Tag Archives: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

Books about Reading and Writers

I like spreading ideas about what to read. That’s the main thing this blog is about. And I always enjoy books about books, and these two today are about writers enjoying books. Books about reading are always popular with me. So much rich treasure here. So much to read that has already been published that I don’t need to scour those lists of forthcoming books in 2023 in the newspapers. I’ll be happy for a while with what I found in these two volumes, and the choices made by my reading group. 

Dear Reader: the comfort and Joy of Books

Dear Reader is more than a list of significant books that the writer has read. This is a memoir with the theme of the importance of books threaded throughout. More than significant books, she credits reading with helping her through some tricky patches in her life. Ultimately books gave her a living, first in bookshops and then in making reading accessible to adults and finally by writing books herself.

Cathy Rentzenbrink comes from a family that was not well-off. Her father earned a living as a miner in several locations and later as a publican. He was not able to read until late in life. But the family had love and she also had reading.

Her career in the book trade, began in Waterstones in Harrods and moved on to senior positions in some of the biggest bookstores in London. She ran Brief Books for adult learner-readers, and found herself working in prisons, helping inmates with learning to read and to write. 

As she recounts her past, she tells us what she had been reading, or re-reading. And every now and again she includes lists on a theme: books about bookshops and booksellers; series books; mothers and children; memoirs.

My only complaint about this book is that there is no contents page, index or list of books referred to. It makes returning to find titles again very difficult. But there are books I have noted that I will read or reread on Cathy Rentzenbrink’s recommendation.

Dear Reader: the comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink, published in 2020 by Picador 232pp

What Writers Read: 35 writers on their favourite books

Here are 35 writers providing ‘a snapshot into the writer as a person, told through the book that they were reading at that time’ (introduction). I note that this is not the same thing as a ‘favourite’, but we can let that pass. These contributions are not book reports, the editor tells us. Many of the contributors are writers becausethey are readers. In this volume there are 70 books for the price of one. That’s good value. 

I can across many books I have read, and recommendations by writers whose books I have read, and a few books that intrigued me and I want to experience again. One such was Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, chosen by Taiye Selassi. Moon Tiger is one of the most interesting and successful books in the Older Women in Fictionseries on this blog. 

A children’s book that I plan to revisit, having read Tessa Hadley’s comments on it, is Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce. And then there is the delightful The Summer Book by Tove Jansson chosen by Ali Smith and also in the Older Women in fiction series. Heartburn by Nora Ephron is praised in both books featured in this post. I’ve never read it, but now I plan to.

One could do better than read through the 34 highlighted books and those of the writers who picked them. I’ve got my little list

What Writers Read: 35 writers on their favourite books edited by Pandora Sykes. Published by Bloomsbury in 2022. 180pp

Related posts

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan (Bookword blog July 2018)

The Book of Old Ladies by Ruth O Saxton (January 2021)

Imagine a Society of Readers (February 2019)

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (August 2018)

On being a Good Reader (March 2018)

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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?

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