Go beyond

Book lovers tend to be nice people, and this bookstore owner was no exception.
At Evergreen Livres, an antiquarian bookstore in Stow-on-the-Wold, England, July 2017

“…novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other peopleโ€™s thoughts and feelings..Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined”Annie Murphy Paul

Even if you’re not lonely or isolated, books can add so much to life. I’m a big fan of all sorts of nonfiction, and I love the practical information of home and garden references, or the fascinating insight into history that biographies and memoirs offer. But fiction can be even more true to life than nonfiction.

Whether the story is written in first or third person, the characters in a good novel will come to life for us even if they exist in a distant place or time, with a much different story than ours. In fact, novels that introduce us to new worlds and different ways of thinking are often the most spellbinding. Lisa See, Junot Diaz, Maeve Binchy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Orhan Pamuk have seemingly nothing in common, except their ability to take readers where many of us have not gone before, and show us familiar or exotic things as seen through someone else’s eyes. And if you’ve read Alexander McCall Smith’s wonderful series about Mma. Ramotswe (seventeen books and counting so far) you may feel almost as if you have relatives in Botswana.

Have novels taken you to any faraway destinations lately? Do you have fictional acquaintances who seem almost as real to you as people you have known face-to-face? Do you know any books that are a great place to go when feeling sad, disappointed or afraid? Share your fictional friends with us– we may like them as much as you do!


  1. Janet Sawyer

    Holly and I both enjoy The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency!

    • Janet, I’m not surprised — I remember you and I both liked Mrs. Pollifax too. I remind myself more than a little of Mma. Makutsi! Especially when she gets going with that rascal Charlie. But then again, maybe I’m actually more like Mma. Potokwani, with Jeff being the very soul of the long-suffering Mr J. L. B. Matekoni. Come to think of it, I think C. W. must be a bit like him too…What a fun group of people McCall Smith has introduced to us!

  2. Loved Alexander McCall’s series on the Ladies Detective Agency. Read several of Maeve Binchy’s as well. She was one of my sister’s favorites. I enjoy Sue Grafton’s alphabet series but fell in love with Janet Evanovich’s bawdy, crazy characters in her Stephanie Plum series. They are laugh out loud funny and sometimes you just gotta laugh hard. Debie Mazur was the person I thought should have played Stephanie Plum but for some reason, reason eluded the casting director. She got me through some hard times. Not everyone’s cup of tea though. I read a mix of everything. Good places to rest your mind for awhile

    • Marlene, I think I read one of Grafton’s books, and probably insisted on starting with the “A” one, but it’s been so long I don’t remember. I once read a ton of mystery and suspense but after having kids I somehow drifted away from that genre. During the years Jeff was in dental school, and we had no kids, I remember reading lots of Frederick Forsythe and Robert Ludlum and Ken Follett and such. Not long ago I read the first two books of the Pillars of the Earth series by Follett, and as amazing as his suspense books were, I think these historical novels he wrote are even better. Like you, I read a mix of everything, except romance novels, which mostly turn me off. I did read one by LaVyrle Spencer that was OK, but I can’t make it through a Danielle Steele novel even though I’ve tried several times. I guess after one reads Pride and Prejudice — which has long been my favorite novel– it’s all downhill after that. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do like romantic suspense and historical novels with a touch of romance, so maybe I’m just too old-fashioned for the soft porn of some of the more recent authors.

      • Very interesting lineup there, Julia. Like you, I just don’t enjoy romance novels. I like stories where strong women take care of themselves. I absolutely have no use for erotica. I read mostly non-fiction but Sue Grafton has a female lead that is perfectly capable ot handling herself. I tend to read a lot more by women authors. Quantum physics is still my favorite thing to read. But I did fall in love with “A Man Called Ove” and for historical fiction with a the complete rewriting of history, the hilarious “100 year old man that crawled out of the window.” Both listened to on audio while sewing. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think they are Swedish authors and a pleasant surprise.

        • Marlene, I had just recently read about the man who crawled out of the window, and decided I wanted to read the book AND see the movie! I had not heard of A Man Called Ove but I just read about it and now I think I MUST read it. Wow, quantum physics? for fun? Can you recommend a title in that genre? I love reading about relativity as regards the whole issue of time and the fourth dimension, but I have to read about it via books written for middle school students to really be able to get my brain around it.

          • Start with Bruce Lipton and Lynne McTaggart. Bruce L has a lot of Utube videos along with Gregg Braden. I first saw the movie “What the Bleep do we know” 15 or so years ago. I called it quantum physics for dummies. These guys are out to prove there is God and how to understand that Energetic Field of intelligent Love. I found listening to the audio helped me get it better. I listened to those other books by the Swedish authors and it makes it so much more real while I’m working on something else. I wasn’t sure I’d like “A Man Called Ove” in the beginning but the more I listen the better it got until I couldn’t stop listening. I got a LOT of sewing done then. ๐Ÿ™‚

            • I haven’t heard of any of them, but I will look forward to discovering them– thanks for the recommendation! Aren’t audio books wonderful for helping us get easy but time consuming tasks done? I love to listen to them while I’m chopping veggies, cooking, washing dishes, weeding the flowerbeds, etc.

              • I listen while driving as it calms me and sewing too. I need to be calm there. ๐Ÿ™‚ Never in the garden. That’s where I meditate or on my walk. I have headphones on and passers by think I’m listening to something when in fact mostly I’m shutting out noise and meditating.

                • I read something by C. S. Lewis where he recommended staying silent while walking, even when one is walking with a friend, for at least some of the time. I think he agreed with you that walking is a great way to meditate. I can see where gardening would be too, especially planting things, but I’d probably rather distract myself when I’m weeding so I won’t start fuming about the relentless nature of the task. If I can re-frame it as “reading” time, it becomes a pleasant pastime rather than a pesky chore.

  3. Jack

    How many! Porter Osborne of Run with the Horsemen (and several more) fame, most recently Matthew Corbett of Robert McCammon’s series that makes you feel like you’re walking the dirt roads of NY City in the late 1600’s. And too many to count in between.

    What a great gift of the love of reading I was given in my youth; oddly, it has been hardly passed down to my children despite them seeing me immersed in books for 25 yrs. I’ve successfully passed to them several of my less worthy loves though!

    • Thanks, Jack. I haven’t heard of those, but they do sound interesting. I’ll have to look them up. I love NYC and I would imagine its history is fascinating. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was the most-re-read book of my adolescence; I practically had it memorized. It’s an odd thing about reading; one never knows who will be bitten by the bug (or be a carrier of the gene?) that creates a true bibliophile. Having said that, during my years as a youth services librarian, my fairly extensive research in school and admittedly less extensive real-world experience tells me that parents who model reading for their children– not people who tell their kids to read, but people who read a lot themselves– are most likely to have kids who read. But the advent of digital everything has changed the landscape forever, for all of us. I suspect that young people growing up in a digital world are least likely of all to discover the peculiar magic of reading. It’s a shame, but perhaps the brain changes wrought by digital media– and I’m absolutely convinced they are that, just as with the advent of movable type— will ultimately provide more benefits than disadvantages. Come what may, though, I will go down with the literary ship, reading good old-fashioned books and letters alongside the newer formats for as long as I am physically able to do so.

  4. Many, many years ago I read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and later Toujour Provance. His writing is laugh out loud funny. I learned so much about Provence from his books and had a great time along the way. I’ve been reading the alphabet series featuring the character Kinsey Milhone for years. I get excited every two years when a new book appears. She’s a great mystery writer, though the books are more sober than funny. I just hear writer Sue Grafton interviewed last month on NPR.

    I’ve read most of the authors you’ve sited, Julia. It’s great to escape into a good book.

    By the way, our Little Free Library received a library of distinction award. Here’s the link: https://gardeningnirvana.com/2017/09/18/little-free-library-of-distinction/

    • Alys, this is so exciting about your Little Free Library! I had not seen its makeover. Wow, how charming!! I’ll have to send you some more books for it (unless you currently have too many already). Reading the article, it made me want to draw up a tour plan to visit some of the others that have earned that distinction. Sometime I’ll have to blog about the one that you, Kelly and I discovered in Old Town, and the friendly gentleman who lived there.

      I read both of Mayle’s books many years ago, and remember I really enjoyed them, though I’ve forgotten most of the details. They did make me want to do something similarly adventurous, though. I do remember that. I’ve often wanted to live in France for a few months just so I could become more fluent with the language.

  5. bobmielke

    I know I say this a lot but I need to keep in touch with my blogging friends. Since moving to Uxbridge, MA almost two years ago my life has changed so drastically that I sometimes think I’m dreaming. Good to still see your blog and read your wise comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Bob, it’s great to see you here. I totally identify with the feeling of being in a dream-like state (often I describe it as more of a zombie-like state) wherein all the seismic changes just overwhelm and don’t completely register. I seem to spend so many days just going through the motions of keeping everything in my environment operational, even if on a sub-optimal level. When I’m having a pity party I think how I’m too old to have to endure such change, but then I realize that change is the one constant in the lives of any of us who are lucky enough to make it to our senior years. I hope the legendary beauty of New England in autumn will provide you with much solace and many photo ops! Thanks for being here.

      • bobmielke

        In my two years here I’ve managed to win the local historical society’s annual calendar photo contest. Both years I won for the month of October. It is beautiful here in the Fall.

        • WOW, Congratulations! That’s exciting, but having enjoyed your work for some time now, I’m not surprised.

  6. Harry Sims

    One of my teenage friends of this older man once commented to me, โ€œDoc, life would not be any good unless you have a little fun every once in a whileโ€.
    Believe me I believe that.

    I start my day by enjoying it.
    I do you things.
    I do new things.
    Praying is a new thing for me.
    I enjoy my morning coffee.
    I peruse the World Wide Web.
    I enjoy it.
    I read the comics every day.
    I enjoy being in fellowship with a number of people every day.
    I love my furbaby Daisy Mae.

    God please help me be the person my dog thinks I am.

    I mine for nuggets.
    Patrick Henry Reardon is a nugget bearer and this particular page in his publication brings insight and joy.


    • Thanks, Harry, for all these joyful reflections. Our thoughts really do make us who we are– and brain studies are finding that this is quite literally true— so all of the things you mention, along with many others, are gifts that feed our brains a nourishing diet. Reardon’s writings are good! I enjoyed reading his observations and was especially struck by his comment: “In some of the battles that men fight on this earth, you see, God does take sides. Never, however, does He take the side of the coward.” I was reminded of one of my favorite verses, Proverbs 28:1 – “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” I just pray God will show me when to sleep, and when to get up and roar. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Harry Sims

        You have a gentle roar my dear.

        • Thank you, Harry. I tone it down online, which is one reason it’s probably good for me to be here. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Good morning, Julia! Thanks for this blog – now I have some good recommended reading! LOL
    Hopefully, that’s not “cheating” in the spirit of your blog.
    This is the trouble with having a lousy memory. I know I’ve had the experience you described, but I can’t remember when, or the titles of the books! So I went to the bookstore and picked up what looked like a thin novel, in an attempt to re-capture that experience. (Note to self: short novels don’t allow for a lot of character development.) “Number the Stars” was a good book, however, probably something that every 5th grader should read!
    I do remember reading “The Help” and wanting to continue getting to know the cast of characters, but at the same time knowing that I didn’t want to know if / when things might go poorly for them again.
    I guess some stories have to just stop at the happy ending part.

    • Susan, of course that’s not cheating! It’s sharing! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ . (Note to Susan: short novels and even short stories can accomplish AMAZING character development– see: Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, or anything at all by Flannery O’Connor! And that’s just for starters!) BTW I think Lois Lowry (who wrote Number the Stars and the totally amazing The Giver, among many other acclaimed works) is one of many “young people’s” authors who should be read by all ages. When I was a youth services librarian, I used to tell people that the “E” on the spine of picture books did not stand for “easy” but for “Everybody.” Great works of art, like great people, come in all shapes and sizes and personalities! But enough of the soapbox. The aforementioned Ms. Lowry once said (in her Newberry acceptance speech I think), regarding the ambiguous ending of The Giver, that the ending was intentionally left open. You now have the privilege of creating your own ending to The Help, so make it a great one. It’s quite obvious that Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny all have exciting lives ahead, and speaking from experience, life can still be beautiful even when things go poorly again and again. But don’t you get the sense that nobody and nothing can ever totally defeat these women? I do. I think that’s what I loved about the book. BTW have you read Jewel, by Bret Lott? I have a very, very long story about my connection to that particular book and author…

      • Hi Julia,
        No, I haven’t read Jewel, but thanks to Amazon Prime, it can be waiting for me by the time I get back to Massachusetts later this week!
        P.S. I’m currently reading “The Weight of Glory.” Not a novel, if course…

        • The Weight of Glory (and the other essays that are collected in the book by that name) are among my favorite works by Lewis. You may recognize a quote or two from that work here on the blog (“you have never met a mere mortal”). While our class was in Oxford, we went to the University Church where he delivered that address. I think it must have been an instant classic. Modest though he was, Lewis packed the house when he spoke. IMO he was the object of more than a little jealousy from some of his less brilliant but more academically accepted peers.

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