Hola, my friends. School has rather got me under its thumb, but I am determined not to stay there. I’ve missed y’all’s posts and mean to get around to reading them as soon as possible. And meanwhile I have imbibed lots of books, because the less time I have, the more I read, apparently.
That’s all the intro I got.
To the books, then.
So, everyone in Texas is racist.
Also everyone in Texas is sexist.
Also everyone in Texas is just kind of mean.
At least that’s what I would think if all I knew about Texas came from this book. And if all I knew about punctuation rules came from this book, I’d think commas were completely optional and periods, while mostly advisable, not mandatory either.
And fine, I get it, I get it, it’s a style, we must express ourselves through art, we must be original, and if we are mid-twentieth-century American writers it goes against our creed to be original by way of writing an actually exciting book or one where most of the people are nice and it’s got, you know, a fairly happy vibe overall—so we must needs achieve originality by playing around with the rules of grammar. Fine. I get it. It wasn’t even that bad, I guess. It created that sort of breathless information-flooding-your-brain sensation that I assume Edna Ferber was going for. It was Mid-Twentieth-Century American Classic personified.
Oddly, I still kind of liked it. Uncle Bawley helped, with his cool mountain ranch and ruined hands that once wanted to play the piano and ridiculous allergies and terror of women. Leslie helped. Jordy helped. The utter lack of resolution to any of the threads didn’t help, but then Giant isn’t, I don’t think, supposed to be a real story so much as it is a painting, “Interwar Texas: A Study.” Dusty, vast, self-sufficient, tough and sunny and prejudiced, a very old place walking around uncomfortably in new boots. It certainly gave you a feeling, is what I’m saying.
And, while I’m not sure what the point of Jett Rink was, what a character. I loathe him and pity him and despise him and feel so sorry for him, all at the same time. For what reason, I really couldn’t tell you. But a character who evokes such a reaction is surely a success.
The Club of Queer Trades
G. K. Chesterton
This book somehow wasn’t even on my Chesterton radar. But Eden mentioned it, and lo and behold I went and read it, and LO AND BEHOLD I loved it.
The stories are all about people who have unusual methods of making their livings – like, really unusual. I can’t give examples, because that would give away the stories – the narrator and his friend Basil Grant (a once-highly-respected judge who went mad and retired from public life) are always running into mysteries that turn out to have something to do with this club and these trades. The very best one is the first, “Death to Major Brown,” but several of the others are almost as funny.
I shall leave you with this excellent quote:
“It is very difficult, of course, for any person, however strongly impressed with the necessity in these matters of full and exact exposition of the facts, to remember and repeat the actual details of a conversation, particularly a conversation which (though inspired with a most worthy and admirable zeal for good work) was one which did not greatly impress the hearer’s mind at the time, and was, in fact—er—mostly about socks.”G. K. Chesterton, “The Club of Queer Trades”
I would like to extend my deepest thanks to Mlle. C.M. Tomato. She recommended this book, which I would never have read otherwise, and OH MY GOSH I’M SO GLAD I DID.
Yes, there were bits that annoyed me. There is bound to be in literary criticism; it’s why I never, even for a second, considered getting an English degree – I’d go mad long before I graduated. There is one bit that annoyed me so much I’m going to mention it: the author accuses Lewis of being disingenuous on the grounds that to one person he said he came up with Aslan after having dreams about lions but to another he made the totally different statement that he came up with Aslan after having nightmares about lions.
Anyway. Michael Ward makes the argument that Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia with a secret, underlying, overarching meaning. Lewis was into both astronomy and the Ptolemaic medieval conception of the planets – a good deal of which made it into his Space Trilogy. But he did it (contends Ward) much better in Narnia. Each book is meant to encapsulate one of the planetary gods, and Aslan in each book is the direct representation of that god, while the villain or at least the conflict is often the negative side of that god. (Venus in The Magician’s Nephew, Mars in Prince Caspian, Sol in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, etc.) Lewis makes the planets, basically, into different facets of Christ.
(And this is why Narnia is flat, I think! I always thought it was so cool but random that Narnia was flat, but of course it was, if Mr. Ward’s theory is correct! Because Lewis built Narnia to be The World As Medievally Conceptualized!)
I was so skeptical when I started, but Ward goes through Lewis’s early-in-life study of and poems about each of the planets, how he portrayed them in the Space Trilogy, what each one was associated with, and how the Narnia books adhere to them and by the end it’s really rather convincing. And cool.
What convinced me more than anything, oddly, is how well it lines up with my own personal feelings about the gods: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, not my favorite of the books, are Jupiter and Mars, not at all my favorite of the gods. The Last Battle, the only Chronicle I actively dislike, is Saturn, the worst god. The Horse and His Boy, one of my very favorites, is Mercury, by far my favorite of the gods. Like…that’s weird, but it’s also cool.
Anyway, if you like Lewis, Narnia, the Space Trilogy, medieval theology, or whatever combination of the four, I highly, highly recommend.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
First of all, CAN WE TAKE A MOMENT TO GEEK OUT OVER THE FACT THAT THIS IS HUMANITY’S OLDEST SURVIVING WORK OF FICTION? IT’S OVER 4000 YEARS OLD OR SOMETHING. And it’s so simple and mythic and…weird. Half of it is weird in a good way, and half of it is weird in an I-definitely-read-the-child-friendly-version-of-this-before way.
The narrative is concerned with three main things: friendship, grief, and the search for immortality. Which are only my THREE FAVORITE THEMATIC ELEMENTS EVER. I think they must be very basic human preoccupations, because they really do show up in myth a lot.
Gilgamesh is a jerk who’s unhealthily attached to his friend and bawls a lot, but the story is really good, in my opinion. (Also Enkidu is precious.) (Also mankind’s oldest work of literature puts not romance but friendship front and center and can I just say, the ancients had their priorities straight.)
Anne of Green Gables
L. M. Montgomery
I appreciate this so much more than I ever did as a little kid. And I say that having adored Anne of Green Gables as a little kid.
The Explorations of Père Marquette
The story of Father Marquette and Louis Joliet, the first Europeans to see or traverse the northern Mississippi River (the Spaniards had already found the southern part), written for children by my favorite author of dog books. I think he’s a little better at dog books, although this was interesting. Not enough for me. I‘ve always been deeply interested in frontier history, and lately that desire has been growing and growing, and this just whetted my appetite even more.
The Ransom of Red Chief
A short story in which two would-be kidnappers are terrorized by their victim. (Bill especially is terrorized. Poor Bill.)
It was hilarious. It reminded me of Mark Twain. It made my entire day. You should read it.
The Last Thing I Remember
Terrorists, main character kid who knows karate, amnesia, strangely emotional writing style. It was fun, although I don’t plan to read the rest of the series.
There is a play called Xingu, based on a story by Edith Wharton, and it is exactly my sense of humor. I was lucky enough to be in a production of it in high school, and I played Osric Dane, the haughty, tight-lipped authoress whom some ladies in pursuit of Culture have invited to a meeting of their book club. You wouldn’t believe the time I had trying to keep a straight face – let alone a dour face – while everything went on around me. After some disastrous rehearsals, I was reduced to reading scenes of Frederica over and over at home, trying desperately not to smile at the Baluchistan hound scene or “The Animal, my lord, did not presume to bite Me,” or Charles Trevor’s heroic account of himself during The Elopement. And while I never actually succeeded at that, I did eventually manage to play an Osric Dane that did not snicker at inopportune moments.
I’ve read Frederica literally more times than I can count, and it never fails to make me laugh. I really love the Merrivilles (Frederica and Felix and Jessamy, at least) and their sibling closeness and their shenanigans (and their ridiculous names), and I love the hero’s redemption arc, because it feels kind of real. It’s not over the top – bored selfish rakish aristocrat to less bored, less selfish, taking-some-responsibility aristocrat. You want to loathe him at the beginning, but he’s so entertaining – and fortunately he stays entertaining. And the change comes about slowly, occasioned by seeing what it’s like when members of a family actually love each other and when people actually take responsibility for themselves and…basically by proving his cynical conclusions about the human race (including himself) wrong. I don’t know. I just like it.
The Abolition of Man
C. S. Lewis
Reread this not long after reading Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils and was struck by some of the similarities. The twentieth century was a weird time, man.
Was also struck by the similarity between his critique of a certain shallow postmodern attitude and this excellent Blimey Cow video.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
Bette Bao Lord
Chinese girl emigrates to America with her parents, has troubles, makes friends, and discovers baseball. The Dodgers beat the Cardinals (and some other teams) and maybe Jackie Robinson can take them all the way to the World Series? This was such a sweet book, honestly.
The Hounds of God
So (and I blush to admit it), Don Pedro was my favorite character.
What, you ask, is wrong with this?
Well…Don Pedro kidnapped the heroine because he was in love with her and he was sure if he just kidnapped her and convinced her how much he loved her, she’d love him back.
Yes, buddy. That’s going to work well for you.
Sir Gervase, her hotheaded young suitor, chases after her to Spain. But ultimately, Sir Gervase doesn’t do very much, because Queen Elizabeth and King Phillip write some letters and Don Pedro’s uncle is worried and there is stuff with the Inquisition.
So it was kind of…boring. And I really just wanted more Don Pedro.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
The Four Loves
C. S. Lewis
The best audiobook for the drive to class, or at least the only one I’ve thus utilized twice. A book analyzing the four different types of loves doesn’t sound that applicable in a practical sense, but it is. Having a solid, articulated conception of what Agape looks like, what (on the other hand) soured-Storge-masquerading-as-Agape looks like, what the true benefits and pitfalls of Philia are, has actually…been a thing in my actual life. So that’s cool.
The Unseen Guest
OKAY. I love these books (governess with mysteriously absent parents teaches children raised by wolves and adventures ensue), and I love the audiobook narrator. Her voices, seriously. Her howls. Her enunciation…it is on point. And the books are very fun, but an actual séance? In which actual dead people are actually contacted? Y’all. No.
To me, that’s like including – I don’t know, rape or something like that, in your children’s book. And then having the rapist be one of the good guys.
I know my comparison here isn’t very good (rape has a victim, occult practices sort of don’t), but they’re both wrong and they’re both wholly out of place in a children’s book.
And it doesn’t alleviate it that it’s all treated rather comically. Dead people are still actually contacted. Which I can’t view as anything but wrong wrong nope stop bad nope wrong. I’m not sure where precisely I consider the line to be between fictional fantastic elements that are fine and that are wrong nope stop, but I am sure this falls way, way on the wrong side of it.
So yes, I’m sad. I liked these books and wanted to know how they turned out but I just…can’t in good conscience read any more of them.
A country-cousin countess and her brother lead a rebellion against the corrupt king. There is lots of running away and kidnapping and last-minute escapes and the mysterious Marquis of Shevraeth.
It’s kind of fun, but also kind of not very good but also – totally worth it for the next book.
The sequel to Crown Duel! Which I read the entirety of instead of doing homework! In which Meliara and her brother go to court and the mysterious Marquis of Shevraeth is mysterious and manners are an annoyance and letters are written to mysterious suitors and there are attempts to take the throne by multiple parties. And the magic of the world is almost entirely peripheral but the world-building kind of bleeds unobtrusively into all the corners and it all feels quite right to me and I have no idea why I enjoyed this so much but I did. It’s like how I imagine good 2000s YA fantasy.
Last Chance to See
Caution for a smidge of mature content, but OH I LOVED THIS SO. I’ve never been interested in Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and frankly I’m still not, but Douglas Adams’s writing style is funny, pointed, wry, and lucid, so I’m glad I got to experience it here.
This book is much more my style, anyway. Douglas Adams and a zoologist, Mark Carwardine, take a trip around the world for a possible “last chance to see” some endangered species and what’s being done to save them, and maybe raise awareness. Each species comes with its own uniquely flavored adventure, which is always hilarious and always amazing. Because creation is amazing. Like, makes me want to be a conservationist and do nothing but learn about it and preserve it, amazing.
I looked up some of the animals after I finished (book was written in the ’90’s), and the baiji, for one, is now most probably extinct. That is so sad to me, because with the state of the world and technology and the Yangtze River, it’s not like it was probably preventable, but…why? Why does advancing technology mean everything has to be destroyed and polluted? Why did that have to happen to those gorgeous little dolphins’ home?
Anyway it was a fabulous book and, while people can get over the top about preserving nature, I also kind of understand why.
The Shadow Riders
I wish Mac’s handlebar mustache had been mentioned sooner. That threw off the whole picture of him I’d built up in my mind. So if you’re going to read this, I now kindly give you advance warning: Mac has a handlebar mustache.
Anyway, Mac and Dal are brothers who haven’t seen each other in however many years it’s been since they rode off from their Texas ranch to fight on opposite sides of the Civil War. Now the war’s over and they’re making their way home – only to find that their brother and Dal’s girlfriend have been kidnapped by a rogue group of Confederates who plan to sell them as slaves.
Which is quite suitably dramatic.
My favorite part about this is Martin Connery, the pirate rancher who sadly gets little page-time.
My other favorite part is Mac and Dal’s relationship. Dal is a nice, easygoing, normal guy. Mac is quieter and, basically, the mom friend. They had completely different opinions about the War Between the States, but now that it’s over they’re best buddies again, saving each other’s lives and joking around the campfire and referring to the past not even once. It’s so very brotherly.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
In which a china rabbit is lost, meets many unique people in his travels, and learns the meaning of love.
I’m almost positive I read this a long time ago, but there are parts I don’t remember at all, so…who knows. Regardless, the prose is truly elegant and the story teeters, for me, on the brink between touching and sappy (which is an okay place to be), and I would not be averse to reading more Kate DiCamillo.
Also, Pellegrina is creepy.
Ride the River
(My sister’s favorite character in this is Mordecai, because of course he is. Myself, I’m partial to Archie.) This is one of my very favorite L’Amours – Echo is a worthy heroine who never wastes a shot, will coolly shoot you if you ask for it but very much prefers not to ruin her dress doing it, and could survive in the mountains with one hand tied behind her back. Shep is a very jewel of a canine.
Ben K. Green
Kind of the cowboy version of James Herriot, or the Texas version of Ralph Moody. And not as much horse trading is done, actually, as mule trading. And it’s great fun.
In which the ancient Greeks apparently considered soap operas about deities the highest form of literature.
Hector is as amazing as advertised. Achilles, however, is the Actual Worst and I can’t believe anyone thought it was a good idea to make him the protagonist. I went in prepared to be forgiving, but no, he just doesn’t have a single redemptive quality. He just…doesn’t.
Also, I’m sorry, fighting a whole war, to the point of destroying an entire civilization, over a single woman, even if she is your wife wrongfully taken from you and the most beautiful woman in the world, is so STUPID. My sympathies are 100% with the Trojans.
One of the coolest things about Helen MacInnes’s early books is that they’re WWII spy books written while WWII was still going on. When she wrote this one and Assignment in Brittany, she had no certainty that Britain was going to win. My dad (to whom I read this) and I were discussing how interesting it was: you could tell it was written by someone who lived it, because of the nearness of the tragedy caused by Nazism, the horror un-tempered by hindsight, the tone of almost disbelief sometimes, the intensity of some of the characters’ language: Thornley when he talks about Maria, Frances’s thoughts, even van Cortlandt the ostensibly neutral American newspaperman. (I love van Cortlandt. He’s such a good person, under the sarcasm. And he’s so typically but convincingly American.)
The book takes place in the summer of 1939, so war is right on the horizon. (Though some, like van Cortlandt, don’t think it’ll come – Britain is just going to fold, like she did before.) Richard and Frances Myles, an English couple, are contacted by a spy friend of theirs. He desperately needs someone who’s above suspicion to try and contact an agent whose cover may or may not be blown. The Myleses always take a summer vacation in Europe (Richard’s a professor at Oxford), so why don’t they take this one in Germany?
The trip through a supposedly peaceful, flourishing Germany is disturbing to Frances, who observes what Nazism has done to the German people (without their realizing it in many cases), and to Richard, who observes that all their movements are watched. And then complications happen. And rescues take place. And my dad laughs at Richard for being so shaken about a dog, when Frances had it much worse. And it’s so good. I love this book.
So…talk to me, my bookworm comrades! Do your favorite Chronicles align with your favorite gods? What are your criteria for determining when fictional elements are occult vs. harmless fantasy? Do you have a defense of Achilles or of the Argives in general? Have you read any good books recently?