It’s been a few months since my last “Book List” post and I wanted to share some of the great titles that I’ve been reading lately. Whether you’re lucky enough to have plans for Spring Break, time off over Easter in April, or just need to escape from the dreary everyday, here are five good reads that will deliver you into a completely different world:
1. Wild, By Cheryl Strayed
Set in 1995, this memoir tells the true story of one young woman’s (seemingly flippant) decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail — nearly 1800 kilometres from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington state. Cheryl Strayed’s backstory, determination, and physical/mental journey are all hooks, but for me, it’s her descriptions of herself as a young woman and the people in her life — whether they are family members or people she only meets for a few hours — that make this book really captivating. Apparently an adaptation is heading to the cinema soon (with Reese Witherspoon in the title role), so read it now before everyone does. In three words: Adventurous, healing, inspiring.
2. Room, by Emma Donoghue
This is a story of a world of kidnapping and abuse that no reader really wants to dive into, but told in such an innocent way from a perspective of a child who never sees a problem with the world he lives in. The first half of the story centres on Jack, his Ma, and the strange man that comes visit her in “Room” — the 11ft x 11ft shed that is the only place Jack has ever been. Born into captivity, his Ma tries to create a sense of normality and Jack’s childlike joy over their repetitive, daily routines is realistic and charming — but as Jack grows and Ma becomes more weary, it’s clear that the situation is becoming too much for them both. The second part of the book asks whether Ma or Jack can ever really cope “Outside”. Aside from the whole novel’s awful premise (young women who are kidnapped, locked up, and abused for years), the story raises interesting questions about parenting, the role of family, and society’s fascination with these kind of cases. Three words: absorbing, surprising, haunting.
3. Joseph Anton, by Salman Rushdie
For someone that usually sticks to fiction, it seems that I’ve read a few memoirs lately! I must admit that I haven’t read any of Salman Rushdie’s other work, but was fascinated by the idea of this true account of his decade in captivity after a fatwa (death sentence) was declared in Iran — and echoed around the world — in 1989 after the publication of his supposedly anti-Islam book, The Satanic Verses. I also need to be upfront and admit I haven’t yet finished this book. At 650 pages, it is long and so far, I can’t help but feel as though much could have been cut (particularly the many passages of self-righteousness against those who disagree with him) and still had an impact. However, it’s also an incredibly interesting account of his life, the struggle for free speech, and hypocrisy of many intellectuals. I’m interested in finding out how Rushdie eventually wins his freedom, but so far I’ll sum up in three words as: long-winded (is that two words?), intriguing, honest.
4. The World, by Bill Gaston
A book within a book within a book — this labyrinth of a story is written in a layered way that could be confusing, but instead felt intriguing and pulled me along as I wanted to find out where each strand led. It was actually a good thing that the story was divided into three sections and the tempo increased in each, because I felt that the start of the book was unintentionally depressing. We begin on Vancouver Island, where our retired protagonist, Stuart, accidentally burns down his house after finally paying it off. Divorced, alone, and with his insurance in limbo, he starts a cross-Canada journey to visit an old friend. From here, things get interesting, as we too trek across the country and dip into the book he is reading, before meeting it’s author (his friend’s father) and becoming entangled in his story too. “The World” refers to the name of the book that Stuart is reading, but also the (fictional) leper’s colony in that story, which provides many allegories throughout the novel. It could have been a disaster, but instead The World is an intelligent, well-planned story and an engaging read. I just wish it hadn’t tied up Stuart’s predicament’s quite so neatly at the end — sometimes a book is more enticing if some threads are left hanging. Three words: captivating, emotional, funny.
5. The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson
What can I say about this book? It’s a rollicking good time. A fairly short, quirky, and altogether pretty easy read, when we discussed it at book club the best description I heard was “it’s very Swedish”. The humour never made me laugh out loud, but I loved the outrageous plot, black humour, and surprising ways that the story develops. The book also raises some good questions about the way society treats the elderly — the main character is, after all, essentially hunted down by police for walking out of a nursing home on his 100th birthday — but overall it was fairly light entertainment that would be worthy of a Spring Break vacation. Three words: quirky, charming, fun.