Escaping Into Novels

good novels, book addict, library addict, book zombie, novel recommendations,

Books have been my escape mechanism ever since I started reading as a child. I’d load up with all the books I could carry from the library with absolute glee, launching into the first one in the backseat on our drive home. I couldn’t wait for the power of a story to overtake me.  While reading I was completely oblivious of my surroundings, caught up in another world entirely. This got me into trouble at school plenty of times. I’d read after getting an assignment done, never noticing as the class moved on to spelling or math or even lunch. That’s the down side to being what I call a book zombie.

I continue to have a pretty advanced case of library addiction and plunder the stacks on a weekly basis. Unlike my earliest years, I mostly read non-fiction. I don’t know why I’ve come to associate facts with the reading equivalent of a meal, necessary and good for me in a way that dessert is not. That doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in novels. In my reading-intensive life I usually stuff in a novel a week, plus several non-fiction books (and lots of online reading).

But this week I haven’t opened a single non-fiction book. I’m in complete escape mode—all dessert. That’s because my beloved husband has been in the hospital for some extensive spinal surgery. That first day I relied on a stack of novels to transport me away from his nearly seven hour surgery plus many more hours of waiting for him to get out of recovery. The next few days I found that, between visits, I didn’t have much gumption to get my work done. Okay, no gumption whatsoever. I kept sneaking back into novels where I lingered quite happily for hours. Thank goodness I stocked up. It’s like having a whole pantry full of goodies.

Here are a few I’ve been reading that you might enjoy.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a clever and mysterious book. It’s a quick read but not remotely fluffy. On the surface it’s about the way the love of books intersects with the might of today’s computing power. But it’s also about magic, mystery, the awesomeness of Google, and the singular meaning of real relationships.  (Five stars!)

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney is sharp and funny. It’s follows a man whose current challenge is producing a diaper commercial, whose personal life is barely perceptible, and who takes a sardonic view of anything remotely sentimental. The passages skewering corporate absurdities and fast forward trendiness are delicious. That the story ends on a sentimental note provides a perfect balance. (Five stars!)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Set in the late 1980′s, this book is told through the eyes of an adolescent girl who had a close relationship with an uncle who recently died of AIDS. A few days after his funeral she receives a strange package, an artful teapot she and her uncle always used when they got together. It was sent by a mysterious man who asks to be her friend. And so begins an unusual relationship that teaches the girl, her family, and this man more than they might have imagined about forgiveness, love, adventure, and being true to oneself. Compellingly written and insightful, this story lingers. I can’t remember loving characters as much as I loved this girl’s uncle and the man who becomes her friend.  (Five stars!)

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is translated from the Swedish language and has sold three million copies. As the title suggests, the tale has to do with an elderly gent who runs away. His life story happens to interconnect with major political happenings around the world, Forrest Gump-style, although this main character is far less innocent especially where explosions are concerned.   It’s a bit of a history lesson, entirely beyond credulity, but nonetheless entertaining. I’m guessing a movie will be forthcoming. (Four stars)

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons isn’t my usual read. I am allergic to most anything with “romance” as a major plot point. But I read a review noting that this is the book for Downton Abbey fans and couldn’t resist. This is meatier, in some ways, than Downton Abbey. The main character is the daughter of a wealthy, cultured Viennese family who seeks asylum in 1938. She ends up in England as a servant. Her culture shock and class shock are interesting, so is life in the remote coastal area that has a unique historic angle. (Four stars)

The Red House by Mark Haddon (author of the absolutely wonderful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is about family relationships, all happening within a holiday week. The style is faintly jarring, flitting from one point of view to another, sometimes in the space of two paragraphs, but it’s also full of the moments a reader waits for, those quiet but significant insights that are illuminating. (Four stars)

Maybe I’m working my way toward a more balanced reading diet. I still don’t have the slightest urge to pick up a non-fiction books, even the ones I’m supposed to be reviewing. It feels decadent and delightful, like skipping the salad and going right for the chocolate. In a few minutes I’ll be leaving to pick my husband up from the hospital. On the way I’ll be getting his prescriptions, a shower chair, and maybe, if there’s time, books I ordered that are in at the library.

Tell me what YOU are reading so I have more reasons to indulge.

14 thoughts on “Escaping Into Novels

  1. Thank you thank you thank you!! I’ve been looking for some good escape reading recommendations. I wish I could reciprocate but I’ve been stubbornly plowing through a book I’m not really all the interested in. Though given my baby-induced sleep deprivation I fall asleep 10 pages in most nights anyway, and maybe I really engaging read would risk stealing too many precious hours of sleep. Anyway…. The best book I’ve read in a while has been Cutting for Stone– the kind that I was sad when it ended. And I loved Half a Yellow Sun, about the Biafrian war.


    • I have the tendency to make myself finish books too. I’m trying to renounce that. There are too many excellent books out there!

      I too loved Cutting For Stone, a wonderful look at really complex characters and a fascinating part of the world. I’ll have to check Half a Yellow sun out of the library. Already I love the author’s name, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It sounds like music.


  2. Hope your husband s is well and truly on the mend.. The luxury of escaping into fiction remains a distant dream for me, mostly because I cannot, cannot, cannot stop reading a book once I have begun it. I shall (happily) live vicariously through you; thanks for sharing. 😀


  3. I was excited to see your reading recommendations! I also normally read non-fiction and recently took a little reading vacation and read all 13 of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. It took me only a couple weeks because I loved them that much! I still managed to read plenty to my kids but my house was sure a mess those two weeks. No regrets! Oh, I do love good books!


  4. Oh, Laura, many, many good wishes for your husband, you and your family for a speedy and pain-free recovery. As a chronic back-pain sufferer, I especially sympathize! Thanks for the book notes. I love the sound of the Solomons book, as a fellow ‘Downton Abbey’ fan! I’ve been doing lots of parenting book reading lately and reading my son’s books to check if they’re suitable eg. ‘My Side of the Mountain’ trilogy, which I devoured so I can’t think of anything right now to recommend. Very lame of me! Interestingly, a very intellectual friend of mind re-read the entire ‘Harry Potter’ trilogy during the worst of the Bahraini unrest. She said it was the only thing that could take her away from the worry and stress of it all. Better than a half-dozen boxes of chocolate or litres of ice-cream! Books…. good for the figure in times of stress! Very best wishes, Penny


    • I absolutely loved the My Side of the Mountain books when I was a kid. Truly good escapism fodder. Actually kid lit is pretty wonderful for that altogether, much better quality all the time.

      Hope YOUR back pain improves. My husband’s recovery may be slow but knowing that he’ll eventually be back to full function makes this a good thing. Thanks for the kind wishes.


  5. I am on a memoir kick lately, but the best novel I’ve read in a L O N G time is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. So beautiful-written with lots of exciting action, thoughtful contemplation and a tween protagonist who, (along with ballsy writer sister and loving, devoted father) set off on wild adventure in the stark rural backwoods of North Dakota.


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