Life Is Elsewhere, Milan Kundera
Logline: The short life of a young poet, from birth to death, with flights of fancy in between.
Buy this book, if you’re a hipster, and then Google it so you don’t actually have to read it, then you can impress all your friends with how avant-guard and intellectual you are. Otherwise, avoid it.
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Logline: Two ex-rangers, with their crew, who ranch in a tiny town called Lonesome Dove buy a huge herd of cattle, and set off from Texas to start over in Montana.
This book is incredible, I loved it. It’s a classic for a reason. Don’t be put off by its’ thickness, and keep in mind that it’s a slow starter so you might have to stick with it, but it’s really rewarding. The historical location is detailed and evocative, the characters are brilliantly drawn and diverse, both the male and female characters are very real and the plot is fascinating. Read this book. (Or if you really struggle, the TV miniseries was critically acclaimed)
Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, Paul Gallico
Logline: A London cleaning lady sees a Dior dress for the first time, and decides that life is not complete until she has a piece by the famous designer. The story follows her from the struggle to save enough, to her getting to Paris, and the lives she touches there.
Paul Gallico was a screenwriter, which is how I came across this title, and there is a film made of this book. I was expecting this book to be a little fish out of water meets Mary Poppins, and in a way it is. It’s a simple storyline. And yet, I actually found it really moving. There’s something beautiful about this woman’s determination to have something that is beautiful and frivolous in her life, something that is symbolic of a femininity that she is cut off from. It’s a short book, and in parts predictable, but I had a lovely time reading it.
Mrs Harris Goes to New York, Paul Gallico
Logline: In this second book about Mrs Harris, the London cleaning lady engages in smuggling a child to America to rescue him from bad foster parents and reunite him with his estranged father.
This book is often sold in a volume with the above. Like it’s predecessor, it’s a short novel, but nice read. Though you can guess in the first chapter what the outcome will be, the journey there is pleasant enough. I liked this book, but it lacked the poignancy of her trip to Paris.
Paula, Isabel Allende
Genre: Memoir/Magic Realism
Logline: The book, which starts as a letter to the authors daughter who is in a coma, as a means to feel connected, is part memoir and part confronting an illness that is slowly stealing her child from her.
I love Isabel Allende, and one of my goals for the year was to read/collect all of her books (I like to set myself these goals). This book is one of her best, which I wasn’t expecting. I recommend it highly. It’s one of those rare books that impresses you with the resilience of the human spirit and our connections with each other, and though there is a lot of sadness surrounding the illness Paula suffers from, the book is ultimately life affirming. It stayed with me for a few days after reading it, and not many books do.
Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore
Genre: Rites of Passage/Non-Fiction
Logline: This is a philosophical book about passages through the dark times of life, and the way in which suffering can and should be embraced as a growing process.
This book is comforting. I’ve read it before, and every now and then recommend it to people who are going through dark times that linger. It may not have meaning for all of you, but those of you who know what a dark night of the soul is may find something for them here. It’s not a perfect book, but it offers something.
The Infinite Plan, Isabel Allende
Logline: Following the life and rites of passage of a boy whose father was a travelling philosopher with an Infinite Plan, who spends part of his life in a barrio in California, and another part trying to outrun his problems through constant work and poor relationships.
Allende is always rewarding, and this is her first book set entirely in California. It’s a good book, if you like her work, you’ll like it, but I’d recommend House of the Spirits or Eva Luna as a better entry point to her work. It’s still a really good yarn, though, and has that special flavor and magic that is Isabel.