Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

In Which a Hunter-Gatherer Finds Books


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.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

7 thoughts on “In Which a Hunter-Gatherer Finds Books

  1. Nice to have some book recommendations. I’ve read that Susan Maushart book, and also enjoyed it. I keep meaning to buy the Australian to read her column, but you’ve reminded me I can probably read it on the internet!

  2. Yes, I’ll try to link to it again. Failed first time for some reason.

  3. Oh, they all sound great, especially Gods of Alabama. Thanks for the recommendations, and your writing is lovely!

  4. Heh: I was NEVER excused PE. I was probably the only boy in the history of the school who would bunk PE by hiding in the, of all places, library. Then when they caught me, they’d make me read for detention. Funny value systems at work there.

  5. Those sound fabulous. Lena is intriguing me…oh, dear, another TBR!

  6. More books to add to the TBR list that’s about the size of the O.E.D. at this point…

  7. Fascinating about housework and divorce. Made my inner feminist sit up.

    I wonder if that little combination is replacing the previous one that spinsters lived longer than married women, and that married men lived longer than batchelors, showing very clearly that marriage was good for men and bad for women.

    Mind you, when I ran that one past the one I speculate about these things with, he asked whether or not it was adjusted to take account of childbirth. Then I wanted to know if the figures were the same for co-habitants. And then he wondered about the effect of the shift away from industrialised- and heavy manual-labour in the UK. And then we started talking about something else entirely.


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