Books and Book Reviews: October 2005 Archives

I have not been a fan of Ms. Rice. I enjoyed the novelty of Interview with a Vampire. But I must admit to being put off of Ms. Rice by both her own writing and (more frequently) her most avid fans. The writing can be florid to the point of rococco, ripe to the point of decay. I recall picking up Ramses and wondering when we were going to cut through the fashion show of the prose to get the story moving.

But I have to admit that rumors of Ms. Rice's new book have me tremendously excited. The prospects of Christ the Lord:Out of Egypt have me excited and thrilled in a way that I haven't felt since hearing rumor of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Now, please understand, I don't expect from Ms. Rice what I had come to expect from The Passion of the Christ. But if this book comes anywhere near its potential, it will tell a story of a personal battle and conversion that will help millions of people struggling in darkness. That Ms. Rice has the courage to commit her career to this path (admittedly, it isn't a tremendous risk considering the success of her other work, nevertheless, it is a risk) is a great sign.

I will compare this to something everyone else will probably laugh at, but you have to remember the time. When Shirley McClain came out with Out on a Limb, I remember being thrilled that someone in Hollywood was taking spiritual matters seriously. It little mattered to me that the orientation was wrong--the fact was that the spiritual, supernatural side of life was being promoted as something important. Admittedly, it became merely another fad, but it was heartening at the time to see a sector of society that seemed to have no heart develop one.

With Ms. Rice, I have heard from others that recent novels have often been permeated with Catholic themes and concerns. Indeed, for a long time it seems that Ms. Rice may have been struggling with the truths of the faith. This work may be a result of that struggle. As such, I'm sure that it will prove interesting. But more interesting is her willingness to speak of Jesus in any way whatsoever. There is some fear of possible heterodoxy--and I suppose that is a possibility--but I haven't read the book yet and so such judgments would be premature. But I hope, I hope with great longing, that this really is what many would make it out to be. And it is my ardent prayer that it becomes another vehicle to tow those who are struggling against the current toward God. Of course, that is a huge expectation to heap upon so minor a thing as a novel, nevertheless, I pray that it is successful in supporting the faith of those who alrady believe and bringing to believe a great many who are struggling with God themselves.

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Current Reading

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The Spoils of Poynton--fascinating. A study should probably be made of how this work ultimately contributed to The Golden Bowl. There are so many similarities it is uncanny. Obviously, there are differences as well. But the story is very straightforward, the prose unusual shorn of the the Jamesian festoons and protuberances--almost as though he wanted to push this draft out to get on to other notions and ideas. Think of it as a latter day Daisy Miller, although on a different theme--this is his latter marriage theme strain.

Gideon--Remarkable in moments, quick reading, and yet not something I want to read quickly for fear that I might lose some of what it is suggesting. So I waver between this and

The Master--Don't know what Toibin is up to at this point. Hoping it isn't another novel drenched with homosexual angst and sturm und drang a la Michael Cunningham's The Hours. But given that there have been overt comparisons, I fear that it may be so. Hopefully, not so much as to detract from this story of James's ways of putting life into his work.

Anna Karenina--Except for the very short works, I can't think of a work by Tolstoy that it has taken me less than a year to read. I can only deal with so much of his prose at a time, and I really wonder about those who think War and Peace is one of the all time great novels.

I'm casting about right now for the spiritual book to read. I'm afraid that I am quite adrift at the moment and don't know quite what to turn to. Perhaps it will occur to me as I pray.

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The Historian


Darn,it was close.

The legend of the vampire and particularly of THE vampire is rather difficult to make any addition to at this late date. Vampires have been sucked dry so far as romance, fright, and interest go. They've transmuted, become heroes, become anti-heroes, criminals, detectives, you name it, you can find a vampire novel for it.

I don't know what attracted me to The Historian by Elizabeth Kostovo; however, I am glad that I read it. It is a contribution to the legend and THE legend, and its a really fine one.

The novel is densely layered consisting of at least three different narrative voices told in five or six different batches of letters all centered around a young woman in Amsterdam who finds a mysterious book with only a single image in it--that of a dragon. As the story goes along, we find that these books are not so uncommon as we might think--we meet the owners of seven or eight of them.

In the course of the novel we're given tours of Hungary, Romanian, Turkey, and Bulgaria, with sidetrip to the French Pyranees, England, and the United States. We have all the usual suspects, and most of the classical trappings of the Vampire legend. And we have The Historian of the title. That's one of the charms of the book--the way in which the title takes on multiple meanings as you continue through it.

I suppose my one demurral from the whole thing is that the end is really very weak. After reading through six-hundred pages the "duel" at the end is a fizzle and the story peters out into an extended fantasia. It's a shame because the writing is very fine indeed and the story substantive up to that point.

If you're interested in the subject matter, recommended.

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That Library Thing Again

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LibraryThing | Catalog your books online

He just keeps on chugging. Here's my list of "books you might like" derived from similarities with my list and the lists of other public sites. As it turns out

Book suggestions for sriddle

1. The fellowship of the ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Book of Three (Prydain Chronicles) by Lloyd Alexander
4. The return of the king : being the third part of The lord of the rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
5. Ender's game by Orson Scott Card
6. The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald
7. The adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
8. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
9. Leaving home by Garrison Keillor
10. Le Morte D'Arthur, Vol 1 by Thomas, Sir Malory
11. The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, Part 2) by J.R.R. Tolkien
12. Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
13. Of Mice and Men (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) by John Steinbeck
14. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
15. Persuasion by Jane Austen
16. Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis
17. The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Complete and Unabridged by DOUGLAS ADAMS
18. To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee
19. The elements of style by William Strunk
20. Taran Wanderer (Pyrdain Chronicles) by Lloyd Alexander
21. Emma (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen
22. The name of the rose by Umberto Eco
23. The High King (Pyrdain Chronicles) by Lloyd Alexander
24. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
25. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
26. A Wind in the Door (Time Quartet) by Madeleine L'Engle
27. Lake Wobegon days by Garrison Keillor
28. Candide by Voltaire
29. The robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
30. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
31. A Brief History of Time : From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking
32. A wrinkle in time by Madeleine L'Engle
33. The Black Cauldron (Pyrdain Chronicles) by Lloyd Alexander
34. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
35. The grey king by Susan Cooper
36. Five complete Miss Marple novels by Agatha Christie
37. Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables) by L.M. Montgomery
38. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
39. How the Irish saved civilization : the untold story of Ireland's heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medie by Thomas Cahill
40. Morte d'Arthur, Le : Volume 2 (Penguin Classics) by Thomas Malory
41. The problem of pain by C. S. Lewis
42. Lies my teacher told me : everything your American history textbook got wrong by James W. Loewen
43. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
44. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
45. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
46. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
47. Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen
48. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
49. I capture the castle by Dodie Smith
50. Watership Down by Richard Adams
51. The hidden city by David Eddings
52. The Castle of Llyr (Chronicles of Prydain (Paperback)) by Lloyd Alexander
53. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
54. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
55. Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Book 2) by Tad Williams
56. The golden compass by Philip Pullman
57. The Canterbury Tales, in Modern English by Geoffrey Chaucer
58. Madame Bovary (Bantam Classics) by Gustave Flaubert
59. MANY WATERS by Madeleine L'Engle
60. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
61. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
62. White Gold Wielder (The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 3) by Stephen R. Donaldson
63. Domes of fire by David Eddings
64. Cyrano De Bergerac (Vintage Classics) by Edmond Rostand
65. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
66. A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Yearling Books) by Madeleine L'Engle
67. The mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
68. Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables) by L.M. Montgomery
69. Winds of fury by Mercedes Lackey
70. Winds of change by Mercedes Lackey
71. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
72. Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
73. Juxtaposition (Apprentice Adept (Paperback)) by Piers Anthony
74. Winds of Fate (The Mage Winds, Book 1) by Mercedes Lackey
75. Out of the silent planet (Macmillan paperbacks edition) by C. S Lewis
76. The Martian chronicles (with a new introduction by Fred Hoyle) by Ray Bradbury
77. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
78. The Dilbert principle : a cubicle's-eye view of bosses, meetings, management fads & other workplace afflictions by Scott Adams
79. The One Tree (The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 2) by Stephen R. Donaldson

All I can say is that I pretty much own all of them. Now, if there were just a way to use this list to import the titles into my own library and save myself thousands of hours of plugging in ISBNs etc.

Oh, almost all except Eddings (largely unreadable), Donaldson (largely unreadable) and Garrison Keillor. Will someone explain to me why otherwise perfectly sensible, level-headed, likeable people (such as TSO) can stomach this stuff? Is it some strange midwestern sickness? Is it a nostalgia bug? Is it some form of communicable disease? If so, is it either preventable or curable? I think my antipathy was contracted at the politcal lap of Prairie Home Companion. Every time I've heard it it has been an assembly of thinly veiled, unfunny, pandering, political diatribe. Is that of recent advent? Did I miss something back in the day that was actually worthy of my time? So many people I like and trust in so many things seem to like this and I'm so clueless.

But then Tom, of Disputations fame, was scratching his head a few years back of the concurrence of my complete Golden Age Set of Carter Dickson/Anthony Boucher AND my complete A.A. Fair. So I guess we are more than the sum of our consistencies.

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I encountered a hefty volume titled The Historian AND, more importantly a new series by Jasper Fforde.

This former is about a search for Vlad Dracul--always a matter of interest.

The latter is titled The Big Over Easy and is apparently about the MURDER of Humpty-Dumpty. And you thought it was an accident. It seems to be the first in a series of "Nursery Crime" mysteries. If it's half as enjoyable as Thursday Next it will be well worth reading.

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Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind


Yes, I have every intention of reading all those high-falutin' books I've written about. But I made a fatal trip to the library and picked up any number of diversions. This trifle was amongst them, and I have to say that I enjoyed it thoroughly. Miss Julia is a woman of a certain age whose husband, long the dominant (and dominating) influence in her life dies and leaves her fabulously wealthy AND in charge of a son he had by another woman. Thus starts this romp through prime and proper N. Carolina Mountain South.

This very brief excerpt will give you a notion of the overall tone:

"Oh, I believe you," I said. "He never discussed things like that with me, either. But don't worry about him being saved. He was a Presbyterian and therefore one of the elect, which makes me wonder about the election process. . . ."


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Reading Redux

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You probably don't care that much for any one person's reading habits, but I'll share with you my solution to the question as to whether I would read The Portrait of a Lady or Wings of the Dove. I decided in favor of The Spoils of Poynton largely on the basis of this introduction.

It was an ugliness fundamental and systematic, the result of the abnormal nature of the Brigstocks, from whose composition the principle of taste had been extravagantly omitted.In the arrangement of their home some other principle, remarkably active, but uncanny and obscure, had operated instead, with consequences depressing to behold, consequences that took the form of a universal futility. The house was bad in all conscience, but it might have passed if they had only let it alone. This saving mercy was beyond them; they had smothered it with trumpery ornament and scrapbook art, with strange excrescences and bunchy draperies, with gimcracks that might have been keepsakes for maid-servants and nondescript conveniences that might have been prizes for the blind. They had gone wildly astray over carpets and curtains; they had an infallible instinct for disaster, and were so cruelly doom-ridden that it rendered them almost tragic. . . .

The house was perversely full of souvenirs of places even more ugly than itself and of things it would have been a pious duty to forget. The worst horror was the acres of varnish, something advertised and smelly, with which everything was smeared: it was Fleda Vetch's conviction that the application of it, by their own hands and hilariously shoving each other, was the amusement of the Brigstocks on rainy days.

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Great Expectations


I don't know if this was my first time through or if I have merely forgotten a great deal of the plot, or if I only made it part way on one of my reads.

I don't think I need to recap the plot or provide any real detail. Most of you know it through direct acquaintance, or nodding acquaintance with one of the many films that have come from it.

In Chesterton's overview of Dickens's works, he remarks that Great Expectations is a work of Dickens's afternoon. I would say closer to late afternoon or evening. Chesterton also points out some of the charms of this book. He says it has a older, softer, rounder cynicism, a quality practically unknown in Dickens's works. He also points out that Pip is unique among Dickens's characters in being an anti-hero (although he did not have that word to use.)

My impressions--the story of maturing, and of the great loss suffered by those who choose to snub on the basis of some snobbery. A story in which the anti-hero ultimately rises to be a hero, but we hear nothing of his heroic exploits.

Beautifully written, Dickens at his very best--round, mature, fully ripened prose--not a sentence or description out of place. Dickens' may have written to be paid by the word, but he did not pad this work. Every word carries its weight and the end result is exceedingly weighty indeed.

If you have missed this work somehow, make it a point to take it up at the next opportunity. If you have read it before, set aside some time to reacquaint yourself with it. It is prose that rewards rereading and a story that has surprising depth and direction.

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What I'm Actively Reading

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Three books:

Great Expectations Charles Dickens--reacquainting myself with a classic
Gilead Marilynne Robinson--I'm not finding this as compelling as some St. Blog's readers have done. There's another set in North or South Dakota by Leif (somebody) that I liked better at least initially.
Carmel, Land of the Soul Carolyn Humphreys

On Deck:

The Master Colm Toibin
Portrait of a Lady Henry James (Not sure about this one, may do either Wings of the Dove or The Ambassadors (It will be one from the later period of James's writing.)

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

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