Whether you are sitting in the shade of a tree or basking in the sun on a lounger, summertime invites reading. Presently I have several books on the go, and finishing them is my top reading priority.
Driving with Plato is a collection of essays by former Oxford don Robert Rowland Smith. Each chapter is self-contained which makes this an easy book to pick up and put down. Frequently humorous and often insightful, Driving with Plato explores “the meaning of life’s milestones” from birth to death. Smith gives a nod to literature, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, pop culture and personal experience as he reflects upon the events that shape human existence and give it meaning.
The Joy of Living by Buddhist meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is another book on my “to complete” list. In The Joy of Living, Buddhist meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche discusses how our thought patterns influence our sense of well-being, and guides the reader through the basics of awareness meditation. Written with humour and wisdom, The Joy of Living is a must read for anyone interested in calming their “monkey mind.”
I am also part way through The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit by Helena Attlee. Attlee combines horticulture, cuisine, history and art as she explores the fascinating history of citrus fruits in Italy.
Some of the books I enjoyed reading this year include the following.
The Time in Between by Maria Duenas is the story of Sira Quiroga. The reader first meets Sira when she is 12 years old sweeping the floor of a prestigious dress making shop in Madrid. We follow her to Morocco, where her unscrupulous lover steals her inheritance and abandons her. Left to pay his debts, Sira becomes a couturiere for the wives of Nazi officers, and eventually enters the world of espionage as a spy for the Allies. The Time in Between was an international bestseller and also a hit Spanish mini-series. I streamed the first episode on DramaFever and I could become as hooked on this series as I was on Downton Abbey.
Quebec author Jocelyne Saucier’s novel And The Birds Rained Down deals with themes of isolation and self-determination, particularly in relation to dying. This makes the novel relevant to the national discussion on physician-assisted death. A trio of old men, Tom, Charlie and the recently deceased Ted, live in the wild, each in their separate camp. Death and dying surround the men as they hunt and trap and as the life-giving days of summer give way to the cold, dark of winter. Each keeps a box of poison on a shelf and the men have a pact to help each other die.
Readers who are beginning to question their memory may find some consolation in The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Psychologist Daniel Schacter explores the “sins of omission,” defined as the inability to call up a fact, event or idea, and the “sins of commission” where a memory is present but is incorrect or unwanted. Schacter uses a variety of methods, including story-telling, trial evidence and academic studies, to illustrate and explain how the mind can play havoc with memory at any age.
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser is a sympathetic look at the unfortunate French queen. At age 14, the Austrian archduchess was married to the French dauphin and thrust into a political role that she was ill-prepared to assume. The French were highly suspicious of Austria and Antoinette was an easy target for anti-Austrian sentiment. Fraser argues that French xenophobia attributed Antoinette with saying, “Let them eat cake,” an expression the French had applied to every foreign queen since the mid-17th century. Nor was she the promiscuous woman portrayed in the salacious cartoons of the day. Married to an ineffectual king whom she refused to abandon to secure her own safety, Fraser shows Antoinette for the tragic figure she was.
As I write this, a storm is brewing over the lake. It is a very good time for reading.
Trail, B.C., resident Louise McEwan is a freelance writer, religion columnist and catechist. She has degrees in English and theology and is a former teacher. She blogs at www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.ca. Reach her at email@example.com