One of the best perks of retirement is the time we have to sit down and read a good book. As a teacher, I find I'm no longer too tired to read. All those papers, required readings, tests, meetings, bells kept me from reading my favorite fiction, old and new. So here are some of the best novels I've read in the last year.
1. STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett tells the story of American-Indian female research scientist Marina Singh who travels into the deeps of the Amazon to find her supervisor who has not returned. The drug company they work for is attempting to find a plant that will enable them to create a fertility drug for women into their seventies. From the frozen winter of Minnesota, Maria is enveloped in eternal summer with its bugs, flowers, rain storms, and some suspicious people with dark secrets. Patchett, who gave us one of the finest novels in BEL CANTO, manages to echo Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS and still be original and relevant.
2. THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach is a highly readable novel about baseball, growing up, secrets in Academia, Melville and lots more. Who would have dreamed a novel about the world's slowest game could be so fresh and entertaining as well as so thoughtful? This one is!
3. THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenidies follows the romantic highs and lows of three college students, all of whom are beautifully developed by the author. The lovely heroine Madeleine Hanna is a bright Brown English major who loves 19th century fiction and the "marriage plot," which depicts the women who know they are superior to their male counterparts but wind up marrying them. As she graduates she chooses the man she is obsessed with but knows little about. What follows is a difficult journey for Madeleine who gives up almost everything for love, while Mitchell, the more prosaic but more truly devoted suitor runs off to India to find himself. The descriptions of these jouneys and their endings offer a truly wise and fascinating portrait of growing up through experience.
4. THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern features a magical traveling circus that that travels the world arriving unannounced and leaving without a trace. The circus Le Cirque des Reves is no ordinary circus. It offers "ethereal enigmas" like a fire-breathing dragon and a garden of ice with magnificent blooms. Two great magicians pit their young proteges against each other without their knowing. Naturally they fall in love, and the suspense and wonder builds to a smashing climax. Can't wait for the movie!