I have enjoyed a fair number of good books this year, I just finished O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - excellent, excellent, excellent. I was introduced to Willa Cather a few years ago when I was in a book club and someone selected Death Comes to the Arch Bishop, it was a very good story. Not high adventure, no dramatic plot twists, just a simple story about a simple man who simply lived his life. It really was a life well lived, and nicely told. And, then the historical look at the western US and how it changed as the white settlers and missionaries arrived. After reading Death Comes to the Arch Bishop I purchased O Pioneers by Willa Cather, it then sat on the bookshelf forgotten for the past two years. Last week I finished The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald and was waiting for a book to come in at the library, and wondered what to read while I waited, so I perused my bookshelf and was happy to find O Pioneers!
O Pioneers! was written in 1912, and is the story of Norwegian immigrants settling in Nebraska, it is interesting from a historical perspective, and the story is good, it rings true, it could have happened. The main character is Alexandra, she is the oldest sister, the wise person in the family, she with her pragmatic guidance brings about stability and wealth for her family but at a cost to herself. Willa Cather herself lived in Nebraska, her family relocated there from Virginia in 1883 when she was nine, so she knows the hardship, the country, the people, most from Norway, Sweden, France, and Russia (the Bohemians), and the life they led honoring the past yet creating a future. Cather's books really, really give you a feel for the daring, hard grit determination of the immigrant families who left the stability of the known, their homeland, to venture on a long journey to the "new world" and then venture into the "wild west" to create a new homeland. If you have not read Willa Cather, do yourself a favor and read something of hers, it will stay with you.
I have just started a biography of Agatha Christie written by Laura Thompson, it has decent reviews, and I have always enjoyed AG books, and tv/film productions of her works. And in the wings waiting to be read I have Cider with Rosie, by Laurie Lee and A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark.
I must say Muriel Spark is in my top five list of favorite authors, I have enjoyed everything I have read of hers. Barbara Pym is one of my most favorite authors, I recently re-read the book A Few Green Leaves, she has a gentle humor as gives an observation of life in a small community rather than a plot driven story, nothing really happens yet there is always an undercurrent that something might happen, but probably won't because people are so stuck to the way they are supposed to behave. The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald is good, the first book I have read by this author who started her writing career at the age of 59, this is one of her early books and it was shortlisted for the Booker award. PF's writing is a bit like Barbara Pym's, it is an observation of life in a small town, but there is much more of a plot, it is a humorous story, really a cautionary tale, but it is also so very, very sad, it is well worth reading. Only 10 chapters, so a very quick read, but a story that will remain in your thoughts.
What are you reading, or have recently read?