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Archive for the ‘Booking Through Thursday’ Category

God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book–one genre–period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?

*Whether you believe in God or not, pretend for the purposes of this discussion that He is real.

A question I have some experience answering!  At terribly random dinner parties, we occasionally descend into this kind of questioning and, as with all good dinner parties, the quality of the answer improves with the number of bottles of wine consumed and the lateness of the hour.

Ignoring the fact that I have very mixed feelings about Classics as a genre unto itself (because that brings us back to the question of what constitutes a classic and things just get messy), I have to say that this is a competition that comes down to History versus Biography/Memoir for me.  Fiction is all well and good but I get rather bored of it and, besides, what is there in fiction that isn’t pulled from real life?  History had a momentary edge in my mental calculations because it’s far easier to find a history book dealing with an obscure era than to find a biography dealing with a character from that time.  Still, I love the personal connection I have when reading a biography.  I love learning about other people’s lives, their little dramas and accomplishments.  The best biographies are romances and mysteries and histories that fulfill all of my reading needs.   

As much as I love Love in a Cold Climate, would I not rather read Mary Lovell’s excellent The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family?  Is there any history book or novel that gives a better feeling of Berlin in 1945 than the distressing A Woman in Berlin?  Even biographies of people in whose work I have no interest fascinate me, as in the case of Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St Vincent Millay.  Indeed, right now as my life, like any good Canadian’s, is consumed by the NHL playoffs, I yearn to pick up my copy of Ken Dryden’s The Game.

There’s a wonderful satisfaction that comes from reading that which I know to be true and, for that reason, I would always choose it over fiction.  Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction and all the more fascinating, especially when it comes to the stories of individual lives.

Absolutely, definitively, I would choose Biographies/Memoirs.

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The northern hemisphere, at least, is socked in by winter right now… So, on a cold, wintry day, when you want nothing more than to curl up with a good book on the couch … what kind of reading do you want to do?

There is only one thing I need when the winter weather starts to get me down.  Tea is nice, a crackling fire delightful, and a warm blanket is certainly attractive, but all I need to make me happy is a good, dependable, comforting book – preferably one that I have read several times and which I can go back to, like an old dear friend.

Ah, the ‘comfort read’.  My bookshelves cater specially to this (since most of my reading material comes from the library, my personal library contains primarily books like I like enough to read over and over and consider worth the expense).  There’s a huge swath of Georgette Heyer’s, a collection of Delderfield’s, a nook of Jane Austen’s, and, because I have a strange idea of what comfort reading encompasses, a continent of travel books.  All of these perfectly suited to see me through the darkest, most depressing months of the year. 

I save the hefty, more depressing tomes for the summer or fall months when I find it easier to concentrate – no Solzhenitsyn for me when there’s snow outside.  I need books that make for a quick escape from my frigid surroundings, ones that are easy to read and entertaining enough for me to spend an entire afternoon wrapped up in them, so distracted that I don’t notice the thermometer dropping another ten degrees or the snow piling up in the street.

In fact, looking at the weather forecast right now (-19 on Saturday), I think a visit to Mansfield Park might be in order this weekend.

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Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

I love R.F. Delderfield. Alright, so you’ve heard of To Serve Them All My Days and every library I’ve ever belonged to has at least one copy of Seven Men of Gascony (goodness knows why), but for the most part his books are rarely mentioned and difficult to locate.

I was always going to be just a little bit prejudiced in Delderfield’s favour: my parents named me after one of his characters, Claire Derwent from the “A Horseman Riding By” trilogy.  Finally, at the age of about twelve, I decided it was time to read the books, so I grabbed the first volume to figure out why my parents had picked this name.

The first time I read Long Summer Day and its sequels, Post of Honour and The Green Gauntlet, I honestly didn’t like my namesake Claire.  I found her shallow and vapid, with little interest beyond catching and keeping her man.  I far preferred her more serious daughter Mary, once she came along, who, temperamentally, was my twin.  Then I read the books again, a few years later, and saw more and more to like in Claire.  She had independence and strength that I didn’t recognize or appreciate the first time.

I think I’ve read the series four times since then.  It’s easy to do: nothing about Delderfield’s writing style is difficult.  The books are easy reads, the text concerned with domestic dramas rather than grand questions.  They are warm and comforting and if there is one thing they conditioned me to love, it’s a good family saga, which is good, because Delderfield was kind enough to also author the Swann Family Saga (beginning with God Is an Englishman).  Far preferable to the Swann’s in my opinion, The Dreaming Suburb and its follow-up, The Avenue Goes to War

Delderfield’s prime was the 1960s and 1970s and, forty years on, I’ve yet to find another young person familiar with more than one or two of his books.  There’s a certain sense of physicality, of sexuality, in his books that still fascinates me.  The physical relationships between male and female characters are always viewed as important (something more sentimental novels, even modern ones, have a tendency to gloss over with fine speeches), but not all-important.  Female characters are allowed to be selfish, to be bad mothers, to be vain…frankly, to be all the things that many modern-day feminists decry if they see in novels today (instead we get drunken, clueless 30-somethings, unable to hold down jobs or relationships.  Someone, please explain how this is an improvement).  There’s an artless honestly that I appreciate and, while there is nothing perfect about Delderfield’s rather dated writing, it’s an entertainment that is too much ignored and in too great danger of being altogether forgotten.

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