October 18, 2017

The Latest Book List ...

"In almost every major literature there are works that make you love being human, and make you love and revere the humanity of other people. That is the great potential of any art."  ~Marilynne Robinson

Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne’s House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – continuing my escape-from-the-world fluffy reading … sooooo, none of these is the classic that the first in the series is, and I don’t think I’m likely to reread these (for me, for the “fun of it”).  I found myself skimming liberally, because LMM creates tons of characters and tells oodles of vignettes - many of which aren’t necessarily part of the main storyline, but are more like short stories tacked on.  Others of the characters continue through the whole novel, and are developed with great pathos, never to be revisited in a meaningful way down the road.  

Gilead (Close Reads bookclub) and Home and Lila by Marilynne Robinson - I've read Gilead twice in the last several years. Despite the exquisite writing, neither time have I been enthralled by it. Gilead reads more like personal memoirs and less like story (and I’m a girl who appreciates plot).  Plus, I just simply believe that this isn’t my “season” to totally understand the depths of Gilead.  This week I went ahead and got Home & Lila from the library. I could barely put Home down. *I LOVE IT.* I love [the character] Glory. Home throws into stark relief for me everything that kind of bothered me about Gilead. John Ames' first person letters were so veiled, so limited/narrow in detail. Everything was foggy/unclear to me and I felt remote from all the other characters. There were too many "mysteries". Ames himself had loftier thoughts than I could often wrap my shallow-er brain around, so he felt remote to me, too. But reading Home was revelatory, like the blinds were thrown wide open and the veils were torn. Glory's rendering is approachably intimate. Jack is so dear, even in all his messy-ness. And I love being back in the presence of an [almost] omniscient narrator (which is funny for me, because usually I'm super content with first person narrative). Lila was equally wonderful.  All three novels “puzzle-piece” together (Gilead & Home cover the same sequence of events, but from different voices/lenses.  Lila is [the character] Lila’s backstory and serves as a prequel to the other novels.  Marilynne Robinson is a masterful writer. Her books bleed HUMANITY and EMPATHY and HOPE. I often wonder of the books I read, which will stand the test of time?  Which will be future “classics.”  I feel definitively that Robinson’s trilogy will be a future classic.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (children's lit) - the writing in this is simple and beautiful; the opening chapter fully engrossed and enchanted me.  But, in the end, I kind of feel like this story was a junior version of Narnia, without the "oomph."

The Divine Comedy: The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - (bookclub)  I'm reading the Everyman's Library edition translated by Allen Mandelbaum and supplementing with Dorothy Sayers' notes from the Penguin Classics edition.  My local bookclub is a "classics" bookclub, and this is a classic, and we are, therefore, reading it, so we’ll all be better, more informed, well-read readers.  I’ve read this once before.  Didn’t like it, don’t remember it.  Reading it this time (and after prepping by reading The Aeneid, because, yo, Virgil), I still don’t much like it, and I often don’t remember the contents of a canto even after just completing it.  Poetry, quite simply, is not my love language.  Additionally, The Inferno does a lot of name dropping of real people hundreds (and thousands!) of years dead.  I just feel a little bit (a lotta bit) lost (thus, using Dorothy Sayers' notes for quickie summary of person/circumstances/sin).   I occasionally read a section and thought “that’s beautiful!”  And I sometimes read a section and nearly snorted coffee out my nose, a la this morning:  “That is Thais, the harlot who returned/ her lover’s question, ‘Are you very grateful/ to me?’ by saying, ‘Yes, enormously.’” (Canto 18, 8th Circle, 2nd Pouch, Flatterers immersed in excrement … so beware your words!!)  Dorothy Sayers’ notes about the flatterers included this brilliant aside:  “these, too, exploit others by playing upon their desires and fears; their especial weapon is that abuse and corruption of language which destroys communication between mind and mind … Dante did not live to see the full development of political propaganda, commercial advertisement, and sensational journalism, but he has prepared a place for them.”  

On the mystery genre of literatureAs we read, we are desperate to see Truth revealed and we demand to see Justice enacted.  We need to see good guys rewarded and bad guys punished.  Our souls cry out for Justice.  And if the book fails to deliver, readers rebel.  This desire awakens the deepest longings of our souls – for Order, for Justice, for Truth, for Goodness, for Meaning.  In a very real way, reading mystery novels rightly orders our affections.  They cause our souls to long for all the right things.”  ~Angelina Stanford

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – (Close Reads bookclub) Reading this whodunit directly after finishing Marilynne Robinson’s exquisitely worded trilogy was jarring, to say the least.  The verbiage in this story (which, by the way, is ALL PLOT ALL THE TIME) is minimal.  It almost reads as if it’s a screenplay and not a novel.  You can’t possibly solve it on your own (til Hercule Poirot fills you in on his exclusive insider insight), so sit back and enjoy the ride.  Fun page-turner.  Looking forward to seeing how the new movie “translates” it.

Murder in Retrospect (aka Five Little Pigs) by Agatha Christie – fun, easy-reading, escapist, murder mystery.