Elizabeth: Louise Penny Made Me Read It

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?

11 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Louise Penny Made Me Read It

  1. The references to “Devil in a Blue Dress” and “A Rage in Harlem”, made during the first season of “Luke Cage” caused me to go out and read both of those. I liked them well enough that I’ll follow through and read more, although neither of them overwhelmed me. Not exactly a book from a book, but close enough for internet, right?

  2. Two comments:

    1) My neighbor just loaned me the first Louise Penny book and she has the others. Plan to start it as soon as I finish reading Jilly’s The Seeds of Power.(which I just started and LOVE).
    2) I have a book on the shelf immediately in front of me called Poetry Speaks. It contains poetry going back to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and up through Sylvia Plath and it has three CD’s of the poets speaking their own words. One of my post-retirement promises to myself was that I’d sit down and listen to it.

    And I will.

    • Nice. I’m not a fan of “audio” things, but I think hearing poets speak their own words would be an exception.

      Hope you like the Penny book. The series was a slow start for me, but once I warmed to it, I really enjoyed it.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Jeanne. As you know, I’m currently waiting for my edit report, so the reassurance is extra welcome 😀

  3. I read the first Louise Penny and wasn’t inspired to go further. However, if you say it was a slow start, maybe I should try another. I’m usually not a fan, however, of stories set in small towns. I grew up in one of those, and I’ve had enough, thank you.

    In terms of new reading, I read Courtney Milan’s “challenge” and decided to “accept” It: that is, read a book by an author of color for every book I read by a white person. I started with “Wrong to Need You” by Alisha Rai, who is new to me. Her writing is terrific, but the book is steamier than I prefer. She’s got other series, so I might try those as I work through the challenge. I’m thinking six months to start. We’ll see where it goes.

    So—not new authors based on what others suggest, but still, new authors.

    • Kay – if you decide to give the series a second try, I suggest starting with book 4 – A Rule Against Murder (you don’t need to know anything about books 1-3 to enjoy that). That is the book that really caught and kept my interest.

      As for Courtney’s “challenge”, several folks I know have begun that as well. I look forward to getting some good book recommendations as part of that process.

  4. I’ve often been interested in where writers get their influences. Bujold dedicated A Civil Campaign, I think it was, to Jane, Charlotte, Georgette and Dorothy. Jane was Jane Austen, who I had already read (inspired a re-read). Charlotte was Bronte, and I just don’t get into her very much, or her other famous sister. Georgette Heyer was new to me, and it took a few books to get into her, but now I like her very much. And Dorothy I thought was Parker, so that inspired me to refresh my memory and buy a compilation. It turned out to be Dorothy Sayers, who also is very, very good. Definitely good ways to pass the time while waiting for the next Bujold to be released.

    One of Jane Austen’s biographies held some of HER inspirations, and that was interesting. Not great reads, but still good and fairly fast-paced for late 18th century literature, IMO!

    • Dorothy, yes! I spent a couple of nights in hospital unexpectedly last month (all fine now, except for a bunch of allergy tests), and my husband brought me her Busman’s Honeymoon, which he chose for the combination of fine writing, problem-solving, and romance. I love the idea of him combing through his library of mysteries and police procedurals looking for something with strong romantic elements. I probably would never have read it otherwise, and I really enjoyed it. And as a bonus, when I got home I used one of my reference books to show him what Harriet’s spectacular Worth wedding dress might have looked like, a gorgeous detail that had previously floated right over his head 😉

      • Jilly, sorry you were in the hospital, but glad all is fine now. I love the fact that your husband not only specially chose that book for you, but had it in his library. Very sweet.

        Whose Body? is the only Dorothy I can remember reading. Fortunately, the local library has a copy of Busman’s Honeymoon, so I will soon be able to check out the “combination of fine writing, problem-solving, and romance.”

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