Have you ever read a book that while not the greatest book in the world filled the need for the moment? I suppose in essence I’m talking about escapist reading. Usually about this time of year, I begin longing to run away and travel somewhere. Sometimes I’ll read travel writing to sate this need. Or I’ll turn to some historical fiction. That’s why I read Kate Turnivall’s upcoming book The Russian Concubine—sounds torrid doesn’t? It’s set in China, 1928 in the International Settlement. 16 year old Lydia Ivanova, daughter of White Russian Valentina Ivanova, supports herself and her mother picking pockets while also attending school. She meets Chang An Lo, a handsome Communist (also skilled in Kung Fu of course) who is constantly on the run from Chiang Kai Shek’s troops. There are a few more story lines involving Lydia’s teacher and mistress, whose father happens to head the Triad gang the Black Cobras; Lydia’s mother and a newspaper man, whose pockets Lydia pick; Mr. Mason, whose daughter Polly also is Lydia’s best friend. All the stories intertwine, some of the well, some of them forced.
I might not sound like I enjoyed reading this book, but I really did. It’s like a chocolate craving, you need it that moment and only chocolate will fufill that need. I needed something that I could easily read in a day or two but also immerse myself into a different world. I use sci-fi for this too. While this book fulfilled that need, I’ve have more satisfying books in the past. For one thing, everything wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste. And some of the more serendipitous conclusions were unbelievable. Overall, I enjoyed losing myself in this book for two days even if I have reservations about it. But that’s the point of this type of reading for me, losing myself for a few days in a book.
I’m completely with you on the pleasures of escapist reading. I read a lot of mystery and YA novels for this purpose. Some of them are brilliant books, but others are not and I often get considerable pleasure from them nonetheless. Recently, after years of believing fantasy to be a genre I’d never embrace, I have found myself voraciously binging on Terry Pratchett books and enjoying them enormously.