December 29 was my birthday – never you mind which one, you saucy imp – and Don and I went to see “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” at the movies. We seldom go to the theater any more. It’s too expensive, except for the odd special occasion, as well as too loud for my delicate shell-like ears, at least in recent years. I think younger movie goers are all hard of hearing. This must be the reason theater owners turn the sound up to the level of a mortar attack.
In any event, I stuffed my ears full of bits of paper napkin and was thereby able to enjoy the movie very much. I have seen all the Potter movies, but this is the first one I’ve seen at the theater rather than waiting for the DVD. I liked this installment even better than the first three, and seeing the incredible sweep of it on the big screen added to the enjoyment. I have read all six of J.K. Rowling’s books. I love them quite as much as anybody. In her writing, Rowling does the thing I enjoy most in a book – she creates people I’m interested in and a world that I love visiting for a while.
Thinking about the Harry Potter series led me to consider other authors and series that I admire. I love good historicals as well as books set in exotic locales. If the author can take me there and let me live there while I’m reading, I’m happy as can be. I just finished reading Tears of the Giraffe, the second installment of Alexander McCall Smith’s series set in present day Botswana. Smith’s series makes me want to visit Botswana and get to know Mma Precious Ramotswe, founder of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I loved Mma Ramotswe especially because she reminded me of my own sleuth, Alafair, even though they live half a world and almost a century apart. Both those ladies are immenently sensible and both simply know what’s right.
As for books that let me visit far-flung locales and time-travel as well, some of my favorites include Colleen McCullough’s five book series on the end of the Roman Republic, the first of which was The Grass Crown. I also greatly enjoy Laura Jo Rowland’s series set in 17th Century Japan (The Perfumed Sleeve is one of the titles), and her Samuri detective/chancellor/family man Ichiro Sano. I’ll read just about anything by Pauline Gedge. Her specialty is ancient Egypt, and she wrote a wonderful three book series about the founders of the 18th dynasty, the brothers Kamose and Ahmose, the first of which is entitled The Hippotomus Marsh. The thing about these books that sets them apart, in my humble opinion, is that they are about human beings, and families, and daily living, and how ordinary people deal with extraordinary times and events. Give me a real human story any time.
In the same vein, other books and series that are about real people in interesting places and times include anything by Steven Pressfield, who is one of my favorite writers of all time; the Falco series by Lindsey Davis; the “Gordianus the Finder” books by Steven Saylor; Get Out or Die and A Bitter Chill by Jane Finnis. And let us raise our glasses at last to Ellis Peters, author of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, who inspired me to write a mystery of my own.
I could go on and on, but I suspect your eyes are glazing over, Dear Reader, even though I left out Larry McMurtry, among others. Has anything better than Lonesome Dove been written about my own corner of the world? I don’t think so. However, I shall leave my favorite Western-themed books until another time. If you would like to let me know what books have given you the most pleasure over the years, I would love to hear from you, and perhaps post the responses. Until then, I wish everyone a Happy New Year. I hope 2006 is a fruitful year for all.