When I look at photographs of my parents, I can see how I inherited my eye color from one, my curly hair, the other. I’m convinced that my reading tastes are just as genetic.
One of the fixtures in my father’s bathroom was a tub with a copy of a detective novel on its wide ledge. From time to time I’d glance at his reading material, and often the book was a crime novel by Mickey Spillane, whose detective character was Mike Hammer. The prolific Spillane, praised for his style by Ayn Rand though panned by most literary reviewers, kept my father in novels for all of my growing up years.
I admit I never read one of Daddy’s books, but his reading preference must have influenced me, as I love mysteries. My husband gave me Mystic River by Dennis Lehane for Valentine’s Day years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Recently I read Lehane’s The Drop, and he did not disappoint me. Dark and spare, the novel is set in Mystic River. The main character Bob gained my sympathy at once as he finds and rescues a puppy at the bottom of a large trash barrel.
Trust is a real issue in his neighborhood. Nadia, a neighbor, asks him what he is doing going through her trash, and then takes a photograph of him when he tells her about the pup. She warns him she has sent the photo to Father Pete and six other people. But gradually Nadia and Bob develop a relationship as she agrees to take care of the dog until Bob can figure out how to fit the pup into his crazy schedule as a bartender for his cousin Marv.
On a more sinister level, there is Marv, who can trust no one. In order to survive, Marv has for years been a fence for the Chechen mafia owners of the bar. Once the pup comes into Bob’s life, he can talk about little else, but Marv has no interest in the dog as he has bigger problems to worry about. While Bob struggles to keep the dog (Eric, the original owner, shows up, repeatedly and threateningly, and wants him back), Marv struggles to survive the constant pressures the Chechens put upon him.
The Drop is a novel my father would have liked, and I do, too, but I am convinced I do not ever wish to walk the scary streets of Mystic River.
My mother kept her novels beside the sofa in front of the fireplace in our large farmhouse kitchen. While growing up, I read all her childhood books: Heidi, Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, and Little Women, to name a few. After I was grown, we shared a love for James Michener‘s Hawaii and The Source and any books about animals. Later she and I traded books back and forth, so I can say with little reservation that she would have enjoyed The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams.
While The Drop is only a little over 200 pages, Violet Grant is more than double that length. About book length Mother and I agreed: “the longer, the better.” This novel is divided into the lives of the two narrators. First, there is Vivian, Violet’s great niece, who lives in New York City in 1964. Her first person narration often made me laugh as she is a quick-witted young woman with a bit of an attitude. Her family has kept her curiosity about her great aunt Violet at bay, but Vivian is determined to discover what happened to her. Every other chapter, narrated in the third person, is about Violet in 1914 Berlin. Violet, an intelligent young woman, is married to Dr. Walter Grant, a man who is three years older than her father and whom she met at Oxford University. Violet shares his passion for atomic physics and helps him with his experiments when they move to Berlin.
Violet’s lost suitcase, full of articles, shows up decades later addressed to Vivian. She must go to the Post Office to claim the mysteriously large package. There she meets a doctor who offers to help her carry the package home. Vivian’s relationship with the doctor is one of the intrigues of her chapters in addition to the riddle of the never-talked-about Aunt Violet.
In Violet’s chapters, there are mysteries, intrigue, and romance. Why is she in Berlin? How does her suitcase get lost, and how could the contents have prevented World War II? Just who is Dr. Grant?
Yes, Mother would have enjoyed this book as much as I did.
What are some books you have shared with your parent?
My parents had really different reading tastes from mine. I will never be able to get through–much less love–Daddy’s favorite author Thomas Wolfe. Mama’s tastes leaned toward history and biography, though I will admit loving City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre, a story of life in Calcutta. I think my main inheritance from each of them is my love of good books and my need to own the books I love. My Kindle is for those I “have” to read.
I wonder what my parents would have thought about Kindles! Because I didn’t have access to it any other way, I read “The Fault in Our Stars” on my son’s. He had lived in Taiwan for five years and we found the cost of sending him real books astronomical. The Kindle came in handy, but now that he is home, it sits unused. He’s back to real books!!
Maybe the best thing about our parents’ reading is that they influenced us to love reading! Thanks for your comments, Chris.
My father read westerns. I believe we had every book of western, historical fiction and short story Louis L Amour ever wrote. I read a few of these since the books were so handy on a sweltering summer day or winter cold evening. My mothers taste ran more towards the classics and she was a member of the book of the month club. We had a small library in our home plus I ordered books from the scholastic club. I guess that is why actual paper feels comforting opposed to a cold tablet. —The flower photos are wonderful. I especially like the Passion flower. That particular variety of flower always looks so alien to me.
When we were younger and had the time, I guess we’d read pretty much anything! I remember picking up, reading, and enjoying Tarzan books! My grandfather had many novels by Charles Dickens, and I read most in the tenth grade. The fact that my grandfather made some notes in the books made them all the more interesting. I used to read way past my bedtime by the light of the street lamp outside my window when we still lived in Philadelphia. And when I was supposed to be cleaning the bathroom, I’d make short order of it and read as long as I thought I could get away with it. I’d tuck the book between the towels in the closet if Mother came to inspect the bathroom! Her favorite “hiding” place for my books (a punishment for something or other) was on top of the extra leaf under the dining room table. I was a good detective even then!
The passion flower vine is yielding NO Gulf Fritillaries, the reason we planted it. I had hopes of seeing the whole life cycle–eggs, caterpillars, cocoon, and butterflies. The vine is taking over our garden, and I will have to wage war on it shortly! But the flowers are beautiful and smell heavenly!
Thanks for sharing, Lisa!
Ha! I looked and looked at the dark drawings in Dante’s Inferno and the Bronte sisters’ novels that I found in boxed sets on the shelves. Also read all of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories (maybe sixth grade?), scaring my young self to sleeplessness. My dad read mostly newspapers and magazines, but my mom always had nature and poetry books at her side–I remember especially Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay, and Anne Morrow Lindberg journals (the authors of her day). She read a lot of essays of a variety of authors, and talked about them. I do like essays and poetry now—-maybe an inherited leaning. My current essayists/diarists/poets of choice or accident: Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, Mary Oliver.
The flower photos are incredible.
Thanks, Deb! I love Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver. I used to assign “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” to my gifted students. Great concrete imagery there!
Excellent assignment! Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’s second chapter on “Seeing,” is what inspired my habit (in retirement of course) of one hour of daily backyard meditation, which in turn inspired me to start my own “nature blog.” I also enjoy her humor tremendously.
Mom’s favorite mystery writer was Robert Parker. She liked Parker’s crisp dialogue and appreciated the diversity of detective Spenser’s friends: Hawk, the African American sniper who drove a Jaguar and Susan the psychologist who didn’t like to cook. My first foray into the world of adults was a sneaked (snuck?) copy of Rabbit Run. There I learned about episiotomies and post-partum depression. What a shock! Nice work, Janet. Thanks for your review.
I vividly remember my mother, like Deb Miller and her hour of meditation, always making time each day to have some quiet time
to herself for reading. She was an avid book-of-the-month sub-
scriber reading mostly current fiction–a particular favorite was
Anya Seton. Remember “Dragonwyck” and “The Winthrop
Woman?” At the time, I thought they were quite racy! I, too,
read “Violet Grant” and just loved the intriguing mix of romance,
espionage and foreign climes–a great beach read for sure.