Books and Book Reviews: February 2004 Archives

I was surprised by Cannery Row. First, I thought I had read it before. Turns out, I was wrong. Second, it was the reading for one of our books groups. In fact, it was one of the best things we've read in the last year. After several sessions of reading novels influenced by postmodernism, even if not postmodern themselves, I was astounded at the sheer exuberance and power of Steinbeck's prose. True, he was a modernist, but he believed in story and character and the fact that both of these are necessary to make a successful book. Most modern writers simply haven't gotten that down. They lack depth in one or the other. Gutterson's Our Lady of the Forest was so bereft of such interests that I abandoned reading after thirty pages. (Unlike some readers, I do not believe the reader owes the author ANYTHING--not even five pages. I will occasionally read past a few dull pages in the hope that the book will improve, but I figure if you've had ten percent of your novel to interest me and I'm still not drawn in, it's not likely to get better.)

Steinbeck won a Nobel Prize for his writing and it's easy to see why. His mastery of his subject and his subtlety with drawing characters, places, and actions blow most modern writers out of the water. While he had an agenda, I am not stuck with reading through reams of world-weary trash hoping for some denouement that will provide and ray of hope. Cannery Row is about absolute poverty and deprivation, and the whole thing is lit from within. There is wry humor and subtle interplay among characters as well as interesting tid-bits about Monterey and its history.

There is a reason why some works become classics and some writers are highly regarded. Steinbeck, except for his politics, has always been a favorite of mine, and this book just served to reinforce the general feeling.

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Revised Reading List

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Having finished Barbara Dent's My Only Friend Is Darkness and John Steinbeck's Cannery Row in the last couple of days, the face of my reading list has changed dramatically.

Present reading:

James McKean Quattocento
(don't laugh) J.D. Robb Purity in Death (Okay, the premise sounded interesting--somewhat similar to Snowcrash for those who are familiar.
C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice (but I'm already behind)

Jennifer Moorcroft He Is My Heaven--a biography of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity
Abbot Vonier A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist --wonderful, rich, insightful. It calls for slow reading.

Hovering on the horizon--

The Letters of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 1
Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol 1
The Science of the Cross St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

And others.

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Important E-Texts and Sites


Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman--relatively unknown--recalled by a few for a couple of atmospheric ghost stories.

Henry James The Awkward Age

Nice HTML of J Sheridan Le Fanu Room in the Dragon Volant

and Wylder's Hand

For those who could never abide the original , Stories from the Faerie Queene

P.G. Wodehouse Mike: A Public School Story An earlier work--1909

Euclid's Elements


Alfred North Whitehead Introduction to Mathematics

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Reading List

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As the bookgroups move on and as I finish one thing and another the list of books naturally changes:

My Only Friend is Darkness Barbara Dent
A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist Abbot Vonier
Cannery Row John Steinbeck (Bookgroup 1)
The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis (Bookgroup 2)
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (only about halfway through the "assigned reading" for the week--hope to catch up)
Utopia Lincoln Child
Quattrocento James McKean
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (Not with me here so the author slips my mind)

Many of these are shorter works so they are likely to change sooner. For example, I have no doubt that I will finish Screwtape in a matter of a couple days.

Oh, I'm also reading The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren for a home fellowship I attend on Monday Nights. It was recently given a great deal more credence (to me) because the priest I mention below read an excerpt of it at Mass. I must say, however, that it is relatively poorly written (and much of a kind with many of these evangelical/fundamentalist kinds of "self-help" books). Moreover it is peppered with distasteful doctrine and fundamentalist assurances so that its practicality for a believing Catholic is somewhat limited. I don't know that I would recommend it to all--I'm having a very difficult time with it.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from February 2004.

Books and Book Reviews: January 2004 is the previous archive.

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