Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review

I have got to start doing this more frequently. Partly, so it won't be so long and boring for you to read, and partly because I don't remember the books very well after 6 months! I am not even certain this is everything I've read. Anyway, here's what I can remember of my books:
(Those are flowers Jeremiah's parents sent us for our 5 year anniversary. Aren't they gorgeous?!)

Watership Down by Richard Adams: This was an endearing story of some little rabbits on a big adventure. It's a tale of leadership, friendship, and courage. They have their own language and you will soon find yourself hungry for your silflay :) While I enjoyed this, I am not yearning to read it again.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: If you are a Jane Austen fan, I want to highly suggest you give this author a try. She is not widely known in the states, but in England she is fondly referred to as Mrs. Gaskell. She has three main books that she is known for, this one, Wives and Daughters, and Cranford. I haven't read Cranford (I did buy it a couple of weeks ago though :)), but I can attest that these other two are EXCELLENT.

N&S is the tale of England's industrialized North and farming community South (while similar in their utilities, this book is not like our North and South--in case you were all depicting a diatribe on the slave trade). Of course it is a love story but this hero, unlike Austen's landed gentry, is a man who has pulled himself up by his own boot-straps. If any of you other red-blooded Americans sometimes balk at the idea of a hero who spends his days doing, well, what the heck do they do anyway?, then this book will give you someone with a work ethic to croon over. Now there is a lot of talk about the upheaval of the social system at this point in history, the crassness of an industrial family with money over the established nobleman, and the need for reform in the lower classes. I wish I could tell you that I didn't read these parts very quickly in order to find the next scene with my heroine and her hero... I retained very little besides a general knowledge :) So, if you like Jane Austen and have been despaired by the idea that there are only 6 books out there for you, give Mrs. Gaskell a go. I can't imagine you'd be disappointed!

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis: I may have listed this one on my last list as well. I LOVE Lewis, but I have to take him in small doses since he is so over my head. As always, I was amazed by his intelligence, his ability to make complex things seem simple, and I was encouraged to know that someone as smart as he is, was a devout agnostic who proved to himself through reason and conviction (against his own will) that our God is God. It makes me think, "Whew! I may not have understood everything he just said, but I sure am glad to know we are on the same page!"

The title, Surprised by Joy, comes from the idea that before Lewis became a Christian he felt stabs of Joy in his life through literature or nature... He became somewhat depressed at the realization that he was never able to hold on to that feeling he craved. He searched for it everywhere and tried basically everything the world had to offer him on his quest, only to find in the end, that this world is fallen, our glimpses of joy are merely glimpses of a God that is Joy. I loved the last paragraph of this book, where he explains that after receiving Christ, he experienced Joy much more often, but he ceased to notice it as much. This is so Lewis:

But what, in conclusion, of Joy? for that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time in my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, "Look!" The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. "We would be at Jerusalem."

As I reread that last paragraph it made me think of all of you, and the things you shared with me in the last post about when you feel God's pleasure. Almost everyone sighted happenings from their everyday. Nothing life-changing or earth-shattering, because, as Christians that is what He created us to experience...His Joy, His provision, His pleasure, in all aspects of our lives. Thank you for sharing; it blessed me.

At the Mercy of Tiberius by Augusta Evans Wilson: I have written about Wilson before...how she is the first accomplished author from Alabama and has also been called the "foremost Southern novelist of her time." Now she is Victorian--HIGH Victorian. Meaning that her heroines are perfect, her heroes are dashing, bold and handsome, and the stories are extremely dramatic--I love every minute of it! Unlike N&S, this IS the story of our own beloved South--before the Civil War. It was intriguing to me to see slavery written about as the norm in a novel, and also to read about the pine tree forests I know so well (instead of a remote English countryside that I can only try to picture), described by an excellent author.

I think she wanted to be sure she was not overlooked by her male counterparts as being a flighty woman, because Lord-have-mercy sometimes I felt like I was reading a mythologically biased dictionary. If I knew the slightest inkling about mythology, maybe I wouldn't have minded so much, but I don't! So, you will probably have to do a little skimming in this one as well, but the story is oh so worth it.

It's hard to tell you much about the story without giving anything away. There is a twist awaiting around each page turn. But Beryl, our heroine, has lived a life of virtue only to have everything stripped away from her and find herself at the mercy of strangers...one very handsome stranger in particular. She is torn by her faithfulness to her dying mother, her mysterious vagabond brother, her own pride, and that ever beating heart that she attempts to stifle. Ohh, I've made myself want to re-read!

Endurance by Alfred Lansing: This is for you guys out there (if there are any :)). I can't say that I read this book in its entirety, but I heard all about the beginning from Jeremiah (who was reading it and also made me watch the documentary) and I read the last third of it aloud to him on one of our road trips. It is the true story of Ernest Shackleton, a famous British explorer and arguably one of the best leaders that has ever lived. He leads an expedition of 28 men to Antartica. They are shipwrecked before attaining their goal of reaching the South Pole, and all 28 men make it home 2 YEARS later.

It is a story of courage, leadership, and man's will to survive. Jeremiah and I were both in tears at the end, and I hadn't even read the whole thing! Now, saying all that is good about it, I must also say that it was too intense for me. There were sereral times when I would put the book down, telling Jermiah my nerves could not stand one more moment of hopelessness and depravity. What they went through was just gut-wrenching, and he loved every minute of it. So, if you're a man and you like an adventure and you want to learn how to be a leader, I highly recommend this book (Jeremiah's Dad got so engrossed he finished it in 2 days). If you're a woman who likes a love story and you don't like your shoulders to be tense the entire time you read, then I suggest encouraging your husband to read it and tell you about it as he goes.

Laddie by Gene Stratton Porter: This is a sweet tale about Little Sister, in a house filled with older siblings. There is such a bond in this family, and their simple country life will speak to your heart. While Little Sister is our allie and narrator, never fear that I might possibly suggest a book to you that didn't involve love in some way. Laddie, her idol and big brother, is courting a forbidden girl (whose family came to the States from England for a mysterious reason) whose family is not Christian (at least by Mama's standards).

You'll love Little Sister, her adventures, her big heart, her mischievous times, and her intelligence. You'll laugh with her at the stodgy school marm, and roll your eyes with her at the over-pious church members. Freckles is near and dear to my heart, but Laddie is running a TIGHT second.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks: This is definitely a page turner. It tells the history of a famous (and valuable) Hebrew manuscript as it makes some harrowing escapes throughout history. You'll meet a girl fleeing a concentration camp, an ancient African prince forced into slavery, a Catholic priest struggling with addiction in Venice, and many more. It is a well planned plot and quite entertaining.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy: I will have to say that this was not one of my favorites, although it was my first introduction to Hardy, and I am thankful to say I now know him a bit. I felt like it was an intriguing examination of my own conscious. Hardy gives this book the byline: "A Story of a Man of Character," even though the opening scene of the novel reveals our "hero", Henchard, selling his wife in a drunken stupor. The rest of the book examines Henchard's life after this grave mistake. I say it examined my conscious because throughout the book I found myself frustrated with Henchard's unkind acts, but also asking myself what I would do in his situation? Does he have bad character or is he merely a victim of his circumstances? So, I said it wasn't my favorite, then I just told you I was intrigued... I also have issues with the "heroine," Elizabeth-Jane. She's a stoic. When have you ever met a truly stoic heroINE? It's OK for a man to not weep over his lost love, but when a woman lets it roll off her back, I don't know I just had issues with feeling for a character that had very little feeling herself. I liked it OK, but I just didn't feel much connection with it.

Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: This is a memoir of a woman who is now (obviously) a writer and has an apartment on Park Ave. It opens with a scene of her riding in the back of a limo on the way to a party and seeing her mother digging through a dumpster. She is at first embarrassed that her mother will see/embarrass her and then is overcome with emotion at feeling that way towards her own mother. I was compelled to read on!

This is a very sad tale of parents who are so absorbed in themselves and their own needs, that their children are left to fend for themselves. I was amazed at Walls' ability to tell her story without any air of "woh-is-me," and her honesty, and her ability to show her readers both sides of the story... It was a fascinating trip and made me feel like I deserve a mother-of-the year award for simply giving food to my children.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: This book was reminiscent of The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. I know that sounds like an odd combination, but there is a decadence steeped in sadness that reminded me of Gatsby and a man on a desperate search for himself that reminded me of Holden in Catcher. Read this gripping metaphor the narrator conveys in the first chapter, comparing the army and marriage:

Here my last love died. There was nothing remarkable in the manner of its death...as I lay in that dark hour, I was aghast to realize that something within me, long sickening, had quietly died, and felt as a husband might feel, who, in the fourth year of marriage suddenly knew that he had no longer any desire, or tenderness, or esteem, for a once-beloved wife; no pleasure in her company, no wish to please, no curiosity about anything she might ever do or say or think; no hope of setting things right, no self-reproach for the disaster. I knew it all, the whole drab compass of marital disillusion; we had both been through it, the army and I, from the first importunate courtship until now, when nothing remained to us except the chill bonds of law and duty and custom....

It only gets worse from there. I'm just going to be honest when I tell you that this left me running into the next room to check on the pulse of my own marriage! I am sure you can tell, he is an excellent writer and this is one of the few places in the entire work where tragedy is spelled out plainly. The rest of the novel is pretty upbeat, filled with abiding male friendships (that are really much more accurately described as love) and a surprising love story.

I do feel the need to warn you that, while there are a couple of gay characters, the two main male characters are not gay, even though one carries a Teddy Bear around with him at Oxford, one gazes at the other lying in the grass and talks about how beautiful he is, and they sunbathe naked together...I don't know why I would have been confused :), but the critics (and the rest of the book) assure me that they are not. Just thought you might need some forewarning. I really liked this book. There are questions about God, Catholicism, love, marriage, alcoholism, and the "value" of interfering in each others' lives. All of that is played out on a beautiful back-drop of decadence: a Castle, Oxford, and Venice. If you don't want to read it, I think a movie just came out about it :)

In case you didn't notice, I linked all of these books to their search results on Abebooks.com I like Abe a lot better than Amazon for many reasons, one being they have a better search engine for books, making it easier for me to find old ones that I like. Our next book club book (my selection :)) is The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge. It is the first in a series of three books Goudge wrote about the Elliot family. I have actually already read this one and it is GREAT!! So, if you want to read along with us, I will try to post my next review more quickly and we can talk about it.

3 comments:

ashr7406 said...

I noticed that you posted this blog at 11:11 AM :)

andi said...

Hey friend! So glad to see you this weekend. Right now you are probably getting ready for a fantastic dinner with the sisters~ I hope you are enjoying EVERY minute! Remember, if you start missing the little bits, just go buy them an outfit, give 'em a call, and then head back out to the sand! ;)
Okay, I am BEYOND impressed! Your book list is extensive. You must tell me how you do it. Endurance is amazing! I haven't read it all either, but the story is amazing.
I am so pumped to read North and South as well as At The Mercy of Tiberious. How in the world did you hear about these little gems?
Well, tell us all about the beach, so I can live vicariously.
Don't forget Lime Away and BarKeeper's Friend for the cleaning we discussed.
I'm closing my eyes and pretending I am at the beach....it didn't work. Bummer. :)

vicki haley said...

Abby,
Thank you for posting your book review. Some friends and I have started a book club and I'm sure it will come in handy!