Books to Start 2020

A new year, a new decade, a new look, a new book.  I have three books to start..  Have you read them?

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow

I learned a new word listening to Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, an auspicious way to start a new year of reading.  The word is temerarious – defined as reckless or rash, as in “having a temerarious disposition.”  But maybe you already knew.

As the story begins, the narrator is a young girl, condemned by that term, simply because she has curiosity and imagination – and her name is January.  I’ve progressed to the second chapter with her aged to seventeen, and am convinced this audiobook will entice me to walk more (a resolution many of us may have made in the new year) as I listen and escape through doors into adventure.

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

I still use the recipe for spiced hot chocolate from the movie Chocolat, based on Harris’s book-

Revisiting Vianne Rocher in her French chocolate shop in Harris’s The Strawberry Thief enticed me to hope for more sweets.   Although Harris has written books since Chocolat, this is the first sequel, continuing the story.


by Jacqueline Woodson

After a long time on the library wait list, Woodson’s Red at the Bone is finally available to me.  Tangentially, I just finished listening to Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House.  I had read and reviewed the book when it was first published, but I needed to prepare to discuss it in a book group.  The narration by Tom Hanks was like reading it for the first time.  How does this connect to Red at the Bone?

Woodson and Patchett have a mutual admiration society.  I had heard Patchett sing Woodson’s praises, and then watched them together on stage answering questions about Commonwealth and Another Brooklyn for a Library of Phlladephia program.  Their new books (The Dutch House and Red at the Bone) have a common theme in the story of a mother who leaves her child/children.  It will be fun to compare notes.

What are you reading in January 2020?



Gentlemen and Players

A civilized tale of a British boarding school with traces of Goodbye Mr. Chips and Dead Poet’s Society slowly evolves into an insidious pursuit of revenge and murder in Joanne Harris’s Gentlemen and Players.  

Harris concentrates on the plot to overturn the school and destroy the reputations of the faculty, but the underlying theme is Snyde’s pitiful teen years, yearning for a different life.  Snyde grew up poor, living in the rundown gatehouse of St. Oswald’s, a posh school for boys, but he was able to insert himself anonymously into the school society.  Pretending he was a student was simply a matter of stealing the uniform and avoiding detection. Eventually, he finds a friend at the school; Leon unknowingly helps Snyde’s efforts to assimilate.  As the story opens, Snyde – with a new name and a fake resume – is one of the new teachers at St. Oswald’s, and the mole that will destroy everyone there to revenge an incident that changed his life.

Harris, better known as the author of Chocolat, flips back and forth from young and then grown-up Snyde and Roy Straitly, the 64 year old Latin teacher trying to make it to his 100th term.  To identify the speaker, Harris only reveals subtle clues, changing time and place, sometimes making the story hard to follow.  Using the analogy of a chess game, Harris plays her pieces as slowly as a real match.  False rumors, well-placed incriminating evidence, and innuendos that lead to gossip and then suspicion – the moves that lead to dishonor and murder.

As you patiently read through the endless descriptions of school boy pranks, teacher idiosyncracies, administrative foibles, and the computer shock to elders, you might be tempted to skip the details, but Harris drops hints that are easily missed; this is a book you need to read slowly.  Harris hits you with a surprise ending you will not anticipate; I won’t spoil it by telling you, but it was worth the drudgery of getting there.

After the plot’s climax, Harris offers an insightful perspective on the futility of revenge that reminded me of Christie Clancey’s essay for the New York Times.

“The whole idea of revenge… is a childish day-dream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless…”

George Orwell