Best Books for … the Long Haul

The virus mutates. And despite our fervent wishes and good news about vaccines, it is clear we are in for the long haul for yet awhile, for restrictions and lockdowns beyond the new year. No escape. Except perhaps into books.

To survive and even enjoy some aspects of the long haul I think we need a good combination of hope, persistence, resilience, patience and a long view. I have selected seven books that celebrate these qualities.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Middlemarch by George Eliot

These books are not all long, but they all feature some of those qualities we need at the moment. Personally, I am trying to hold on to a long view, and to remember that this too will pass.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn 

Let’s start with a book that was a great success with my reading group and the post I wrote about it has been read many times in the last year. The author and her sick husband lose everything and decide to walk the South West coast path, requiring resilience in the face of bad fortune and hope that things will turn around for them. It is set in that liminal seashore zone; betrayal, illness, walking, wild camping, beautiful landscapes and wildlife. It is a true story. My book group liked it enough to decide to read the sequel later this year: The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn 

You can find my review here

Women Talking by Miriam Toews 

This novel was inspired by a real-life event, the repeated rape of drugged women and children in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. The women discover that the rapists were men of their own community. We follow the conversations of the women who meet to decide what to do while the men are away: will they leave or will they stay. Their manner of arriving at a solution is heart-warming and hopeful.

You can find my review here

Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie 

This novel follows the lives of Ifemelu and her childhood boyfriend Obinze from Nigeria, growing up in the time of military dictatorship. They both aspire to escape. Ifemelu goes to America where she stays for 17 years. Obinze does not get a visa, so goes to the UK and is deported. The couple meet again after many years when life has moved on for both.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  by Betty Smith

This book was recommended by a friend whose reading choices I respect, and she said that I will enjoy this book about tenacity in Brooklyn in a family of extreme poverty in the early years of the 20th century. It is also about books. I should read it soon.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

This book is from the Older Women in Fiction series here on Bookword. Moon Tiger features Claudia Hampton who is 76 years old and is dying. As  the doctor recognises, she was once someone. In fact she had a life full of action, research, important writing and love. The novel refutes the conventional narrative of what a woman should be and that the endpoint, the purpose of her life is marriage, and motherhood. The Booker Prize winning novel told the story of a long life fully lived. 

You can find my review here

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles 

This is a cheerful book that takes a long view. I recommend this story of a Russian Count Alexander Rostov, under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel from 1920 until 1954. He sees his own situation change and Russian history rolling forwards outside the windows. He meets interesting people, makes good friends, helps many fellow Russians in that time and manages to make a decent life despite his confinement. It is charming, witty, funny and a good well-told story. There is a happy ending.

You can find my review here

Middlemarch by George Eliot

And finally, I recommend a book that has breadth, depth, integrity and a great heroine. I don’t recommend Mr Casubon’s method of passing the time: endless research for his book on the key to all mythologies. Rather we could emulate the many devoted and trusty citizens of Middlemarch, not least Dr Lydgate and his sponsor, Dorothea. Published in 1871, the town is thought to have been modelled on an earlier version of Coventry, close to Nuneaton where Mary Ann Evans (aka George Eliot) was born.

I hope that these final stages of the pandemic are not too hard on readers. And I hope fervently that we are in the final stages, dark times though they are.

Best Books for …

This was my fourth post in an ad hoc series which all begin The best book for …  Some other ideas are … reading in translation; … recommending to book groups; … taking on holiday; … when I am ill in bed; and so on. The first three were: 

The Best Books for … changing my life in December 2019

The Best Books for … giving in January 2020

The Best Books for … a lockdown in May 2020

Over to you

So what books would you add to a list of the best books for the long haul?

14 Comments

Filed under Books, Older women in fiction, Reading, The Best Books for ...

14 Responses to Best Books for … the Long Haul

  1. Jennifer

    Excellent choices Caroline. I loved The Salt Path and Gentleman in Moscow. A Tree grows in Brooklyn was one of my book group’s favourites. I’d like to read Americanah and Moon Tiger. I’d recommend a couple of trilogies for the long haul – Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials and Tim Pears West Country Trilogy.

    • Caroline

      Twas you that recommended A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I have it, but havent read it yet.
      Glad you like my choices, and thanks for the additions. I also have the first of Tim Pears’s trilogy to read. So many good things.
      Caroline xx

  2. I agree about the Towles – I loved it! And I have been gifted The Salt Path so I’m looking forward to reading it!

    • Caroline

      In my reading group the SW Coastal Path is very familiar. We agreed that she was very gpod at desccribing it in The Salt Path, although she and Moth missed the part that is closest to us, and that we probably know best. I hope you enjoy it too.
      Caroline

  3. Mervyn

    Any excuse to get to grips with ‘Middlemarch’ should be welcomed, I wanted to say, but that is so not true of the present moment, of course.
    Your followers who have read it may not have come across Rebecca Mead’s book, ‘The Road to Middlemarch’. a remarkable and very personal response to “living with” this great novel. Do put it high on your TBR pile.
    Mary Ann Evans was born in Nuneaton, by the way.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for the recommendation of Rebecca Read’s book, which I did not know about.
      Thank you also for correcting me about Mary Ann Evans’s birth place. It rather ruins the end of that paragraph, but truth must prevail.
      Caro x

  4. These all sound great. I tried A Gentleman in Moscow once, but could’t get into it… I think it was me, not the book! But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an all time favourite and Middlemarch a frequent reread.

    • Caroline

      I’ll take that as encouragement to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Thank you! We know that we don’t all enjoy the same things in our reading, despite recommendations by people who usually share our taste.
      Caroline

  5. Carole

    My late – but always beloved – mother-in-law lent me her copy of ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’, back in the late 70s, and it was a revelation. I don’t – now – own a copy, but your reminder will soon put an end to that! Thanks. The Towles is on one of my endless lists, so will try to bump it up: meanwhile ‘Middlemarch’ is my go-to book for comfort and complete sinking into ‘happy’ – despite the ‘content’ ups-and-downs. The writing is superb, with Dorothea such a wonderfully flawed and overly self-denying heroine. Eliot was a genius! I also recommend ‘Daniel Deronda’ … despite the long sections of inner debate and struggling with destiny.

    • Caroline

      With so many recommendations for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn I’d better get on and read it. Thanks for your comments on my list Carole.
      Caroline

  6. Intriguing list, of which I only know Middlemarch. The Raynor Winn in particular has caught my eye because of its cover. The style reminds me very much of the cover of The Silence of the Girls (cover artwork by Sarah Young). Is it the same artist’s work?
    I’m now also interested in Moon Tiger, and in A gentleman in Moscow. Where I am, we’re also in for the long haul!

    • Caroline

      Thank you for this comment on the Best Books. I hadn’t spotted the similarity with the Silence of the Girls (also reviewed on the blog), but I see what you mean. I suspect it’s more to do with current fashions in book covers, but it might be the same designer.
      I think that Moon Tiger is brilliant and the Gentleman in Moscow very entertaining. Let us know if you enjoy any more of these recommendations.
      Caroline

  7. What a wonderful selection, I’ve read all but two of them (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Women Talking) and agree completely with your choices. I’m reading The Wild Silence right now – it has a superb evocation of a love of nature.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for these comments. Glad you approve of my choices.
      I’m pleased you are enjoying The Wild Silence. We will be reading it in my Book Group soon.
      Caroline

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