Okay, technically the title of this post is not exactly true, since Louise Penny has no idea who I am and we’ve never actually met. Still, her Inspector Gamache series is definitely responsible for the variety in my recent reading selections.
The series, which I may have mentioned over the past few months that I’ve read a time or two (or more), features an inspector, with (among other things) a fondness for books. He can periodically be found perusing the shelves at the local bookstore, selecting a slim volume of something, and settling down for a bit of a read. Not all of the books mentioned actually exist, but some of them do.
Naturally, curiosity prompted me to check a few of them out.
As I mentioned a while back in my Poetry and Prose post, Penny is a big fan of poetry and has incorporated bits and pieces in her stories. Margaret Atwood, Mike Freeman, and Ralph Hodgson are among the poets she’s mentioned in her author notes. During a recent visit to the local bookstore, I picked up Atwood’s, Morning in the Burned House, which is a source for some of the poetry for one of Penny’s characters, the drunk demented old poet Ruth. I spent an enjoyable afternoon reading through it, especially delighted when I found the bits and pieces that Penny had incorporated in her stories.
Well, all children are sad
but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.
Atwood’s book led me back to my own bookshelves where I unearthed the Pocket Book of Poetry and Poetry of To-Day. The later was published in 1927, so “To-Day” is a relative term. On the plus side, each of the poems in that slim volume has a little summary above it – perfect for the poetically-impaired like me. I also added, courtesy the internet, John Gillespie Magee, Jr.’s High Flight, William Wordsworth’s Surprised by Joy, Stevie Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning, Sir Walter Scott’s My Native Land, and W. H. Auden’s Herman Melville to my reading list. If I keep this up, I might just turn into a fan of poetry after all.
Besides poetry, Penny’s stories have lead me to a few other books. During my most recent trip the local library, I picked up T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Thoreau’s Walden, Erasmus’ Proverbs, and Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.
An eclectic mix to say the least and a bit of a change from my normal preference for comfort reads.
As you may have guessed from the graphic included in this post, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead was also one of my recent Penny-inspired reads. The book was only mentioned in passing as one of her character’s book-club reads, but when I saw the at the library I thought I’d give it a try – after all it’s a Pulitzer Prize winning novel and, since I don’t read many of those, I figured it would be good for me.
The story – obviously – received critical acclaim but, as it turns out, I’m apparently not a Pulitzer Prize kind of reader. Or maybe this was just not the book for me. For those who are not familiar with Gilead, set in the 1950’s it is an aging dying pastor writing letters to provide his young son with a written legacy of his life, to be read after his (the father’s) death.
If you think of sitting around the fire while an older relative tells you stories of what happened in their life, that’s basically how the book is written. It flowed like a slow moving river on a lazy summer day, which while a nice change of pace from suspenseful angst-ridden stories, meant that it was hard to remain engaged and easy to put down. I waded my way through about half of the book, flipped to the ending pages, and then called it a day. The very last lines of the book – and the part I’ll actually remember – summarizes the father’s wish for his young son:
I’ll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful.
I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.
Reviews I read said that one had to be religious to get the true impact / meaning of the book, but I don’t know if that’s really true. Other reviews referenced the rich language and beautiful prose and one said Robinson”achieves one of the most difficult feats: creating a religious character who is neither an unrealistic, one-dimensional saint nor an intolerable hypocrite“. With 4-stars on Amazon, the book obviously connected with a number of readers. I just didn’t turn out to be one of them. Undaunted, however, I picked up Robinson’s Housekeeping this past weekend. It is written in a more traditional style, which may be a better fit with my reading tastes. We’ll see.
So, have any stories you’ve read recently inspired you to expand your own reading list?