If you want to read something light that’s not trash, here are a few suggestions!
In the days before Amazon, this book was a treasure, only to be found in old ladies’ houses or yard sales of vintage books, with dusty covers and handwritten names on the insides and yellowing pages. These days, you can get nice ones online. Do yourself a favor and get it, immediately. It’s a collection of autobiographical essays written by a young Southern girl in the early 20th century in the South. Religion often comes up as a faintly sacrilegious side note, in a way that only an Episcopalian could write, as she talks about defending St. Paul by getting in a fisticuffs and serving mint juleps to her Bishop until he danced at her garden party. It’s a book you will read aloud to anyone standing nearby, if you can stop laughing.
For an entirely different side of the South, pick up Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart. If you ever read her, it was probably a short story in high school English class, and they probably picked the wrong one, i.e. The Worn Path and not Why I Live at the P.O. The Ponder Heart is a novella about a family of eccentrics in Mississippi, told by the bossy but loving Edna Earl. If you like Southern fiction at all, give it a shot. The description of the child-bride and her country hick family alone is worth the book price.
But if that all sounds too slow-moving and non-gritty, pick up Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian. Puzo also wrote The Godfather of course, but I prefer The Sicilian when it comes to the books. It’s a Robin Hood story set in Sicily, with all the wonderful characterization of The Godfather without the extraneous fat (if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about). Even if you don’t think you’re a Mafia geek, give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Of course, if fantasy’s more your speed, you could do worse than TH White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose. He’s well known for his Arthurian retelling in The Once and Future King, but I prefer MMR. If you’ve ever read Gulliver’s Travels, you will be delighted to find that the English brought some Lilliputians back to England for profit, and they escaped. And centuries later, they were found by a child. There is much to unpack in this book about political philosophy, liberty, and dignity, but without a lecture and with plenty of hilarity.
Moving due east, we come to Persepolis I and II, a memoir in graphic novel form about growing up during the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath. The writer was the daughter of educated, secular modernists in Tehran who opposed the Shah and supported the revolution, until it took a sharp turn to Islamic fundamentalism. We see all this through the eyes of a child (she is 10 in 1979) who is courageous, brash, and rebellious. Although we get to learn about the international plays, it takes a back-seat to her adventures buying Michael Jackson albums on the black market and sneaking alcohol to her parents’ parties. This book opened a part of the world that seemed foreign and hostile, and showed how Iran is not as uniform as it seems on the news.
For another, more episodic non-fiction work, check out Iron and Silk, set in 1990s China. Although one could call it a travel novel, it’s more like a coming of age story in which an adult American man journeys into Chinese culture, immersing himself in learning calligraphy, painting, and kung fu while teaching university students English. That makes it sound dull, but trust me – it’s not The Last Samurai for China. The descriptions are so wonderful that you read the words over and over, as if you could taste them, and the scenes he describes are breathtaking.
To round things out, I’ll include a favorite author of mine, Mary Stewart. She wrote two kinds of works, fantasy and romantic mysteries/suspense thrillers, and both are wonderful. Of the romantic mysteries, perhaps my favorite is My Brother Michael. In Stewart’s books, the setting is one of the characters, and this one is set in mid-20th century Greece.
Happy reading! Be sure to check out the other blogs at This Ain’t the Lyceum.