"Books have to be read. It is the only way of discovering what they contain. A few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed to the West." - E.M. Forster
The Island by Victoria Hislop - what a wonderful book; beautifully written, full of empathy and you'd happily adopt the characters into your own life.
Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother Sofia's past life on Crete which is a mystery to her. When Alexis decides to visit Crete with her boyfriend, she is given a letter by Sofia to take to Fotini, her Mother's childhood friend, who Alexis hopes will shed light on her heritage.
Alexis finds the village lies a stone’s throw from the deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony. When she meets Fotini, she finally hears the story that Sofia has hidden: of Eleni, her great-grandmother and a family split by sadness, passion and war. I enjoyed this book so much, the characters were absorbing and real, but the book covers so much, such a breadth of years and events that I felt parts - especially the ending, seemed rushed - like there was a list or a series of tick boxes the author had to get through; although a long book, it would quite perfectly well have stood another 50 pages, and its a shame because so much of the work is beautifully written and worked. Or is this just me being greedy?
Authenticity: Clearing the Junk: A Buddhist Perspective by Venerable Yifa - I'm not one for religion - spirituality is a different thing entirely; I believe in the good in people rather than feeling the need to go to church to find that, or whatever it is each person looks for when they practice their religion. The one religion I can see the sense in though is Buddhism; the gentleness, the understanding and the overall common sense of it appeals to me greatly.
Venerable Yifa is a Buddhist monk, and here she writes about our lives being overwhelmed with junk. From a rather flippant context of considering the state of my studio, I can see the sense in considering the junk we surround ourselves with - junk food, junk mail, junk culture, junk relationships. She argues for finding and connecting with a deeper meaning in all aspects of our lives, and that makes sense on so many levels. This book is short but full of layers of meaning and guidance - its one of those books you'll have to read over and over again to find new messages each time. Common sense guidance from a gentle soul. And who could argue with that?
The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory - despite the soul damaging 'Wideacre' mentioned in last month's 'Currently Reading', I picked up another Philippa Gregory book because I love her characterisations and the pictures she paints of history. The Other Queen mentioned in the book is Mary, Queen of Scots, but this book is about three women - Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and Bess of Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth (both near here) in the Peak District. Her characterisation of all three is fabulous, and as always, there are new historical glimpses to be had, though some of the facts have of course been re-worked to give a better story.
Pompeii by Robert Harris - Pompeii is somewhere I've always wanted to visit. The thought of an entire culture and time being stopped, frozen and preserved is fascinating to me. The Roman culture is not one I have done as much reading about as I have in terms of British history, but again, its an area I will explore in the future. Harris' Pompeii brings the culture, the time and his characters to life quite beautifully, so much so I found myself holding my breath. Two central characters, a now rich and powerful ex-slave and a waterworks engineer, make unlikely heroes and villains, supported by a cast of many others including Pliny. There is a terrible inevitability to the whole tale of course, rather like waiting for the Titanic to sink. I know Harris got at least one fact wrong, because there were no cats in Pompeii at the time of the eruption (ref: The Character of Cats, Stephen Budiansky) which made me think ha!, but its the one thing I could find to criticise; you find yourself hating the villain of the piece as you do with the best villains; and you hope the hero gets it together with the girl he falls in love with. A great beach read, started off my Roman/Pompeii research reading at entry level, I enjoyed this very much.