Summer is a time to escape; typically packed with beach vacations, lake weekends, and BBQ’s with friends. This year is gonna look a little different. My little household has been sheltering-in-place since March 31st. I am more grateful than ever for our jobs that allow us to work from home and that we moved (last year) into our current house which has a fantastic backyard. I’m pretty sure if we were still in our townhouse someone would have been stabbed by now.
All of the uncertainty over the last couple of months has not helped my anxiety (which was already at an all time high, it’s been a wacky couple of years in my head). At least with this episode, I know that everyone’s feeling the dread of uncertainty and constant worry. I’m REALLY not alone this time!
My tried & true way to escape my immediate surroundings and lower my anxiety has always been to grab a book. Usually around this time of year, my friend Anbolyn & I share a few of our favorite upcoming reads at the Sunset branch, obviously that program isn’t happening this year. While I’m disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity to see our Sizzlin’ Summer Reads fans in-person, the library is going to highlight what a few of the CPL librarians (+ me!) recommend as good summer reads. I wrote way more than my share because I am quite desperate to talk about what I’m reading and books in general so I’m just going to use this outlet I have to share what I’m reading with the 1-2 readers I still have out there.
Typically, I’d choose a breezy beach read with some sexy stud and a nerdy, but gorgeous woman who have a steamy relationship after a chance encounter or an epic post-apocalyptic journey following the few survivors after the population has been obliterated by the flu/robots/zombies. None of those sound comforting or escapist. I can’t go to the beach and strangers can’t bump into each other at some random dive bar in their hometown (and if they were to I’d be disappointed in them for GOING to a bar). Looking to the future isn’t comforting because we are literally living in unprecedented times. I made the questionable decision to re-read STATION ELEVEN and I whipped through THE MOTHER CODE — my anxiety did not thank me for those choices even though I liked both books.
Since then, I’ve started looking back. Historical fiction has been a great way to escape the frenzy of this modern life. Some authors are so good they can create nearly immersive experiences for a reader. Hilary Mantel is one of those excellent authors. I delayed reading her Man Booker Prize winning novel for a decade. Once I knew there were more books coming in the series, I decided to wait until the third (and final) book was published; that happened earlier this year, so I finally grabbed WOLF HALL off my shelf.
In WOLF HALL, Mantel introduces us to Thomas Cromwell as we follow his rise to power in the infamous court of Henry VIII. Most of my knowledge of the Tudor court involves the beheading of many Queen consorts in Henry’s attempts to have a legitimate male heir (knowledge acquired from Phillipa Gregory novels and binge-watching The Tudors). Cromwell, sadly, was a figure I overlooked and he’s often portrayed as a villain. Mantel brings him to life and paints him in a new light – as a man who values family and religious freedoms – one who is not villainous, but thoughtful and decent. From the beginning, we are living his life with him. Mantel has used a point of view where Cromwell is often referred to as “he”. In The New Yorker in 2009, Mantel stated: “I’m behind his eyes… Although it’s written in the third person and not the first person, it’s actually more intimate than many third-person narratives. It’s as if the camera is on his shoulder.”
I’m behind his eyes, so Cromwell is always “he.” Occasionally, there is an ambiguity, and the “he” could refer to somebody else, and I think that’s just the price you pay. To keep calling him Cromwell wouldn’t fit with the way the book is written. Although it’s written in the third person and not the first person, it’s actually more intimate than many third-person narratives. It’s as if the camera is on his shoulder.H.M., The New Yorker
That is exactly how I felt as I was reading it, as if I were a tiny reader-angel on his shoulder as he walked home to Austin Friars, traveled the Thames, and as he met with courtiers, cardinals, and the Crown. I cannot wait to finish Cromwell’s story this summer as I make my way through BRING UP THE BODIES (#2) and THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT (#3).
Perhaps Tudor England doesn’t go back into history as far as you would like, perhaps you’re more interested in Ancient Greece and Rome. THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller re-imagines and expands on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. It will transport you to Homer’s Greece and the Trojan War filled with meddling mythological figures and heartbroken heroes.
If you aren’t quite ready to leave Greece and Troy once you’ve gobbled up their story, her second novel is also based on Homer’s Greece, this time from The Odyssey, and tells the story of CIRCE, daughter of Titan Helios, a goddess and a sorceress. Both novels are FANTASTIC.. I would have stayed on the island with Circe for another 200 pages.
While reading THE SONG OF ACHILLES, I was struck by the mention of female heroes fighting during the Trojan War — mainly the horsewomen from Anatolia. Being me, I wanted more facts on these warrior women. Thank goodness there’s a book by Adrienne Mayor, a historian and a classical folklorist, that dives into the “lives & legends of warrior women across the ancient world“.
Historical fiction is just one of the many ways I’ve used books to escape my house. What have you been reading to escape? Does anyone else sometimes feel like they’re watching a movie while they’re reading? That experience when you watch the film adaptation years later & you’re like…wait a minute, didn’t I see this with that other actress…but that other actress is just the one you imagined when you were reading?
Loved reading about your reading this summer! I agree about immersive, historical fiction. I am ENGROSSED in The Story of a New Name. I feel like I am in Naples with Lila and Lenu every time I open the book – I can’t get enough.
One day, I will read Elena Ferrante again. I loved those books SO MUCH.