What Margot Livesey’s Been Reading

Margot Livesey—whose newest opus, House on Fortune Street, you should include in your to-be-read list—writes:

When I was almost five my father married my stepmother and we began to spend our summer holidays in Pitlochry, the small Scottish town where my stepmother’s sister lived. There were four things that interested me in the town: the putting green, the salmon ladder at the dam, the trains that whistled as they passed through on their way to Inverness or London, and the library. But it often rained, the fish were capricious, the trains sometimes mute. Only the library was utterly reliable. Most summers I read at least a book a day.

If only this were still true, but it is true that I look forward to summer as a time of unfettered reading. This year I have already got a head start by reading David Wroblewski’s The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle in galleys. I love how much Wrobleski knows about dogs and I was fascinated to see how he reenacted Hamlet.

Joan Silber, whose last book, Ideas of Heaven, was a finalist for the National Book Award, has a splendid new book: The Size of The World. It’s being called a novel but in many good ways the book feels more like a collection of linked stories as Silber moves back and forth between her various characters, and between America and Viet Nam, Thailand, and other countries. This is an immensely readable book with vivid, unforgettable characters. It is also a book with real gravitas as Silber deftly explores the complex relationships between America and other parts of the world. Reading this book made both my brain and my life feel larger.

Staying within the confines of America, I just finished Don Lee’s Wrack and Ruin, which is set in a fictional town in Northern California. Lee explores the fraught relationship between two brothers, Lyndon and Woody Song, to delightfully comic effect. But the book isn’t just funny. Lee is very informative about a whole range of topics: plovers, Brussels sprouts, filmmaking, keeping fit, contemporary dating, small-town politics.

Summer isn’t, however, only a time to keep abreast of my contemporaries; it’s also a time to go back both to books I know and love and to those I’ve woefully failed so far to open. I am re-reading Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris. I adore her fierce, heroic, larger-than-life children and her ability to go deeper and deeper into a situation. She is a mistress of suspense. Another book on my re-reading pile is Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows, a book of such glorious subtlety and intelligence that it makes me want to stop passersby in the street and press it into their hands. And I am eagerly looking forward to reading—shamefully, for the first time—Henry James’s The Bostonians. I feel I need a dose of his intricate sentences and sidelong sensibility. And at not quite the other end of the spectrum I hope to also dive into Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library.
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