Sometimes I get the feeling that it is not me selecting the next book to read, but that the book is waiting for me to read it.
Recently I read two books that beautifully complemented each other without me realizing it until I delved into the second one.
The first book is by one of my favourite nonfiction authors: Ross King. His books take place in Italy and are all based on historic facts. I loved Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michaelangelo and The Pope’s Ceiling. Both books took me straight into medieval Italy.
When I saw the new, and beautifully executed title The Bookseller of Florence, I had to read it.
The book is a feast for the eye and focuses on all things book: the history of writing, printing and producing manuscripts. I have never left so many sticky notes all over the pages because I wanted to remember all of the fascinating tidbits.
I did find this book lacking in story line. It did focus on one person: Vespasiano da Bisticci who created and preserved many important books and was the hub of scribes and book producers in medieval Florence. However, unlike the other books, I did not get swept away with strong characters and a spell binding plot. The nonfiction facts, however, were fascinating enough to keep me reading. I learned much about the creation of original books, and enjoyed meeting Gutenberg and learning more about his press. Ross King’s knowledge about politics, economy and life in Europe in this era, is more than impressive.
• The Bookseller of Florence, Ross King, ISBN 978-0-385-69297-7, Doubleday
Having read that book first, I was amazed when I got into my next book, a fictional story called The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer. I am not crazy about adult fiction but this one really appealed to me because of the ‘scribe’ part and because I spent time in Siena. Having been there, I could totally picture the setting: the streets, the Campo, the tower, the church.
This story starts in New York and is contemporary. Neurosurgeon Beatrice Travato inherites a house in Siena. It’s well written but involves time travel – something I wasn’t sure about in an adult novel. I enjoyed time travel in children’s books like The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn. But in this realistic adult book? Hhhmmm… However, the story is so well told that I did not mind the time travel aspect, although I did find I had to buy into it. Beatrice time travels, in a solid, believable manner, to Siena of the mid 1300’s. The book is mysterious and exciting. The solid research behind it makes the characters (names I recognized from the nonfiction book), life and setting real. I was glad I had the knowledge of the previous book, The Bookseller of Florence, because this one too, focused on a scribe copying on parchment. A fascinating read and highly recommended as a twosome.
• The Scribe of Siena, Melodie Winawer, ISBN 978-1-5011-5226-9, Simon & Schuster