The Avid Reader
Photograph Luisa Porter
Whether enjoying the glow of a retiring sun falling across the pages of a current read on her side porch in West Point or perusing the poetry and cooking selections in an Irish bookshop, retired Presbyterian minister Rita Cochrane practices what she preaches. When asked for book recommendations, Cochrane encourages readers to maintain a highly varied literary diet:
1. Classics — They have stood the test of time and enriched the lives of a broad spectrum of people. The Good Earth by Pearl Buck is a good example. It just won’t go away. Books are still being written about her and her work.
2. Contemporary Poetry — It speaks to us in our own time, makes us laugh or cry or feel the irony of life. Try the works of Billy Collins or Mary Oliver.
3. Fiction — Because we all need to dream and see life from a different perspective. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is fiction, but offers a very realistic look at 1960s Mississippi and the unlikely relationship between a white socialite and two black maids who trust her enough to work on a book about their lives and the lives of domestics during that rapidly changing time in the South. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is a work of fiction based on an historic event that doesn’t appear very often in the history books. Although there is at least one plaque in Paris commemorating this time, it is understandably not a welcome topic of everyday conversation. It took place in 1942 during a roundup of the Jews in Paris. Sarah’s key plays an important part in the story of the young girl sent away with her parents.
4. Non-Fiction — It helps us understand our world today by looking at periods of time or events in depth. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson is written mostly from diaries and other documents. It gives us a look at Berlin during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. William E. Dodd became U.S. Ambassador to Germany in 1933, a significant time for the U.S. We not only read about what was going on politically, but, more intimately, also read about what life was like for his daughter, Martha.
5. Fictionalized Memoir — By its very nature, a memoir usually bleeds over into fiction. Miral by Rula Jebreal tells the story of three generations of Palestinian women from the perspective of Miral, a teenage girl who came of age during the late 1980s. The real heroine of the book is perhaps Hind, a real-life figure in Palestinian history who played a major role in Miral’s life and that of the other women. This is a controversial book that was made into an even more controversial movie of the same title. Jebreal also wrote the screenplay for the movie.