"In a way, winter is the real spring, the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature."
-- Edna O'Brien, Irish novelist
There are so many books that I want to read right now, though it is a challenge to find the time during the holiday season. Most of us have probably been doing a lot of running around getting ready for Christmas. I want to take a deep breath, settle down, and relax for a few hours. Reading at this time of the year is one of the simple pleasures that can calm us down as the frenzied holiday activities accumulate.
As I look at my nightstand and all the good books that have been piling up, I need to make a choice. Which book do I read next? Which novel or memoir do I want to curl up with in front of the fireplace? Where do I want to go in my imagination? Whose words do I want to be inspired by? There are so many good choices.
So I need to consider, where to next?
How about the year 1803 in England where mystery and intrigue abound in the setting of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice?" In "Death Comes to Pemberley" P.D. James has written a sequel to this beloved novel in which Elizabeth Bennett is happily married to Darcy, but has to deal with the murder of her sister Lydia's husband Wickham. James has combined her two passions here, one for the novels of Jane Austen and the other for writing detective stories. I have high hopes for this one.
Or Victorian England to read about the life of Charles Dickens? With the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth coming up on February 7, 2012, there is no better time for a new biography of Dickens, who wrote some of the best-loved novels in English literature. Clare Tomalin has written "Charles Dickens, A Life" a biography that reads like a compelling novel as it depicts the man's vices and virtues and the story of his turbulent path to greatness. This is the time of the year when I reread "A Christmas Carol" and I am looking forward to learning more about the man who many think "invented Christmas."
I am already immersed in the world of 88-year -old Lady Slane, the subject of Vita Sackville-West's classic novel "All Passion Spent." I am in the middle of this beautiful book that is set in England and enjoying the story of this gentle and gracious heroine who after the death of her husband declares her independence from her controlling children and proper Victorian marriage and finally enjoys a "room of her own."
Or how about New York in the 1850's in Edith Wharton's "Old New York?" This book includes four novellas set in the New York depicted in "The Age of Innocence," a time when tribal codes and customs ruled society. A friend of mine recommended this book, especially the last novella "New Year's Day," and I happily bought it because I can never get enough of Edith Wharton.
Of course, I could really take the plunge and immerse myself in "War and Peace" by Tolstoy. Last year this major new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky was hailed as a milestone of translation and many critics felt it was as close as we could get to Tolstoy's masterwork.
How about a book by an author that I know very little about but that so many people have recommended to me? "Old Filth" (which is the nickname of the main character) by Jane Gardam has been greatly admired by the critics and I am intrigued by what I have heard about it. One critic wrote that "Old Filth belongs in the Dickensian pantheon of memorable characters." It is supposed to be a witty and beautifully written story about a retired lawyer and respected judge in England. People have been loving this book. I have to read this one soon.
I love the novels written by the Brontes, especially "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights," and would love to go back to their Victorian world at Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England and learn more about them. I bought "The Bronte Myth" by Lucasta Miller when it first came out a few years ago. I have read a lot about the Brontes over the years but this books promises a different interpretation. Miller writes that the Brontes became cultural symbols almost as soon as their novels were published and hopes to rescue the three sisters from all the myth and give us back three vivid women who were writing in the days when few women dared and were, according to many who knew them, cheerful and full of fun and merriment.
Or should I go to Paris in the early 1900's when Sylvia Beach founded the famous book store that became a second home for writers such as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce? "Shakespeare & Company" is definitely on my "to read" pile, especially because I have been immersed this past year in many books that depicted this era, such as "The Paris Wife" and can't seem to get enough on this topic.
And finally, I could take a trip through the history of ballet in the highly acclaimed "Apollo's Angels" by Jennifer Homans. This book has just come out in paperback and people are still talking about this first cultural history of ballet, lavishly illustrated and beautifully told. I love ballet and was given this book by my daughter last year for Christmas. I can't wait to explore the history of ballet in Jennifer Homans excellent book.
After finishing "All Passion Spent," I think I will read "Death Comes to Pemberley" because I cannot wait to see what the master mystery writer P.D. James (a favorite of mine) has done with the classic story of "Pride and Prejudice." It really sounds like such a fun read. What are you reading this holiday season?