Atonement by Ian McEwan: This was a book club selection by my friend and blogger Melissa. It (like Memoirs of a Geisha) was very shocking to me to find a male author who could so poignantly express the ideas inside of a girl/woman's head. I like to believe that men can't possibly understand our complexities-heck, I can't understand them-but then a book like this comes along that makes me think twice. It was set during one of the World Wars (II I think, but don't quote me on that), and tells the story of Briony, a young, wealthy little girl who aspires to be a writer. Her great sense of imagination creates a tragic situation in her family, and ultimately alters the course of everyone's life in the story. It was a novel concept! The ending will also throw you for a loop (or as one member of the book club said, "made me want to throw that book out of my house as fast as I could"). Mainly, it will effect you. However, in all honesty I just didn't love it. The last half of the book takes you into the midst of the war, and I just don't like reading about war...there you go...shallow as it seems. BTW, there's a movie coming out about this book with Keira Knightley as Briony's sister. It looks really good, and you can see a preview on YouTube.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: Oh my goodness, I loved this book! I read The Three Musketeers way back in 8th grade and loved Dumas even then. Revisiting his work as a grown person was even more satisfying. I will warn you that it is LONG, and if you are as dumb as I am, then you'll need to stop at some point in your reading and create a character list with connection arrows all over the page. However, it reads like a soap opera. You will get so caught up in the detailed overlapping of these character's lives and fates that you won't be able to put it down. At its heart, it's the story of the ultimate revenge. At its soul, it's the story of love overcoming hate (at least I, in my idealistic view, interpreted it that way). It's awesome.
Ladies in Waiting by Kate Douglas Wiggin: My friend Lauren gave me this book as a birthday present, mainly because it is a beautiful copy of an antique book, and also because the author is the same as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It was a sweet collection of unrelated stories, all about different "ladies in waiting." It was a pleasant read, but not breathtaking.
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James: This was another book club selection, and I was very excited about it. I had never read anything by James and was eager to add him to my repertoire. The book commenced with these two sentences--
Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not--some people of course never do--the situation is in itself delightful.
Then, James gives us a sweeping view of tea, set up on the lawn of an English manor, on a breezy summer afternoon, with lush carpets, books and chairs arranged under the open arms of ancient trees. I thought it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between woman and book...I was wrong. After 624 long pages of following Isabel Archer on her journeys through Europe, love, and friendships Henry James had the audacity to leave me with no definite ending. Maybe you are artistic, maybe this is the type of thing some of you find interesting, or maybe Henry James-the master of character formation-thinks that the plot is not nearly as important as helping you to know a character and thus infer your own ending. If any of that crap sounds good to you then, by all means, read away. I, however, like reading partly because it is a finite world. A world that has a beginning and a definite end. That's something we can't ever truly obtain in the "real world," because (unless you're dead) the story just keeps on developing. I consider it the responsibility of the author to take me through until the finish, and I think it's cowardly to do otherwise--I don't care if you call yourself an artist.
There were good parts of this book. The character description and development is truly brilliant. There is one character, who James never does anything but give positive qualities to, that you still find yourself uneasy about. You can't put your finger on it, but you just don't trust her. In the end, you discover that your feelings were justified, but I was fascinated by wondering how he managed to so subtlety create that ominous feeling.
There are some heart pounding declarations of love:
"I don't go off easily, but when I'm touched, it's for life. It's for life, Mrs. Archer, it's for life," Lord Warburton repeated in the kindest, tenderest, pleasantest voice Isabel had ever heard, and looking at her with eyes that shone with the light of a passion that had sifted itself clear of the baser parts of emotion--the heat, violence, the unreason--and which burned as steadily as a lamp in a windless place.
SO, I have written way too much on this one. In the beginning, it is great. Then, you will sink into despair and despondency as you wonder why anyone would ever get married when they could travel and have all sorts of men lying down to worship at their feet if they stay single. Your despair will only be deepened by the questionable ending unless you, like me, decide to believe beyond all other signs that Isabel Archer divorces her nasty husband and runs away with a man who has loved her from the start. Then, you can feel bad that you are one of those people who cheers for divorce. Enough.
The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: I thought this was the best book of the series (except for maybe Book 3). So good. Couldn't put it down. Thank you J.K. for giving me a nice ending--even an epilogue to satisfy my extra need for closure. I'm going to miss you Harry...
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: I call myself a great lover of C.S. Lewis, but recently I realized that I was saying that without even having read one of his most famous works. Oh my goodness, I could do an entire blog on this book alone. It must be read slowly--no more than a chapter or two at a time--because you have to give yourself time to absorb all the deep truth he throws at you. He has a way of taking the most complex issues and simplifying them down until you wonder how you ever could have missed it before. It has already changed the way I hear sermons. If you are like me, then there are phrases you use, as a Christian, which have some nebulous meaning to you, but you've probably never taken the time to really understand what you are saying: "sons of God", "becoming like Christ", "humility", "the Trinity", "one in the body of Christ", "begotten Son"... These phrases are filled with power and meaning, but I think most of us gloss right over them. Bottom line is you need to read this book. Not to mention that C.S. Lewis has such of fun, funny, and very British way of entertaining you while you learn.
God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it. :)
He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.