Last week a colleague of mine told me that she never reads books: there are too many words that she doesn’t know. It must be terrible to feel yourself shut out from the world of literature, and it makes me very grateful for my own familiarity with the world of words, and the encouragement I received from my parents to start, and continue reading.I’m also extremely grateful to my friend Elaine, who sent me two of the books on my current reading list.
Fist up is The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, which has been on my to-read list for ages. It’s usually described as an account of adolescent alienation and aimlessness, but even without Holden’s ‘I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got retty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy’, it’s fairly obvious that the narrator is experiencing a bit more than just the usual turbulence of youth. ‘Depression’ is a word that is used all too lightly these days, but The Catcher in the Rye gives a first-person perspective on a progressive psychological breakdown. Scenes that were shocking in 1945 – swearing, violence, drinking, smoking, references to sex – seem pretty tame by today’s standards, and I’m both looking forward to, and dreading, the end.
Elaine’s other gift is the marvellous just-for-fun Murder and Mendelssohn, by Kerry Greenwood. The Phryne Fisher mysteries series forms the basis for one of my favourite TV shows, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, set in Melbourne, Australia in 1928-29. Phryne is fabulous, sexy, and a ruthless warrior on the side of good. TV-Phryne is slightly softer than her literary counterpart, who is a favourite with the local sharks thanks to her generous provision of fresh meat. Murder and Mendelssohn features a pair of visitors from the UK, Sheffield and Wilson, who were instantly (and hilariously) recognisable.
One of the most popular Christian writers of the latter part of the 20th century was the Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, and his Life of the Beloved is my first foray into his work. Written at the request of a secular Jewish friend it describes in simple and beautiful terms the lovel-relationship with God which Christians believe is at the heart of our faith.
Sticking with the theme of love, Love Poems from God features a selection from both Eastern and Western poets, including St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Hafiz and St. Teresa of Avila. Many of the poets are new to me, and the biographical notes at the start of each poet’s section is proving very informative. I have noticed, however, that in some cases the racier part of a poet’s writing has been omitted.
In The Canterbury Tales I’m up to the Tale of Melibeus and rather enjoying Dame Prudence’s eminently sensible words after some of the preceding tales.
And in the Bible I’m working my way through Genesis, Psalms, the Gospel of Matthew and the epistles of St. John. It’s quite a season of love.
What’s on your reading list at the moment?