Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.

I love books. If I find a good book, I can read it cover to cover without taking a break even for food. I love nonfiction, essay collections, short stories, graphic novels, but my bread and butter is straight up fiction. I love getting lost in the story of a really good novel.

The last book I read that completely and utterly enchanted me was I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (author of The One Hundred and One Dalmations.)

I borrowed it from a friend who insisted I would love it. And I did.

In a nutshell, it is about a family who lives in a dilapidated castle in the middle of nowhere England. The story revolves mostly around two sisters, the older, beautiful Rose and the younger, observant Cassandra, who narrates the entire thing as the book is her journal. It opens with, "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

When two rich young bachelors move in next door and become their landlords, Rose sees it as an opportunity to help the family by marrying into wealth, "Darling, do you remember how we stood watching the woman buying a whole dozen pairs of silk stockings and you said we were like cats making longing noises for birds? I think it was that moment that I decided I would do anything, anything, to stop being so horribly poor." Meanwhile, Cassandra charmingly 'captures' all of the escapades and antics that come from Rose's scheming, while including and pondering on her own observations. "Perhaps he finds beauty saddening — I do myself sometimes. Once when I was quite little I asked father why this was and he explained that it was due to our knowledge of beauty's evanescence, which reminds us that we ourselves shall die. Then he said I was probably too young to understand him; but I understood perfectly."

This novel is beautifully written without being condescending and it's cute and funny without being insipid or trite. Like the English countryside it doesn't make excuses for itself; instead, it offers a setting for personal contemplation. Like most books, I devoured this in hours. But it was so exceptional that I went back in for a re-read and bought my own copy so I could read it again and again and again.

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