The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was a delight. The plot is a typical romantic comedy: two unsuitable people meet, argue, split up, meet again, argue, split up, meet again, and through a series of improbable adventures, eventually fall in love. (Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy, Scarlett and Rhett, Harry and Sally, etc.)
One of the unsuitable partners in The Rosie Project is Don, a 39-year-old professor of genetics at a prestigious Australian university. Don is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum. He’s incredibly smart and disciplined, but lacks social skills. He wants to find a wife. THE PERFECT wife. He devises a 30-page questionnaire to screen wife-candidates for intelligence, height, weight, food tastes, social class, musical preferences, Body Mass Index, and their habits regarding smoking, drinking, coloring their hair, using makeup, and more. Lots more. He meets Rosie, a barmaid who fails to meet almost every one of Don’s standards for the project. But Rosie has a project, too. She wants to find her real father. Rosie has the social skills. Don has the scientific expertise in genetics. They join forces to test the DNA of men Rosie suspects might be her father. They collaborate, argue, break up, collaborate, argue – you see where this is going. They fall in love.
Its sequel, The Rosie Effect, is almost as delightful as its predecessor. Rosie turns up – unexpectedly and unintentionally – pregnant. She’s working on her PhD and her MD degrees simultaneously and doesn’t intend to let pregnancy slow her down.
Don begins preparing for fatherhood. He researches the perfect diet for pregnant women – what to eat and what not to eat – and insists Rosie follow it; he witnesses a birth; and he decides to visit a playground, sit quietly on a nearby bench and observe small children interacting with each other. Of course, he gets arrested. How he gets out of this predicament and how he and Rosie deal with the impending birth of their baby is at times poignant, at times laugh-out-loud.
Gulp by Mary Roach. Roach takes readers on a trip down the alimentary canal. The journey is informative, enlightening, at times incredibly funny. It deals with all aspects of eating – smelling, saliva production, chewing, digesting, vomiting and flatulence and more. You get the picture. It also answers that burning question: Did Elvis really die of constipation? It’s an informative and amusing read. Roach describes the workings of the gut in great, gurgling gory detail.
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones and The Importance of Being Seven, both by Alexander McCall Smith. I love these stories (Smith has nearly a dozen) of Edinburgh dwellers: Matthew and Elspeth, the newlyweds; 6-year-old Bertie who is smarter than the average boy; Bertie’s overbearing overprotective mother Irene and his wimpy father, Stuart; Angus Lordie, artist; Angus’s friend Domenica; Big Lou, the owner of the local coffee shop who has a string of bad news ex-boyfriends; and more. The plots meander in and out and eventually come together here and there, now and then.
In The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, there’s also a Jacobite Pretender, a priceless “found” portrait of Robert Burns, and a gangster named Lard.
In The Importance of Being Seven, Stuart finally stands up to Irene and takes Bertie fishing; Elspeth discovers she is pregnant with not one, not two, but three babies; Angus and Domenica and their friend embark on a Tuscan vacation with two surprising results. These are gentle, palate cleanser books. They’re good to read after wolfing down a five-course meal like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or before tucking into Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I loved this book. I didn’t want it to end, but was also anxious to see how it could possibly end. Actually the wind-down to the final scenes took a circuitous path that lasted a bit too long for my taste. Nevertheless, I really liked this story.
I was surprised to discover that Moyes classifies it as a romance novel. It’s much, much more. Louisa Clark, a twenty-something from a loving English family of limited means, takes a job as “companion” to Will Traynor, thirty-something former corporate wheeler dealer who – as the result of a tragic accident – is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He’s a depressed and suicidal quadriplegic. Louise was hired by Will’s mother with the hope that she’d help him snap out of his depression and start living again. After learning of his plans to go to Dignitas, a place in Switzerland where people can commit suicide with dignity, Louise sets out to show Will that his life is valuable and worth living. She plans “outings” and “adventures.” Some are successful, others are dismal failures. But she gradually teases him out of his negative attitude. He, in turn, opens her mind to new possibilities for her heretofore ordinary life.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. What a charming book. It reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and the Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potato Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Quiet, but profound. Easy-going, but introspective. Humorous. Full of real people, real motivations, real conversations, real emotions.
A.J. Fikry owns a book store on a fictional Island near Nantucket. He’s a voracious reader. The bookstore business is going downhill. He’s a recent widower, still grieving and grumping about the nasty turn his life has taken. One day, his only valuable asset, a rare copy of Tamerlane, an obscure early book of poetry by Edgar Allen Poe, is stolen. On the same day, a two-year-old child is abandoned in his book store. He adopts the child, names her Maya. His life begins to improve on all sides. Sales increase; he has a sunnier outlook; he begins a love affair with Amelia, a publisher’s rep; he gets more involved in the community; and so on. Sounds trite and predictable, but it’s done in such a charming manner one can forgive the predictability.
I’m looking for someone else who sees this as a remake of Silas Marner by George Eliot, published in 1861 and required reading for a college course I took back in the 60s called History of the Novel to 1900. Silas Marner was a snoozer, but The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is a dream.