Tag Archives: memoirs

The Monday Book: CALL THE MIDWIFE by Jennifer Worth

Worth imageOne of the nicest things about vacationing in Scotland is that the books landing in charity shops there are completely different from here. I must have counted six copies of Gone Girl and two of Divergent.

Jack and I scored several titles, including one I’d intended to get to since enjoying the series on Netflix. Call the Midwife is actually part of a trilogy of books Jennifer Worth wrote; the others are Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. (She also did one on hospice nursing later.)

I enjoyed the books, but this is one of the few times I have to say watching the series first helped. I’m not up on 1950s and ’60s medical parlance or practice, and there are details in Worth’s writing that I wouldn’t have understood without seeing them played out in pictures first.

Worth tells her story in simple, straightforward ways. It isn’t her writing that’s attractive so much as the details she gives, her way of understanding how humans are feeling. One might be tempted to use the word “clunky” once or twice on certain passages. She died in 2011, just as the series based on her books was coming to TV. Not having had the chance to meet her, I suspect she’d have proven a great humanitarian rather than wordsmith.

Still, who cares, because the stories in Midwife are fascinating, compelling, and lovely to read after seeing them portrayed. Some were taken straight from the book, others embellished from mere hints and whispers she included in passing. A lot of her descriptions were taken care of with just a couple of camera shots.

Let me say it again: it is the stories and not the storytelling that makes this book a great read. It is a methodical and prosaic capture of a way of life now over: one feels the pavements, smells the odors, and shares the fears and happinesses. Worth writes like a camera takes pictures, presenting snapshots, no corners left dark.

Worth’s life is in itself fascinating. She married in 1963 about ten years after she became a nurse, had two daughters, and left nursing in 1973 to teach piano and voice at a college. And she didn’t start writing until late in life. Midwife came out in 2002, and took five years to reach bestseller status.

Worth reminds me of another favorite book from a British author, The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The older of its authors didn’t start writing in earnest until late in life; her book was also post-humous, and a bestseller, and took a snapshot of a terrifying yet exuberant time to be human.

Let that be a lesson to those of us who write; get going. Stories need to be told more than perfected. Think what else these woman could have given us if they’d started earlier.

 

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What type of Type is your Type?

The other day I walked through the bookstore carrying–of all things–a book, and Jack said, “That looks your sort of thing.”

“Eh?”  I responded, blinking.

“That’s your type of book. I saw it when it came in and figured you’d find it before long.”

Gentle reader, I have never before considered that I have a “type of book,” believing myself more the cereal box variety of bibliophile. Granted, I avoid horror, romance and paperbacks bedecked with sword-wielding bikini-clad blonds, but that doesn’t mean I have a “type.” Of type.

Does it?

In the warm light of Jack’s “Sometimes the person on the other side of the bed sees things you don’t” smile, I assessed my reading habits. Gosh darn it, he’s right. Here are five things guaranteed to make me like a book:

1) It features a road trip. I don’t care where they’re going or what they do when they get there; if  the protagonists are driving, flying, walking, or boating across a big space, I’m in. Queen of the Road, The Great Typo Hunt, A Walk Across America, A Walk in the Woods, even The Long Walk (an escape book from the Gulag years). Heck, one of my all-time favorite pieces of music is Brendan’s Voyage, in which Shawn Davey scored the adventures of two modern guys replicating a monk’s coracle voyage from Ireland to Newfoundland. If the main characters are moving, it’s good enough for me.

2) It’s a fictitious story of a child growing up without recognizing what’s going on around her. I love stories that involve children’s innocence protecting them. Trezza Azzopardi’s Remember Me. The Murderer’s Daughters. Girlchild (a bit less innocent, perhaps). But it has to be fiction; A Child Called It left me cold. Sure, a psychiatrist could help me understand why, but I’ll stick with enjoying the never-ending stream of fiction traffic clogging dysfunction junction.

3) It’s a true story of simple living told with humor. Sweaterwise: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. The $64 Tomato. Farewell, My Subaru.  How Many Hills to Hillsboro. Mud Season. Heart in the Right Place. American Shaolin (although that’s maybe not so simple; the guy moved to Asia and enrolled in a monastery). One can get tired of yuppies run amok among the greener grasses on the fence’s other side, total life changes, or even strange gimmicky publicity stunts akin to reality television for the memoir market. (How low can one go to get a book deal? Don’t answer that.) The “at home” memoirs still delight me.

4) Any book with that gilt foil paint stuff on its cover. The Rose of Sebastopol wasn’t a favorite, but I read it because of its gilt flower frame. The Reluctant Fundamentalist sported foil letters. I even enjoy The Royal Diaries series for girls. Put gold on the cover, and you had me at hello.

This makes me shallow, right? I accept that.

5) Historic fiction with strong female leads. Yes, Philippa Gregory has a lot to answer for; I don’t even like the way Robin Maxwell writes; but if it’s about an ordinary woman caught in extraordinary times (Tudor dynasty, Spanish Diaspora, Druidic and Christian worldviews clashing) color me there. Caveat: the books in this camp range from brain bubblegum to intensely well-researched dissertations-as-narrative; choose wisely. I did once throw Katie Hickman across the room in exasperation.

So now you know: left to my own devices, these are the books I gravitate toward. What’s your type of type?

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Scotland, writing