Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Spell by Charlotte Bronte

iconiconCharlotte Brontë's The Spell is one of my treasures from our trip. My copy is a 1931 first edition that I found in one of the bookstores in Haworth. It's a beautiful book, with white vellum boards and a gilt boarder on the front cover.

The book is a short novel that Charlotte wrote when she was just 18, long before she published anything. The main characters and setting are from Angria, the fantasy world she and her brother Branwell created and wrote primarily about.

The manuscript had been bound with two others of Charlotte's early pieces, presumably by an early collector of Brontëana, and was not discovered until 1892, when it surfaced in a used bookstore in Brussels. Almost forty years later, it was published by the Oxford University Press.

I had a difficult time with the book, because of all the alternative names for characters (just like the author of the introduction said some readers do), and I think I would understand it better in a second reading. However, it was also very interesting to me to read an early, unpublished work by one of my favorite authors, and see both the similarities and the differences from her later (published) novels.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez

iconiconI chose Martínez's The Book of Murder mainly because it was a nice thin book. My husband, his friend and I were traveling in Europe; we'd gone on a day trip to Edinbrough, and I discovered I was short on battery power for my handheld laptop. Since we had a three hour return trip by train, I decided to buy a book in the Edinbrough train station, but I wanted one that was slim and would fit easily in my messenger bag.

The Book of Murder was the only book I saw that answered my criteria, but it turned out to also be a very good read. I read the vast majority of it on the train, finishing it in the hotel room upon our return — but even under different circumstances, I think I would have been motivated to read it quickly, because I wanted so badly to know what happened.

I often find books written about or from the point of view of writers to be quite interesting, and this was even more so because of the suspenseful premise. The writer — presumably the author, since we are never given another name for him — receives a phone call from a typist who briefly worked for him ten years earlier, and who is sure that a competitor of his is killing off her family one by one out of revenge for a decade-old tragedy that he blamed on her.

The answer to the mystery is a bit fantastical, but believeably written. The novel is also fast paced and written in an interesting format, where the bulk of the story is told to the narrator in conversation with the protagonist, first, and the antagonist, second.

I noticed only after finishing the book that it is by an Argentinean author, translated into English. For such a book to be not only translated in the first place, but also to make it onto the bestseller shelf in this store, you know I am not the only one who was impressed!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Books and traveling

Sorry for the lack of posts lately — my husband and I just got back from a 10-day trip to Europe. We spent nearly half the trip in Haworth — where the Brontë sisters, my favorite authors, lived — so expect to see several of their books reviewed here in the coming weeks.

I did a lot of reading on the trip, but it wasn't very well planned, so I learned a few things about books and traveling.

1) If you are not careful, you may end up reading several books at once. At one point, I had six books started! The problem started because I was partway through The Lord of the Rings at home, but my copy is a collectible edition that I didn't want to risk traveling with. So I started another book for the trip... And throughout the course of our travels, found six other books to start — only one of which I finished before choosing another!

2) Read paperbacks while traveling. While I like the weight and feel of a hardback for normal reading, I chose paperbacks to take with me to Europe. They weigh less, fit more places, and I am not as picky about bent pages or damaged covers on a paperback!

3) Consider buying "throwaway" copies while traveling. If you really want to travel light, or if you think you are likely to buy books while on your travels, take only one book with you to start. If you need another book, you can buy an inexpensive paperback and leave it with the hotel for another traveler when you're finished. From experience I can tell you that would be much easier than trying to find a place in your suitcase for six extra books!

Obviously, with all these books started, I will have a lot to blog about as I finish them up. The first, which I read in a few hours and finished while on the trip, I will review tomorrow.