A long time ago, I came across a story that my grandmother recommended. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely hadn’t expected to read what wo...moreA long time ago, I came across a story that my grandmother recommended. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely hadn’t expected to read what would become my favorite book. The story begins as many do, giving background on the area that will provide the setting for our tale, a history as reference, but quickly catches up with the main characters and the supporting cast. And we quickly learn of Johnny and Owen Meany, two friends who forge an eternal bond despite their obvious mismatches - physical, social, cultural and religious differences. And a tragic consequence of a baseball game.
GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER. MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT.
Big words for an eleven-year old who can almost sit in his friend's lap. But Owen is so self-assured that whether John believes him or not, he knows that there is something special about Owen. They all know that there is something different, but no one but Johnny knows how different - or special - Owen really is.
Through their years together, Owen grows closer to Johnny than a simple friend: He becomes a brother, an aide in the search for Johnny's unnamed father, an influence that will guide Johnny's throughout his life. From helping to search for the identity of Johnny's father to keeping him out of the Vietnam war, Owen has written the script for Johnny's life although Johnny never realizes it until the end of the story - only then does he know that Owen knew the script for his own life as well, but never revealed it.
Each action in his short life was a test to help him fulfill the one part of his destiny that he couldn't see - the final act. Johnny faithfully helps Owen in these tasks, things that he can't possibly know the reasons for. But to Owen, even Johnny's mother's death had a purpose. Everything had a purpose to Owen. Even if he was the only one to seem to know why things happened the way they did.
He had sunk the shot in under four seconds! "YOU SEE WHAT A LITTLE FAITH CAN DO?" said Owen Meany. The brain-damaged janitor was applauding. "SET THE CLOCK TO THREE SECONDS!" Owen told him. "Jesus Christ!" I said. "IF WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER FOUR SECONDS, WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER THREE," he said. "IT JUST TAKES A LITTLE MORE FAITH." "It takes more practice," I told him irritably. "FAITH TAKES PRACTICE," said Owen Meany
Irving uses Owen Meany to analyze faith, not only as in a single religion sense, spirituality as a whole. Despite everything that he endures, Owen Meany never loses his faith, his knowledge that he is an INSTRUMENT OF GOD, as he reminds Johnny on many occasions. It is this faith, through the threat of expulsion, through the lean & hard teen years, and into his enlistment into the army, that keeps Owen going, knowing that he has a mission that he has to fulfill, and not much time to do it. Along the way, he changes Johnny, filling him with confidence and self-reliance and even religion, infusing all of those characteristics that Owen has an abundance of and is loathe to leave behind.
Irving's narrative is uniquely captivating, as is the way that he chooses to depict characters, to breath life into them. Although Owen and Johnny are by far the main characters, they live among a expansive cast, who all have their own place in this tapestry. Owen touches everyone in some small way, leading up to his grand fulfillment.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorite books, and many other's that I have lent it to have found a fondness for the story as well. Owen grabs you the way he grabs the other characters in the novel. There is something so strong, so compelling about him that you have to find out what is going to happen.
"NOW I KNOW WHY YOU HAD TO BE HERE," Owen said to me. "DO YOU SEE WHY?" he asked me. "Yes," I said. "REMEMBER ALL OF OUR PRACTICING?" he asked me. "I remember," I said.
If you're familiar with Christopher Moore's work - particularly some of his earlier novels - then you'll recognize...moreMore to come later ... but for now:
If you're familiar with Christopher Moore's work - particularly some of his earlier novels - then you'll recognize the style of this story immediately. His penchant for having subtle cross-overs continues here as some characters from "Blood-sucking Fiends" make an appearance. But that's not the good part. The good part is Moore's irreverent humor as he tackles the battle between good and evil in his trademark off-kilter way.
Charlie - the typical Beta-Male - is about to have his first child, and is wandering through his life as Beta-Males do: worrying about everything that he can, and trying to provide the most stable environment for 'The One' woman who truly loves him. But when he spots a man in his wife's hospital room just before she dies, the lives of him and his new daughter take a drastic, and certifiably odd - turn.
From that moment, Charlie becomes a "Death Merchant", a being tasked with helping the souls of those have died move to the next level of their existence via a soul vessel: an inanimate object with special relevance to that person. The problem is, Charlie doesn't quite get the manual when he becomes a "Santa's Helper of Death", so he has to make up a lot of it on his own - at least until someone comes along and starts to guide him on his path.
His path, however, is destined to be a rocky one: the forces of Evil have gathered in San Francisco, and Charlie must learn not only who he is, but how he can fight off a demon and his minions before they can bring the Underworld above to the domain of man.
With his trusty sidekicks Dan (the former cop who thinks Charlie may be a serial killer) and Lily (the teenage goth who is jealous that Charlie - a total dweeb - became a Death Merchant instead of her), he moves toward his destiny. Along the way he has to contend with his daughter's burgeoning talents (such as the deadly "kitty" phrase), his lesbian sister's inability to find a good woman but a distinct ability to pilfer Charlie's best suits, his Russian and Chinese neighbors, two hellhounds who have come to stay and a police detective who has seen this all before.
In the end, Moore's off-the-wall depiction of this fantastic and wild ride is often amusing, if a big odd for many. This isn't his best work - Lamb owns that title - but it was one of his better ones. Not for the faint of heart or those who take themselves too seriously, "A Dirty Job" was a fun read for my time sitting on the beach, laughing not so silently to myself.(less)
As a birder, I've always known that we owed a lot to John James Audubon. But until I read this biography, I hadn't realized quite how much American or...moreAs a birder, I've always known that we owed a lot to John James Audubon. But until I read this biography, I hadn't realized quite how much American ornithological history owes to one man's quest to document the species of birds found in this country (or at least, once did).
This book was given to me by a friend almost a year ago, and it took me this long to give it the attention it deserved. The biography covers the life - and times - of John James Audubon, author and illustrator of the "Birds of America" book that would define the species that existed in the times that a new country was forming.
Not only does it give us a detailed look at Audubon's life - French ex-patriot, store owner, husband, adventurer, father, writer, ornithologist and artist - but it gives us a good look at the time period in which he lived, framing it in his quest to produce the massive tome of illustrations, but still giving us valuable insight into how the world was - particularly the fledgling United States - in those early years.
Author Richard Rhodes does a remarkable job at giving the reader a solid and thorough accounting of Audubon's remarkable life story, starting with his illegitimate birth to his rise to become the most famous birder in the world. Through a combination of thorough research and remarkable records of letters, journals and thoughts from contemporaries, we get to see into the mind of this artist as he took a remarkable habit and turned it into an art and then into a lifestyle.
Perhaps just as important as the story of Audubon's own life is the story of the world around him at the time, and his views on that world. We learn what it was like in the late 1700s in America, as the populace struggled to define themselves and survive the frontier they were trying to tame; we see the world of the expanding U.S., seeing the territories of Kentucky, Louisiana and the rest through the stories and records of a remarkable man. And interestingly, we get to see what might have been the first conservationist, as Audubon looked upon the 'advancement' of the American peoples at the expense of the natural settings and creatures he loved so much.
No review in this space can truly grasp the enormity of the information captured in this book. Part biography, part natural history and part world history, "JJA: The Making of an American" is a book that will appeal to birders, obviously, but will also find a special place with anyone who loves to learn about where we came from as an American people.(less)
A quick read, this is a very bizarre book told in an almost stream of consciousness fashion. Channeling equal parts Nietzsche and Carrot Top, it conce...moreA quick read, this is a very bizarre book told in an almost stream of consciousness fashion. Channeling equal parts Nietzsche and Carrot Top, it concerns a man who decides to create a way for people to bet on their metaphysical beliefs. That is, he'll take a bet on any aspect of your religion ("God is real") or other metaphysical aspects - and soon, the whole world is betting to prove their own beliefs -- although no one ever collects.
It's a really bizarre books that rips into religion and metaphysical philosophy, and while satiring both delves into increasingly strange territory. But then again, what do you expect when the story is being told by a self-aware, God-fearing shopping cart? (less)