Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Most of us read novels, looking for a good, absorbing story. Sometimes we skip the description of the setting because we're engrossed in the plot, anxious to learn what happens next. Sometimes it's such a good read, we go back and look at those details we may have skipped over at first.

There are quite a few books that I have reread many times. I already know the story from the first read, but I enjoy living in the time period and location and situation the author depicts in the book. It's a way of traveling without leaving town.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri, first published in 1880, contains loving depictions of the Swiss Alps. Much of it takes place in a small mountainside cabin where the child Heidi is cared for by her grandfather. What they eat, how they get around, and how they spend their days offer a fascinating contrast to contemporary life. The description of time spent in the quiet mountains, the air and the grand glaciers above, are absorbing and well written. Little Women takes place in New England, not far from Boston, in the 1860s. Again, you learn of clothing and the manners of the time, how children are reared, what kinds of social events people enjoy, how they travel. Anne of Green Gables describes small town life in eastern-Atlantic Canada. The beauty of the land and farms there make one long to go back in time, to ride in a horse drawn buggy through the apple trees in full bloom in spring.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith introduces the reader to an impoverished family living in a dilapidated, romantic castle in the 1930s. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the life of a poor family of Irish descent creatively surviving in the 1930s and 40s. The details of city life in New York, and how kids spend their days, are informative and enriching. Many of Dick Francis's mystery stories take you to the world of horse racing in England 1960s. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories take you to the life of a single man who lives in London, but whose work takes him to different parts of the country. The plots in such books are great, but you also leave with knowledge of different ways of life, that people are the same across centuries, but they also are different. The Old Testament, which goes back more than two thousand years, contains many interesting details about food, government, shelter, and travel in the Middle East.

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