For the Love of Reading

The Women in the Castle

War, it is said, tears families apart and brings strangers together. In this compelling WWII novel, two German widows of Nazi-resisters and a third woman, a refugee from the East, move in together, along with their children. They help each other with child-rearing and preparing meals, despite the privations of rationing. Most importantly, they give each other deep emotional support, as good families do.

The novel opens on a grand harvest party in a castle, ramshackle and falling apart, near a small town in Bavaria. Marianne, the main character, plays host for its ailing owner, Countess von Lingenfels, her husband Albrecht's aunt. Marianne brings to hosting the skills of someone who has an eye for beauty and taste—and particularly the complicated dynamics of relationships between people. She greets, cajoles, and introduces strangers with the flair and manners of a great lady.

Picture Books: Extraordinary Art, Conveniently Portable

Picture books are often children's first exposure to art. As galleries of artists' work—all within the pages of books—they reflect the vast variety of art mediums we find in museums. Some artists create with real-world materials like paint and pencils; others make collage or etchings. Some even work in virtual media like computer graphics, and, of course, some use a combination of tools and methods.

When my children were younger, I would check out piles of picture books to read with them—and for the pleasure of viewing the artwork. And even though my children have moved beyond picture books, I still enjoy opening these miniature exhibitions, browsing through old favorites or finding new artists.

In honor of National Picture Book Month this November, I recommend these resources:

Stay with Me

With economy of language and a taut emotional underlying, Ayobami Adebayo tells the parallel tales of a young couple’s marriage, alongside Nigeria’s struggle for independence.

Told alternately by Yejide and her husband, Akin, the book opens late in the story to a woman packing her bags. She's done this many, many times before, but something—whether deep feelings or fear—has always stopped her from making the trip to her southwestern Nigerian hometown of Ilesa, once the site of a magical kingdom.

Love, Africa

This memoir by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist will make you feel as though you have boarded a jet and begun a new life.

Jeffrey Gettleman, nineteen-year old college student, wanders his way into East Africa, does community service work, and falls in love with the landscapes, people, swirl of languages, and colorful clothing there. In fact, he eventually decides he must come back to live in the region, not just visit.

Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World

Say you've just finished your graduate degree in writing from Boston College, and a rich donor provides you with funds to travel anywhere in the world. Where do you pick? Tahiti, Paris, Buenos Aires? For British citizen Nell Stevens, it's none of the above. Instead, she chooses the remote Falklands Islands, where South America meets Antarctica—in June, which is winter there.

In Stanley, the Falklands' capital, Nell researches the archives for her first novel, and also meets some of the less-than-friendly Falklanders there. After a few weeks, Nell hops a plane for even more remote Bleaker Island, about which a writer friend quips, “Oh, you’re writing Bleaker House.”

A Gentleman in Moscow

During the first half of the twentieth century, thousands of Russians suffered fates much worse than life-long imprisonment. Joseph Stalin sent many artists, writers, and politicos to the Gulag—or killed them outright.

This is the fictional story of Count Rostov, an educated aristocrat devoted to the literary arts, who found after the first Russian Revolution that being a count was not only illegal, but dangerous. The Count traveled to Paris, and unlike many of his contemporaries visiting abroad, decided to return home. But in the 1920s, under Stalin's Article 58 banning counterrevolution, Rostov stood before a tribunal, and was sentenced to permanent imprisonment at the luxury Metropol Hotel—for writing a poem that he never wrote.

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