Books: The Heavy and the Light

I have a terrible habit of starting books and then abandoning them for long periods of time before going back to finish them. Sometimes this is because I get busy, but a lot of times it's because the book isn't the right "weight" for how I'm feeling at any given time.

I'm moody, maybe, and easily affected by the weather and the seasons. The kind of thing I'll read on a plane might not be the same kind of thing I'll read in a hotel room. What I want to read while sitting out on my deck is different from what I want when soaking in a bubble bath (yes, I read in the bath). So I end up with a stack of two to four books that I'm working through at any given time. And my Goodreads profile looks like a scattering of literary orphans.

Some months ago, for example, I started Smiley's People. I'm more than halfway done but kind of got bored with the story (which is strange, since I also think it's better than some of the others I've read in this series) and decided to pick up The Dante Club. I've been really enjoying that one, but it's a bit gruesome and gives me really strange dreams if I read it right before bed, so . . .

Okay, time out. Let me take a moment to explain this other of my habits. I really like Regency romance novels. A lot of romance publishers don't even have Regency lines any more, they just lump them in with "historical fiction" nowadays, but for a long time Regencies were popular enough to have their own branding. So every now and then I'll go on eBay and find some huge lot of old Regency romance paperbacks and buy it. Because I like having these kinds of light fare on reserve. These books are good for a quick read, for sitting outside in the sun, &c. And I know they won't give me nightmares before bed!

So anyway, at this point I went to my box of reserves and drew out two titles: A Perfect Arrangement by Ellen Rawlings (Diamond, September 1992) and Kenton's Countess by Janeane Jordan (Harlequin Regency, June 1992). Both equally silly and just the right kind of thing for quick snatches of time and/or breaks between writing and laundry and dealing with the children.

They say if you've read one Regency romance you've read them all, but I think you'd need to read about four to get a full picture of the possibilities. There are the ones that take place entirely in the country, the ones that take place entirely in London, those that start in the country and move to London, and those that start in London and "retire" to the country. Then there are ones where the girl's family has a lot of money and others where the girl's family is genteel but poor. (The men are pretty much always wealthy.) It's common to have spiteful siblings and/or a deceased parent. And a lot of time is spent describing people clothes, their hair, their horses and carriages (curricles, phaetons, and so forth). I once started to write a Regency romance myself but never finished it. Maybe I should dig that old project up . . .

The Dante Club is a historical of another stripe, seeing as it is set in Boston shortly after the end of the Civil War and features as its main characters very real historical figures. I've read bits and pieces of Dante, am pretty sure I was supposed to read all of it at one point (what with a minor in Classical history, which included Milton and Orlando and Spencer's The Faerie Queene among other things—none of which I read all the way through, though I've happily read Homer, Ovid and Virgil many times over, as well as any number of the Greek and Roman historians) . . . We have some DorĂ© prints from Dante and Milton, in fact; they hang in the guest bath to keep anyone from lingering too long.

But anyway, The Dante Club doesn't really require a working knowledge of Dante; the author does a nice enough job of filling the reader in without it being too obvious. Still, I have the feeling I might be having more fun with the story if I did know Dante. It is, in short, a literary murder mystery, somewhat graphic in its details of the murders being committed. I'm sure I'll get back to the book sooner or later, since I am at least curious about how it end (don't tell me!).

And as for Smiley, well, I'll come back around to him too at some point. His is not really summer fare, but maybe come fall or winter . . . When the sky lowers and the days grow heavy, that's when I feel the need to pick up the weightier books, as if I were a librarian squirrel laying away a stash in preparation for colder days. But for now I'll enjoy the sun. And the semi-ridiculous tales of Regency misses and their handsome, aristocratic suitors.

No comments: