The first book I picked up was Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat, a supernatural romance--a precursor to vampire romances, I suppose. I thought it would be unintentionally funny and fast. But, you guys, I just couldn't. Back then, ESP was all the rage, and the main character kept talking about communicating with her lover telepathically--except she'd never met him and had certainly never boinked him. But she called him her "lover." Repeatedly. "My lover" this, "my lover" that. Eww. This struck me as the telepathic version of the sweaty Internet troll hiding in his mom's basement. Thirty pages in, I had had enough. I never did find out why she wasn't supposed to pet the cat.
Next I tried Interview with a Vampire. Here we go, I thought, a classic! This is hugely popular, it's been a movie, reading it will put me more in touch with our cultural zeitgeist. Really all it did was confirm that for me the only vampire story worth reading is the original modern version (thank you, Bram Stoker). I just don't care about sexy vampires. And in Interview in particular, I wasn't prepared for the implications of pedophilia. Was that even in the movie, or was I too naive to catch it? I'm sure in the seventies that was very taboo and titillating, but we know better now and I just found it distasteful, if not actually offensive. Thanks for playing, Interview, but you've been eliminated.
So I was feeling desperate. The day before the library closed for our big move, the last day the collection would be easily available, I did one last maniacal search for books published in 1976--and found Ursula Le Guin, bless her. Le Guin is known for sci fi and fantasy, but Orsinian Tales is beautifully ordinary. The book is a series of eleven short stories set in an imaginary eastern European country called Orsinia. Only two of the stories relate to each other, and each addresses a different aspect of world history, from rural life in the middle ages to Communism in the 1960s. The stories, which are not presented in chronological order, are about people struggling to live their ordinary lives under the weight of immutable world events.
Orsinian Tales is everything I love in a book. It is both quiet and lyrical. It is simple and profound. I'm so enchanted with this book that, when I thought I'd lost the library copy, I immediately ordered a replacement because I believe we need to keep this in the collection. When the library copy turned up again, I gave the new copy to a friend rather than return it. I'm terrible at evangelizing my faith, but this book? I will sing hymns to Le Guin and to Orsinia for the rest of my life.
|Immediately after retrieving the library copy |
from the pharmacy's lost and found.