How could I ever decide, for example, between that funny, tragic, romantically beautiful re-telling of the King Arthur story, The Once and Future King, and my favorite Jane Austen novel, the melancholy love story, Persuasion?
And what about series fiction? Do all of the Little House books count as one big delicious book? I say yes, but then do I bring my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder books to the island at the expense of the six volumes of the Lymond Chronicles -- filled with Scottish history and gasp-causing intrigue and yearning romance, and written in the most gorgeous prose? NO! -- I couldn't bear it!
Even within one author's works, I could never choose: The Solace of Leaving Early stays on the list because I love the two little girls at the heart of the story so much (Eloise and Madeline, who must change their names to Immaculata and Epiphany), but -- leave the stoic and heroic Cassie Claiborne of Something Rising (Light and Swift) behind? I don't think so!
You see my dilemma.
My book group companions -- and well, really just about every one of my friends -- have seen me get worked up while describing any particularly fabulous book. But I will say that there is one book that has literally caused a "When Harry Met Sally" moment for the people who watched me recommend it.
This one -- let's call her Mary -- was there to witness it. She and I had traveled for the day to the Green Valley Book Fair, which is just as wonderful as it sounds. It has gotten a lot fancier, by which I mean air-conditioned, since she and I went, but the main concept is the same: four times a year, this book fair (really a series of inter-connected barns) opens its doors and lucky book-lovers can wander among thousands and thousands of book titles, and buy books at a bargain, bargain, bargain cost. It's heaven, I'm telling you.
The books are sometimes shelved like at a regular bookstore, but they are also sometimes displayed in piles on tables. Mary and I were standing at opposite sides of a table, on which were stacked about ten copies of Possession, the Booker Prize-winning novel by A.S. Byatt. She casually asked if I had read it.
Had I read it? Oh, my dears.
I immediately and rapturously began to tell her all the ways it is wonderful: it reveals the intertwined stories of two fictional Victorian poets and the modern day researchers who discover a startling relationship between the nineteenth century writers. It's a multi-layered love story, and a witty commentary on the wily ways of modern academic researchers, and it's filled with lush poetry and diary entries that shock the reader and passionate love letters -- all created by Byatt herself . . . . As I rhapsodized about the book, I picked up a copy from the pile on the table. Look how stunning the cover is! I love all the Pre-Raphaelite painters, so the cover makes me cherish the book even more. I gazed at the illustration adoringly as I continued on. Gosh -- it was so pretty! I began to stroke the book lovingly as I talked, and Mary began to smirk as, one by one, the other shoppers in the room (all women) began to take copies of the book for themselves. When I came up for air, I was holding the only remaining copy of the book.
Mary just looked at me, and then held out her hand and said, "I guess I'll buy it then."
"Book List" (2010) by Patricia Mumau