There’s a couple of book clubs I know of presenting books to read for January. One of the book clubs is hosted by our local independent bookseller, the other has spread widely online by a tweet from Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son.
The Duncan Jones book offering is an older book, from the mid-80s, and sounds rather intense (which got my curiosity going). The book is Hawksmoor, by Peter Ackroyd.
The summary I read intimidated me, which got my love of a challenge going, and now I’ve been trying to find a copy of the book which, according to the above local bookseller, is out of print (Dear Duncan Jones, did you notice the book is out of print before posting this widely online?).
Hawksmoor is one from David Bowie’s The Top 100 Books list he put together years ago. Further books in Duncan Jones online book club will come from his father’s not-remotely-light-weight list.
Apparently, someone named Nicholas Hawksmoor did exist: he was an English architect in the later 1600s, worked alongside Christopher Wren.
(Weeks later, I’ve had no success finding Hawksmoor, so I tried The Clerkenwell Tales instead, also by Peter Ackroyd, a The Canterbury Tales-esque book with similar archetypes as characters. … Ehhh.)
Back to Hawksmoor.
The basic summary tells of Nicholas Dyer, the architect, who is building churches in London in the 1700s, but unknown to his colleagues, including his supervisor, Sir Christopher Wren, Dyer decides the building of each church requires a human sacrifice. A parallel story is set in present day, with Detective Nicholas Hawksmoor sleuthing about trying to determine why people are currently being strangled at each of these churches the architect Dyer had built long ago, with no evidence at all ever found. There is hint of dark supernatural forces gathering…
Suffice to say, not my style book, but if I can find a copy, I’ll give it a go.
(Now that it’s too late to receive for book club deadline, I’ve found an affordable copy that is on the way from the U.K.)
The second book for book club reading, the one from our local bookseller, is called Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton. It is her debut novel.
This book has parallel stories as well: one of an older astronomer who stays behind at his Arctic observatory in the midst of some unexplained global catastrophe that has all the other scientists hurriedly evacuate the Arctic — and then suddenly all communications channels on the planet go silent. While inventorying his resources, the lone astronomer discovers a small child that had been left behind in the chaos of the evacuation. The second story that the chapters go back and forth between, this setting in a space shuttle returning from a maiden fact-finding voyage around Jupiter, has the six astronauts eager to get home, only to find all contact with Earth is suddenly gone while they are still weeks/months away from Earth.
So far, about a third of the way through the book, I’ve been distracted by the thought of anyone leaving their child alone, forever, at an Arctic anything, this being completely implausible to me, although my husband suggested a parent might leave their child behind if they thought it was the one chance for them to survive…
I don’t know. Maybe the reasoning becomes more clear later in the book.
(I also wonder how this book would go if the child were chatty or petulant or miserable, rather than the perfectly silent and content child Iris seems to be, so far…)
Lily Dalton-Brooks is a lovely writer. She got me thinking with the opening scene, her descriptions of primary color here and there rather than of the ice and cold of the Arctic winter. I’ve appreciated her choices of description in and of each setting and how well she builds the internal worlds of these loner-type humans faced with some heavy existential issues. This is also a book I’d not likely pick up for myself so I’m appreciating trying something new.
Further thoughts when the book is finished.
On to booklists. I remember asking my older siblings when I was a teen for their lists of books they thought ought to be read. Only my sister replied. I read all the books from her list and loved the challenge, and opening of new worlds, of reading books I’d not choose for myself (especially then as a teenager). Among others, she had The Epic of Gilgamesh on her list, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, and East of Eden, John Steinbeck (which made it onto my own, rather spontaneous, list below).
There have been several other book lists I’ve followed in the years since as reader, but after looking through and recognizing maybe ten books I’ve read on David Bowie’s Top 100 Books List, with only a few more I’ve even heard of, I do find David Bowie’s list way beyond my scope or interest.
His list did get me thinking of books that I might put on a list, though — books throughout my life that have stuck with me, that have resonated deeply, touched me emotionally, or have powerful truths to tell. Others I’ve read over and over for whatever reason but usually just to re-immerse myself in the world of this particular time or place, these particular characters, this or that happening, this author’s mind.
If I were thinking of books for only literary quality I’d have a different list. If I were to include some of my favorite research-oriented books I’ve discovered over the years (that have become a personal passion), the list would also be drastically different. Same with favorite escapist books — cotton candy books I call them. Pure fluff. Different list.
This list, though, is a few of the ones, writers and stories, that have lingered with me, that I’ve never forgotten…that now come to mind.
(and there are more than I thought would be.)
Most of these I first read as a teen to young adult, and usually have read more than once; a couple of these are from childhood. Only a few from recent years:
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Call of the Wild, Jack London
Five Smooth Stones, Ann Fairbairn
Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin
Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
The Gruesome Green Witch, Pat Coffin
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley and Malcolm X
Cress Delahanty, Jessamyn West
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
My Antonia, Willa Cather
A Light in the Forest, Conrad Richter
Eastern Body, Western Mind:…, Anodea Judith
The Season of the Witch, James Leo Herlihy (not the more recent fantasy book)
The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels
Magic and Medicine of Plants, Robert Dolezal
Color, Victoria Finlay
The Disappearing Spoon:..., Sam Kean
The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra
Demian and Narcissus and Goldmund, Hermann Hesse
Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers
Little Men and The Eight Cousins, Louisa May Alcott
Arcadia, Lauren Groff
Euphoria, Lily King
Someone Knows My Name, Lawrence Hill
Sacred Geometry, Deciphering the Code, Stephen Skinner
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, Edith Hamilton
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, H. R. Ellis Davidson
Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Rose, Umberto Eco
The House of Spirits, Isabel Allende
The Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown
The Family of Man, Edward Steichen
The Tracker and other books, Tom Brown, Jr.
Beach Music and The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy
Peachtree Road, Anne Rivers Siddons
Watership Down, John Updike
Better get back to reading. Book club’s coming up.
What about you? What books have stuck with you for ages?