Monday, June 2, 2008

Happy Summer Reading

If you know me in the real world, gentle is probably not a word that would immediately leap to mind if you were asked to describe me. Loud, opinionated, prone to sticking my foot in my mouth -- those might pop to mind, but not gentle. It's one of those “fruits of the Spirit” that I am still working on (and will be for a while.). So it is ironic that someone who played “communist” (don't ask, it's a LOOONG story) with neighborhood friends, established indoor beachheads in my mother's living room with G.I. Joes on rainy days and longed for camouflage pants (one of the first things I bought when I went away to college!), loves to read a genre called “gentle reads.” Before you start thinking granny underpants, cardigan sweaters and fuzzy cats, let me explain. (And hey, I have more than one of those items, but I won't show or tell!!)

Gentle reads are defined as “books brimming with a simple, old-fashioned flavor and populated by endearing, intriguing, and very often eccentric characters. They can be charming, touching, poignant, humorous, or spiritually uplifting. They can be highly literate or a hoot-and-a-half. The stories generally contain little graphic violence or sex and provide a pleasurable reading experience” (from “The Reader's Advisory” -- don't worry about it. It's a librarian thingy.) So are you bored yet? Still thinking granny underwear? Well, stick with me here, because I have two series to recommend that will just open up your literary world and make you thankful for that first grade teacher who taught you how to read.

The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardham Street by Jeanne Birdsall are actually young people's books, but are so phenomenally written, they are worth the read and sure to become classics. The subtitle of the first book is intriguing and enticing: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy and that is exactly what Birdsall serves up. She is able to create rich characters and enchanting plots that remind you of everything that is delightful about a carefree, warm July night. These two books, of which I hope there are many more, chronicle the adventures of four sisters and their Latin-quoting, botanist father. As “children's” books, they offer just the right amount of stretching vocabulary while still being approachable and engaging. And while they are filled with the trials and travails of young girls growing up after the death of their mother, they are not filled with some of the oh-so-trendy angst and darkness of some other modern selections. For adults, the stories may end up exactly as you predicted, but this is so satisfying and so hoped-for that you won't mind. In fact, I predict you'll be delighted.

And speaking of delightful, you will not find a more appealing heroine than “traditionally-built” Precious Ramotswe of Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I just finished reading the ninth installment The Miracle at Speedy Motors, and I have never been disappointed by Ma Ramotswe, her sidekick Ma Makutsi or mechanic-extraordinaire JLB Matekoni. Set in spectacular Botswana, Smith has created a series that is charming, eloquent, insightful and life-affirming. They revel in the simple pleasures of life and the details of rain, cattle, desert sounds and acacia trees. They also prove that most of life's problems can be solved with a little time and the perfect cup of tea. Marvelous and big-hearted, Ma Ramotswe and friends dispense wisdom, advice and universal truths as they ponder the mysteries of humanity and solve cases involving cheating spouses, missing family members and dog-eating crocodiles. Absolutely brill!

They can be read in any order, but for maximum enjoyment, start at the beginning. You won't be disappointed.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Miracle at Speedy Motors

Happy summer reading!


Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember playing communist with you. I wanted to play dolls or at least with animals, but we were subjected, I mean, delighted to play GIJoe instead!!! I remember every playing Russians and Americans and looking at war books at your house in Algonquin. So, how does it feel to play dolls now???!!!

Jackie Kurtz said...

I just bought Penderwicks at the Book Fair for Elizabeth. It is hard to find challenging (appropriate)books for an 8 year old. I may have to read it myself now!

I remember those camo pants at college!

Biblioteca Chica said...

Hey Jackie!!! Yes, Elizabeth (and you!) would love the Penderwicks. I'll keep an eye out for books that are age appropriate for genius eight year olds! Yes the good old college days -- actually, you are one of the best memories of college. Love ya!


Andrea said...

just finished the penderwicks and as you predicted..I was delighted. Have you read the mysterious benedict society? I'm about 100 pages in and so far, I'm very intrigued. I love kids books.

Biblioteca Chica said...

I have seen the Mysterious Benedict Society sitting around at work (the book was sitting around, NOT ME!, but I haven't read it yet. It caught my eye, so I have it in mind to read. I'm working through the almost 1000 page Pillars of the Earth right now, but I too love "kids'" books!