Books & Friends - A Memory

I lost a friend to lung cancer a couple weeks ago. She was a friend I "walk-talked" with on a weekly basis, an irrepressibly charming travel agent who was an avid reader as well as raconteur. Can you imagine a more entertaining walking companion? She lived with the diagnosis for six years, participating in support groups to help others adjust to their diagnoses. Her endurance surely set some kind of record, but I think her upbeat attitude set an even more important record, and made a great impression on me.

In the last six months, Beverly organized a small (I mean diminutive: three of us) book club, and began to charmingly dominate our selections. Basically, we read Beverly's favorite novels and travel memoirs. And it was wonderful! I wish I had gotten a full list from her of everything she would recommend reading, because her selections never disappointed.

There was the white camel in Towers of Trebizond, who became one of my favorite long-suffering and slightly insane characters in fiction. There was the girl who came of age in I Capture the Castle, writing a journal to stay sane while her insane writer-father holed up for years in the castle's tower and read murder mysteries but did not write a word that would feed his family. There was the Jane Austen Book Club, whose characters began to resemble us as we discussed them.

What was even better than discovering great and often overlooked books through Beverly was discovering their authors. Created by authors of high imagination and skill, these gems were among many worth reading by Dame Rose MacAulay, Dodie Smith (of 100 Dalmatians fame) and the up-and-coming Karen Joy Fowler. So many more hours of excellent reading lie ahead of me this fall.

I'd like to add my own small contribution to our book club's list: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, surely one of the funniest and most lyrical memoirs ever written. Why has no one ever made a movie of this wonderful story of a curious English child running loose in the fields of Cyprus with a magnifying glass, baetted by a truly bizarre assortment of tutors? Makes me want to write protest letters to filmmakers. And of course, there are scores of other books Gerald Durrell wrote, though none quite as good as this one.

It's one thing to discover a great book; it's another to discover a great writer. I have had a satisfying literary year in this regard. I just wish I had more time to read. And more time to read with Beverly.