Around the County

Resolving to read more in 2021

By Pat Stuart
Posted 2/18/21

The time has come and passed for New Year’s resolutions. But this doesn’t preclude resolving to read more.

The possibilities are endless. In 2018, 1.6 million books were published. …

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Around the County

Resolving to read more in 2021

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The time has come and passed for New Year’s resolutions. But this doesn’t preclude resolving to read more.

The possibilities are endless. In 2018, 1.6 million books were published. That figure includes self-published volumes and e-books. No way you can’t find something that appeals.

This came to mind because CBS Sunday Morning ran a piece about an old fictional friend and a famous teen-aged heroine: Nancy Drew. She’s been with us for 90 years! Who knew. Various versions of her adventures have sold over 80 million copies, and the books are still coming. Some are sitting on my bookshelves.

Yikes. To think that my mother read Nancy Drew as a pre-teen, as did I, as did my daughter and as my grandsons would have done if they’d been girls. We all probably picked up tips on how to deal with the world of adults, how to be independent thinkers, how to be adventurous and risk-takers.

    

Midnight Library

Which brings me to one of this season’s acclaimed books, Midnight Library. A great title. Michael Haig’s new novel has won rave reviews from the critics, but I’m not quite sure why. The writing is mostly good and the plot line tantalizing in the abstract but, in sum, I found it far from the “brilliant” some critics proclaimed.

The almost middle-aged heroine herself is dull ... running, not walking, from every opportunity life offers until she’s bricked herself into a lonely cell. No one wants to enter while there’s nowhere she wants to go.

No surprise. She commits suicide ... and finds herself at a nexus between an infinite number of realities (think quantum physics) where every possible permutation of her life comes together. Here, she can sift through her regrets and live the experiences she might have had if only she’d had the courage. Think purgatory, atonement and redemption.

I suspect we’re supposed to cheer when she learns what should be a teen years coming-of-age lesson: You take from this life what you put into it. Nancy Drew knew that.

    

D-Day Girls

Much, much better is a 2019 book that almost fell off a library shelf and into my hands. D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose is an extraordinarily well-written and researched non-fiction book about the women Britain sent into France to run spy rings, train saboteurs, blow up rail lines and power plants, and pave the way for an invasion.

The book treats us to belly-shaking wit along with a full range of other emotions as the author expertly draws us through the complexities and dangers of war-time, occupied France. Nor does she spare the spies and partisans while leaving their courage and heroism untouched. Ego trips, self-delusion, wishful thinking, laziness, romance — it’s all there, too often leading to torture and death.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of World War II’s espionage heroines who, if they survived, were rusticated to file rooms as what the men of the CIA dismissively called “little old ladies in tennis shoes,” and “our hereditary memory.”

I’ve mentioned before that some of them were still around when I entered on duty. Now I wish I’d visited the file rooms where they spent their last working days. In my own defense, I had no idea then of what they’d done or how brilliantly they had performed. They (and I) were victims of the post-WWII effort to put the war-time genie back in the bottle and women back in the kitchen.

(As an aside and as an example, John Stein — a really superb operations officer and a generally supportive one who became Deputy Director for Operations — strongly advised me “for my own good” early in our careers that I’d be happier if I devoted myself to cooking for my husband, the way his wife “Charlie” did. No joke.)

As you can see, the acceptance of the D-Day women’s accomplishments and the less spectacular and meaningful ones of my generation came only slowly. But a number of well-researched books — this one by Sarah Rose as a superb example — is changing that.

Life really is stranger and much more interesting than fiction.

   

The Night Watchman

Finally, I’d like to mention Louise Erdrich’s award-winning and much-praised 2020 book of fictionalized history, The Night Watchman. She, too, has a female character in a coming-of-age situation. But, what a difference from Michael Haig’s colorless heroine or from the real women of D-Day! 

Probably like most of you, I consider a book worth reading when I learn from it. And, learn I did.

For the first time in a long life, years of it lived in proximity to Indian reservations, I found myself walking in the footsteps of our first citizens. Erdrich brings her many characters to life in ways that allow us to come as close as possible to understanding them and to feel their joys and pains, their frustrations, ambitions and resignations. I loved every minute of the page-turning, superbly written read.

Maybe these aren’t the books for you. We all have our tastes in reading whether in digital or hard copy. Whatever yours might be, one of the easiest and most enjoyable resolutions you can make is to visit your local independent bookseller or your library — online or on foot.

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