Living in a country that is not English, I have to source my books from many places: I know all the bookshops in the region with good English sections, I belong to a book-club where we pool our favourite English books, I am a friend of Amazon, and I drive to England now and then and fill up the boot of my car with books. Oh yes, and baking ingredients.
So here I present for you the results of my recent forays – a novel, a memoir and something else.
In England I found this book: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. I wish I could say I selected it after a long and satisfying browse in Waterstone’s, but unfortunately my book-buying this time was relegated to Tesco’s and Asda’s late-night shopping and a high-speed race around Ottakar’s. Shopping with three small children does not lend itself to getting dreamily lost in a bookshop. In fact, shopping with three small children doesn’t lend itself period. So after a three-second deliberation I grabbed it. I was taken with the punt from Adriana Trigiani on the front, as I like her books, and this brief quote on the back:
When Lena Fleet went to college, she promised God she would stop fornicating with every boy she met, never tell another lie and never, ever go back to her hometown in Alabama. All she wanted from Him in return was to make sure the body was never found.
My instinct was right – it was a ripping read. I rampaged through it, dying to get to the end to find out why and how, but increasingly sad that this would mean saying farewell. Lena Fleet is a great character, likeable in her oddness, and Joshilyn Jackson’s voice is clear, funny and engaging. She even has a blog, which is as amusing as her book. There I discovered that Gods in Alabama is her first novel, she’s published a second and is working on her third.
In Heidelberg with my mother two weeks ago, I had slightly longer than three seconds to nose through the English section of a great bookshop on the Hauptstrasse, and found Place of Reeds – A True African Love Story. This memoir was also a page-turner, but for different reasons. Briton Caitlin Davies meets her Botswanan husband at Duke University and returns with him to Botswana to teach. Unlike most expats, she wants to fit in: learns Setswana, adopts his daughter, renounces her British passport and becomes a Motswana. She writes passionately though unsentimentally about her life there, and, while you sense her holding back about her marriage, she details very thoroughly the breakdown in communication she experiences with his family. This happens after the birth of her daughter and after she survives a brutal attack in her own home. Expecting compassion, she is rejected, and heartbreakingly realises that she will never fit in. This is a beautiful and very hard book to read. Caitlin Davies doesn’t have a blog.
The last of my offerings tonight came from my book club. I love my book club: we are all friends and enjoy a monthly get-together where one of us cooks and we all talk books. However, I am often in the unenviable position of having read almost everything that passes into the communal pool. This book, the something else, I caught going sleight-of-hand from one to another and I managed to intercept it. It’s called Wifework, and it’s written by an American writer, Susan Maushart, who lives in Australia. The blurb on the back says it’s compulsively readable, and it is. Her premise is while men and women say they are committed to equality in their relationships, and in marriage specifically, women still do most of the work. And since women are initiating 75% of divorces, they are not happy with the status quo, and something has got to change. For such a heavy subject, she writes with a light touch, and the book made me take a long, hard look at myself.
Susan Maushart doesn’t have a blog, but she has a very funny column in The Australian called The Gospel According to Maushart, where she says, amongst other things:
Blessed are the poor in iron, for they shall be excused from PE.
Amen to that. I’d rather be reading.
*** Edited to add: My husband got back from climbing Mt Ventoux for charity (check out his blog here if you would like to donate) and said, “You’re the hunter-gatherer! I beg to disagree! I book every flight I take out of the UK one hour later than necessary so that I can trawl the Heathrow bookshops and bring books home to you!” He’s right of course, and I have to thank him for my latest read: the ever-brilliant and accomplished William Boyd’s latest novel Restless, which is a stonking spy story.