September 2018

Book Reviews

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The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon Books, 2017. 247 pp.

This book takes place in England and Germany during WW II. One of the main characters is Val Eliot who is a young English woman working on a farm as did other women, and men or boys who were not able to go and fight. She meets Mike, an American pilot who is stationed nearby. And there is Ubi, a German Corporal who is also part of the story. The most enduring character though is Peter Woodhouse, a dog who plays a major role.

This story is about a war and all its horrors. Yet there are so many good people who care and try to make things better during those desperate times.

Smith is an acclaimed writer who wrote the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Novels which some of you may have read. They are usually a lighter read and often humorous. Although a darker theme, this is a wonderful and touching story which I highly recommend.                    

  C.M.

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. Penguin Random House, 2017. 191 pp.

This is a true and remarkable story about a man who chose a life of complete solitude. Christopher Knight lived in his hidden camp ground in the Maine woods for 27 years. During this time he never spoke to another person. For food and supplies he would break into vacation cabins at a nearby lake. He would take books too, because he loved to read.But as the years passed the anxiety over these burglaries increased and in 2013 he was finally found by the police and taken to the Kennebec County jail.

The author, Michael Finkel, who is a journalist, was astonished by the news story about Christopher Knight. He himself had spent time alone in the wild and at times had been attracted to solitude. So he wrote to Chris and gradually a correspondence developed. Eventually Finkel traveled to Maine and had a number of interviews with Chris.

Thus we learn that Chris grew up in central Maine on a farm near the town of Albion, northeast of Augusta. He was the youngest of five sons. A shy boy, he had only a few friends but he was never considered odd or difficult. His parents kept to themselves also, but were hard working and ran a very efficient farm. After graduating from high school he had a job for a few months, but suddenly left it with no explanation.

His years in the woods began in l986 and ended in 2013. It is very hard to understand how anyone would choose to live that way. The author tries to compare the lives of other lovers of solitude such as Thomas Merton, Samuel Johnson, and the Dalai Lama, but the story is still a mystery. At the end of the book Chris has completed his time in jail and we learn where he is living now and what challenges he is facing. This is a very moving book that I will not forget.                                    

– P.M. 


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