August 4, 2017

books books books ...

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones - YA fantasy/fairytale, light, fun, quirky, witty.  Just what I needed after a bunch of "darker"/heavier/depressing-er stories.  And then I followed up with Diana Wynne Jones' sequel House of Many Ways, which was all kinds of Meh.  I'll skip the 3rd in the series, Castle in the Air.  (ps. Little Dude liked Howl's quite a lot, also. Neither of us much enjoyed the animated movie version.)

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry - exquisite writing and character development, but I had a hard time getting thru this book - picked it up and put it down several times over the span of several months, which likely spoiled my enjoyment/understanding of it.  I like my fiction to read like fiction.  Jayber Crow is fiction, but it reads like non-fiction with a huge dollop of philosophy (traditional agrarianism, encroaching industrialism, pacifism, theology & ecology) and historical documentary (rural life in Kentucky, 1920s-80s).

Flannery O'Connor just keeps getting better every time I read/re-read her.
A View of the Woods
- short story by Flannery O'Connor (Close Reads bookclub)

The Enduring Chill - short story by Flanenry O'Connor (Close Reads bookclub)

The Comforts of Home - short story by Flannery O'Connor (Close Reads bookclub)

Belles on Their Toes by  Frank B. Gilbreth and  Ernestine Gilbreth Carey - the continuing story of Cheaper by the Dozen.  Delightful, enjoyable, funny, poignant ... just like the first book.

Adam Bede by George Eliot (bookclub) - ugh.  I've written my thoughts on this on two separate occasions, neither of which have saved for whatever reason.  I give.  Simple conclusion: not as good (even remotely) as Middlemarch.  If you've never read Eliot, skip this and go straight to Middlemarch.

The Busman's Holiday by Dorothy Sayers -
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers -
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers -
Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers - (all free library e-book downloads)  whodunnit mysteries. Sayer's method includes all the pertinent details, so you too may solve the mystery alongside Peter Wimsey (and Harriet Vane), be you so inclined.  Fun fluffy reads.

The Aeneid by Virgil (bookclub) - read this to flesh out my "big-3" epics of Western Civ.  I enjoyed Homer more.  Not that Virgil is bad (duh).  Just not my cuppa (my bad).

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place:
The Mysterious Howling
The Hidden Gallery
The Unseen Guest
, all by Maryrose Wood - quirky, fun, well-written, slightly snarky, totally humorous young person stories.  Reminds me of Lois Lowry's The Willoughby's (which I highly recommend!)  Plays with words, history, classic literature & language.  Silly.  Escapist.  Fluff.  Minor fault-finding: I don't quite like how long the main "mystery" story-line plays out - 3 books in, no resolution.  I know the eventual big reveal will be anti-climatic and not based in reality, and not that bid a deal; nonetheless, I get a little frustrated with books that don't resolve at book's end.

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin (trans. by Lisa Hayden) - I have a hard time describing this book.  It's quite good, excellent even ... perhaps even a future classic.  It's epic for sure. Russian Orthodox in its Christianity.  Medieval.  Yet quirky modern at the same time.  At the risk of over simplifying, it's a story of one man's lifetime ... a man with four different names at four different times in his life ...  a child apprenticing the healing arts from his grandfather, a rural healer himself, a holy fool of sorts, a pilgrim, and eventually a monk.  At its heart [I think] the story is about Redemption.  Nearing the end of the novel: "This was inquired of Aristides the righteous: how many yeares is it good for a man to live? And Aristides answerd: untill he does understonde death is better than lyfe. People leave without reading the conversations with Aristides.  They bow to Laurus and wish him many more yeares.  God forbid, Laurus answers them soundlessly."

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo - lovely illustrations, precious story. So good.

Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo – this one is a little “heavier” than DiCamillo’s usual fare.  Still lovely writing.  Still full of heart.  But these characters are broken and damaged by big loss.  And the ending is sad and full of hope, all at the same time.  Probably not a good book for younger readers/listeners.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (bookclub) - this is a big long book; as such, I'm not going to try to put my thoughts in any kind of order, but instead, here are my stream of consciousness responses ... firstly, foremostly:
      1.  it's one thing to be in the head of a character who may be racist (one can even argue for the importance of having such characters), but it is an altogether separate thing to be in the head of a narrator/author who is completely Racist and Pro-Slavery.  In fact, for me, it’s an odious thing.  GWtW is a hard slog from the perspective of being in the head of someone who so strongly sympathizes with the “glories” of the pre-Civil-war Southern Way of Life. 
2.  Mitchell uses the word “florid” altogether too often.  
3.  The narrative of a way of life that’s gone with the wind is tremendously well documented.  
4.  The romances are slightly elevated above hokey Harlequin levels. 
5.  The bildungsroman (novel of formation, education, culture, aka a “coming-of-age story”, the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood) of Scarlett is top notch.  Also, Scarlett is far from your “traditional” protagonist.  She’s dark and messy.  She’s not sweet.  When she acts unselfishly (I counted 3x this happened), it’s almost entirely unconsciously.  Flannery O’Connor also creates dark & messy characters; but, it’s always clear that FOC *loves* her characters.  I can’t figure out if Mitchell actually likes Scarlett.  If I knew more about Mitchell herself, perhaps I could answer this question?
6.  GWtW is a soap opera.  
7.  Mitchell is not subtle – if she wants you to really understand what she’s saying, she’ll reiterate herself a dozen+ times.  She will not take the chance that you (the reader) might incorrectly interpret what she’s saying in between the lines.  No need to infer or extrapolate meaning.  She spells it all out.  Specifically. Ad nauseum.  See? 
8.  In a recent-ish Close Reads podcast, Angelina Stanford solidly grouped Mitchell with the other “Lost Generation” post-WWI writers (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Eliot, Faulkner, et al) and suggested that Mitchell wrote a solidly Lost Generation book that’s placed in the context of the American Civil War instead of WWI.  Some of the prominent themes the Lost Generation writers addressed included the over-the-top decadence and frivolity of the lifestyle of the rich, the death of the “American Dream” (and the idealization of the past, mourning its passing), the disillusionment & disorientation felt by those who survived the war, a chipping away at the understanding of traditional gender roles. GWtW certainly has all these themes. 

The Alchemist  by Paulo Coelho - this is a quick read. More an allegory/fable/novelette than a full novel. [I have since discovered that the story has its origination in one of the stories in the 1001 Arabian Nights.]  It’s a simply told story, and there is certainly an elegance in the simplicity and in the “parable” nature of the narrative.  Coelho cleverly overlaid elements of traditional Biblical stories, Koran instruction, and New Agey “Control-the-Universe-with-your-mind”  mythology.  So, I liked The Alchemist from the perspective of a story well-told and from its emphasis on being aware and “alive” in each moment .  But the non-subtle, new-age, self-helpy theology made me all kinds of itchy-scratchy.  Bottom line: I both liked and disliked this book.  I confess I'm a bit befuddled as to why it’s one of the best-selling books of all time.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - when I need something totally not depressing, or when I need something that restores my faith in mankind, Anne is my go-to.  So I've gone to her again.  I think I may read thru the whole series again.  I can't read this first book without picturing the entirety of the first movie, which was perfection.  (I'm referring to the 1985 film, NOT the 2016 PBS film, which I did NOT like at all.  Don't mess with perfection.)

1 comment:

Anita Johnson said...

I love Wendell Berry. And the old version of Ann of Green Gables? The best!