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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hilary Mantel: The Best Author Alive

I do most of my reading on the subway. Used to, before I had kids and their accompanying strollers, backpacks, lunchboxes, diaper bags, etc., I would regularly brave the train with huge hardcover books. I remember some particularly good workouts I got with a biography of Daniel Webster (a book that I ended up leaving in a cab before I finished it).

These days, though, I always wait for everything in paperback. That rule-- and the fact that I haven't succumbed to a Kindle -- is why I'm probably the only person I know who has not read Hilary's Mantel's Wolf Hall. As soon as I read a few sentences about it I knew that it was a book that I had to read. But I refused to break my paperback rule, even for such a book. Instead I delved into Mantel's early work starting with A Place of Greater Safety, one of the books on the Deedle Deedle Dees fall reading list.

A Place of Greater Safety is a book about the French Revolution, an absolute masterpiece of historical fiction. For me personally, it was also a turning point in my reading life. Before this book, which I read earlier this year, I found myself lifelessly turning the pages of current novels that critics and friends adored but that I found terribly boring. Even my beloved history books had lost their appeal. I kept reading them, but mostly out of obligation and compulsion.

I won't say anything further about A Place of Greater Safety except that you must read it. It saved my reading life. I'm now back to devouring every book I see -- bad books, great books, everything is fun again.

Also very worth your time are two very different books by Ms. Mantel: Beyond Black and Every Day is Mother's Day. Again I'll say very little about either except that both are ghost stories (of a kind). Read this New Yorker piece if you need more info: Actually, if you can wait, read one of Ms. Mantel's books before you read this article. It's far more fascinating to find out about her real self once you've met some of her fictional ones.

Wolf Hall, by the way, just came out in paperback. As soon as I finish Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (the Deedle Deedle Dees book club selection for September) you know what I'll be reading. (More on Kidder's book in a future post)