Required reading for every booklover. I had to wait a day before writing this review so I wouldn't gush too embarrassingly. The book contains a trite,...moreRequired reading for every booklover. I had to wait a day before writing this review so I wouldn't gush too embarrassingly. The book contains a trite, amusing little mystery, interesting in it's parallels to current history and acts of terrorism. Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword, and I wonder if the secret service keeps an eye on copies of Team of Rivals and Lush Life, Obama's recent reading picks.
But the book is magnificent when Morley lets Mr. Mifflin rant. At times I felt I was reading current blogs on bookseller sites: "She asked for The Passing of the Stone, and it turns out she wanted Shelters of Stone; it was blue; it was on this table last year; it has a vampire..." Do booksellers supply the demand, or create the demand? I've always believed that booksellers do not deal in "merchandise", though my beliefs are strongly challenged after repeated inquiries for Twilight, Charlaine Harris, and Lost Symbol, just as Mifflin is discouraged by "that book about the boy raised by Monks." You mean Tarzan?! I like his idea that the uncommon customer acts as our "unconscious agent of book-destiny," leading us to an author we haven't yet met. I'd like to call myself an agent of book-destiny, shedding light on the books that hold up despite a lack of advertising. Sounds rather angelic, no? This is the first time I've ever been tempted to read a book a second time right away. But the pull of book-destiny will assert itself too strongly, and I know I'll be led, instead, to read a handful more Morley titles as I can find them (why are they going out of print?!) with, perhaps, a few more readings of the first through third chapters, for some phrases to keep in my head as the next person asks me for "that history of Masonism" or "Dear God, it's Vodka."(less)
Here's a book you can sink into and inhabit for all if its 800 pages. Prior knowledge of Dickens' and Collins' work is not required, but does make eac...moreHere's a book you can sink into and inhabit for all if its 800 pages. Prior knowledge of Dickens' and Collins' work is not required, but does make each plot twist more delectable, and will surely encourage you to read more of their work in future. (less)
I can't figure out why I never encountered Chesnutt in any American history class in school. His works seem required reading for anyone wishing to put...moreI can't figure out why I never encountered Chesnutt in any American history class in school. His works seem required reading for anyone wishing to put a face on slavery and post-war South. The first half of the book is Conjure Tales, a collection of stories farmed from Chesnutt's experience as a white landowner in the decades just after the Civil War. He employs an ex-slave to help him run a vineyard. This character, Uncle Julius, is portrayed as an ingenious storyteller, describing stories of how African slaves used the practice of voodoo to explain the tragedies of slavery, as well as to protect their interests, creating fear in the white community in order to keep them at a distance. Even Uncle Julius, a free man, uses his storytelling powers and whites' superstitious fears to achieve his own ends. The stories are haunting, and some, tragic, beautiful works of art. The second half of the book mainly concerns the strange place that mulattoes found themselves in after the abolition of slavery. Whether they were free before the war or not, they still were challenged to identify with any racial group, and enjoy the benefits of a supposedly free society, facing, and harboring their own, racial prejudices towards both whites and blacks. Chesnutt throws in an unrelated story at the very end, poking fun at book collectors, which, as a booklover, I especially enjoyed. I'm interested to know how many stories were based on real people and events, or had become Southern legends, and how generous Chesnutt was in elaborating his stories for literary ends. Either way, the book is enlightening and gorgeous reading. (less)
So I'm attempting to read (and collect) the over 400 books in the New York Review of Books classics series. The first one (since Stoner, which sparked...moreSo I'm attempting to read (and collect) the over 400 books in the New York Review of Books classics series. The first one (since Stoner, which sparked my interest in the series) that I am devouring is Names on the Land, written by George R. Stewart. What a world of magnificent writing I've discovered! And it is a full world, as Stewart didn't write about just one topic, but has written over a dozen books, both fiction and non, over innumerable topics. Names on the Land studies the origin of place names in the United States, but also studies the histories that created those names. I'll write a full review when I've finished it. But I've also been drawn to his other titles, and picked up Earth Abides with eagerness. It's the story of the world after 99% of its population has died of an infectious disease. But not only is it the story of the end of modern civilization, but also the story of the creation of a new one. Stewart's love of place, geography, is obvious in Earth Abides. Stewart is an artist, thoughtful and intelligent, sensitive to all aspects of life, from humans to rats to ants to corn, he considers the fate of all. He considers the nature of human motivations to create government, religion, education. Every sentence is thought-provoking and insightful. Connie Willis writes the introduction to the most recent reprint, and comments that this book continues to live with you, and she's absolutely right. The ideas that our narrator values, intellect, the knowledge of the the centuries, logic, these values must be re-evaluated in the face of a new civilization, and, even though it is painful, some must be discarded. As a book-lover myself, it's hard to digest, but Stewart makes it make sense. This is brilliant writing. I'm so grateful to have discovered this author.(less)
Wow. This was exactly the book I was searching for -- a book that brings the beauty of the Romanian landscape, the consciousness of the contemporary R...moreWow. This was exactly the book I was searching for -- a book that brings the beauty of the Romanian landscape, the consciousness of the contemporary Romanian with all the poetic perspective that comes so naturally through the language, with an American sensibility to honestly portray the harrowing daily trials of life under tyranny, and wraps it all up with an uncharacteristic dollop of hope. I use the word "uncharacteristic" because there are so few Romanian authors brave enough (American enough?) to evoke hope in their writing. After forty years of communist suppression, Romanians still don't even feel comfortable talking with an American about the daily specific fears, sacrifices, and pain of life under Ceaucescu, or the unstable years following his execution. Not that people didn't have these fears, but it had been illegal for so long to express them. Poets and writers became accustomed to using their language, rich with metaphor and poetry, to express their thoughts indirectly. Radulescu is one of only a few authors I've so far discovered who is disclosing the inner consciousness of the contemporary Romanian honestly, staring into the face of contemporary history, unflinchingly placing herself within it. Her bittersweet love story had me crying in public as I read. Her chapters on her experience as a political exile, her identification with refugees of all nationalities, her ability to "miss" a country she'd only ever read about, her refusal to seek out other Romanians in exile, and her troubled marriage all shed valuable insight I hadn't considered before. Radulescu calls this a novel, but it's so fluent and naked, I can't help but think it's almost all memoir. I've heard she's about to publish a second book, Black Sea Twilight, but I can't find it yet on any American sites. Sign me up for that release; I'll go anywhere Radulescu takes me.(less)
Having recently visited Sighet and Wiesel's birthplace, I wanted to first read one of his novels that professed to be semi-autobiographical about his...moreHaving recently visited Sighet and Wiesel's birthplace, I wanted to first read one of his novels that professed to be semi-autobiographical about his hometown and childhood. I tried to focus on what might be autobiographical details dropped into the narrator's voice. Well, the last page made that whole experiment for naught, if I understand Wiesel at all. Not that Michael certainly speaks for Wiesel, but not as directly as I had assumed. Throughout this novel I was moved, saddened, enlightened, cheered, and impassioned. On the last page, I was nothing more than stunned. Literally, paralyzed for an immeasurable moment with this book open on my lap. Thank God that Wiesel has never kept silent, that he lives his own advice -- that a moment uncommunicated is not really lived, an idea not acted on deserves nothing but contempt. It is our job to start the conversation and mobilize the action. Grateful again for another illustration of hope in Eastern Europe...(less)