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Another Time, Another Place

Book recommendations for this holiday season

It is starting to get cold again which means it is reading (and gift-giving) season. And the perfect Christmas gift is a book to curl up with during that long, lugubrious week between Christmas and New Year’s.

I know, come January, you will have made out an ambitious list of classic and classical must-reads so the next few weeks are a great time to read intellectual fluff — thumping good reads. No need to resort to Outlander; here are a few selections to transport you to other times and places while keeping your brain happy. In other words, here are some ideas for your wish list.

A.S. Byatt

Recommended by Dr. George Grant, Possession is one of my favorite novels. This Booker Prize winner has all the makings of the perfect book for the voracious reader. In other words, it is not a beach book. This is a book lover’s book: academia, history, romance, and mystery, all times two.

Maud Bailey is studying Victorian Poet Christabel la Motte. Roland Michell is an expert on the Victorian Randolph Ash. Unpredictably, their lives intersect. If your idea of a good romance takes place in a library among the dust, then this is the book for you.

If you like this try: Byatt’s The Children’s Book or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall

Connie Willis

Ever since “Lost” and The Time Traveler’s Wife there has been a renewed literary interest in time travel. I am not a fan of science fiction generally but when it comes to time travel I am all-in.

Long before “Lost” Connie Willis discovered time travel in her novels. To Say Nothing of the Dog plants Willis’s characters right smack in the middle of the Victorian farce Three Men in a Boat (go ahead and rip through that first so you get the jokes and understand who Montmorency is.), but it is not all fun and games as serious problems need to be solved. This is one of those “let’s read it again” books.

Willis picks up her group of time travelers in several other stand-alone novels which are great historical fiction. Her Doomsday Book examines, rather realistically, the black plague in England. My favorite books in this time travel sequence are the wonderful WWII novels Blackout and All Clear. Willis also writes excellent short stories.

If you like this try: Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. Fforde is whimsical where Willis is dead-on serious, but who can resist meeting Miss Havisham again?

Tim Powers

Another sci-fi fiction, time-travel, literary book is Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates. I had a dream about this book the other night. I was sitting at a table in a restaurant where the book opens. It obviously captured my imagination since I am still dreaming about it fifteen years after first reading it. Tim Powers is a novel writer with a strong spiritual side; I believe he is Catholic. Like Flannery O’Connor this Catholicism informs his writing but doesn’t overwhelm it. All of his books are very good, but this one is the best, I think, taking us from modern times to 17th century England and even to ancient Egypt.

If you like this try: The Company by Robert Littell

Bess Streeter Aldrich

If you liked Hannah Coulter then I think you will love A Lantern in Her Hand and A White Bird Flying. Centering on the prairie life of Abbie Deal and later her granddaughter, these books embody much of Mr. Berry’s philosophy of place and meaning. I found A White Bird Flying to be as profound as any book I have ever read concerning motherhood and career.

If you like this try: A forthcoming novel from my friend Cindy Marsch titled Rosette, based on the real life diary of a prairie woman

Paul Scott

The Raj Trilogy

I had never even heard of this series until it was mentioned by 2014 Paideia Prize Winner Eva Brann. I am now on The Day of the Scorpion having read The Jewel in the Crown. The final book is The Towers of Silence. All are about the final days of the Raj in India, when the British were in control there. I listened to the first book via audio book which really helped with the pronunciation. Now that I have that Indian voice in my head I am reading the next volume via paperback. Netflix also has an old BBC mini-series version of The Jewel in the Crown but I have not seen it yet. I am snobbish about reading the book first and I expect you are too.

If you like this try: A Dance to the Music of Time by Antony Powell-a twelve book semi-tongue-in-cheek look at what it meant to be thoroughly British once upon a time.

Sorry, no bodice ripping or surfer-boy highlanders here, just other times and other places. All of these books are not only worth reading but worth rereading, if only there was enough time. Let me know if you take a stab at any of them. We can talk books, which is much better than talking about what color you painted your nails (although I might ask about that too because you can’t be weird all the time).

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