Chicken Soup, Allegory, and Various Methods of Flying ~ The Books I Read in January of 2020

I-read-a-bunch-of-books-and-here-are-my-opinions. (Again.)

Are you bored of I-read-a-bunch-of-books-and-here-are-my-opinions posts? I’m bored of them. But all my other posts are stuck in development, as I cannot figure out suitably eloquent ways to express myself.  And I do like talking about books. And I decided, if I’m going to talk about books, I should do it before the list of books to talk about gets ridiculously long. Don’t you think?

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Castle in the Air

by Diana Wynne Jones

Oh, goodness. My dear, polite, gentle, passive-aggressive Abdullah!

I got this book from the library for my little sister to read. She loved Howl’s Moving Castle. She found out there was a sequel. A sequel!!! She needed it! Now! She could not rest until she read it!

Did she read it?

No.

(This is why people with sisters every now and then go crazy and pull out all their hair.)

Did I, the avowed hater of sequels and ruining-perfectly-good-books-that-had-perfectly-good-endings, who swore she’d have nothing more to do with Howl and Sophie after leaving them happily if quarrelsomely in their castle, read it?

(You may picture me sheepishly hanging my head.)

The Aladdin elements were too fun, y’all. Especially the magic carpet that worked best when flattered and the grumpy, unhelpful-on-principle genie. I think that Diana Wynne Jones knows just when to flip clichés on their heads and when to keep them intact, to produce stories and worlds that are delightfully familiar in a delightfully original way. (Also I think it’s funny how Prince Justin was present in both books but in such a strange way both times.) I didn’t like this as much as Howl’s Moving Castle, but I did like it, and Abdullah’s really a dear. And who says you can’t tie up every single last loose end into a wonderful bundle of happily-ever-afters? I think it works perfectly.

 

They Loved to Laugh

by Kathryn Worth

Okay, you know that special feeling you get when someone shows you something and says, “It’s my favorite”? Be it book, movie, song, or recipe. It’s like you know something about them you didn’t know before, by knowing this is their favorite.

There’s a girl at church. She’s very sweet. I don’t know her well, but They Loved to Laugh is her favorite book, and she lent it to me. I would have liked it for that, regardless of whether I liked it for itself, but I did like it for itself too.

I didn’t think I did at first – it was hard to get into the story when the writing felt like someone trying unsuccessfully to emulate Louisa May Alcott’s style with some Lucy Maud Montgomery thrown in (very telling, very unafraid of sentiment), but at some point I decided no, this writer is writing it her own way and she’s actually doing a decent job at it. It’s just not what I’m used to.

(And, too, maybe I resented how the narrative ended up portraying Sarah; there’s room in the world for smart, well-read, politically interested girls and pretty, gentle females, isn’t there? You can prefer to marry the pretty, gentle female without devaluing the smart, well-read, politically interested girl, can’t you? But I think Martitia’s growth and the merriness of Dr. David and the boys made up for it.)

Besides – I’m always down for a good slow-moving family story about Quakers in antebellum North Carolina, don’t you know.

 

Starflower

by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

I believe I can list on one hand the allegories I actually like. In fact, let me do it for you now: Narnia, Animal Farm, Till We Have Faces, The Man Who Was Thursday, and this book.

It amuses me that the same friend who forced Six of Crows into my hands also lent me this. In her words: “This is the purest book I will ever give you.” (Since she’s also the friend who got me to read Vicious…yeah. I believe her.)

The allegorical elements weren’t obvious to me at first (I mean, Hri Sora and her father were, but not the elements touching the main characters), and when they became apparent, they still felt natural to the world and grounded in the sometimes-lyrical, always-grammatically-correct, slightly impersonal style of the narrative, and…well…they worked. That’s all I can say, really, and it’s plenty, because I for one don’t think allegories often work.

THE HOUND WAS NOT WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS. Whoa.

Starflower’s land and culture, ow. That felt real. And while I don’t usually like stories where people are just like oppressed, oppressed, oppressed, every moment bleeds oppression, that too…worked.

I don’t know, guys. I can’t be coherent. It just all worked: the slow-burn plot, the slow-burn themes, the tribes-and-skins-and-wars-and-sacrifices mortal land, the horrifying-ness of the Beast, the strength of Starflower, the motif of true names and the One Who Names Them.

Also, Eanrin is such a cat and it cracks me up. Even when he became a nicer person…still such a cat.

 

The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough

This book disappointed me.

That doesn’t mean it was a bad book – not by any stretch. Biographies always disappoint me. I can only think of one that didn’t: it was about Disraeli, and after I got done reading it I felt like I’d known the guy.

I crave that level of connection with history, to feel like I know the people who lived then. It’s often an impossible wish. Heartbreaking as it is (don’t laugh, I really am a little heartbroken), there are things I’ll never know about Vivaldi. Big things and details that are perhaps bigger than the big things. I’ll never know because no one knows. We simply can’t. Unless there has been an unusual amount of writing, by a person and about them by their contemporaries, you’re really not going to understand, on a level beyond broad adjectives and pieced-together hypotheses, a historical person’s personality.

Sometimes biography writers (especially, I think, when writing for children) try to get around that by inventing a personality. Imbuing Thomas Edison with all the typical emotions you might feel when you fail for the ninety-ninth time at creating the light bulb, or get thrown off a train, or whatever. It’s mostly conjecture, it’s usually poorly written, and it feels oh so very fake.

Sometimes, instead, writers pause every now and then to list the person’s accomplishments, as if that somehow constitutes what a person was like. “He was a this, he was a that, he spent five years doing this other thing, and by all accounts he was remarkably handsome.” Thanks. I could have found that out from Wikipedia.

David McCullough did neither of those things with the Wright brothers. He didn’t need to, really. He was lucky; they wrote a lot and had a lot written about them. Pretty much every page was peppered with multiple primary-source quotations (some of them delightfully wry – I dig the Wright family’s sense of humor). That’s not why I was disappointed.

Growing up, I had a bit of a thing for the Wright brothers. They invented the airplane, for Guynemer’s sake. They were two bicycle mechanics from Dayton who never went to college but who could learn just about anything they set their minds to, who wanted to know, who studied birds and read books and solved the problem that mankind hadn’t solved for centuries. Made man fly. Funded themselves from the profits of a bicycle repair shop. Had to start fresh in many ways when they found out that much of the accepted wisdom about flying-machine construction and wingspan ratios and such things was just plain wrong.

They’re just so cool, don’t you see? A pair of quintessentially Midwestern geniuses. I wanted to be Wilbur, and I wanted to marry Orville.

I read this book because I realized I’d forgotten a lot of what I used to know. It was cool to see the less-well-known parts of the story, like how the experiments proceeded at Huffman Prairie even after the initial success at Kitty Hawk. And it reminded me how much I love the Wright brothers. But I still don’t quite know what they were like. And, maybe this is just me, but where were the details? I don’t want to be told vaguely that they had trouble making the propellers work and that after a while Orville figured it out; I want to know the process – how’d they go about diagnosing? What solutions did they propose? How’d they build the things? Materials, plans, measurements? What equations did they use when deciding specs? Don’t tell me they experimented for months with a wind tunnel; show me the experiment. Show me what they were doing, what measurements they took and why. I want details, I want diagrams.

Maybe that’s just the voice of someone I used to be, an incurably curious little girl determined she’d grow up to be an inventor, talking. But even if you didn’t want to be an inventor when you were little, I think history books always seem to fail us in that way. Do most people not want to know the nitty-gritty of the process? Would technical details bore them? But you can skip over technical details, can’t you? And so much of the story is being left out without them!

Also (and this is not just me; my dad, to whom I read most of the book, says the same), the end, where they basically just went around being famous, was boring. I did not need two whole chapters of that.

I don’t know. It was a good book in some ways. In others it fell short. There’s so much I want to find out now. (But that’s always been the case, so who knows if I’ll actually do it.)

 

The Dream Giver

by Bruce Wilkinson

Lent to me by a friend, because what book in this list wasn’t? It’s a parable of sorts, in which Ordinary, who lives in the Land of Familiar, decides to leave to go pursue his Big Dream. Helped, of course, by the Dream Giver and such companions as Faith. All very on-the-nose, but not bad?

Kind of good, really.

I don’t know.

The parable was just the first half. The second half was boring. And who thought it was a good idea to write a self-help-type book for adults in language more suited to the understanding of five-year-olds?

But the parable part was…actually nice.

 

Franny and Zooey

by J. D. Salinger

A lot of cleverness. A lot of swearing. Also, this was written in the 1950s and what the heck, people were watching Leave It To Beaver and reading this in the same decade.

Besides the cleverness and the swearing, though – actually, about the swearing. Did there really have to be so much of it? Like every time Lane or Zooey opened his mouth (and Zooey opened his mouth a lot, for lengthy stretches)…gee whiz. (And, if you think I’m using a lot of italics, that’s nothing to the characters in this book.)

But, for real, apart from the cleverness and the swearing: wow, I have thoughts. In a nutshell, this is a story about a college girl, Franny, who has a bit of a breakdown over meaninglessness, human lack of authenticity, and personal identity.  It’s also about her older brother, Zooey, who talks her (and himself) through it.

It sounds more like a philosophical discussion than a story, but it was competently both.

A predominant impression I am left with is the realness of the Glass family. Zooey’s affection for his sister was palpable, if unconventionally expressed.  His affection for his mother was also very clear by the end, even if he was a jerk to her. Even if he was just a jerk in general.

I kind of didn’t like Zooey, but I kind of got him. And so then I did like him.

Even though I also didn’t.

Whatever.

It wasn’t a very cheerful story, even though it ended on a more cheerful note. It wasn’t depressing, but it was deflating. And horribly relatable.

Like, I don’t like saying that I related to these hyper-self-aware messed-up people with their hyper-self-aware messed-up problems.  But…well, I am truthful, and I did relate. When Franny says she’s “sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.” When she can’t stop seeing holes in everything and absolutely can’t stand her professor. When Zooey tells her it’s all right to despise what the professor represents, but not to despise him, and she definitely despises him; in fact she is being hugely and hypocritically personal about it. And, perhaps, what she despises isn’t ego, but something else.

And…I don’t know how to explain it all, but you’re used to seeing certain things about yourself in books. Things you do, things you think. But there are some things about you that never seem to show up. I’m not saying I wanted them to show up, but having found them here in Franny and Zooey is…I don’t know. It’s something. I can see why it’s my friend’s favorite book. (Which I have finally got around to reading probably only because she gave me a copy. Bless you, Friend.) I can’t believe how many of the things Zooey says I agree with, though naturally I don’t agree with them all. And I am forever touched by the Fat Lady and the consecrated chicken soup.

~

So, uh…thoughts? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in the Wright brothers? Have you read any of the Tales of Goldstone Wood (Starflower’s my first one), and do you like allegory? Do you have preconceived notions about J. D. Salinger’s works? (Because I did, and they were negative, and not all of them were right. But some of them definitely were.)

Author: sarahseele

A Christian, cat owner, college kid, and writer. Fond of stories. Fond of rain.

9 thoughts on “Chicken Soup, Allegory, and Various Methods of Flying ~ The Books I Read in January of 2020”

  1. I WILL NEVER BE TIRED OF YOUR BOOKISH POSTS.

    I love Abdullah SO MUCH. He is my favorite. I loved this book as much as Howl’s Moving Castle, but in a completely different way. You know those sequels?

    And my goodness. As a girl who is not, perhaps, as smart and politically knowledgable as she might like to be, but who still at least tries, I can NOT with books that devalue characters like that. I hate books that devalue pretty, gentle girls, too, but books that devalue characters who dare to be smart or otherwise challenging (basically, books that devalue characters who are deemed somehow threatening to the status quo) are really something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I WILL NEVER BE TIRED OF YOUR ENTHUSIASTIC COMMENTS, so that is good to hear. 🙂

      Ikr?? He’s amazing. I do know those sequels! And perhaps, with rereads, I’ll like this just as much as Howl’s Moving Castle. Howl’s Moving Castle is sort of a special book for me, personally, so it’s hard to live up to that. But if anyone’s got a shot at it, it’s Abdullah. XD

      Yes. I agree with everything you just said. And I mean, I don’t think this particular book was TRYING to devalue smart, politically knowledgeable girls. It was just what one character said, and it was in the context of Martitia feeling inferior for NOT knowing all about Henry Clay, and Sarah was otherwise portrayed positively. But like. That was like the last we heard of her, and it did not sit right with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Are you bored of I-read-a-bunch-of-books-and-here-are-my-opinions posts?” Not a bit! It’s like having a book conversation, and I don’t get those as often as I would like.
    “Have you read any of the Tales of Goldstone Wood?” Each and every one! I adore those books… and I think it’s time I start re-reading them again. I especially look forward to re-reading Golden daughter and Shadow hand. My heart is beating double time just thinking about it. *coughs and regains composure* ah, sorry about that.
    “and do you like allegory?” It depends. I think it’s a hard thing to get right. But I’ve been enjoying Suzannah Rowntree’s collection of fairy-tale re-tellings, and there are some good allegories in there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 I guess I’m not really bored of them; at least, I’m not at all bored of comments on them, because I love book conversations too.
      Ahh, I didn’t know you liked them so much! I hope you enjoy your reread. Or, well, I’m glad you’re going to enjoy your reread, because clearly you’re going to. Starflower is my first one, but yeah, it was amazing and I want to read more of them sometime.
      Yes, it certainly is hard to get right. And I must say, I like it much better when the allegory sneaks up on you and you’re like WHOA, I didn’t realize! That’s a cool feeling.

      Like

  3. I will never be tired of your ramblings about books.

    I’ve not read any of these. SARAH WHY. Anne Elisabeth Stengl has been on my casual TBR (you know, the “oh-if-I-get-a-chance-I-should-read-that-someday” one) for approximately three eternities; her books sound pretty dang wonderful.

    Oddly, I’ve…never been intensely interested in the Wright Brothers? Which is shameful, seeing as how I love early aviation so much and have pretty significant connections with Dayton and have been to Kittyhawk and stuff. Like. I should care about these people? They invented my precious biplane? And they lived in my state? And they were brothers on top of it all? ….why am I so uninterested? (But “for Guynemer’s sake”–I will steal that expression. GUYNEMER IS MY BABY. Along with John Gillespie Magee, Jr., whose name I am possibly misspelling.) Anywho, you’ve inspired me to care more.

    And I love what you say about favorites. So much.

    Like

    1. I’m glad to hear that, because I probably won’t stop rambling about them any time soon. (But goodness, that wasn’t the question I expected everyone to answer. 😂)

      That casual TBR, yes indeed I know it. I think mine is even longer than my official TBR. SO MANY LOVELY BOOKS IN THE WORLD.

      Ooh, I’m definitely surprised you’ve never been interested in the Wright brothers! That’s kinda hard to imagine, actually. Lol. I mean I suppose I know lots of people who couldn’t care less, but the fact that you’re one of them is staggering. For shame, Megan! 😛 I think I just related so much to their insatiable curiosity, when I was little (and even now, to be honest), and they’re what got me interested in aviation in the first place, I believe. And they’re INVENTORS. I was always interested in those in a general sense.
      But ANYWAY. They’re cool! You should care! (You know. If you want to care. You don’t HAVE to care. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.) (There’s some cool museum in Dayton we visited once – the only time my mom ever wanted to leave a museum before I did – I don’t know what it was called or anything, but I wonder if you’ve visited it.)

      Like

      1. Yes!!! I absolutely love them. If you can, try reading them in publication order — the reveals and little details work just right that way (even though it’s not chronological).

        Liked by 1 person

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