I don't watch TV. Yeah, I said it. TV doesn't appeal to me much so most nights you can find me with my nose in a book.
I often think I'd like to be held hostage in a library. Most of the books you'll find here are not the latest best-sellers. I figure everyone is reading those. I do check the "new fiction" section of the library but what I really love to do is trawl the stacks looking for treasure. Plus, a stack book can be checked out for three weeks instead of just one. My library late fine rap sheet is something to be discussed on another post.
Today, I give you a list of little books. By "little" I mean at my last trip to North Salem Library, I searched the stacks looking for books that were little. Short in stature. Diminutive. I think it's an interesting publishing decision to print and bind a book that's small (and maybe somebody in the business can comment on that?). Their smallness gives them presence on the shelf. They are charming before you open a page. They fit well in a purse. They are not intimidating. They make you think, "I have time for this."
Lily and Looking After Lily by Cindy Bonner
The cover illustration drew me in to this wild west love story, and I confess I'm a sucker for cowboys. Based on true events surrounding a vigilante posse that went after a band of outlaw brothers in post Civil War Texas, Lily introduces us to the motherless Lily DeLony. Living on her father's farm and raising her younger brothers and sisters, she herself has been raised to be god-fearing and good. But she is inexplicably and irrevocably drawn to Marion "Shot" Beatty, one of the infamous Beatty brothers whose misdeeds of robbery and even murder are well-known but never proven. Lily tells her side of the story at a Christmas Eve shoot-out that sends her running from her family and into Shot's world with a pistol in her skirt pocket, never looking back.
Looking After Lily continues the story, this time from the point of view of Shot's younger brother Haywood. Just twenty years old, Haywood is charged with looking after the now-pregnant Lily while Shot serves hard time in jail. The two make an unlikely but resilient pair of survivors as time after time Haywood tries to settle Lily and go out on his own adventure, but his misadventures bring him time after time back to Lily and the promise he made to Shot. In the end the brother- and sister-in-law find a place to settle together and wait for Shot and it's then that Haywood faces the fact that he has grown to love the courageous Lily.
I got hooked on A.S. Byatt with her novel The Children's Book, but fell in love with these two little books of her short stories. Or rather, I should say they are intelligent fairy tales for adults. They are full of her gorgeous language and imagery. "Cold" in Elementals was by far my favorite: a tale of an ice princess who falls in love with a prince of the desert, an inventor and genius glass-blower. She leaves the environment in which she flourishes and travels to her husband's land where she wilts in despair. But her husband designs a new palace for her, in essence creating ice with the power of fire.
The title story in Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye gives a modern look at the three wishes bestowed on a British woman by a genie (djinn) in a bottle of Turkish nightingale glass.
The Holy Man by Susan Trott
Insomnia can take credit for this little book by Susan Trott which Kirkus Reviews calls "gently profound." Instead of counting sheep, Trott counted pilgrims on their way to visit a renowned Holy Man who lives in a hermitage in a place never really identified although the Tibetan mountains come to mind. It hardly matters. In thirty-four lovely chapters we meet the Holy Man, his fellow monks at the hermitage, and the pilgrims who line up every day for a chance to see him. Each interaction between pilgrim and Holy Man is witty, human, charming and yes, gently profound. And I was happy to find out that this is actually the first book in a trilogy, to be followed by The Holy Man's Journey and The Holy Woman.
The Mirror by Lynn Freed
Agnes LaGrange gives today's modern woman a run for her money. In 1920 she flees an unpromising future and arrives in Durban, South Africa to be housekeeper to a gentleman she refers to as "the Old Jew." He presents her with a mirror, along with his advances, and regarding their reflections in the mirror she falls in love with the power of her own beauty. Armed with ambition and no thought for social mores of the day, she rises from housekeeper to hotel owner, acquiring property and wealth and a string of lovers. Freed paints a portrait of a not exactly likable character, but as a woman of her day refusing to be dependent on a man for her happiness and self-worth, Agnes deserves admiration.