Whatever the groundhog may have promised, a fresh bout of winter has descended, at least in my town. I’m not too upset. I enjoy winter. Long snowy days are perfect to hunker down with a hot cup of tea and a good book. Winter is prime reading season. So before it gets away, here are my favorite reads to sweep you off to magnificent places while you settle into your armchair by the fire.
The Place: Medieval Paris
The Story: A deformed idiot, taken in by the church, is rescued from public beating and humiliation by a beautiful gypsy girl. He, in turn, returns the favor. In a classic, “I love you. You love him. He loves somebody else” style, the characters play out the tragic comedy of human existence. In the end we learn only love can save us from our own hate and prejeduce. It has been observed that from reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one could draw an accurate map of medieval Paris. Victor Hugo spared no detail in his careful descriptions of the city and her buildings.
The Place: San Francisco and 4 towns in China
The Story: Four Mothers, born in China, and their four daughters, born in San Francisco, struggle to understand one another and support one another. Each chapter tells the story from the point of view of one of the women and could stand alone as a short story. Taken together, the reader sees how their history and culture influence and enmesh with one another to tell a much deeper story. It is an intimate and compassionate view of China a generation ago. Sometimes they are friends. Sometimes they are rivals. Always, they are mothers and daughters.
The Place: Vienna
The Story: A patient of Dr. Freud is found dead. Two detectives go to work to solve the murder. One, an inspector, approaches the matter in a scientific and logical manner. The other, his wife, investigates in an intuitive, symbolic (dare I say… Freudian?) way. Read this one slowly. Savor the metaphor and ponder the symbolism. This is not a quick whodunit kind of mystery. There is a lot going on behind the pages and you need to let your mind gnaw on it to enjoy it. It also gives you a wonderful tour of Vienna one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
The Place: Northern Wisconsin
The Story: Edgar is a mute boy from a family of dog breeders. Together they suffer a series of tragedies. He looses his father, comes of age, protects his mother, and cares for his dogs. Ultimately, the dogs assist him in avenging his father’s death but only at a terrible cost. Think “Hamlet” meets “True Grit”. I read it on a recommendation from my sister a couple of years ago while developing a dog-related story of my own. Edgar just never let go of my heart. I love that kid and I really felt like I was with him exploring the farms, lakes, and woods of Wisconsin.
The Place: Victorian London
The Story: This is Dickens’ masterpiece and brings everything from Victorian London to life again. This should be required reading for every steam punk writer and Anglophile. Yes, it’s long but the characters are vibrantly alive, the sub-plots so engaging, and the settings so fascinating you won’t want to miss a word. The story revolves around a cold case. Or rather, a case growing cold because it is taking so long to investigate. The plot twists and turns and tells a hundred little stories along the way. Not one story, character, or description is wasted. Everything means something. Everything is connected. Everything matters.
(Click HERE for part 2)