Friday, March 04, 2016

What we're reading: Old favorites

When I want a break from keeping up with all the new fiction or teen fiction that I usually read (or when, once again, I get home from work to realize I haven't brought a book with me!), I often go back to my own personal bookshelves and revisit authors I read in my youth, authors whom I find re-readable time and again when I am in a certain mood.
I thought I'd share a few of those authors here, so that when all the copies of the latest book by the newest author are checked out of the library, you might decide to try someone whose books are sure to be sitting on the shelves, grateful for your notice.
I can't fit them all here, but I'll start at the top of the alphabet and see how far we get...

One favorite is E. F. Benson. Although many know him better for his ghost stories, I love him best for his satirical novels about the redoubtable Lucia. The books gently and humorously skewer upper middle class British people in the 1920s and 1930s, vying for social prestige in their small towns as if they were at the center of the world. The novels are: Queen Lucia, Lucia in London, Miss Mapp, Mapp and Lucia, The Worshipful Lucia, and Trouble for Lucia.  Unfortunately, our library only owns Trouble for Lucia, but if you can get your hands on it (it's difficult, because it's out of print), there is a compendium of all six books entitled Make Way for Lucia. They are great books to read aloud for readers' theater. If you enjoy P. G. Wodehouse (Bertie Wooster and Jeeves), you will most likely love these too.

Next up is Irish writer Maeve Binchy. While there are recent releases by her, the span of her writing goes back several decades, and some of those early books are among my most favorite. Best titles in my opinion: Firefly SummerThe Glass LakeEvening ClassTara Road, and Scarlet Feather .


She writes in a personal manner about common folk in their everyday pursuits (most of her books are set in Dublin and close surrounds), but she writes so engagingly, so descriptively, and with such a personal touch that I revisit her characters as friends.

Another author to whom I return again and again is Daphne DuMaurier. While best know for Rebecca ("Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again"), and for the short story on which the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds was based, she wrote many other books that, while they have received less attention, are every bit as intriguing.

My favorites include: My Cousin Rachel, The King's General, The Flight of the Falcon, The Scapegoat, The House on the Strand, and Frenchman's Creek. Some are, like Rebecca, a mix of romance, mystery, and gothic, while others are straightforward romance, gripping historical fiction, or weird hybrids of fact and fantasy. I love DuMaurier for the power of her language and the depth of her descriptions. Her settings are almost a separate character, yet her characters definitely dominate their stories. It's no wonder that films were made from many of her books.

The next two I will mention together, because that is how I discovered them in the library, being closely adjacent on the shelves. Also, they wrote, sometimes, with similar themes; they each wrote for both children and adults (Goudge winning the Carnegie Medal for The Little White Horse); and they were most prolific in the 1940s to the 1960s. These are Elizabeth Goudge, and Rumer Godden.

Elizabeth Goudge's books are perhaps the more sentimental, but that's not to say they are cloying, only that they are old-fashioned. The inner life of her characters is present in every story, and there is a lot of pondering of a religious nature about values and concepts. But the stories are so sweet and heartfelt, and their settings in a disappearing rural England of a certain period so lyrically described, that they are worth reading just for those reasons. She is known for The White Witch and Pilgrim's Inn. Two of her more minor works--The Scent of Water and The Blue Hills--are among my favorites, but I believe the best book she ever wrote was Green Dolphin Street, the story of two sisters who loved one man, and where their love led them.

Rumer Godden had much of a personal nature on which to draw for her writings, having grown up partly in England, partly in India, and living variously in Kashmir, Calcutta, Sussex, and America. Many of her books have India as a setting. My favorites from among the more than 50 books she wrote are Kingfishers Catch Fire, China Court, and In This House of Brede, the last one an odd but mesmerizing book that follows a 40-something businesswoman who suddenly embraces Catholicism and decides to try to become a cloistered Benedictine nun. And I loved her children's book, The Diddakoi, winner of the Whitbread award.

Perhaps that's enough to ponder for now. I'll continue on down the alphabet in a future post...

No comments: