Book Crush: The Black Count

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Happy St. Patty’s Day folks! Today’s Book Crush takes place at one of my favorite outdoor reading venues in Bellingham. On the walk between downtown and Fairhaven, there’s this ramp overlooking the water that is peopled with wooden benches. And while they may not be the softest benches ever, the view is great, the air is salty and I can’t think of many places I’d rather read on my day off…always providing it’s warm enough of course.

SunsetRamp

When my girlfriend Scarlett and I were girls we loved the book The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m not sure what appealed to us. The adventure, the exotic locales, or just the writing itself. Later in life I picked up The Black Tulip, another adventure story by Alexander Dumas, and thoroughly enjoyed it both as a discussion of a very interesting time in horticultural history and simply because it was a ‘ripping yarn’.

black countBeing also a fan of history itself, I was delighted to come across this book one Sunday afternoon. Author Tom Reiss spent over a decade researching the life of Alexander Dumas’ father, General Alex Dumas. And when you start to look at the facts, suddenly Dumas’ outlandish tales of derring-do and conspiracy seem a lot more grounded in reality.

Are you interested in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era? This book will give you a whole new perspective on them. It turns out that Alexander Dumas’ father was the son of a French gentleman and a Haitian lady. Tom Reiss delves into the history of the sugar plantations in the Caribbean as well as Napoleon’s failed attempt to conquer Egypt. The range of this book is fairly far-reaching, all told through the lens of one incredible man’s life story.

My only beef with this book is that I would have liked to see more primary sources from the perspective of General Alex Dumas. That said, perhaps not many of his letters have survived. In either case, I enjoyed Reiss’ spare, though evocative prose. And this is a story that certainly needs to be told. Even just the two pages devoted to the fate of Toussaint Louverture’s sons gives the reader a greater understanding of that era, as well as the contemporary era. It is an unmasking of history that has been buried for too long.

If you enjoy reading history, pick up this book next time you’re at the bookstore. Reiss’ book is well-researched, finely written and significant. Plus it’s a ripping good yarn.

Book Crush: Tokyo Bound

The front facade of Village Books

Today’s Book Crush takes place at Village Books in Fairhaven. I often walk there on my day off. Three floors of books, both used and new, a little cafe, and my favorite part, lots of “staff picks” cards. I like to browse through them and often find my next book that way.

Village Books Collage2

Two of my favorite summer reads of 2013 to date have a major character in common: Tokyo. I’ve been fascinated with Tokyo for awhile, especially now that one of my good friends is actually living there. The first is Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel: A Tale for the Time Being. Ozeki is one of my favorite contemporary novelists. My husband introduced me to her work years ago with her excellent novel, My Year of Meats.a-tale-for-the-time-being

The main character in A Tale for the Time Being lives on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia with her eco-historian boyfriend Oliver. She is a novelist and she is trying to finish a memoir, which seems to be going slowly. When she finds a bag containing a diary supposedly written by a sixteen year old girl called Naoko living in Tokyo, her search to find the ‘truth’ about this girl speaks to the conflict between fiction and reality, and the essential unreliability of both. As with most Ozeki novels, I had a hard time putting this book down. I was that interested in the journey of her characters.

The cityscape and culture of Tokyo play a big part in this novel. I wanted to read more, even if I couldn’t actually go to Tokyo right then and there. Luckily for me, I picked up this next book by chance a week or so later.

pretty good number onePretty Good Number One is a very different book, it is non-fiction, but similarly interested in Tokyo and the culture. Written by local Seattle author Matthew Amster-Burton, this is a great, fun summer read, particularly for those with travel lust of a culinary variety. The premise is simple. A father and his daughter, obsessed with Japanese cuisine, decide to spend a month in Tokyo exploring the city and all that it has to offer foodies. What a delight. From tales of ramen restaurants to onsen to bar culture. It’s so much fun to see it through the eyes both of the father and the daughter both, as well as the long-suffering mom that they’ve drug along on this fantastical food odyssey.

I enjoyed each of these books thoroughly and felt like I’d gained new insight on the city of Tokyo. Now I’m thinking I just might have to do some exploring of my own one of these days soon…

 

 

 

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