By Laura Cummings
When you think of love, do you think of books? I do. There are books that I have loved over the years. Books that contain great love stories. And books that I love to read because they are just that good. As it is February, home to Valentine’s Day, let’s discuss books to love.
For some reason, I have the idea in my head that I will be sent to a deserted island with the option of bringing only ten books. Over the years, I have honed this list of possible ten books. It changes greatly depending on mood, circumstances or my memory, but there are always a few constants – the books I truly love.
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is always on the list. Peekay is born in 1939 South Africa, under the shadow of apartheid and Hitler, and embarks on an epic journey through a land of tribal superstition and modern prejudice. I read this for the first time decades ago, but I would read it again in a heartbeat. It combines my favorite hallmarks – a fascinating character, a rich history and an epic sweep. It’s definitely coming to the island.
Another island mainstay is The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. A Pulitzer Prize-winner, this book is so bizarre that it is hard to describe. The main character is Ignatius J. Reilly, a huge, obese, selfish, domineering, deluded and tragic character. Set in New Orleans, the story bursts with ridiculously original characters and comic adventures. I insisted that the store book group read this one a while back. Some of them were very thankful. Others, not so much. Ignatius can be very hard to love, but well worth the time and effort.
Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer, with a beautiful black lab on the cover, is a very easy book to be drawn to. Hannah, an artist, lives a solitary life on an island of the coast of Maine who is rudely interrupted when a dog appears on the tide, matted with feathers and seaweed. The dog is not so bad in itself, but he opens the door and soon there are more unexpected visitors, including a runaway teenager, a half-sister, a mainland family and a forlorn trapped whale. All of a sudden Hannah’s solitary life is gone, and it’s not really the worst thing. There are several other books that have this theme – a loner forced against their will to endure other people. A couple recent favorites are A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman and Heft by Lorrie Moore.
There are some newer books that might make the island list. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George has all the right ingredients. It is set in Paris, has a bookshop and has a twenty year love story. Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary – from his floating barge, he prescribes novels for the hardships in life. Using his intuition, he mends broken hearts and souls with just the right books. He can help anyone, except himself. Twenty years ago, the love of his life left him, and he has never recovered or tried to find out what happened. He shut that door and never intended to open it again. When forced by circumstance to examine his history, he embarks on a journey, with a motley cast of characters and a cat, and comes face to face with his past, while also opening himself up to a new future.
All the Winters After by Sere Prince Halverson is a brand new, slightly more complicated love story. Kachemak left Alaska twenty years ago when his parents and brother died in a plane crash. By a bizarre twist of fate, he was not on the plane, and as the sole family survivor, he has not been able to face going back. Finally, at his aunt’s insistence, he travels back, expecting to find his family’s homestead decayed into a pile of logs. To his surprise, he finds Nadia, a troubled Russian woman with her own secrets, hiding out there. She has kept the hose exactly the same – a haunting museum of life before the crash. These two tortured souls meet and heal and fall in love. But the book doesn’t end all tied up in a bow. That’s what makes it such a great read.
And finally, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, is another new book that is making a strong bid for the island. It is winter 1945 and four teenagers, from four different backgrounds, carrying four different secrets converge in Gotenhafen, trying to book passage on a ship that promises safety and freedom from the advancing Soviet army. This book beautifully captures a little-known piece of history – the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history – while interweaving personal stories that are heartbreaking and beautiful. Marketed as a young adult novel, this is a book that all ages will read and love.
Enjoy your chocolates, flowers and romance, but don’t forget a good book. And start working on your list. What will you bring to your deserted island?
Laura Cummings owns and operates White Birch Books, an independent full service bookstore serving the Mt. Washington Valley – and beyond – for 23 years and counting.