It’s snowing. Just a light snowfall.
But our house is very cold. And so I am sitting under one blanket and four comforters. I am drinking Mellow Moments herbal tea. A cat is sitting on my feet. Another cat is sitting under the top comforter. We are keeping warm as best we can.
Since I (very slightly) neatened the bedroom, we are down to 10 books on the bookstand. Classics, literary fiction, best-sellers, genre books–you name it.
In winter you can read something heavy, or something light. Any literary distraction is welcome. Here’s what I’ve been reading, some still in progress, followed by a list of books on my nightstand.
1. Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. At the age of 100, Herman Wouk, who won the Pulitzer for The Caine Mutiny, is in the news: he has written a memoir. I have long meant to read his critically-acclaimed novels about World War II, The Winds of War and its sequel, War and Remembrance. And so I downloaded The Winds of War on the e-reader
Let me just say The Winds of War is gripping. I tore through 270 of 886 pages, and can’t wait to tear through another 270 pages. Wouk writes very smoothly and intelligently, and he tells a good, no, a great, well-plotted story. This well-crafted historical novel revolves around the Henry family: in 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland, Victor “Pug” Henry, a naval officer, has been offered the position of US Naval attaché in Berlin and reluctantly accepted it. (He prefers to be on a ship.) His beautiful wife, Rhoda, who is used to moving around with her husband, prefers a city to a naval base. Their oldest son, Warren, is a naval officer, their daughter Madeleine is a student who makes herself indispensible at a rradio station, and their other son, Byron, rebelliously refuses to go into the Navy and, works as a secretary for a Jewish writer in Italy, where he falls in love with Jastrow’s niece, Natalie Jastrow. Then, despite all the rumors about Hitler, he and Natalie go off on a wild jaunt to Poland, to visit her ambassador boyfriend in Warsaw and iattend a family wedding in a Polish village. Then the Germans attack, and on a dangerous car trip back to Warsaw with the wedding party, Byron is wounded, his passport is taken away, but they continue on, because he knows it’s a very bad idea to stick around the Germans. In Warsaw they meet more danger and deprivation, but to Byron it is an adventure and to Natalie an opportunity to volunteer as a nurse at the hospital.
Here is an example of Wouk’s crystalline prose.
It took them two days to go the ninety-five kilometers. While it was happening it seemed to Byron a saga that he would be telling his grandchildren, if he lived through it. But so much happened afterward to him that his five-day trip from Cracow to Warsaw soon became a garbled memory. The breakdown of the water pump that halted them for half a day, on a deserted back road in a forest, until Byron, tinkering with it in a daze of illness, to his astonishment got it to work; the leak in the gas tank that compelled them to take great risks to buy more; the disappearance of the hysterical bride from the hayfield where they spent one night and the long search for her; the two blood-caked boys they found asleep by the roadside, who had a confused story of falling out of a truck and who rode the last thirty kilometers to Warsaw sitting on wooden slats on the sizzling hood of the Fiat–all this dimmed. But he always remembered how ungodly sick to the stomach he was, and the horrible embarrassment of his frequent excursions into the bushes…
If you’re not up to War and Peace, which is my favorite book, try Wouk’s best-seller, which he considered his War and Peace.
2. I admired and enjoyed Sarah Vincent’s The Testament of Vida Tremayne, a 2014 novel I discovered by accident–I had mixed it up with another book. It is utterly fascinating, the convoluted story, told partly in a journal, partly in a traditional narrative, of the thorny relationship between Vida, a writer, and her successful, materialistic, non-literary realtor daughter, Dory. The two women also must examine their sudden intense friendship with a mad, mysterious fan, who writes to Vida and then insinuates herself into the house. The book turns on a dime from a cozy realistic literary novel into literary horror.
Vida is a blocked writer whose literary novels no longer sell; her publisher wants her to start writing vampire novels. She loved her country house, named “The Gingerbread House,” after her cricially-acclaimed novel of the same title, but after her husband leaves her, she finds the house too quiet. Her daughter Dory, who hates leaving London to visit her mother in the country, finds Vida collapsed in her kitchen . Vida falls into a catatonic state in a mental hospital and is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. When Dory goes back to the house, she finds that a woman, Rhiannon, who claims to be living there, is back from London. Dory is amazed by how quickly Rhiannon, her mother’s fan, becomes her friend, too: there is lots of looking into eyes and sympathetic responses. But Dory reads Vida’s journal, and learns about Rhiannon’s scatty program for removing blocks to creativity. Don’t sign up unless you like starvation, incense, scrubbing floors, no reading or writing, meditation, and pumas.
BOOKS ON MY NIGHTSTAND!
1. Homer’s Iliad (in Greek)
2. Caroline Alexander’s new translation of Homer’s Iliad, the first by a woman.
3. Angela Thirkell’s Wild Strawberries
4. The Julian Symons Omnibus
5. Ovid’s Fasti
6. The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford (magnificent!)
7. Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris
8. The Diary of Anais Nin
9. Emily Kimbrough’s So Near and Yet So Far
10. Chekhov’s short stories (Folio Society four-volume set)
SO MANY GREAT BOOKS! What to read next?