Page-turners and abundance lead to small understandings

The old year ended quietly and the new year started out great. I made time to read — often up to five books were going at once.

Until December rolled around my stock of books was low. I was rereading some favorites, even some that I wondered why I’d bothered to hang onto, but was rereading anyway.

For my birthday my boss gave me the best present — a gift card for the local bookstore. I didn’t waste any time. I went right in. The book I wanted was gone, so I moved on to another — there’s always another if one has the money. I saw “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles and that was a no brainer. When I initially saw his book I opted for an earlier paperback to see if I liked his style. “The Rules of Civility” was good and prompted me to spend some of my precious gift on the new hardback release.

Towles’ book is about a Russian count or rather former member of the nobility who is trying to adjust to life as it is rapidly changing in the 1920s. I don’t know a whole lot about this period of Russian/Soviet history, and have been thoroughly enjoying a book about a man who is sentenced to spend his life in his hotel. Not only is it a story of how the count adjusts to life’s changes, but about the interesting people who cross his path and how he chooses to make life more interesting in his confinement.

“Victoria,” by Daisy Goodwin, also found its way into my arms that day. I love British history and I’ve read other books — both nonfiction and fiction — about the long-reigning queen whose name I share. This also happens to be the book that Masterpiece Theater based a series on by the same name.

I happened to see the program first. I almost never read a book and then see the movie or made for television story. They’re way too different, which is a shame. If it’s a good book, why mess with it? But from what I remember of the series, the Masterpiece production follows the book quite closely. The unique thing is that I now have actors to imagine as the characters I’m reading about. I don’t believe that Queen Victoria was quite as cute as the actress, but they did a fairly accurate job in casting someone who is short. And I have no mental visual about what Lord Melbourne, the prime minister and her private secretary, looked like. I get irritated when the actor looks absolutely nothing like the real person. In books, that’s not such a problem.

Comparisons aside, it’s a good book. Although the research includes a look into palaces I’ve never seen the inside, it’s interesting to visit England in the 1800s.

For Christmas my husband and grandson got me the book I was initially wanting when I got my birthday gift card — Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.”

It’s a fast read, filled with a lot of interesting things about a woman I admire. I’ve read her book “American Grown,” about gardening, but there’s no comparison with “Becoming.”

For some reason, I tend to read nonfiction about adult women looking for comparisons or inspiration. There are no comparisons with Michelle Obama. I have no idea what it’s like growing up as an African American — at least on the personal level that she reveals, I can only imagine. I too come from parents who were poor, but her parents seemed to have goals and a drive that matched. And the comparison ends when I say we both went to college. But there is plenty of inspiration and ways to balance your life within the pages of this revealing book.

It was funny, on Christmas Eve day, before we opened our gifts that night, my husband got two phone calls and then scurried off. Then there was much secrecy as Tom and Caden holed up in one of the bedrooms. There was a trip out looking for wrapping paper and then another for tape. Caden who is just about 5, didn’t say a word. He didn’t even give hints whether I asked or not. He didn’t even show me the package. He just put it under the tree and went on with whatever it was he was doing beforehand.

Of course I was thrilled with the gift and started reading it that night, leaving other open books scattered around me.

What really got my attention before I got the book was that my sister in Idaho said she read it and how much she enjoyed it. Her birthday is eight days after mine although she’s about 15 years or so older. So we were both enjoying the book in our birthday month. Unlike her, I haven’t been reading my books cover to cover, I’ve been enjoying smidgens of the wealth. With an autobiography and several fictional stories, I’ve been happy.

In fact I found that idea in one of the other books I received from my boss as a Christmas present. This is a story about a young woman who goes to work for a popular New York food magazine. It has nothing to do with detectives, but there is a kind of mystery that flows through the descriptions of life in New York and about food. And that mystery carries through concerning the mansion where the magazine was produced.

During the first chapter or so there’s a delightful description of the young woman being lead down several miles of a New York City sidewalk. She meets one of New York’s top chefs, an old-world butcher and a genuine chocolatier before going into a noble Italian deli with the owner who takes her on this adventure. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be there. The descriptions just made me feel good and curious. The words flew by and took me to a place I wanted to experience. After all I had no idea that spring and fall parmigiano existed.

“Delicious,” by Ruth Reichl has her character coming to realize that she is happy with her life. For some reason, reading that gave me pause — that’s something I don’t think about. I know immediately when I’m unhappy and concentrate on it. But I rarely ask myself if I’m happy. Are things going well? How do I feel? I’m fully aware of what I’m feeling when I’m joyous, but I just seldom consider am I happy? The answer is yes. I am happy. I am content.

If I take nothing else away from this novel, except a sense that I’ve had a good time reading it, I believe I’ll start considering more often about whether I’m happy.

And in the midst of deciding which book to pick up, another bit of fiction fell into my hands, “Cave of Bones,” by Anne Hillerman.

I’m more familiar with the books her father, Tony Hillerman, wrote about law enforcement officers in New Mexico. I’m enjoying her book the same way I’ve enjoyed her father’s, they give me clues about the way of life of some Navajos and Pueblo Indians, as well as descriptions about various parts of that state.

What Anne Hillerman’s book made me realize is that reading Tony Hillerman’s book “Skinwalkers,” twice, possibly isn’t enough. I just ran across it the other day as I was sorting through part of my collection to send to my Idaho sister. “Cave of Bones” is interesting, but it doesn’t have that rich intenseness that her father captured in “Skinwalkers.”

Skinwalkers are part of Navajo legends or beliefs concerning people who can change their shapes into an animal such as a wolf or something more sinister.

So why did I get interested in these? I have no idea. It’s not a book that someone who only reads the great authors would pick up. Yet at the same time, I don’t feel the need to slink around and hide the fact that I’ve decided to read something for pure entertainment reasons.

At this point, someone might ask why I’ve decided to write about the books I’ve been reading? I don’t think people read enough books. As a society we’ve become too dependent on the TV and social media for our entertainment and ways of learning about something that doesn’t require a class and a textbook. Our young people, for the most part, aren’t reading books, magazines or newspapers. It’s sad. Are we seeing the end of something that many of us have enjoyed so thoroughly? It’s a part of my life I don’t want to see limited. I don’t want to be around if it goes away.