Reading Novels: “The Cat’s Table” and “The Paris Wife”

Reading novels, actual books in three dimensions, remains one of the great joys of my life. Thanks goodness for my book club, which holds me somewhat accountable for a book a month, and often picks fiction. I read lots and lots and lots and lots of nonfiction in my line of work as a writer and a journalist.

I’m a novelist, too—the author of Glass Halo, an acclaimed finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize—and so novels can feel like work, too.

But there’s something different about novels, something more magical, more true.

Recently, I finished “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain and the month before that “The Cat’s Table” by Michael Ondaatje. Both books enthralled me, and I found myself making time to turn pages again.

These two novels came back-to-back after a period during which I’d struggled with reading. Even fiction. Books seemed so dense to me, my mind wandering, distracted by Tweets and Pins and Likes and the like.

The simple pleasure of curling up with a book won me over again.  I read on the front porch and in the back yard. I carried the novels in my purse for stolen moments standing in lines here or there.

Literary fiction can sound intimidating, but the genre essentially favors characters over plot. I missed the characters once the books drew to the ends. Therein lies the magic of fiction: Characters who seem as real to us, as true to us, as those inhabiting our daily lives.

Curiously, both “The Paris Wife” and “The Cat’s Table” included elements of truth. “The Paris Wife” included historical figures: Ernest Hemingway and his first and second wives, Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. Michael Ondaatje did indeed board a ship to make passage while a young boy, and ocean liners named Oransay were noted in actual shipping logs.

But in the end, in my mind, fiction rings more true than fact. And is, of course,  less strange.

Don’t be a stranger to books. The entertainment and educational value of reading—whether fiction or nonfiction, whether a book or an e-reader—is tough to beat.

If you’re looking for a steamy summer read, try Glass Halo, available through, bookstores everywhere,, or as an e-book. 

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