Anyone who knows me well knows I am not a great reader of fiction. Even as a kid I was drawn to biographies and autobiographies. I went through a whole Kennedy family phase and then a Royal family phase (Princess Di’s wedding was everything at the time). Then my father starting researching our family histories and I became obsessed with family trees. Reading about different royal families in books with elaborate and overlapping lineage charts gracing the insides of front and back covers served to feed that particular interest until my child-brain went on to the next thing. So, yeah, a different kind of kid maybe!
But I wasn’t entirely “fiction free”. I ploughed through Anne of Green Gables, all of the Sweet Valley series and, like most kids at the time, anything Gordon Korman wrote. And these were the books I returned to time and again in order to pick up on details I might have missed (the wonderful geography described by L. M. Montgomery) or just to escape (life certainly wasn’t anything like Sweet Valley High!).
As an adult, and even as a librarian, I have to admit I’ve fallen into the (nearly) fiction-free rut once again. But the calendar (if not the view out my window) says it’s spring and it feels like a good time to pick up a new habit. Where to begin?
[Warning: non-scientific statement ahead!] Reading fiction revs up a different, more free-flowing, part of your brain than, say, working through something about Thomas Scott. It may feel good once you get going, but I always find switching back tough. My solution (before branching out into the great suggestions offered by friends and librarians) is to re-read some of my favorites. The ones I love most remind me of the pleasure and genius of great fiction – how they can both entertain and instruct all at once. These are some of my favorites:
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
At this point, a Canadian classic. I’ve loved this book because it feels like non-fiction to me (ha!). More than even just feeling like you’re getting a peak at a really interesting diary, Shields put you right into the head of main character Daisy Goodwill Flett and others that float in and around her life in 20th century North America.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
Talk about escapism! I never read this book as a child and, as a complete work, I actually do think it’s best enjoyed by adults. Our experience of the world serves to fill out Carroll’s characters – from the Queen of Hearts to the White Rabbit to Alice herself. And there’s some great poetry to boot!
“Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.”
And last but not least:
Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
I bought this book about 15 years ago at the massive Norman Park community garage sale (which just goes to show you that great reads can be found anywhere!). It was one of those “it’s a classic, I should probably read it” type purchases and it was 50-cents well spent. Tragedy, family strife, and some pretty questionable love life choices are layered against the dramatic back drop (non-fiction rears its head!) of imperialist, then revolutionary, then World War II Russia. And there’s a poetry bonus in this one too. Pasternak’s “The Poems of Yuri Zhivago” at the book’s end are wonderful on their own (get them in a separate title here).
So that’s my fiction “spring training”! Here’s hoping I report back in a few months rarin’ to go with other peoples’ great new recommendations.