The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro I began my saga with this story by seeing the movie, the favorite of a dear friend. I had always heard that this was a story of great, if greatly hushed, despair and so would not usually have chosen it for a summer read. But when, one day last summer in Breckenridge, I realized I had not packed a book and was desperate for a novel, I hied me down to the shelves of my usual hodge-podgey bookshop, Ole Man Berkins Used Books. After an hour of browsing, this was the only thing that caught my eye, so I bought it. Read it. And think it masterful.
It's a bit of an upstairs/downstairs story set in WWII era England in the country house of an old British family. The narrator is "Stevens," the professional and deeply dignified butler of Darlington Hall. His very decided opinions and great personal passion for dignity (his own, and that of the family he serves) are the lens through which we experience the river flow of history as it plays out amidst the ordered rooms and quiet gardens of Darlington Hall. But the memories center on a particular housekeeper, Miss Kenton, a woman of excellent management who left the staff years back in order to marry; a decision inimical to the professional servant. At the time of the book's opening, Stevens is charged by his new American master with finding a housekeeper, and this begins his journey to meet with his old friend (and perhaps something dearer) Miss Kenton. His correspondence with her, his journey to meet her after many years, and the memories that each thought of her sparks forms the frame of narration.
The chapters in this book are long, and you will find yourself wondering at times why you are investing so many reading hours in the very subjective views of a rather self-centered old man. But then will come a moment, when some event is off-handedly described by Stevens, and the grief of it is expressed in his stilted words in such a way that you want to weep. And wait until you get to the last and discover the thoughts that give this book its title. I dare you heart not to ache. In an entirely literary and good way, of course. This whole book is the story, not of a house, but of Stevens' heart and the quiet ways in which it stretched, and hoped, and broke. This is a story to deepen a reader's perception of the dramas that play out amidst the ordinary, forming us all for hope, or ultimately, grief. I loved, loved this book.
I can't help it; I have to tell the story of where I found a book before I can tell why I like a book. This enlightening tome, I discovered on the shelf of our hosts in Beijing. There I was, desperate for a book to help me over jetlag and the word "beauty" leapt out like lightning on a summer night. Beauty is my long study and one of the things I am always trying to do is articulate a little better why it is so vital a force in our experiencing and loving of God. This book is a hymn to the holiness of beauty. Starting with explanations of form and aesthetics, the author moves on to a chapter by chapter celebration of God's beauty as it fills our world and draws us to himself. He examines the way loveliness, grace, is woven into the fabric of our earth; in the dances of atoms, in the harmony of space and time. He looks at creation, at oceans and forests, giving us a tour of the beauty that keeps them in life. And he ends with a tribute to the most beautiful creation of God: a man or woman of heroic virtue. This was a book of great, uplifting joy to me and an affirmation of the beautiful nature of the God I love. If it seems a bit long, I encourage you to skim it. Just read the chapters that capture your eye, but enter this hymn no matter what because it will give you eyes to perceive the miraculous nature of the world in which you live.
There seems to have been a window of time in the 40s and 50s that produced a spate of epic, biblical novels. Lloyd C. Douglas, the author of this book, is famous for the movie version of his novel The Robe, with Charlton Heston as star. But this is my favorite of Douglas' books; the tale of Peter, disciple of Christ, founder of the church, and fisherman follower of God. But it is so much more than that, beginning in Arabia, with the story of a high-spirited princess, moving through the Roman towns and colonies with characters from peasants to kings, and then into the Jerusalem streets of Jesus' time. This is an exotic, epic novel, colorful as a spectacular dream, adventurous as a hero tale, yet deepened by characters who each encounter Christ in a way that alters the course of their lives. If you need a good vacation book, or a fun read-aloud (my siblings and I did over half of this aloud together years ago), or just an epic story in which to lose yourself, try this.