Persuasion, Jane Austen, $8.
I know, I know, everyone picks Pride and Prejudice as their favourite Austen. Well, I love that one, too, along with Austen’s other works, but Persuasion, Austen’s last novel, has an air of maturity and melancholy that elevate it, to my mind. The heroine, Anne Eliot, is in a rough spot: her family is in dire financial straits due to her father’s frivolous ways and must lease their house and move to Bath; she has suffered from a broken heart for years ever since turning down a poor suitor in her youth on the advice of an old family friend; and her youthful prettiness has faded. But her long-lost love, Captain Wentworth, is back on the scene once again, flush with hard-won fortune and hunting a wife, but he disdains her company, still wounded by her long-ago rejection.
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro, $29.
The story of a butler who looks back on his life and reflects on what might have been had he not been as devoted to his job. So collected and contained (in that prototypically British, stiff upper lip fashion), so subdued yet ultimately so emotionally devastating, it is sheer perfection.
An Imaginary Life, David Malouf, $13.
Exiled to the very edges of the civilized world, isolated from all he knows and loves, Roman poet Ovid resigns himself to a primitive existence in a hardscrabble village where he doesn’t even speak the inhabitants’ language. But when he meets a feral child who has been discovered living with wolves on the verges of the village and tries to civilize him, he discovers there is beauty to be found even in the desolate wild reaches of the world.
For the Time Being, Annie Dillard, $13.
Dillard’s writing in this is a revelation. Her meditations, at first seemingly random, on sand, time, birth, numbers and clouds, among other things, coalesce into a profound commentary on the world and our meaning in the midst of it all — or lack thereof.
Possession, A S Byatt, $12.
I admit it, two of the reasons I love this book: there’s a mystery and a love story — two actually. Toss in academic and period settings, letters and journal entries and wrap it all up in superb writing by Byatt, and you have yourself a winner — a Booker Prize winner, as a matter of fact! Scholar Roland Mitchell discovers previously unknown correspondence between Victorian poets Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash and embarks on a journey to uncover the exact connection between the two. Along the way he joins forces with professor Maud Bailey and the two race to uncover the truth before their greedy literary competitors. A lushly dramatic treat.
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, $16.
I love nothing better than curling up with a good mystery, and this is a fabulous mystery! In 1327, Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his young companion, novice Adso of Melk, investigate the mysterious deaths that have been taking place at the Benedictine abbey they are visiting. The deaths seem tied to the library, to which they are denied entrance by the abbot — even as more and more bodies show up. A literary puzzle, the occult, references to Sherlock Holmes and Jorge Luis Borges, theological arguments, and scientific developments all add up to a labyrinthine delight (and one in which Eco doesn’t allow didacticism to get in the way of his storytelling). I really need to read this again soon.
Neither Here Nor There, Bill Bryson, $17.
Bill Bryson has the ability to make me laugh like no other writer, and this book in particular isn’t safe for public transit consumption for that very reason — even though I’ve read it time and time again. Bryson is known for his travel books, but also others on subjects as diverse as the concept of home and the English language. In this 1991 endeavour, he travels to Europe and recounts that trip as well as earlier post-college journeys around the continent in the company of klutzy companion Stephen Katz (luckily a pseudonym to protect his real identity). Hilarious — there is no other word.
Other great reads from my library (definitely an incomplete list!):
Afterimage, Helen Humphreys
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
The End of the Alphabet, CS Richardson
Clara Callan, Richard Wright
Famous Last Words, Timothy Findlay
Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman
Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem, Simon Singh
Home: The Short History of an Idea, Witold Rybczynski
The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox, Jennifer Lee Carrell
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Cities, Science and the Modern World, Steven Johnson
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks
(And yes, I am a medical book geek…)