Since arriving in Trinidad I have been eating books. I have always been an avid reader but I often went through dry patches when I would not pick up a book for a while. Maybe as long as a month or two. Now I finish one book at 4pm and pick up another at 9pm as I climb into bed. It has been quite the literary journey. So here in a nut shell is my attempt to put down and remember every thing I’ve read in the past 14 months.
Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards : Read this one month before we arrived. I was sitting on a sofa in Lac Manitou in the rain. Light weight, perfect material for the Lifetime network movie of the week that it became. Disappointing ending.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: Also read this just before arriving. On a Muskoka chair in Eastman, sipping Mohitos and reading passages aloud to Alexandra. I know this book divided the women of the world into those who loved it and those who hated it but I loved it. Once we realize that, yes, she is self-obsessed, living a year that no mere mortal mother could dream of, then it is a book that is at once inspiring and beautifully written. If this were written by a lessor writer it would be sappy pulp.
A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini: Read this one In Tobago days after arriving here. A great epic story that gripped me to the end and that I actually preferred to The Kite Runner. He is no Rohinton Mistry but still, a good tale.
Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda: I read this one before our furniture even arrived! Here I was in an empty house in Trinidad reading about three people in an apartment in Paris. Loved it. Very evocative and memorable.
Blink and the Tipping Point by Macolm Gladwell: I am putting these together as I read them as if they were one book. I read them on the beach, on my sofa and in bed. Highly readable and informative non fiction books that make us think about how marketers target us to use their products and become part of giant sweeping trends.
The Purple Cow by Seth Gordon: Like Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating commentator on how we interact with the products we live with. All three of these books helped me in my Media and English course that I had never taught before.
Divisadero by Michael Ondaatji: I read this in the first weeks of being here, I had no friends, no TV and no internet and I was looking for a book that would transport me. I am a huge Ondaatji fan but I don’t believe this was one of his best. I kept wanting the first half of the book to connect with the second. Felt somewhat like a gimmick, albeit a beautifully written one. This is a writer who could make the phone book poetic.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: I had been putting this book off for 10 years. I never wanted to read it but knew that I should and it finally fell of the book shelf and into my hands. What an extraordinary read. Painful and beautiful. He writes about war like few do. The only other “war” book I liked as much was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Actually I preferred that since I loved the characters more.
Charlotte Gray: So once I loved Birdsong and I had previously enjoyed Girl and the Lion D’or I thought I would try a third. Truth be told this is the only book on the list that I never finished. Life is too short to read books that you hate. I was reading this on the beach in Grenada and after reaching the half way point I put it down, went into the hotel library and picked up Bill Bryson’s The Thunderbolt Kid. Ahhhh…what a relief. I kept the book, loved the telling descriptions of life in 1950’s America, found young Bill totally endearing and felt like I had left school and gone on vacation.
Engleby: a fourth Faulks book and totally different from the others. I thought I would give him another chance after Charlotte Gray. This book was weird, wonderful and confusing. A mystery told by Engleby himself and like him or not, this is a book that stays with you. Faulks doesn’t necessarily write likable characters but he can write a page turner.
Restless by William Boyd: A great spy, mystery tale. My second Boyd, this confirmed for me that he is a great story teller. I read this everyday after school and it transported me from the hot tropics to the English country side.
David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky : I had enjoyed Suite Francaise and wanted to try another. In fact scenes from Suite Francaise have stayed with me despite the fact that it felt unedited and unfinished. David Golder was read by my husband before me and he had liked the brutal and honest description of this heartless and lonely wealthy banker and his eventual demise. The book is short and cutting. A great character study. She was an astute observer of human character. I recall reading this in two days, late at night, in bed.
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry: Such sweet memories. I loved this book. So much so that I regret that it was borrowed from the school library and I don’t own it. Might need to purchase it for my collection. Loved it. Loved it. Transported me to India, into the living room of one family and their day to day existence. Without a doubt one of the best writers alive today. Read this one day and night. Not sure if I fed my family or even spoke to them over the 3 days it took to read.
A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler: borrowed from the library and I honestly don’t remember it. Not a good sign.
Unburnable by Marie-elena John : This book was the first of many books leant to me by Daniel’s mother, one of students. A group of women here are in a book club one morning a month and since I can never go she had her son drop books on my desk, I am forever grateful to her for introducing me to this strange and wonderful book. Not necessarily an easy read but it certainly led me to Dominica, a caribbean island I had never heard of. This tiny island is the setting for this book and in turn the history of the Carib peoples through the journey of one woman searching for her roots. Excellent.
The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan: Our librarian at school seems to have the largest expendable budget in the building. Thank God. Because of her our school certainly has the best library in Trinidad. From light to educational, the great author to the not so sublime we have our picks of anything our heart desires. At this point, half way through term 1 and in the middle of a grading frenzy I desired something light but well written. Preferably funny. This book was the ticket. Loved the daughters, more American than Indian and the mothers more Indian than American. A lovely story.
Killing me softly by Nicci French: Lent to me by a fellow teacher at the school for the “naughty” bits. Dark,miserable, obsessive tale of the dangers of lust. Awful book. Hated it. Couldn’t put it down and then was so happy it was over.
An Unaccustomed Earth by Jumpa Lahiri: Like Rohinton Mistry Lahiri is one of my all time favorite writers. I simply love everything she writes. This was my third book by her after The Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake and I was the first person to take it out of the library, on the day it arrived. Loved every story and didn’t want it to end. Ever. Can’t wait for her next book. She writes about the Indian diaspora with poetic insight.
Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: Wasn’t sure I would like this one. My mother “lent” it to me ( I never give back to ones I like!) and i was intrigued having read many of his other works. This was a Booker book but the subject matter put me off. It is about a group of children cloned and raised to be medical donors. This is always implied, never moralized or spelt out and it told with heartbreaking realism. A frightening look at what the future may have in store. Highly readable and enjoyable and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver; I read this months after it was a book club choice for my wonderful book club in Montreal. I knew it would be a hard read and having started it once and put it down (on holiday in Egypt) I thought the time was right. It is a story told as letters from a mother to her husband about their son who committed a high school shooting. An amazing story that raises some questions you might not want to ask but should. It is hard to use the word “enjoy” in relation to this book” but I was certainly amazed and propelled to read on.
A Short History of Tractor’s In Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka: Well this one came highly recommended so I bought it in Border’s in New York, but I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Not particularly funny, interesting or likable characters and not a particularly good story. Truthfully couldn’t really care less. Sorry.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Again this was leant to me by the mom of my student and I thank her heartedly. Wasn’t convinced by the somewhat supernatural nature of the story but ended up loving it. Read it in London, a wonderful and thankful reprieve from a family Christmas. I hid in the spare room and read to my heart’s content. An unlikely choice for me but it is written with heart and it’s strangely realistic despite being a love story about a man who time travels and the consequences this has for the love of his life.
A Handbook to Luck and Monkey Hunting by Christina Garcia: I am putting these two together since I read them one after the other and loved them equally. Garcia is a writer I like and admire and thankfully our trusty librarian has stocked all her books. She is Cuban and writes about both Cuba and the Cubans who have emigrated. Monkey Hunting is about Chinese Cubans and a Handbook to Luck is about a young Cuban American and his magician father. Her first book, Dreaming in Cuban, I studied at University and with some ambition decided to teach to my grade 12 Media Class. Suffice to say her brand of magic realism did not go down too well with my class of super realistic and imagination challenged 17 year olds. They did not love Ms Garcia as much as I.
On Chesil Beach by Ian Mcewan: I bought this one for myself in London despite being in hardback. There are very few writers who have this honour but that is how much I love Mr. Mcewan. With this book I have now read all his books except one, Black Dogs and I will get to it soon. This is a small book with a big idea. How one night and one decision based on a a repressed childhood and decade can have repercussions that last a lifetime. Not my favorite Ian Mcewan, that honour goes to Atonement but anything by him is a tonic.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: Again thanks to my trusty book club mom for this one. I recommended it to my old book club and they all enjoyed it. Impossible not to like this little book about a man’s life in the circus. One of the best descriptions of a elderly man’s mind I have ever read. I enjoyed this at the end of term 1 just before leaving for London and it was a sweet read. Strangely or perhaps not, it seems everyone who read this also read The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Glass Castle.
East of Eden by Steinbeck: Well here is the big one. I read this at the start of term 2 and did no work, cooking and barely any talking for close to a week. I owned this book for a year before reading it, waiting, I suppose for the “right” time. This book is a giant tome that wrapped itself around me and has never let go. It is now in my top 5 off all time. Read it. It is a masterpiece.
Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: My dear friend Jane mailed this to me from Denver sensing that not only would I enjoy it but that I somehow needed it. She was right. It is a lovely book about a time in China when feet were bound and female friends were invaluable in the lonely life of a young girl. Placed me with a gently thud into China where I nestled for a good few days. Ummm…
Body Surfing by Anita Shreve : Okay so everyone needs an in between author, like a rebound boyfriend in between the serious ones. Anita is my girl. She is what I call good fluff, light. readable and distracting. She writes a good story that is pretty weightless but guiltless, somewhat like a yummy chocolate bar. This one is about Maine, a place that I adore, and the romance that buds between between a girl and two brothers. I think I read it between East of Eden and Continental Drift.
Continental Drift by Russell Banks: I knew nothing about this prolific American writer other than that the Sweet Hereafter and Affliction were two movies based on his novels. This book was given to me by my good friend Robert and after reading it I passed it on to Francois so that he could read it in bed beside me and prolong the pleasure a little longer. I am supposed to pass it on but I won’t. This one needs to stay in my collection. There are scenes from this book that have stayed with me in the same way that movies do. It is a highly visual, readable book with compelling characters. Can’t wait to pick up another Russell Banks. But will it be as good?
The Space Between Us by Thrifty Umriger: I am a real sucker for books set in India and this one is bittersweet. A good story, a sad tale, a lovely read.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger: I read this one for the third time as I was teaching it to grade 9. Each time I read it I see something different and I love it more. Plus the kids in my class contribute to the experience. Some loved it as much as me, others found Holden a whiny, ineffectual and annoying character. Either way this book continues to be relevant and I will always teach it.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: I bought this is New York because it had won the Booker and was supposed to be SO good. Well. The writing is beautiful. Some passages are so gorgeous that I even copied them down but the story is not good enough for all the lovely words. Proof here that a good book needs a good story. Period.
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb: Another book I bought at Borders that came highly recommended. This book introduced me to Ethiopia in a way I never knew about. It didn’t dig deep and stay in me, perhaps a fault in the writing and the character development but nevertheless some great subject matter here and a gentle read.
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon: This is the second book from the writer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a highly enjoyable read. This book is another treat about families and their dysfunctions. Light but well written. Enjoyed by both people in my bed.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: Read this one in Erika’s bed in Montreal. Summer. Very readable and slightly shocking story about the craziest family I have ever encountered. Can it really all be true? Shakes up our ideas about what is normal or should be.
Love Falls by Esther Freud: Bought in Montreal and read as soon as we got back to Trinidad. I like this writer but have on occasion been disappointed by her. This one is okay. A little of the fluff side but a lovely dip into the country side near Sienna, Italy.
The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: It’s hard to write about this one. Liked it very much while I was reading it but the glory has worn off a wee bit. A good read about a group of New Yorkers who are listless and entitled.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult: People have been telling me to read this book for ages but frankly I was a bit of a snob so I never bothered. Then one day in the library when there were no Anita Shreves left I picked it up. Far better than I expected and the writing was not half bad. The story was painfully sad and at times unbelievable but I think I have found a new Anita.
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth: A present from my dear friends Pat and Adam. When you read Philip Roth you remember what real writing really is. This is an eye opening excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed every page.
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson: I was intrigued. I love Bill’s writing but was there anything he could add to the mountain of words already written on the great bard? Well, my hat goes off to My Bryson because with no pretension and with a great amount of wit he has condensed all that has been written about Shakespeare into one little uncomplicated book. This is easy to read and so informative and yet my head never hurt once. And I even laughed.
The Birth House by Ami Mckay: Loved this one. Took me all the way to 1930’s Nova Scotia and a small community of women who relied on a midwife for all their births and ailments. A really lovely read that reminded me of the importance of a sisterhood of women.
Whew. That is it for now. I am in the middle if another book but we’ll just call that one the start of a new list. Do you detect a pattern in the books I love the most? Immigrants, travel, characters who yearn and search for more, India, places undiscovered. All these books become my friends and rest softly in a place within me.