A Year in Books ~ The First Parcel

default_1_1So, I came in yesterday to find The Bears all of a twitter.  This was most unusual because whatever they may really have been up to while I’ve been out they normally at least pretend that butter wouldn’t melt as soon as they hear my key in the lock.      But not yesterday.  Yesterday something was afoot.  The cause of all this excitement?  There on the hall floor was a book shaped parcel, a book shaped parcel with my name on it!  The first Heywood Hill selection had arrived.

I brought it into the living room, sat down on The Bears’ sofa and together we looked at it.  After all the anticipation opening it seemed an almost impossible act.  I decided a cup of tea was in order, no scrub that, a pot of tea – and possibly a scone as well.

Into the kitchen, on with the kettle and all the time wondering what I would feel like if it was a book I’d already read, a book by an author I knew I didn’t like, a book I was sure I wouldn’t be able to warm to.  By the time the tea was made I had just about convinced myself that the best thing would be to give it back to the postman and tell him I didn’t live here.  (Given the amount of junk mail with my name on that he delivers I suspect he might not have believed me but anything’s worth a try.)  However, The Bears were not having any of that nonsense and so I finally began to dismantle the parcel.

I realise now that I should have taken pictures of every stage so that I could show you just how much care Lisa had taken. Next month I’ll try and remember to do that and then you can share the anticipation with me. The book wasn’t just thrust inside a jiffy bag.  It was hand wrapped in crisp brown paper, held together by a beautifully tied length of blue ribbon and then placed inside a proper cardboard book carrier.  So, like a game of pass the parcel, once I’d got the first layer off there was still further to go. 

imagesAnd the book?  Had I read it?  Was it by an author I couldn’t stand?  Did the very subject matter repel me?  Fortunately, no, no and no. What Lisa has sent is a book that I remember looking at when it came out in 2002, probably because it was on the Orange shortlist, Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire.  Here is what Amazon says about it:

The Great Fire is Shirley Hazzard’s first novel since The Transit of Venus, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981. The conflagration of her title is the Second World War. In war-torn Asia and stricken Europe, men and women, still young but veterans of harsh experience, must reinvent their lives and expectations, and learn, from their past, to dream again. Some will fulfill their destinies, others will falter. At the centre of the story, a brave and brilliant soldier finds that survival and worldly achievement are not enough. His counterpart, a young girl living in Occupied Japan and tending her dying brother, falls in love, and in the process discovers herself.

In the looming shadow of world enmities resumed, and of Asia’s coming centrality in world affairs, a man and a woman seek to recover self-reliance, balance, and tenderness, struggling to reclaim their humanity.

What Lisa couldn’t have known is that my father was a Far East POW during World War II and so I will find the Japanese element of the book extremely interesting.

Although the book didn’t win the award that year, there are recommendations for it from several authors whose work I automatically read as soon after publication as possible, writers such as Ann Patchett and Michael Cunningham. What is more, it is published by Virago, which is as good a seal of approval as you could ask for. Of course, if any of you can recommend it then that would be an even better omen that when I come to sit down and read it I am going to be in for a treat.

It has gone straight onto the top of the tbr pile and I shall turn to it as soon as I have finished clawing my way through Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh.  I don’t enjoy magic realism at the best of times and I find Rushdie particularly hard to engage with.  Every day I am dutifully reading a set number of pages to ensure that I’ve finished the novel in time for the next book group but the words are just passing through my mind like so much water and how much I will have retained when we come to the discussion goodness only knows.  Still, I’m sure the rest of the group will be only too glad to have me silenced for once and it certainly means that any book which follows it is going to seem like manna from heaven.  Expect a report in the near future.


31 thoughts on “A Year in Books ~ The First Parcel

  1. Thanks for letting us share in the excitement of receiving and opening your first parcel! I haven’t read The Great Fire but it’s a book I would be interested in reading. I hope you enjoy it – it sounds like a good choice for you, especially as there’s a personal element.

    1. I’m hoping to get to it by the weekend, Helen and as it’s not that thick it shouldn’t take me too long to get through it – although I know that’s not always an accurate indicator.

      1. I haven’t, Alex, but it’s on my list. A friend whose opinion I trust was raving about it recently. I think it had been chosen by her book group. I gather that Hazzard’s writing is beautiful.

  2. What a really lovely treat to come home to! I’m surprised the bears didn’t open the parcel and then quietly tape it back up again in order to at least take a peek! 🙂 Isn’t it nice the care that bookstores still take with their customers? I think they chose well–I read a book by Shirley Hazzard a few years ago–it was challenging but very good and it prompted me to buy another of her books (I have this one on my TBR pile myself). Enjoy! Would love to see the presentation/wrapping, too. (You know how sometimes you have to live vicariously through others…. 😉 ).

    1. The outside wrapping wasn’t taped so any peeking on The Bears part would have been rather obvious, Danielle, besides they are Good Bears (or so they tell me!). I think the book most people know by Hazzard is ‘The Transit of Venus’ which if this turns out to be a winner will have to go quickly onto the tbr pile.

  3. Have you read Hazzard before? I read her for the first time a couple years ago, Transit of Venus. Loved it. I have The Great Fire on a shelf somewhere. Perhaps it will make its way to the top of my tbr pile in the coming year. Lisa’s gotten off to a good start with you!

    1. No, Stefanie, although that is the one book of hers that I have heard of. A number of people have said how good it was so if this proves to be a hit then that is where I will be heading next.

  4. This is one of those books I’ve looked at and wondered about in the library, but never picked up. An interesting first selection. Parcels tend to get barked and growled at here, but of course that’s the difference between bears and dogs.

    1. It isn’t the barking and the growling but the chewing that means The Bears have very strong views about dogs and is the main reason one has never come to live at our house with us.

  5. The Slaves read one of Shirley Hazzard’s novels a while back – Transit of Venus. It was beautifully written, I remember. I’m just so happy that your first parcel was such a success. And the wrapping sounds gorgeous!

    1. That was the one novel of hers that i had heard of before, Litlove. What I loved about the packaging was the crisp brown paper – none of your fancy patterned stuff!

  6. No. No. No you cannot do this to me. I had just reached the point where I decided I would not buy another book until I had read at least 10 from my current stock. And now you come along with something that just sounds wonderful. Not fair!!

    1. Isn’t it always the way? Every time I think I’ve got some sort of order to my reading something new comes along and proves the saying about the best made plans.

  7. It’s a good thing the Bears made sure you kept the package. And phew – we’ve all been holding our breaths and crossing our fingers, hoping you would like the first book. And at least you like the sound of it, so hopefully this is the start to a wonderful year of new books.

    1. I’ve just started it Christina and at first I wasn’t sure about it at all but suddenly it proved to be one of those books that gripped you without you quite knowing why and now I am deeply engrossed.

      1. Yeah me too. I just want to know what will happen to those poor kids. And at the same time I’m almost feeling confined myself while reading it so it’s not an altogether pleasant experience.

        1. No, pleasant is not what I would call it either, partly because there is so much emphasis on the way in which the destruction of both individuals and communities is still going on despite the war being over.

          1. Alex, I misunderstood your reply to my first comment. When it showed up in my wordpress app, I thought it was a comment to the Flowers in the Attic group read I’m participating in. Sorry!
            Both books are unpleasant apparently – but yours sound really interesting!

            1. Even more complicated by the fact that there are a couple who could well be described as ‘young people.’ I shall have to look out for ‘Flowers in the Attic’ next time I’m book buying.

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