Wednesday, October 7, 2020

An Open Book: And So Fall Begins

It's October! That means it's time to chat about the books that I've read in the past month or so. Caught up in the excitement of postpartum life, out-of-state relatives visiting, and finishing all 8 seasons + the two movies of Psych, I didn't read quite as much as I anticipated. ALSO, I spent a lot of September slowly pushing through the first 200 pages of Lorna Doone, before I realized that this season of my life is not extremely conducive to reading a weighty Victorian novel. I did manage to read a couple of non-fiction books, and some very delightful novels.

Make sure to check out Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book for more recommendations!

Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart.

Vanessa, a young newlywed, is disappointed when a long-awaited vacation with her husband is cancelled because he has to travel to Stockholm. She is surprised, then, to see him in a newsreel of a tragic fire in Austria. Eager to find her husband, she chaperones a teenage boy who is going to visit his father in Vienna. Vanessa finds herself involved in a tangled web of secrets, lies, and intrigue. This was a very fun book to read, and it was suspenseful and exciting without being scary. The story and tone reminded me of a Hitchcock film. I really enjoyed it! 

Running with Sherman, by Christopher McDougall.

In this memoir, the author (famous for his first book, Born to Run) chronicles the move that he and his family made to Amish country in Pennsylvania. As they settled into life there, the McDougalls wound up taking in a "rescue donkey," and Christopher decided that if this donkey, Sherman, survived, he wanted to train him for a famous distance race in Colorado. I liked this book, but especially in the first half, the pacing felt a little off-the author would spend the bulk of some chapters going off on tangents about various topics that, while fascinating, made it hard to follow the main storyline. Still, this tale was beautifully inspiring, and it was fascinating to learn about the world of burro racing. I also really enjoyed learning about the author's experience with his local Amish running club. 

Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich.

Venerated by both the Catholic church and the Anglican Communion, Julian of Norwich was an anchoress in England in the 14th century. After surviving a serious illness, she experienced several "showings," visions during prayer. This book is the set of her meditations and reflections on these prayer experiences. I thought this book was beautiful and a couple of her reflections really caused me to ponder life, holiness, and love in a different way. 

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy.

When I officially decided to "give up" on Lorna Doone for the time being, I decided to jump into a re-read of this delightful book. I'm pretty sure I first read it in high school or college. It follows Marguerite, the French-born wife of the foppish Ser Percy Blakeney. Marguerite finds herself becoming entangled in the controversies and conflict surrounding the Reign of Terror and the French Revolution. She is enlisted by an acquaintance to help him and the French government uncover the identity of the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, a man who has been ferrying condemned aristocrats out of Paris. This book is so much fun, and the movie adaptation of it is wonderful. 

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life, by Marion Roach Smith.

This was very short, but extremely insightful, with a lot of wisdom in its pages. The author walks through the process of sifting through memories and reaching others with universal themes, whether it's in a blog post, article, or book. She gave a great little formula for finding those themes and helping our stories reach beyond our personal lives. I found this really thought-provoking, and wanted to underline most of this book (but it's short enough that you don't have to underline-it's easy to flip through the pages to reference different parts). 

Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley.

Helen McGill is a thirty-nine-year old spinster who lives with her brother, a famous author, on their farm. When a man drives his bookselling-wagon up to her farm one day (hoping to sell out to her brother), Helen realizes something: if her brother buys the wagon, he'll be around the farm even less than he usually is. Clearly, she needs to buy the wagon herself and have a real adventure for the first time in over a decade! This story is utterly delightful. Helen was a really fun character, and Roger Mifflin (owner of the wagon) is fabulous. This book was a quick read, and it was extremely enjoyable and lighthearted, while also having some depth offered by Roger's occasional philosophical reflections. I highly recommend this!

The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley.

A sequel to Parnassus, this book takes place just following World War I, and it picks up with Roger Mifflin once he has founded Parnassus at Homea used bookshop in Brooklyn. One day, a young man (Mr. Gilbert) working in the advertising industry arrives at Parnassus to try and sign on Mifflin as a client. Mr. Gilbert is shocked to see his life completely turned upside-down in the week that follows this meeting. He meets a young lady who is apprenticing Parnassus, a book mysteriously disappears and reappears in the bookstore, he comes to suspect Roger Mifflin of working with German spies, and on top of all of this, there are plenty of philosophical reflections by Mifflin about books and bookselling. Also, some fight scenes. The plot of this book comes off as a bit contrived, but this story is very fun, mainly because of Roger Mifflin. Honestly, I felt UNDERSTOOD by this character. The scene where he is assembling the bookshelf in the apprentice's bedroom (in which he's trying to figure out which books to display in there, so as to convince her of the power and beauty of literature) is priceless and felt so relatable. I thought this was a delightful follow-up to Parnassus on Wheels. I would have liked to see more of Helen in this, but I still really enjoyed it a lot. 

Bleaker House, by Nell Stevens.

When Stevens completed her MFA, due to a generous fellowship, she could travel anywhere in the world to live and write for three months-and she chose the Falkland Islands. Determined to write a novel, she journeys to those desolate islands, spending her final month or so mostly by herself on the very remote Bleaker Island. In this work of creative nonfiction, she brings the reader on her journey as she pursued her MFA and tried to write this novel. Interspersed with her travel narrative are scenes from her life before the trip, offered in a seemingly sporadic order. Also, smattered here and there are fictional vignettes that she wrote which were unrelated to everything else (sex seemed to be a recurring theme in them, so after the first one or two, I pretty much skipped these). Here's the thing: Stevens writes lovely prose, and this book-with its metaphors, poetic paragraphs, and travel details-was fairly interesting. However, I could have done without the fictional vignettes, and I also didn't see how some of her life stories in here fit the narrative (also, the story about the time when she posed as a prostitute on Craigslist-and met with the man who answered her ad-all for the sake of a writing project, left a bad taste in my mouth). And there's the whole thing that (SPOILERS) this is basically a book about a woman who is trying to write a book, and while I liked reading about her process and frustrations at giving three months of her life to a draft that turned out to be a waste of time, the ending of this book fell a little flat for me. Basically: this was an interesting read, and it was mostly fine, but I would have much preferred a straight-up travel memoir, without all of the extra (and, in my opinion, unnecessary) stuff thrown in.  

Thanks for joining me this month! As always, please feel free to send your recommendations my way-I am always up for adding to my reading list! 


  1. I read The Scarlet Pimpernel several years ago and loved it! I have to watch the movie adaption. Thanks for linking up with An Open Book!

    1. Thank you for hosting!
      I'm not sure if there are multiple movie adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but the one I've seen stars Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, and it's fabulous :) I definitely recommend checking it out!