December 2017


The following piece from The Guardian inspired me to indulge in a similar exercise, which is, to identify reading matter that my current self would (if I could) go back in time and give to my younger self as a must-read. But as I think about it, I must say, I can’t really, except for the Grand Master of High Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkein–him I didn’t discover until after I was 22 or so, and was so immediately absorbed that I missed sleep and school (everything in fact, except meals and even those desultory) until I’d read the entire Lord of the Rings. The experience was heady and my only regret is that I would have squeezed in reading it a couple of more times than I have already. Two other books that I can think of that I would have loved are The Book Thief and The Kite Runner, but both of these were written long after I was in my adulthood so I couldn’t have read them earlier. And well another fantasy series, I think I would enjoyed growing up with is Harry Potter, but again the ship of youth had long sailed and I was probably even past my tweens (Tolkein reference that) when J.K. Rowling put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as the case may be.

I am glad I read the C.S. Lewis Narnia series and Gone with the Wind when I did because I think an older me would have never gotten past the issues of religious and racial prejudice that pose serious hurdles when I read them now. They do deserve to be enjoyed for what they are–and especially for their ability to transport me to their worlds–but the not too subtle anti-anything-not-Christian flavor, especially of The Horse and his Boy–and the wistfulness for the privileges of being rich and white in the American South rub me the wrong way. Especially these days with the politics of Trump holding sway there.

I am also glad that I read the works of Hindu mythology and fictionalized mythology for the first time as a youngster. Rajgopalachari’s versions especially are simple and may seem over-simplistic now but they were great to read to get the basics down. Interpretations can come later–nowadays I will confess I like Shashi Tharoor’s Great Indian Novel just a wee bit more, but there’s no way I could have enjoyed it without knowing the plot and characters of the Mahabharata.

Are there books that I regret reading too soon, as some of the authors seem to have done? I don’t think so… younger self was too avid a reader.

So back to the original question–if I had the chance to head to the past armed with a bag of books to give myself at say 14, I think I’d repeat my experience of that summer when someone gave me or the owners of the home we stayed in for the summer two large grocery bags full of the novels of Agatha Christie. Impeccable English and interesting characters… what was not to love? (#27)

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A long time ago I expressed my desire to live in a Peter Mayle (the first PM in this post) novel, and then in 2008, experienced a realization (of sorts) of that fantasy after a visit to the gorgeous Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, about which I’ve rhapsodized at length–just check out posts under the’08-Italia category. It wasn’t his stories or writing (in fact I have friends who positively dislike his writing) that I fell in love with as much as his descriptions of the food and environs; I wanted to be there, eating thatwhich depending on the particular book was a cassoulet from Bordeaux, the last morsel of truffle-imbued¬†foie gras chased around the plate with a piece of crusty baguette or simple a really fine cheese with a glass of equally fine wine.

A good many years later, but still quite some years before today, I found myself loving another PM–Patricia McKillip–about whom frankly I have no idea why I’ve not yet written anything in this blog. In my defense though I have rated & reviewed her books both on Amazon and Goodreads. Now here’s someone whose writing I simply love–her books are a wondrous mixture of fantasy, good food and the world of academia of some sort (schools for bards or magicians for example) all packaged or presented in, as I just said, really fine writing. Any wonder that she is one of those people that I would, if I could, be? I recently found out she lives in Oregon, which might explain not just her foodie leanings but really great descriptions of sea-food.¬† Food doesn’t always play a role in her books but one of my favorites, called The Bell at Sealey Head and the recently completed Kingfisher, both featured food and beautifully, although there was a complex relationship with it and the protagonists.

I am not, these days, the happiest of people, but I have to say, McKillip’s books are a lovely escape for a time at least… (#28)