Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Book Loving Authors

I love books written by book-loving authors. It surprises me how many authors don't really seem to love the written word. For them, it's more like I have something to tell you and this is the most expedient way to do it, but then, some authors are lovers of language. Jane Austen comes to mind. Books like hers should be cherished.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows should too. One of the authors has passed away and regrettably this, her first book, will also be her last. Its epistolary style works perfectly. It focuses mostly on Guernsey, an English island between England and France, that was occupied by the Germans during World War II. Its moments, sentences, and stories were wonderful from start to finish. Part of me wanted the book to end so that I could confirm what I thought would happen with its characters; part of me never wanted it to end because I enjoyed reading it so much.

It was quaint and lovely without being trite. The authors write, "I wonder how the book got to ...? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers." It makes me think: somehow this book found its perfect reader in me--how lucky am I?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Judas Iscariot

The Gospel of Judas by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, Gregor Wurst, Bart D. Ehrman felt like it had been rushed to press. That isn't to say that it wasn't good but it felt like parts of it hadn't been fully contemplated. When I was in college, we had to write an essay about metaphors and analogies etc. from Homer's Iliad. Almost every person in the class wrote about one particular quotation--namely, "A generation of men is like a generation of leaves; the wind scatters some leaves upon the ground, while others the burgeoning wood brings forth - and the season of spring comes on. So of men one generation springs forth and another ceases." Some of the essays were beautiful, but only one person considered the the most important question: "Are men really like leaves?" It seems obvious to do so, but only one person did. No one else had really questioned the validity of Homer's assertion.

This book's essays didn't really question "The Gospel of Judas." The writers assumed the Gospel was equally as valid as the ones that were included in the Bible as we know it. The essayists were so enthralled with its discovery and preservation, that it felt like they never reached the most interesting questions. That failing is most clear when one of the essayists wrote that what is included and discarded from the Bible is arbitrary. Isn't it possible that there might be real reasons behind the exclusion or inclusion of one text over another, that there continues to be real religious dialogue about what should be included or excluded?

I agree that the gospel is a wonderful discovery, but where's the second part of the analysis. Is the Gospel of Judas equally as valid, as authenticated, as philosophically rich as those Gospel's included in our present day Bibles? What can we learn from it? I just don't think the essays pushed far enough.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Recent Reviews

  • If you're not already a Harry Potter fan, then you'll probably find Tales of the Beedle Bard by J.K. Rowling unremarkable. It made me want to read her novels again; it didn't compare well. It was a very short, very quick read that fit snuggly in the morality tales genre. It was much lighter than Grimm's Fairytales and more like Han's Christian Anderson's morality tales.

  • On Pilgrimage by Jennifer Lash details a journey from Caen to Santiago de Compostela conducted by Lash over the course of a couple of weeks. She travels alone, largely, and speaks frankly and lovingly of the places she visits and the people she meets along the way. I liked it, but I did find portions of it to be very wordy and in need of editing in some places; for example, it used some words interchangeably, like paramount and tantamount etc., that were not the best choices. Having not read travel/personal pilgrimage books before, I don't know how it compares, and, I think it would have been easier to follow if I had been more familiar with the places being visited. Also, the mood set by the writer was one of perseverance, but she sounded so tired as she forged on.

  • I can't begin to explain how much I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It was marvelous. If you love Rebecca or Jane Eyre, then please pick up The Thirteenth Tale. The only disappointing thing is that the author has published no other books (at least that I can find). It was a wonderful read. "Do you intend to tell me the truth?" one of its characters asks. Is that really the point of a good story?

    It was mesmerizing. Finally, a book written by someone who clearly adores books and the written word. The story is dark, but not humorless. I certainly wont be putting this one up to trade on I loved it. It had everything that a novel should: it had a good point; it was superbly written; and I can't stop comparing other books to it. I finished it weeks ago, reading at least four other books since then and none of them compare.

  • A friend of mine kindly gave The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber this book (and others) so that I might have something to entertain myself as I recovered from surgery. The book fits in the complex literery, historical thriller category. I feel like I should have loved it, but I really disliked it. Why? I hated the main character. I just couldn't make myself like him. He was so focused on sex; he was boring beyond belief. I found myself hoping to come upon chapters narrated by other characters. He was an antihero that just cried out for a severe beating. Just kidding--sort of. I raced for the end of it driven not by a desire to find out what would happen as much a desire to finish the damn thing and move on to something else. It's like someone took all the elements that I like--drama, Shakespeare, mystery, plot twists, multiple narrators, book lover, manuscripts, forgers--ate them and vomited them in the form of this book. I so wish that I had like it because one of my dearest friends did and gave it to me, but, regrettably, I did not.

  • I finished The Courage to Be Rich by Suze Orman and Howard Clark's Big Book of Bargains by guess who? Howard Clark at about the same time. I've watched both of their television shows a handful of times as well. They've mentioned one another and referred to one another as friends and so, at times, I chuckled while reading their books because they are so different. Suze Orman is much more in touch with emotional spending and is more thorough in attempting to get people to prioritize and to come to terms with bad spending/saving habits. I think that Clark Howard’s book is a good one for someone that is already money conscious and is looking for affirmation of their penny pinching ways or is looking for some great tips; though Orman’s book is better for someone who is curious about the world of personal finance. Orman’s book is also a better fit for someone who has had money problems and is looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. I took a couple of notes from Clark’s book but have put it up on bookmooch since it isn’t one that I need to keep for reference, but I’ll be hanging on to Orman’s for a while.

  • I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge is a quaint, heartwarming story. It’s a brief, beautifully written, lyrical and sentimental Christmas tale about a little orphan girl named Polly who experiences a number of Christmas miracles. It is light handed and well-paced. Also, my version has some simple illustrations by Margot Tomes that, like the story itself, are sort of Dickensian. I enjoyed it and wish that I could find a copy of Goudge’s The Little White Horse to read too. It’s crisp and clean and warm all at once.

  • Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World--If only it had just been about the library and the cat. The portions of the book that were not directly about Dewey were opressive in tone and, at times, clumsily executed or extraneous. It's a testament to Dewey and Myron's love of Dewey that I liked the book as much as I did. Somtimes we so want our pets to matter to other people, that we try to make others understand how important they are to us by demanding that they feel the same way about them; it can be uncomfortable when someone becomes really insistent that we have to feel the same way about the things they love as they do. Myron tried to make Dewey matter to us in exactly the same way he mattered to her by giving us all sorts of information about herself and her family. Dewey mattered because he was Dewey. The story didn't need anything more than him.
  • Sunday, April 19, 2009


    I have never really written anything that mattered. And I remain without the words to adequately express the sorrow that is currently burning a hole in the pit of my stomach. Singing with Anne, in her choir, was magical. I have often, since graduating, missed the choir and the people in it; I have never missed it more than I do today having found out that Anne has passed away. We were her choir, no matter what name we took, e.g., St. John's Small Choir, St. John's Choir.

    When I read about her passing, through tears of denial, I felt compelled to go back and listen to Rachmaninov's Vespers. While listening to them, it's hard not to realize that Anne had a profound influence over the St. John's musical tradition, as well as each of her choir members. I can't listen to good music without thinking: What would she think of this piece?; Anne would love this; or, I wish we were all still singing together.

    It kills me that I can't really remember exactly what we sounded like, but I'll listen to something like the Vespers and moments of memory rise within me. I can feel what it was like more than hear it. We were beautiful because of Anne. She had an amazing ability to select just the right pieces of music, to know exactly what we should sound like, and to pound those pieces into us until we sang them as she had imagined they must be sung. She always maintained a sense of humor with her students and friends, never shying away from laughter or a glass of wine as I recall.

    It's been almost ten years since we all started singing together. I've been in multiple choirs since and none compare. Thank you Anne.