Reading outside of America

As usually happens when I stray from a routine, my reading for Andrea Reads America has been derailed. It started with The Shipping News¹. I skipped my annual reading of it last winter because I had just started this project, but I couldn’t go another winter without reading Proulx’s masterpiece. So in November, I left the United States to read Newfoundland. I was only going to be gone a few days.

shipping newsAnd I was, really. I vacationed in the bracing northern winter for a weekish, then came back to the US. But instead of picking up with Florida, which was next up after finishing my District of Columbia reads, I decided to skip ahead to Hawaii. I was preparing for travel to Kauai, and I really wanted to read some Hawaiian fiction as I awaited my vacation work trip.

I read two or three books set in Hawaii, but as you can imagine, since I escaped to those mystic islands in real life and not just in fiction, I didn’t take many any notes. I read on the beach. By the pool. I made no records. I did not write.

My reading project fell apart.

frenchman's creek 2When I returned home to the cold brittleness of winter, I wasn’t in the mood for Florida. I was in the mood for something more… moody. We talked books in Hawaii, and my friend Ben recommended I try Daphne du Maurier. I had heard her name before on The Readers podcast — Simon Savidge loves Rebecca and it is entirely possible that he mentions that title in every episode of the podcast — and the English countryside sounded exactly like what I wanted.

So instead of reading Florida, I read England. I read My Cousin Rachel. It gave me what I was craving: suspense, mood, landscape, romance, and skilled storytelling. Within minutes of finishing My Cousin Rachel, I started Frenchman’s Creek, which I enjoyed even more (there are pirates!). I would have started a third du Maurier except that I want to save her for those times when I hunger for that type of setting. When a certain mood and a certain landscape are the only thing that will sate a literary craving. You know the feeling.

master and margaritaI was so far gone after du Maurier, I decided what the hell. I’ll read this Russian novel my Secret Santa gave me. I have yet to complete a Russian work, unless Lolita counts. I tried to read The Brothers Karamazov, I really did. I couldn’t keep track of the characters and all their nicknames, and I just wasn’t into it. So I abandoned. But this new book, The Master and Margarita, it was a gift. And I read it.

long quiet highwayNow, I’m slowly making my way back to Andrea Reads America. I’m rereading Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway, which at least takes place in the United States, even if it travels from New York to New Mexico to Colorado to Minnesota. This is the book that gave me permission to write, even if what I write is crap, and when I finished The Master and Margarita, I craved both the vibrance and the solitude of Goldberg’s prose.

When I’m done with this, with Goldberg’s quiet book, then, THEN, I swear I’m coming back. I’ll get back on track. I’ll read in order. I’ll begin with Florida and I’ll try not to stray.

At least not for a state or two.

¹ This review by Krista Stevens of The Shipping News gave me goosebumps. It’s so good.

I heard someone say that place is the third character in a novel — that’s how much power it has. Faulkner and Tennessee Williams cannot be separated from the South; Steinbeck belongs forever to California; Willa Cather eats Nebraska and the states below it; Carl Sandburg lives in Chicago; Edith Wharton has New York.

– Natalie Goldberg, Long Quiet Highway