Like many readers my age, I’ve been cleaning out my parents’ big old house. Growing up, my brother and I were always encouraged to read, and Mom and Dad set an example by compiling a large and varied library. As I’ve worked to organize, sell or donate their hoard, I have come across some old favorites that I think you might enjoy for the first time, or might revisit.
Some of my earliest memories are connected with little, hard-covered books with gold foil bindings. And I am delighted to see that the following Little Golden Book Classics are all available in hardcover for $3.99 each.
The titles of the Golden Books are mostly self-explanatory, and they generally teach lessons about how to be little in a big person’s world. A favorite example is The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey with illustrations by Gustaf Tenggren.
In Scuffy the Tugboat and His Adventures Down the River, Gertrude Crampton delightfully anthropomorphizes the little boat, and Tibor Gergely’s illustrations depicts the full range of his emotions.
Richard Scarry illustrated, and his wife, Patricia Scarry, wrote The Bunny Book, which is richly colored and always seemed rather exotic to me.
Scarry was a prolific author of children’s books (many published by Random House), which he "peopled" with bunnies and bears, lions and tigers, cats, raccoons and a nearly endless menagerie.
As I got older, I discovered the enjoyable genre of the mystery. I recently rediscovered The Complete Father Brown Stories by G. K. Chesterton (available from Wordsworth Editions Ltd. in paperback for $7.99). These are a series of short mysteries that feature Father Brown, an inconspicuous but extremely clever little priest who solves the crimes.
These are very gentle whodunits, often set in non-English locales and concerning victims as baffling as the crimes. Father Brown uses his vast understanding of the workings of the human heart to unmask the culprit.
Of course, I’ve tried to keep up with the newer books out there as well. Here are a few new titles that I can recommend:
During World War II many European masterpieces disappeared. The ghost of the Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall appears to a California painter in Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall by Jill Koenigsdorf (MacAdam/Cage, 2012; $24 hardcover).
Readers happily accept the impossible as he meddles in Phoebe Rosen’s life, as she is in danger of losing her lovely house and studio because of the depressed economy. But his interference also serves to recover some of the missing paintings.
The action romps across the south of France on a bike tour for singles. The lavender farm cum bed and breakfast where the group is centered leaves readers longing for warm sunshine, the hum of bees and freshly baked baguettes to soak up the garlicky pesto sauce made from scratch by the octogenarian proprietor.
The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (Scribner, 2013; $16 paperback) is listed as psychological thriller, but it’s not in that genre. True, the psychology of its key figures is revealed in exquisite detail, but they are real people, not twisted criminals.
Tom Sherborne, a World War I veteran, returns to Australia and enters the Lighthouse Service as a way to deal with his post traumatic stress disorder. He marries Izzy, a charming, intelligent woman who is the perfect balance for him in their joint isolation on Janus Rock, a tiny island.
But he is still haunted by his war experiences, and she becomes bitterly disappointed by a series of miscarriages, so when a boat comes ashore with a tiny baby and a dead man onboard, each acts out of his or her deepest emotions.
The results of their actions are both glorious and heart-wrenching.
In The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling proves that she writes excellent books that do not focus on teenage wizards (Back Bay Books, 2013; $18 paperback). Some of her central characters are teenagers, but they are modern, angst-driven and for the most part, humiliated by their parents.
The title is a term for a political position that comes open at a time when an election is not scheduled. In this case, the vacancy is a seat on the parish council of Pagford, a picturesque English town with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey.
Several factions emerge to back various candidates, and it’s not long before the populace is polarized. The individuals who choose to run have varying and generally self-serving motives. Their rocky marriages, delinquent children or unethical business practices are laid bare by Rowling, and we read anxiously to see whose dirty linen is going to be exposed first.
Wolf Hall: A Novel by Hilary Mantel (Picador, 2010; $16 paperback) is the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII as told by Thomas Cromwell.
Without an heir, England’s monarch is a desperate and determined man. He seeks to annul his marriage to Katharine of Aragon, a move which is not sanctioned by Rome and which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Church of England with the king as its head.
The day-to-day life swirling around the court of King Henry is presented in fascinating detail. Palace intrigue abounds among European ambassadors whose own monarchs are maneuvering for position at a time when there was still a Holy Roman Emperor. The threat of war is ever present, and the national treasury is already seriously depleted.
Thomas Cromwell is an astute businessman who can help the crown deal with the latter problem. Soon, his shrewd understanding of what will move people to the king’s side, and what can be done to remove those in his own way, puts him in a powerful position.
You can enjoy a mix of the old and the new in your summer reading. For the children’s books, you might want to visit garage sales and library sales. Perhaps you can uncover some Golden Books that haven’t been chewed on or defaced with a purple crayon — not that I would have ever done either as a little girl!
Palma is an adjunct associate professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester. She has a master of science degree in education from Nazareth College and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.