Set in India in the Twenties toward the end of the British Colonial Raj, it's a story of the ill-fated attempts of some of the occupiers and one of the natives to get to know and understand one another.
I'm not surprised it made several 100 Best Novels lists. It's got it all -- beautiful, luminous prose, exotic setting, clashing philosophies/religions, timeless observations of human nature, and a compelling story.
It makes me want to read more about India -- how it became a part of the British Empire and how it gained independence. (All stuff I vaguely know but need a refresher on.)
And there are some really great lines: "Ronny approved of religion as long as it endorsed the National Anthem, but he objected when it attempted to influence his life." (Boy, if that didn't make me think of some people today. . .)
The Captain's Wife is a novel based on the true story of Mary Patten, the young wife of the captain of a clipper ship making the run from New York to San Francisco in 1856.
The voyage is plagued by a mutinous first mate who has to be imprisoned and then by a sudden debilitating illness that renders the captain incapable of commending the ship. The wiling but inexperienced second mate is left in charge but he doesn't know how to navigate. Fortunately Mary does, having learned how on a previous voyage and they form an unlikely partnership. But will the crew obey them and will they weather the perilous passage around Cape Horn?
It's a good story, full of interesting details about shipboard life. in those times.
This collection of essays begins with The Odd Shelf -- the shelf in one's personal library that contains an group of books whose subject matter is quite different from the rest of the library. Whether it's pornography (Philip Larkin) or polar expeditions (Anne Fadiman or Arthurian matter (me), it's revelatory of the library owner's deepest interests.
She relates the logistics of combining libraries -- hers and her husband's -- an issue John and I have more or less dealt with. His particular books are in his study and mine are more or less everywhere else.
I especially appreciated the essay titled 'Never Do That To A Book' and Fadiman's confession: "The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. To us, a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign of not of disrespect but of intimacy."
My best-loved, often read books bear the signs of that intimacy. (N.B.: My own books that is -- I treat borrowed books with great respect.)
Ex Libris is a charming read for book nerds like me. I enjoyed it so much I'm leaving it out rather than shelving it as I want to read it again. Highly recommended.
"Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of the refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves. How could it be otherwise?"