As a writer, I am constantly urged to read contemporary fiction if I hope to be published. I am always on the alert for new authors I may not have discovered yet or for recommendations from friends or in the media. I have on my bookshelf at home numerous books that I have acquired over the years from car boot sales, charity shops and via Amazon. Friends and family know that a book will be well received as a present but there are so many that I want to read that I fear my life span may not allow me time for all the wonderful books that are out there waiting to be read.
Until recently, I belonged to a local reading group which was started over ten years ago. However, after some thought I decided in the autumn that I wanted to choose my own reading for a while at least. So far I have clocked up many more books than the one a month I sometimes struggled with and reading is once again great fun.
We are fortunate in Swanage that our library didn't close when many others in Dorset and wider afield were being cut. Far from being closed, our library was given a face lift, work that took around nine months, during which time we had to queue up at the mobile library on the sea front. The online book reservations system really came into its own during this time. I only have to enter a title on the Dorset Libraries website and I will be able to reserve it online, then I receive an e mail when the item is awaiting collection. In the past I have rashly ordered books online only to see them sit on my shelf, not quite hitting the right spot to make me pick them up to read. Now I borrow the books first and if I find it a great read, I will either find it in a bookshop or online and buy my own copy.
However, last week I took two books back to the library and went round the shelves for a 'muse'. A book caught my eye that had been placed with the full cover exposed at the front of one of the bookshelves. It was Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan. I looked inside the front cover and saw it was published in 2009. There were several date stamps for 2010 and 2011 but more recently with our updated system the books are scanned electronically so no dates are now visible - this has always been a guide as to a book's popularity. I am sure there is a way to search the system for that information but I have better things to do. With this technology, it is possible to print a receipt but I rarely do this as I know I will receive a reminder e mail when the book is due back.
What a good read Ellis Island was and I haven't stopped recommending it. The book is in three parts, the first set in rural Ireland where two childhood sweethearts are growing up. John has homely loving adoptive parents who have taken him in after the death of his own parents. Ellie lives a dull, drab and over disciplined life with a father who was 'nearly a priest'. Meals are basic and uninteresting, her mother cold and unloving. Ellie is welcomed in John's adoptive home where she enjoys stews, apple tarts, hot milky tea and the love she lacks at home. The sweethearts eventually run away to be married but within a short time John is involved with the War of Independence. When he is wounded, Ellie has the chance to go to America, working and sending home the money for an operation which will enable him to walk again. Ellie's life in America, although initially hard, has much to offer, compared to her life of poverty in Ireland and she stays on longer than the proposed year, although her heart remains with John. This is a captivating book and one of the best I have read this year. Part two, set in America, shows Ellie's determination to succeed. When her father is dying she returns to Ireland finding it primitive - her hand automatically brushing the wall for an absent electric light switch. She is desperate to get back to America but somehow she is able to bring something of her life in America to Ireland.
Next on my shelf is The Help, a present from my American penfriend. It has good reviews so I am looking forward to it. However, I am off to the library tomorrow to find some other delights.
I am not sure how helpful reading such wonderful books is when you are trying to write a book yourself as your own efforts fade in comparison but we will persevere!
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