Books and Book Reviews: September 2005 Archives

Thorne Smith Fan Site

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It's entirely possible that I am the only person in the world who cares, but it is the works of This remarkable writer that lead me to decry the Mickey Mouse copyright eterno-extension act of 19whatever.

It seems that his work will not pass into obscurity after all--but I can tell you that it deadly hard to come by some of these. My paperback of The Passionate Witch is circa 1945, my hardback of The Bishop's Jaeger's is a first. I have five Del Rey printings of his more popular/well known works Topper, Topper Takes a Trip, The Stray Lamb, Nightlife of the Gods, and Rain in the Door. I have an ancient paperback of The Glorious Pool and one of scarcely more recent vintage of Skin and Bones. What's the attraction? Think thirties screwball comedies in paperback form. Think Busby Berkeley in paperback. Think Thurber with too much whiskey at hand. The books froth, bubble and boil over. They jaunt along at their own unique pace, never properly captured despite three film adaptations--(the two Toppers, and the Veronica Lake vehicle I Married a Witch a.k.a. The Passionate Witch.

Well, just another of my curious interests. But I will work to overturn the idiocy of that copyright act in any way made available to me. Great works are vanishing because publishers are not keeping alive what will not make a profit and it is all out of public domain so that we can protect Mickey Mouse. (Another one of my big beefs against big business--admittedly a very, very small big beef, but one that I am passionate about.)

Below--Thorne Smith on Thorne Smith:

"The more I think about it the more am I convinced that I'm a trifle cosmic. My books are as blindly unreasonable as nature. They have no more justification than a tiresomely high mountain or a garrulous and untidy volcano. Unlike the great idealists and romancers who insist on a beginning and a middle and an ending for their stories mine possess none of these definite parts. You can open them at any page. It does not matter at all. You will be equally mystified if not revolted. I am myself."

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The Anchoress � What 5 Books Inspired You?

The Anchoress, via Julie D., asks the question--other than the Bible, what 5 books have influenced you most?

That's an extremely difficult question because I think through all of the books I have read and I can see so many different influences in so many different directions. But let me make an attempt. These will not necessarily be in order of importance--merely in order of occurrence to me.

1. Thomas Mallory's Morte D'Arthur--which taught me something about what it means to be selfless and devoted to a cause; something about the meaning of nobility; and something about the nature of God.

2. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glassby Lewis Carroll which taught me something about language, something about the essential absurdity of everyday events, something about the beauty of language perfectly used, and something about how poetry can be used effectively in prose to amplify both.

3. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain--taught me something about being a boy and something about what romantic inclinations are

4. Story of a Soul St. Therese of Lisieux. Taught me what St. John of the Cross said and how to practically apply it to my own life. (Haven't done it yet, but still, she did show me.)

5. Dubliners (Most particularly "The Dead," the single most perfect story ever composed in English) or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or Ulysees James Joyce--all three taught me exactly the same thing--that no matter what Joyce may have come to think of the Church, he was always guided and influenced by it despite himself, and that the truth was there if I would only look for it. This is a very long story, but it was probably one of two or three books most influential in bringing me tot he Catholic Church (the others would be the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and some of the essays of C.S. Lewis).

Okay, I've listed more than 5,but if I have to choose from the brood at the end, I would probably go with Ulysses in that it taught me that being Catholic doesn't necessarily make you stupid (a prejudice I had to fight hard to overcome due to some influences in early Childhood and some very bad examples of how to be Catholic I experienced early on.)

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Tyrannosaur Canyon


Okay, let's start by laying the cards on the table. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are becoming much like Stephen King and Michael Crichton, particularly the latter. They write too much for anything to be particularly great in terms of the writing. If we accept the awkwardnesses of phrasing and the clunkiness of some plot devices and characters, we'll still find a rip-roaring story somewhere in the debris.

However, this book was very nice. Of course, there isn't much you could write about past life that wouldn't enthrall me. From Julian May's Pliocence series to Brian Aldiss's Cryptozoic I'm a sucker for any story about dinosaurs or time travel into deep time.

Well this one isn't so much about that as it is about dinosaur fossil hunting. And it is a doozy. Chases, murders, mad scientists, not-so-mad scientists, frenzied Benedictines, and a raft of other likely and less likely suspects.

I dare not say too much for fear that it will ruin the entire book for you. But suffice to say that it begins with the murder of a prospector searching for some unknown treasure and ends (quite literally) not with a whimper but a bang.

There is, however, on major oversight that I must comment on, because this is what editors and research are for. At one critical juncture in the book, a mineralogist discovers a "clue" in the presence of a "cenozoic trilobite, such as one could buy for three or four dollars."

Oh really? If there were a cenozoic trilobite it would be as astronomically expensive as some of the relics in this book. The simple reason being that the trilobites became extinct at the Paleozoic/Mesozoic boundary.

We'll forgive Preston his oversight--after all, where else can you find buckeyballs, nanomachines, dinosaurs, and all the sundry and assorted charaters I started this rant with?

For pure, unadulterated bonehead fun, drop everything and run to your library to get this gem.

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Neat Idea


What Should I Read Next?

Here's an engine that supposedly provides you with a recommendation for what book to read next. Problem is, if you enter only one book, you end up with some bizarro stuff. For example, I entered "Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall" and had suggested to me, "H. P. Lovecraft's Dagon and other Macabre Tales." Interesting associations. Of course, I'm guessing that they expect you to compile a list over time which will help the engine hone its recommendations. Anyway, it looks like something fun to go and enjoy.

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A Thread of Grace


A book by Mary Doria Russell is always a treat, and this is no exception; however, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed in the end of this exceptional book.

I am not a student of WW II. Frankly I know almost nothing about it. As a result, I learned a tremendous amount about the Italian Campaign and what exactly happened in Italy while reading the book. For example, I had not realized that Italy essentially capitulated in 1943 and was thereafter a puppet state of Germany. I thought that at the point of Italian surrender, Mussolini had been executed, but it was in fact at the defeat of Germany. So the book served as a sovereign remedy for a certain blind spot I have in history.

More than that, it is an excellent story about how the Italian people joined together to save the Jews that had escaped from Nice (and such native Italian Jews as they could). The story starts with a harrowing march from Nice to the small towns of Northern Italy. It chronicles two years of terror for nearly everyone in those small towns as the Nazis attempt to force the townspeople to surrender the Jews to them. In our small history, no one does so.

Another point in Russell's favor, she appears to have no ideological axe to grind. The Pope is not singled out for doing nothing. The only mention of the concordat is a mention in favor of what it did well and how it was used to help the cause. The priests in the book are holy and ultimately self-sacrificing. If there is any small fault it is that everyone (other than most of the Nazis) is so darned noble that one begins to wonder how a war was fought at all.

And perhaps that is what makes me a little disappointed at the ending of the novel. Suddenly, internicine strife of which we have had nearly no indication begins to snuff out people one by one until, at the very end, there appear to be something like three people left whom we have met in the novel. Somehow, I felt this did not ring true and I'm uncertain of Russell's purpose in bringing the novel to a close this way.

Nevertheless, despite reservations about the ending, I must recommend this book to those who wish to know more about the conduct of the war in Italy, about people who risked everything to help strangers who did not even speak their language, about human nobility in the face of absolute horror. Once again, beautiful written and compassionate--if you can believe it even to the perpetrator of all of this horror (even while not exonerating or taking away one smidgen of his ultimate responsibility and guilt).

Treat yourself--try this book. If you enjoy it (and you read Science Fiction) you will find The Swallow (aka Jesuits in Space) to be an even finer, more satisfying, if puzzling read. Enjoy!

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Colm Toibin


Sancta Sanctis

The post to which TSO links, is from Enbrethiel who is a Colm Toibin fan. I know him only from The Master and obviously have some work cut out for me as it seems that I have missed out on a great deal and on a great author.

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The Author Cloud

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LibraryThing | Catalog your books online

Look at the link above to see a survey of authors from the persons who have allowed their libraries to be public. The size of the author name gives an indication of the number of entries. Very gratifying to see C.S. Lewis and Gene Wolfe among those listed in larger type.

In a bit of a surprise Neil Gaiman's name rivals that of J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett. That is gratifying as well. I don't know what's wrong or right with Gaiman, but Coraline was a creepy masterpiece.

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A Laudable Endeavor

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speculative catholic: Index Librorum Laudatorum

A list of recommended books. Perhaps there should be a central repository of these somewhere by year. I rather like the notion. Of course, I'd add a great many The Book of Her Life St. Teresa of Avila, Story of a Soul etc. But this is a nice short list to start with. I like it and I like the concept of it.

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Keeping Your Library Up-to-Date


LibraryThing | Catalog your books online

I know I've mentioned this site/program before. I hadn't quite made the decision to buy-in, not because of expense, but merely because I didn't know if I would bother to keep it up. But, I'm nearly sold. The CSV import is so seamlessly beautiful and neat that I can catalogue with ease by ISBN or Amazon lookup and download the complete catalague to my desktop for use in Excel, which means importing into Word, and ultimate use on PDA is possible. Or as a CSV I can use a Palm native DB and have my entire library list in hand. The prospect is almost too wonderful for words. Oh, when will I be cured fromt his bibliophilia?

Another nice thing--if you're browsing through anyone's library and there's a cover displayed, a click on the cover will take you to Amazon where you might be able to purchase said book.

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Other Versions of the Widget

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Recent books with images

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Reading List


Thread of Grace Mary Doria Russell
Martin's Hundred Ivor Noel Hume
A sheaf of articles on Opechancanough and the Good Friday Massacre of 1622
The Ascent to Love (Redux) Ruth Burrows--To paraphrase C.S. Lewis's dictum--if it's worth reading it's worth rereading.
The Clocks--Agatha Christie--revisiting some classics.

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Gutenberg Goodies--George MacDonald


I've been off-track recently in keeping tabs on my favorite online books.

Turns out that one of C.S. Lewis's favorite authors is having a Gutenberg bloom.

If you're interested go here and scroll down to August 11. Or go to the main page and look up George MacDonald.

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For Robert Hugh Benson Fans

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I am an admirer of Robert Hugh Benson. I enjoy his work. Unfortunately much is out of print or exorbitantly expensive. I'm hoping that this project will help to alleviate much of that problem. Soon to come out Come Rack, Come Rope. I'm looking forward to it.

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Thread of Grace

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Haven't finished it yet, but it just came to my attention so I'm alerting other fans out there. Mary Doria Russell has a new historical novel by the above title out. It is about the fate of Jews in North Western Italy during the Nazi occupation. I don't know how it will shape up, but it is the usual beautiful, wonderful writing.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from September 2005.

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