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Check It Out

Courier Article by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, November 11, 2001

Slender Novels

Short books are very popular at this time of year as we get ready for the busy holiday activities that don't leave us time to get into longer volumes. A rainy afternoon curled up on the couch with a cat; a cup of tea and a good little book is my idea of a perfect day. There is an abundance of slender new books on the shelves of your public library that will fill the bill; today's recommendations are just a small sampling which are listed by page length, from shortest to longest. So find some time from your hectic schedule in the next month or so to enjoy a good little book.

The Gryphon: In which the extraordinary correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is rediscovered by Nick Bantock (Chronicle, 2001).

Followers of the fictional Griffin and Sabine will be happy to learn of the return of these mysterious characters in an equally mysterious sequel. For those not acquainted with Bantock's earlier works you must start with the first Griffin and Sabine trilogy (ask your librarian). All these books are little works of art, full of postcards, foldouts, and letters, which the reader takes out of envelopes and reads with an almost guilty pleasure. I finished this in less than an hour but spent more time marveling at the artistic flourishes that make Bantock's books works of art. Fans can look forward to several more volumes that may solve the mystery of who Griffin and Sabine really are, if that is possible. At 58 pages this is the quickest read on the list.

War Story by Gwen Edelman (Riverhead, 2001).

A first novel that follows a woman taking a train to Amsterdam to attend the funeral of her ex-lover. In flashbacks she examines her love for this older man and their own feelings of guilt about surviving the Holocaust. She was the daughter of parents who escaped to America and he was a boy who fled Vienna and lived by his wits during the war. At first I thought this wouldn't be my sort of book, maybe a bit bleak and depressing, but I was drawn along on this train trip and this strange love affair, and am looking forward to Edelman's next book. A quick trip of 168 pages.

Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail by Bobbie Ann Mason (Random House, 2001).

Mason has been writing wonderful books, both big and little, for a number of years. She hails from the Paducah, Kentucky area, which makes her almost a local author. This new batch of short stories focuses on middle aged characters who are caring for elderly parents, returning home or trying to come to terms with their own aging bodies and lives. Often short stories are just a quick fix and I don't read the whole collection, but these have a poignancy and a down-to-earth quality which kept me reading one after another with great pleasure. 205 pages which can be read in any order at all.

Virgin: Prelude to the Throne by Robin Maxwell (Arcade, 2001).

When the future Elizabeth I of England was 14 and in the care of Catherine Parr, her beloved stepmother, she became infatuated with Thomas Seymour who Parr had married too soon after Henry's death. Seymour was not the jolly stepfather and doting husband that he at first seemed to be. He lured Elizabeth into a betrayal of Parr to further his own political aims. That Seymour was in the end beheaded for treason and Elizabeth was skillful enough in human relations and statecraft to eventually become England's greatest Queen is well known. What passed between Thomas and Elizabeth is given a fictional interpretation in this lively and sexy little book (243 pages) which kept me entertained and added to my knowledge of an interesting period in history.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 2001).

The year is 1665 and life in a small English village is almost idyllic until a tailor lately come from London dies suddenly from a mysterious illness. Within weeks others are stricken and it dawns upon the residents that the plague is in their midst. The tale is told in the voice of Anna Frith, a young widow from a poor family who after losing her two children to the disease is mentored by the wife of the village's visionary minister. He leads the people in their decision to close themselves off from the rest of the land in order to stop the spread of the contagion. Though flawed by a heroine, who seems to have a twentieth century sense of values, the 308-page story nevertheless moves along at a rapid pace and is interesting in its historical detail and varied cast of characters.

Sandy Schultheis is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.