More running away reading…

Here’s the problem with my “running away” fantasies:  what would I do with all my books?  I have A LOT of books.  In fact, I might (probably) qualify as a “book hoarder”.  But whenever I fantasize about my little apartment in Barcelona, or my house on a Canadian island, I can’t envision being able to enjoy a life without my book collection.  Or, for that matter, my dog.  Or my cats.  So, until I find the wherewithal to resolve those dilemmas, I stay here in Colorado, planning my next short-term adventure and…reading!

Given that I’m still somewhat mobility-impaired due to my fractured ankle and a cough I can’t shake, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading.  Here’s where I’ve “been” lately:

Euphoria

…In New Guinea during the 1930’s with Euphoria, by Lily King (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014).  Based loosely on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, this beautiful novel explores a love triangle between American protagonist Nell Stone, her abusive Australian husband, Fen, and lonely British anthropologist Andrew Bankson, all set against the background of the primitive tribes they are studying.  The writing is tight and luminous, the characters are expertly drawn, and I loved the narrative style, which made the novel feel like the reader is observing (and judging?) the protagonists in much the same way an anthropologist would.  The book was one of those I couldn’t put down, and I was glad my book group choose it, since it is probably not something I would have necessarily picked up on my own.  There is a reason it won a plethora of awards!  From New Guinea I next went…

 

On the Chocolate Trail:  A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013).  Written by Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz, this volume is part cookbook, part history, and part travel narrative.  Since I freely admit to being a chocolate addict, and one of my deepest joys when going to Europe is pausing at every pastry/chocolate shop to peruse and then sample the gorgeous displays it seems only the Europeans do so well, I absolutely loved this book!  It is Prinz’s belief that chocolate was introduced to Europe through the Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain the same year Columbus set out on his first voyage, and I found her evidence to be exhaustive and convincing.  Her analysis of Inquisition records was especially interesting, and I was surprised to learn through the course of the book just how indispensable chocolate became in daily and religious life not only to the native “New World” cultures that had always valued it, but also to the colonists of both North and South America as well as Europeans.  I have a particular fascination with holidays and the ways in which humans celebrate, so the considerations of how chocolate came to be linked with these was illuminating.  Just remembering the book has me craving some Spanish “churros y chocolate”, as well as remembering the beautiful chocolate concoctions I admired and salivated over during the Easter season in Iceland, Spain, and Italy…

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…Speaking of Italy…the next book on my “running away” pile was sent to me by a dear friend (and Madrid roommate).  Dances With Luigi:  A Grandson’s Search for His Italian Roots (St. Martin’s Press, 2000) was written by my friend’s friend, Paul Paolicelli, and narrates the story of how he decided to move to Italy for several years in order to search for his family’s history.  The book reads somewhat like a mystery, as Paolicelli navigates complex bureaucratic and social systems -while also trying to master the Italian language- in his effort to learn the real story about one grandfather’s involvement with Mussolini and the other’s origins in the south.  I enjoyed his unsparingly honest descriptions of Italian life immensely, so in the spirit of living abroad vicariously through my reading, I next “traveled” to…

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Paris, My Sweet:  A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2012).  In this combination travel guide and memoir, author Amy Thomas narrates how she accepted a job with a prestigious advertising firm in Paris.  She is also quite honest about the ups and downs of adjusting to another culture, though I have to say that I found her writing to be a bit annoying at times.  (Phrases like “laughed our heads off” and “giggled like schoolgirls” just strike me as trite and lazy…)  Thomas spends a good amount of time comparing and contrasting her life and dessert obsessions in New York and Paris.  She does best when she lets the croissants and cakes and truffles speak for themselves, and her depictions make me think she is certainly a fabulous advertising copywriter.  I do have to say, I loved her portrayals of Paris and its sweets very much!  It made me head over to the French bakery nearest my house, which doesn’t come even close to rivaling the beautiful European establishments Thomas recounts and I remember, but does sell a “Chocolate Ecstasy” pastry that lives up to its name!    Reinforced, I next headed in a completely different direction with…

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The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier (Penguin Group Inc., 2013).  This novel, written by the author of bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, follows Chevalier’s focus on a particular art or artist by narrating the story of Honor Bright, an accomplished quilter and Quaker who leaves England after being jilted by her fiancé and ends up quite alone in Ohio.  Set in the period leading up to the Civil War, Honor finds herself inadvertently drawn into helping with the Underground Railroad.  I have enjoyed all of Chevalier’s novels (including The Lady and the Unicorn, Falling Angels, and The Virgin Blue.)  She creates vivid and believable characters, and sets them in compelling times and places.  As a teenager, I fancied myself a quilter, so I especially enjoyed this lovely novel.  Her depictions of the realities of American “frontier” life are spot on, and her attention to the details of Quaker religious experience and quilting are admirable.  As “running away” reading, this took me into a past I don’t necessarily wish I could live, but that I certainly appreciate.

At my last book group meeting, we spent several minutes discussing where we would all move if Donald Trump were actually elected President.  While I think often that type of talk is hyperbolic, there are aspects to his campaign that do, in fact, worry me deeply.  So, who knows?  Maybe I’ll have the decision to cull my books and move abroad made for me!  I’m pretty sure both Spain and Canada would let me bring my dog and cats…

 

 

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