Monday, March 29, 2010

Bicycling Books

Excuse me, sir or ma'am.  Are you staring into space on a bicycling break?

I'd never think of taking a ride without a book. Choose something light in weight and substance and carry it with you at all times.  Forget about hardbacks or trade paperbacks:  that copy of Kristin Lavransdatter is too big. The terrific thing about mass-market paperbacks is that (a) they fit easily in my bike panniers and (b) there's a wide variety that won't tax my brain. Although War and Peace is available in a mass market edition, Proust is not. Both books are too darned heavy for bicycling anyway.  One summer I read P. G. Wodehouse forever.   It wasn't terribly compelling but it was a slim volume, lots of fun, and I can always follow a story of Lord Emsworth and his stolen pig.

My current bicycling book is The Listeners, an astute, thoughtful, well-written  novel by Monica Dickens about the Samaritans, a group that runs a hot-line for potential suicides.  Monica Dickens, who is Charles Dickens' great-great granddaughter, is better known for her humorous autobiographies, One Pair of Hands,  the story of Monica's experiences as a "cook-general" after she is kicked out of drama school); One Pair of Feet, her adventures as a nurse during World War II; and My Turn to Make the Tea, an account of her work on a weekly newspaper.

The Listeners focuses on three Samaritans who have their own problems, among them Paul, an ex-teacher whose alcoholic wife destroyed his career.  It also vividly portrays three potential suicides.  Dickens, who has a real sense of social justice, also unflinchingly looks at class differences.

Dickens, who was involved with the Samaritans in England,  helped found a branch of the Samaritans in Massachusetts in 1974.  The Listeners might be a tiny bit preachy, but it is an unusual "issue" novel and the characters are a  bit grim but not without humor.

And it fits the criteria of a good bicycling book, meaning one can put it down, segue back to the real world, and get back on the trail.


verity said...

By bicycling book I thought you meant reading whilst ON the bike (I have seen someone do this!) - lol! I enjoyed The listeners - an intriguing read. Have you tried her kate and Emma?

Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds interesting... a confession is that I have never read Monica Dickens despite coming across her quite a bit... do you have any recommendations of where to start?

Thanks for sharing


Frisbee said...

Oh dear, Verity! I can't chew gum and cross the street at the same time. I'll try to figure out a way to clarify that.

Hannah, my favorite Monica Dickens is One Hair of Hands (one of humorous autobiographies). I also loved Mariana (available from Persephone).

Brian Hayes said...

I've read most of her books, and am almost up to this one (reading them in order of publication). Have recently been a little disappointed with Kate and Emma and The Room Upstairs, as they are both far removed in either or both outlook or setting from her earlier novels.

I'd be interested to learn if The Listeners is set in England or North America.

Frisbee said...

It's set in England, but she did set up a branch of the "listeners" in the U.S.

I enjoy what I've read by Monica Dickens, but haven't read the ones you mention.

Brian Hayes said...

Hello Frisbee, and thank you very much for the answer, and for the recommendation. I'll look forward to reading The Listeners.