Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reading, Flying--and Blankets!

Reading is one of my great joys in life. I'm never happier than when I have my nose in a beautifully written, touching or funny, what's-going-to-happen-next?, can't-put-it-down work of fiction. As far back as I can remember, I have been an unapologetic bookworm.

I loved to read as a kid, but reading is even more fun as an adult because I can have a nice, hot cup of coffee (with plenty of cream and sugar in it) by my side when I do it. And of course, I need a blanket, too. My lap must be covered by a blanket, even if it's 90 degrees outside. This is some kind of weird tick I have. I can't cook without wearing an apron, and I can't sit on a couch to read or watch T.V. without wearing a blanky.

That's one good thing about all the traveling I've been doing lately: I've been reading a lot of good books. You see, I can't board a flight without a brand new paperback tucked into the bag I plan to carry on and stow under the seat in front of me. Even if I don't ever open it mid-air (which, by the way, never happens), I need to know it's there, ready to help me take my mind off the fact that I'm sitting in a tube of steel tens of thousands of feet above my beloved terra firma. In business class on overseas flights, they have cozy, quilted blankets, and I burrow right in with my book and feel almost as comfortable as I do at home. On domestic flights, when I invariably land in coach (boo!), the blankets are so thin and sub-par that I usually just cover my lap with my coat. But the lap must be covered. Reading cannot take place until the lap is covered.

Sometimes, I finish the book I've brought along on a trip before the return flight, but not to worry. Before boarding, I just visit an airport bookstore. I've stumbled upon some of the best books in airport bookstores.

Here are some titles that I've read recently that I would highly recommend:

The House at Tyneford, by Natasha SolomonsFrom the back cover: "It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlour maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely upstairs-downstairs friendship that will transform Tyneford--and Elise--forever." This is an absorbing story, beautifully told. I am often drawn to books set during the Second World War, and especially books about the plight of the Jews at that time. Apparently, many young Jewish women went to England to work as servants in order to escape Hitler's persecutions, but this was something I'd never read about before. This novel is more than just a love story; it's also a suspenseful page-turner. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta SepetysFrom the back cover: "Lithuania, June 1941: Fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to the summer. In the dark of night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart. The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father's prison camp. In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and the lives of those around her. But will love be enough to keep her alive?" This book was meticulously researched by the author, who made several trips to Lithuania to interview survivors (some of them relatives) of Stalin's cruelty. Although I've read many books that deal with the Jewish holocaust, I hadn't read much about Stalin's reign of terror in the Baltics. This is a heartbreaking story, but one that shows how the human spirit can triumph even in the face of unspeakable horror. Although this book is technically billed as "young adult fiction," I would recommend it to adult readers.

And finally, lest you think that all I ever read are depressing books set in WWII--

Playing for Pizza, by John GrishamThis one is about Rick Dockery, a washed-up third-string NFL quarterback who has become a laughingstock. Cut by his team and shunned by all others, it looks like his playing days are over. As the back cover of the book explains: "But all Rick knows is football, and he insists that his agent find a team that needs him. Against enormous odds, Rick finally gets a job--as the starting quarterback for the Mighty Panthers...of Parma, Italy. The Parma Panthers desperately want a former NFL player--any former NFL player--at their helm. And now they've got Rick, who knows nothing about Parma (not even where it is) and doesn't speak a word of Italian. To say that Italy--the land of fine wines, extremely small cars, and football americano--holds a few surprises for Rick Dockery would be something of an understatement..." This book is a bit of a departure for Grisham, who is known for his courtroom dramas. I really enjoyed it: football has always been a big part of our life in this all-male house of mine, so I ate up all the sports talk; and I am so intrigued by all things Italian. Reading the descriptions of epic four-course Italian meals, and meeting the emotional and expressive Italian characters that inhabit this book, made me anxious for the day when I can accompany my husband on one of his trips to Italy. Rick Dockery has his likable traits, but he is a bit of a "player" (and by that, I don't mean a football player). Let's just say that I wouldn't want a daughter to date him. But sports fans, this book is otherwise delightful.

Have I rambled on long enough for you today? Were you worried that I was thinking about turning this blog post into a novel? Sorry about that. But I just love talking about books!

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