WHAT’S ON MY NIGHSTAND? Barbara Brown

For those of you who enjoy reading books in a series, I’m about to complete two fictional offerings, each wonderful in its own way. The first is a series of four called The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, an elusive Italian writer who has never actually been seen or interviewed face-to-face. The novels follow a complex and prickly lifetime relationship between two women who grow up together on the streets of Naples. It’s wonderfully evocative and thought-provoking. I have finished the first 3, beginning with My Brilliant Friend, and cannot wait to get to the 4th!

The other is a 3-book series by the Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley, about 100 years in the lives of the members of a Midwestern American family beginning in the 1920’s. The books are titled Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age, and although they can be read individually, I would suggest reading all three to feel the continuity and power of family.

And lastly, although this is not for the faint of heart, I’m reading The Wake, a retelling of the Norman Conquest from the perspective of an English farmer, Buccmaster of Holland. The hook for this one is that the author, Paul Kingsnorth, has written the book in what he calls a “shadow tongue”, a version of Old English, only slightly updated to be understood by the modern reader. There is something oddly hypnotic about it for me – and I would think for anyone interested in Medieval England. It follows a common man trying to cope with the enormity of the coming of an invader to his homeland.
It’s slow-going, but fascinating in its way.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff is an exhaustive look at the Salem witch trials and context. Schiff, who wrote the highly acclaimed book Cleopatra , is attempting to come to some understanding of how this all occurred. So far, I’m reading much about the so-called “afflicted” and their accusers, but I am still baffled to explain it. I think that her conclusion will be contextual, in that it will try to place this event within the historical and philosophical milieu of the time. It’s always difficult for us to place ourselves squarely THERE when reading history. This is a very thorough study of it all.

Next on my shelf…

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of a Tragedy is a book by the mother of one of the Columbine shooters. I am almost afraid to begin this one, but as a mother and a teacher, I have struggled for many years to understand what happened on that day and the years before it. Often this kind of memoir or reflection by someone so close to the event is almost a therapeutic need for them. I hope this will be more.

Why Does the World Exist: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt , was recommended to me by one of our Great Books and Olli family and I’m very anxious to give it its due. Even the title should intrigue us all because of our deeply philosophical readings and discussions in Great Books!