I love how an idea from one book can lead me down a path exploring a certain theme, author, time period, etc. What I sometimes love even more is how I can accidentally pick books with common themes that I discover somewhere in the middle of the second such book. In the past couple of weeks, I've read three books where speech and language are at the forefront: Bel Canto (P.S.) by Ann Patchett, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi.
The first one, Bel Canto (P.S.), turns out to be one of the best books I've read so far in 2011, and it was a book I had not heard of other than its mention on NPR's list of Best Beach Books Ever, so I put it on my to-read list. In it, party guests are held hostage at the home of a vice president of a South American country. Most of the women are soon released, except for Roxanne Coss, an American opera singer known throughout the world. Those who remain are held so long that they have the chance to form meaningful relationships and bridge the gap between gender, ethnic, social and cultural differences. The most important part of what the hostages and their captors learn from each other, in my opinion, was to speak each others' languages. This book was so powerful that I cannot imagine how I have gone this far in my life before reading any of Patchett's work. Now all the rest of her novels are on my to-read list too. This summer Patchett visited Oxford, Mississippi's independent bookstore, Square Books. A podcast of her visit is featured on the store's blog.
My book club chose to read The Sparrow for our September meeting, which was last night. This is one of those books I probably never would have chosen to read on my own. One of the things I love about book club is branching out and reading things like this. It's a science fiction, futuristic book about a group of Jesuit anthropologists who find life on an asteroid and visit to learn about its people. The book is full of memorable, fantastic characters, and I became attached to most of them as I read. One of the main characters is Emilio, a Jesuit priest and linguist. When his group of earthlings encounters those living on Rakhat for the first time, he is the one who steps forward to speak to them for the first time and begins to understand their language. Russell wrote a sequel to this book called Children of God (Ballantine Reader's Circle). I hope to be reading that one soon while all the details from The Sparrow are still fresh in my head.
The third book is related to the Oscar-winning movie, which I saw in the theaters and absolutely loved (I almost never go to the movies. I wait and watch everything on Netflix. Based on what's going on there, that may soon change!). I usually read the book before I see the corresponding movie, and 95% of the time the book is better. I have to say I was disappointed in this book. As it turns out, the book was written by King George VI's speech therapist's grandson, who began researching their relationship out of curiosity after the movie was already in production. I didn't think the book was particularly well-written, as this is a topic that I'm all over and frankly, I was bored in places. I did like that it expanded upon the relationship between the king and his coach in places where the movie couldn't. The movie built up to King George's speech to the British people when Great Britain entered World War II. As the book explains, the king's relationship with Logue lasted for years, and Logue was called upon to help the king with many, many speeches. If you're particularly interested in this, read the book; otherwise, just watch the movie again.
The next couple of books I'm planning to read will also deal with language but in a slightly different way. A post on that will be coming soon.