Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reading Report

...since there's not much new knitting to show you.

I love to read as much as, if not more than I love to knit. There's a mountain of books and magazines to attest not just to my love of reading, but to my reading ADD as well. Just as I usually have more than one knitting project underway at a time, so, too, am I usually reading more than one book. There's usually a magazine (New Yorker, knitting/spinning mag), a light read (short stories, Terry Pratchett, Sandman Chronicles, Jasper Fforde, what have you), and a Serious Book.

I've just finished up two great books that I strongly recommend. The first is The Secret Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon, and the second is The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell (links are in the sidebar). Chabon is a longtime favorite author, but O'Farrell was new to me. The books are very different, but both are worth reading.

Secret Policeman's Union takes place in an alternate present, one in which Jews, instead of having Israel as a homeland, have been given a (temporary) "homeland" in Sitka, Alaska. The land will soon to revert back to its prior owners, an Indian tribe, and the Jews will once again scatter. Over the years, all sorts of Jews have made homes and communities in Sitka, from the ultra-religious who inhabit an island, to the near-secular Jews who live on the mainland. Meyer Landsman is -- but for his ethnicity and his location -- a typical hard-boiled police detective. He's divorced, childless, often drunk, and extremely cynical. A murder occurs in his apartment complex which spurs the story on, leading to an ever-expanding conspiracy. I won't say too much about the plot details in order not to give anything away. The writing is vivid, if peppered with more Yiddish than is in my paltry vocabulary. All the characters are well rounded out, and their relationships ring with truth. By the end, I found myself staying up later and later to see what was going to happen next. Sitka was a fully-realized world that I could almost smell.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by contrast, takes place in modern-day London. Iris is an independent woman who runs a vintage shop. One day she is contacted by an official with the local mental hospital, asking her to take custody of an unknown great-aunt who has been incarcerated in the hospital for sixty years. Iris had always been told that her grandmother was an only child, so she is understandably reluctant to take on a potential madwoman. As she delves into her Aunt Esme's case file and those of other patients at the hospital, she learns that many women in that time frame were committed for simply not conforming to society's idea of womanhood:

"A girl who kept wandering away from the house at night. A Lady somebody
who kept attacking a particular servant. A Cockenzie fishwife who showed
signs of libidinous and uncontrolled behavior. A youngest daughter who
eloped to Ireland with a legal clerk... a Jane who had had the temerity to take
long, solitary walks and refuse offers of marriage...."

And Esme, whose parents reported finding her dancing before a mirror, wearing her mother's clothes. In those days, a man used to be able to commit his wife or daughter with just a doctor's signature.

Esme's story -- about unconventional dreams, no desire for marriage, and a free spirit -- is contrasted nicely with Iris's current life as an unmarried free spirit. There's more to the story of course, and it's told beautifully. I couldn't stop thinking about it after I was done.

Anyone have any good book recommendations to share?

On the knitting front, there's not much to show. The Flower Basket scarf is bigger than it was, but still looks the same. The second Dove sock is started, but I'm still knitting the toe and haven't started the design yet. My Raven yarn will ship tomorrow, so my prediction that the scarf would last me until the yarn showed up should hold true.

I need to drag one of my shawls out of storage and wash and block it, and if I do, I'll post a picture...


Scott T. said...

isn't it the Yiddish Policemen's Union?

Scott T. said...

I liked Chabon's next, "Gentlemen of the Road" better.

Scott T. said...

more content; we want more content