heartwarming, it is a story of delusion, neglect, courage, love, and strength. While I was reading it, I often caught myself thinking “there is no way this happened” so I’ve done a bit of research and the author’s siblings have backed up her story and there has been no Million Little Pieces-style controversy about accuracy. I’ve talked with my mom about it and it does create great material for discussions on the accuracy of memory – especially memories formed as a young child. This would be a great book club book!
So…what have you been reading?