I think I’ve mentioned here before that I used to re-read all the time. It seems that in my youth and adolescence, I scarcely did anything but re-read, and had to be prodded into reading anything new. These days, however, I have the strong sense of the sea of books-I-have-yet-to-read, and I almost never find time to re-read, except when I’m sick. Well, a bout of pneumonia has laid me low, and in the past few days I’ve found time to read a couple of my favorites. What follows is really more rhapsody than review; please feel free to skip it.
For a long, long time Gaudy Night was my favorite book. It’s the apotheosis of Dorothy Sayers’s Wimsey-Vane mysteries, which are the best of hers (though I love others of hers, as well; Murder Must Advertise is terrific, for instance.) This time through, which may easily have been my fortieth, I took my time and savored it: Harriet’s uncertainty; her feelings of unworthiness; her slow understanding that she can really contribute to her college, as a detective and a scholar; her gradual working-out that this contribution means that she has something to contribute to another partnership, as well. And Peter Wimsey! The scene in the punt! I wanted a ruby engagement ring like Harriet’s. (I got a very lovely sapphire.) Reading this was just pure pleasure. Once, I loaned this book to someone — my reading copy — and she dropped it in her bath. I have always assumed that Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? was written about just such a scenario.
Then I read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which isn’t at all unrelated to reading Gaudy Night. (There’s a Dorothy in Mary Russell’s college, who says cheerfully that she’s “going to hell with Dante.” Coincidence? I think not.) I am — just — able to admit that some of the later books in this series are better than this one, because I like to say that Russell and her partner keep getting better and better, but oh, how I do love this book. I love a smart, flawed, unexpected girl learning how to be a smart, flawed, eccentric woman (and going through some of what Harriet Vane went through, learning to contribute to a partnership.) I love a growing relationship and a wry sense of humor. I love odd skills I’ll never have, and emotional resonance. What a lovely book! What a stage-setter for a lovely series! Laurie King, may your shadow never grow bulkier.
Alas, I turned from these to Ghost Orchid, by Carol Goodman. I won’t go into detail about why I abandoned this one after forty pages. Let us just say that it was no Gaudy Night, and the writing was crummy enough that it couldn’t even distract me from my coughing. Oh well. We can’t all knock them out of the park. Onward and upward: I am just finishing my contender for Tom (Amateur Reader)’s Portuguese Literature Challenge. Hold your breath, ladies and gentlemen. This one’s going to be a doozy. Are any of you joining? What are you reading over Thanksgiving?