As January draws to a close, I’m beginning to believe it should be renamed the “cruelest month,” for it has battered and beaten us with the worst kinds of inclement weather. Had I not spent the past few days visiting my home in Florida and absolutely reveling in a much needed respite from the bitter cold and snow, I would simply cast January aside as a monstrous month and turn my sights on February in hopes of some measure of kindness from Mother Nature.
My reading this month has proven haphazard at best, for I’ve been fighting illess as well as adverse weather, battling some strange infectious process which attacked my respiratory and digestive systems in turn. Not always the most efficacious situation for reading ~ nevertheless, I managed to finish three book in the past two weeks, for which I’m rather amazed.
Two of them were classic sick room reading – a fun, frothy mystery (Through the Grinder, by Cleo Coyle), and a delightful piece of women’s fiction with a Southern flair (Mermaids in the Basement, by Michael Lee West). The Coyle mystery was of the “cozy” genre, something I rarely read, but I do enjoy this series set in The Village Blend coffeehouse in New York, along with it’s spunky heroine Clare Cosi. These little books awaken all my latent coffee loving senses – after all, what coffee lover among you wouldn’t repond to passages like this:
That dark, powerful, rich, and warm something I yearned for was a cup of Guatemala Antigua – one of those smooth, tangy coffees like Coast Rican and Colombian, which would awaken my yawning palette with a full-bodied, slightly spice flavor and bracing, rich acidity.
I sighed, almost smelling the earthy aroma of that first morning cup, tasting its nutty essence, feeling the shudder of radiant pleasure as the jolt of heat and caffeine seemed to flow directly into my veins.
God, I loved the morning ritual.
The only problem with reading these books is the necessity to stop and make coffee before settling in to read – which isn’t really a problem at all, especially since all the books include recipes for some of the delectable coffee concoctions mentioned in the story.
And from the historic walls of the Village Blend, I was transported to coastal Alabama and the hallowed halls belonging to Honora DeChavannes, her granddaughter Renata, and her son Louis. Renata has come home from Hollywood in the wake of some tabloid trouble, plus she’s grieving the recent and sudden death of her mother and stepfather. Her visit home brings some interesting secrets to light, revelations that will change the way Renata perceives herself and her past. You might be tempted to label Mermaids in the Basement as “chick lit with a southern twist” – but its more than that. West’s characters a more three dimensional then most others in similar genre’s, and each one learns some hard lessons (amidst the kudzu, shrimp etouffe, and mimosas).
The third – and most epic- of the novels read this month was Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. This was a monstrous novel, and I’m referring to more than it’s 750 pages. The book centers on the collateral damage inflicted upon a (fictional) survivor of the Columbine High School massacre – Marueen Quirk, the school nurse, who hides inside a cabinet while the carnage goes on around her. While she suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and struggles to regain her mental and physical well being, her husband Caelum undergoes some revelations and subsequent traumas of his own, leading him to embark on a quest through time as he studies his family and ancestry to fully understand where he has come from, and what monsters were part of his past.
And while I found myself completely caught up in the Quirk’s story, particularly in Maureen’s repsonse to the Columbine tragedy, and Lamb’s very accurate and detailed accounting of what might have happened that day, supplemented with actual interview and transcripts from the killer’s notebooks and videos, I found the enlarged story almost too much at times. The reader is thrust back and forth between the Quirk family’s past three generations, and Maureen and Caelum’s recent experiences. It is a huge fever dream of a novel, and there were times I was reading it with an actual fever, making the huge story even more monstrous in proportion. I persevered, however, and I’m quite pleased to have finished this saga.
I’ve also been reading studying, China, A New History, by John King Fairbank, as part of my “required reading” for the World Citizen Challenge. As my son and daughter in law in Thailand celebrate Chinese New Year this week (the year of the Ox), it’s fitting that I’m learning more about the ancient civilization which gave rise to some of the very customs they’re now experiencing. Yesterday morning, for instance, my son told us a big meal was being prepared, which would then be served outside as an offering to the departed ancestors. Afterwards, bonfires of “fake” money were burned, as gifts to the ancestors already departed. I couldn’t resist joking that I hoped one day someone would offer lots of riches to me when I was in heaven, for I was sure there would be plenty of bookstores there!
I plan to clutch the last few minutes of this Sunday to finish off Friend of the Devil, the latest Peter Robinson mystery which I started yesterday whilst lying on the beach in Southern Florida.
Now tell me, has your January been cruel or kind? How about your January reading?