curtis library logo
home | my account

The joy of a good, long novel

Posted by carol lord on March 18th, 2016

Have you ever experienced the sadness of finishing a book in which you have been immersed for a long, long time? I mean a book of over 600 pages, one that has prevented you from doing what you should. Some of the consequences of your marathon reading are: a dusty house, missed trash pickup, unwashed dishes, maybe an unwashed you. A sure bet is that you have woken up tired, having read way too long into the early hours of the morning.

Shantaram : a novelI am lucky enough to be reading just such a novel right now: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. This novel, which is the story of a man who escaped from prison in Australia and fled to India, is 933 pages short. Yes, I mean short, not long, because I can tell that I will be grieving when I get to the last page.

The novel is full of evocative descriptions of Bombay (now Mumbai) life. The protagonist, dubbed Lin by his Indian guide, is interested in all of Bombay. His descriptions of tourist areas, ex-pat hangouts, mansions of rich crime lords and slums of the poor make me feel like I am there. Lin himself lives in the slums, or hutments, where he opens up a free clinic. The details of slum life and the living conditions of its inhabitants are both hopeful and dreadful. Lin eventually leaves the slum to work for an important crime figure, a don, who is obsessed with the definition of good and evil.

As you see, this book has a lot to offer: an exotic location, a cast of characters about whom the reader cares, drama, suspense and even a bit of a love story. In short, I don’t want it to end!

Thinking back on long novels I have enjoyed in the past, I realize many are by Indian authors. A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry comes to mind. This is a relatively short book at 603 pages. It, too, is set in Bombay (Mumbai) and has a cast of characters whose fates are intertwined. Set in the 1970s, it includes an account of some of the effects of a forced sterilization program started when India was in a state of emergency.

A lighter (but heavier!) Indian read is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I truly was sad when I finished this novel on page 1349. (Happily, I have heard rumors of a sequel to this sweeping drama set in newly-independent India of the late 1940s.) As the title suggests, the plot revolves around the search for a groom for Lata Mehra, and encompasses the story of four families. Though set in a fictional town, Calcutta (Kolkata), Delhi and Kanpur also play a role in the story. Nawabs, zamindars and ghazals are a few of the subjects I was introduced to in this novel.

In conclusion I’ll say that while long, sweeping novels may take a while to read, the transportive experience of a long immersion in another world can be enjoyable, refreshing, educational and more. Don’t worry, your dirty dishes, dust and trash can wait….

Beer & Books and Free Speech

Posted by Paul Dostie on March 17th, 2016

It’s St. Patrick’s Day today (or, as my Irish friends call it, Amateur Night) and after work I suspect I’ll get over to Brynes Irish Pub to hoist a cold beer in honor of the eradication of snakes from Ireland. I imagine the celebration might be a bit quieter on the Bowdoin College campus even if they weren’t in their spring recess. Ethnic themes that are associated with alcohol consumption aren’t fashionable. The Bowdoin administration would likely be very intent on protecting the delicate sensibilities of leprechauns. Is speech in this country only protected if you are a corporation funneling cash to a favorite alderman? But I look at the bright side: questionable policy often makes for good discussion at the Beer and Books reading group.

In 2010 Juan Williams of NPR was fired for some ill-received remarks he made in an interview with Bill O’Reilly (see how we’re keeping the St. Paddy theme.) In 2011 Mr. Williams wrote Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate. It seems like a timely topic. We’re only a few months from commencement season when the serious work of un-inviting graduation speakers will begin.

Join us at the Brunswick Inn on Park Row on Wednesday, April 13 at 6:30.

Farmchair Travel

Posted by sarah brown on March 1st, 2016

one woman farmI am IN LOVE with back-to-the-land farming memoirs. I’ll be the first to admit that my glasses are Rose-Colored (capital letters!) and the soundtrack that plays in my head when I think about small farm living would better fit a Hallmark Movie Channel feature than real life.  But this townie yearns for a few acres and a few chicks. And maybe some goats. And donkeys.  And sheep. And maybe an alpaca. Or two.

My homesteading hero is Jenna Woginrich, author of “One Woman Farm,” “Barnheart,” “Made From Scratch,” “Chick Days,” and “Cold Antler Farm.” Her inspiring journey from city cubicle to rural homestead makes me think, “Hey – maybe I can do this too!”

My favorite of her works is “One Woman Farm: My Life Shared with Sheep, Pigs, Chickens, Goats, and a Fine Fiddle.” In this diary-style beautiful gem of a book (with hand-drawn illustrations) she shares the joys, sorrows, trials, epiphanies, and blessings she discovers during a year spent farming on her own land, finding deep fulfillment in the practical tasks and timeless rituals of the agricultural life.  Want to keep up with Jenna? She blogs at Cold Antler Farm, as well as Mother Earth News and The Huffington Post.

I also get excited about farming memoirs that have a Maine connection. In “Birth, Death and a Tractor: Connecting an Old Farm to a New Family,” Kelly Payson Roopchand intersperses her family’s first years establishing a goat dairy in Somerville, Maine, with stories of the six previous generations who worked the land. A reviewer for Foreword Magazine praised that “this blend of memoir and agricultural history is shot through with poetry and philosophy. . . .and abounds with the joys of simple living and connection to land and community.

A favorite of mine, “The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese” by Margaret Hathaway, tells the story of Margaret and Karl and their dog, Godfrey, as they travel across America in search of green pastures, simple tradition, and the perfect goat cheese. Hathaway is also the author of “Food Lovers’ Guide to Maine and  Portland, Maine Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from Casco Bay.”

Here are more“Farmchair Travel” books that might appeal to the homesteader and farmophile in you.

Tags: , ,

image image image