If you have never been on a reading retreat…I highly recommend it! I am lucky enough to have a few wonderful friends who gather each year for a weekend of quiet reading…ok maybe not quite so quiet! We also drink and eat and laugh and share our favorite books with each other in a beautiful estate near Gordonsville. I shared these latest finds with them and I am sure in the next few months I will share some of their favorites…
Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini, introduced me to a historical figure I knew very little about, the daughter of Lord Byron. I adore the poetry of Lord Byron and always saw him as a romantic figure who associated with his little gang of creative artists, but I knew very little about his wife, Lady Annabella Byron. Born Anne Isabella Milbanke, Annabelle was a very no-nonsense woman who was a gifted mathematician. She was, at first, captivated by George Gordon Byron, then appalled by him. After marriage she comes to discover the mercurial nature of her husband and begins to suspect the unnatural relationship he has with his half-sister, Augusta Marie. This novel follows the path of Ada, her and Byron’s daughter, who faces the burden of fame from the moment she is born. She is whisked away from her father so that Annabella can try and shape her daughter’s future without the influence of Lord Byron’s unbalanced way of life. She refuses to let Ada succumb to anything that seems driven by her imagination and her days are heavy with mathematics and practical applications. Ada becomes a very studious young woman who thrives, yet whose imagination still finds an outlet through mathematics via the friendship with Charles Babbage who invented the Difference Engine, the very first programmed computing machine. I was fascinated by this largely unknown pioneer of technology and loved the way Chiaverini presented Ada, as well as her mother. It has made me want to explore this area of history a bit more.
I took a flight with a layover in Iceland recently and that led me to pick up an Icelandic writer named Yrsa Sigurdardottier. I am really glad I am writing this name and not having to say it out loud as I would surely butcher it. If you don’t mind reading names you can’t pronounce then I highly recommend her latest book, The Legacy. Apparently Yrsa is the “Queen of Icelandic thriller writers” and I can see why. She develops a detective, Detective Huldar, who is grasping at straws as he tries to figure out a baffling murder of a mother and wife who seems to have no enemies. A list of numbers, which no one understands, is left at the scene. When the victim’s child is found hiding under the bed, child psychologist Freyja must help the police learn what they can from the only witness. I really enjoy Swedish and Norwegian writers and so I was curious to see if the Icelandic thriller might have a similar feel….a bit of darkness that seems ever present. It has a slight Nordic feel, but I think the fact that Iceland has the lowest violent crime rate in all of the world keeps the atmosphere a bit lighter. A violent murder is not a normal, everyday occurrence and so the scrutiny of the police is very intense. I will be reading more from this author in the near future and booking a flight for a crime free vacation!
Sing Unburied Sing is a new novel from Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Salvage the Bones. I just have to rave a little about the voices in this novel. The rhym and cadence of the dialogue pulled me in from the beginning. Language inflections for regional speech can be tricky…it can pull you in or push you away with its differences. I was hooked from page one. That said, if you do not immediately succumb to the cadence please try and hold on for a few chapters until you fall into the patterns…it is worth it! The past and present flow together in this book as ghosts and the living walk freely through these pages. The injustice and inequality of races is clearly front and center in this book as it is set in Mississippi and is told from the view points of a mixed race child, Jojo, his African-American mother, Leonie, and an African American ghost child who was killed escaping from Parchman prison. History is filled with the unburied dead, those who never rest with the injustice of the world and part of this novel looks at how we put to rest the past and set those spirits free. It is beautiful and lyrical and moving and it’s a novel I will return to because it is one that deserves more than one reading. From Pops and his pain to Mam, who always has one foot in the realm of spirit, each character spoke to me. A good writer can take even the most unlikely of characters, one with all of the qualities you most dislike and somehow make you empathize and love them. Fall in love with all of these wonderful creations as you dance between the realms of past and present, physical and spirit.
Have a great rest of your month and keep turning those pages!