I've been indulging myself a bit in the reading department over the past few weeks. I think a Wodehouse by the bedside might be the maxed-out brain'sI've been indulging myself a bit in the reading department over the past few weeks. I think a Wodehouse by the bedside might be the maxed-out brain's equivalent to a cup of chicken soup for an ailing body. This book is half Blandings Castle and the Earl of Emsworth and half Mulliner's tales of relatives in Hollywood, which felt a little random, but it had me chuckling often and eagerly picking it up before bed each night until it was finished, at which point I trudged upstairs for another Wodehouse. ...more
**spoiler alert** This book must get two separate ratings, I feel. It was amazing (which is the five-star assertion). But also, I liked it (which is t**spoiler alert** This book must get two separate ratings, I feel. It was amazing (which is the five-star assertion). But also, I liked it (which is the three-star assertion). Rather than getting it wrong from both sides and making an average, I will embrace the duality of Woolf herself and give it both, and neither.
It was a house full of unrelated passions, thinks Lily Briscoe upon returning to the Scotland summer home in search of closure. The woman artist stands on the lawn facing the house, trying to finish her painting after years of neglect. She feels she has escaped somehow, the life that these people, with their unrelated passions, have led. She pities them, and yearns for them.
To the Lighthouse is about "subject and object and the nature of reality." It is about "nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge." It is about fear and need, unresolved.
It is about beauty, and it is heartrending, broken beauty. "It was love, she thought, pretending to move her canvas, distilled and filtered; love that never attempted to clutch its object; but, like the love which mathematicians bear their symbols, or poets their phrases, was meant to be spread over the world and become part of the human gain."
It is about Virginia Woolf, and about lost humanity. Men, women, husbands, wives, children, friends, artists, all in her eyes and within her own life story, are answering or not answering the questions. What is truth? What is love? Why are we here? It is about choosing one's own way, and leaving others free to do the same.
I see gushing reviews and know that Woolf's writing deserves the praise. But her answers to the questions, espoused by so many now, have not resolved the fear and the need. Oh, that the world would come to know and glorify God, and find in Him all the abundance He freely offers through His Son, Jesus Christ!
"'You know what you are? You're an expatriate. Why don't you live in New York? Then you'd know these things. Coffee is good for you. It's the caffeine"'You know what you are? You're an expatriate. Why don't you live in New York? Then you'd know these things. Coffee is good for you. It's the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave. You know what's the trouble with you? You're an expatriate. One of the worst type. Haven't you heard that? Nobody that ever left their country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers.' He drank the coffee. 'You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.' 'It sounds like a swell life,' I said." The following exchange occurs in a Paris cafe between the protagonist, Jake Barnes, and his often-drunk friend Bill. (But they're all often drunk in this book.) Both men are writers, and both, as well as most of the other primary characters, are American expatriates in the aftermath of World War I. They do exactly what Bill jokingly accuses Jake of doing above, and very little else. A casual reader might take in Hemingway's terse prose, sparse dialog, see his indolent characters, and wonder what on earth the point is here, and how on earth is this great literature? Or he may feel, as I do, that the terse prose and sparse dialog seem full of innuendo and implication, and the stories not being told are even more important than the ones that are. Understanding the extreme self-destruction of the expatriate community required me to do additional research, reading accounts of what they had experienced in the trenches and field hospitals of World War I. As a friend mentioned, PTSD wasn't "a thing" then, and men and women who had seen unspeakable horrors were expected to come home and get regular jobs and move on, although their whole moral code, or what they had assumed to be theirs, was shaken to pieces by the devastation they'd witnessed. So these Americans didn't go home, where they would be expected to go back to normal. They stayed in Europe and drank themselves to death, became obsessed with sex, sat around in cafes, and tried to forget everything. So, on the surface, the story goes: expatriates drink themselves silly at cafes in Paris. Lady Brett Ashley sleeps around with lots of guys, and Jake wishes he could be with her but he was injured in the war and can't perform. Jake gets mad at his Jewish friend Robert when he sleeps with Brett. Brett's fiance, Mike, isn't happy about it either. Jake and Bill go fishing and drink more. Robert pesters Brett and Mike. They all go to Pamplona and drink even more. Bullfights. Drinking. We hate Robert. Brett seduces young bullfighter. Yada, yada, all is vanity. Under the surface is a more sympathetic, if not a happier, story. Each character is running from something. "Liberated" Brett is really terribly needy, who, having been abused, is now desperate to retain control of each relationship by withholding her true self and leaving whenever she likes. Jake's impotence defines him; having bought into a culture obsessed with sex, he can never be satisfied, even for a moment. He is angry when faced with this, and finds one outlet in the gory, impassioned world of bullfighting. Robert didn't go to war and still has a moral code of sorts, and so he can never fit in with his set, no matter how hard he tries. He brings out the worst in all of them, but he doesn't know when to leave. There is one less depressing part of the story. When Jake and Bill get away from the others to fish, at least they're out in nature doing something with an end other than a hangover. They also meet an Englishman there who had been in the war, and the time seems to be cathartic for them all, which is quite a shift from alcohol and sex as the sole medications for what ails them. It is a relief from the otherwise unending strain, "all is vanity." By far, the most appealing aspect of this book is Hemingway's writing style itself. He gives credence to the adage, "less is more." His acerbic wit seems sometimes angry but always restrained, and very well timed. Somehow, as few words as he uses, I feel I understand him through his writing. I am sorry for him, and a little angry with him, but I understand him....more
This was my first Willa Cather novel (technically, I started Death Comes for the Archbishop right around the time my son was born, but was too sleep dThis was my first Willa Cather novel (technically, I started Death Comes for the Archbishop right around the time my son was born, but was too sleep deprived to pay much attention to it). What a gifted writer she was! Here is a quote from the beginning: "As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the color of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running." After reading this, I immediately started searching online for pictures of the red prairie-grass. It turns out that Willa Cather has a nature preserve in the prairie, since she loved that land so much. Anyway, I really enjoyed her writing. My Antonia. It's unlike most of the books I've read, in that it's narrated by someone other than the protagonist, by someone who doesn't even see her whole life unfold. Much of what we learn about Antonia is kind of a summary given by her childhood friend, this narrator, and only rarely do we see her for any prolonged period. The point of this, I think, is to show how much of an impression this special woman had made on those who knew her. This impression spanned language barriers, cultural differences, class, education, time, and space--she helped define this man. And our book club discussed what it was about Antonia that made her exceptional. She was deep in her soul--had a true appreciation for beauty and a commitment to her homeland that never waned--, and she reached out to people, almost got under their skin, in a good way. She worked harder than seemingly everyone else, and never lost her joy. She believed the best of people, and gave her best to them. She made the barren prairie into a thriving homestead and farm. She was, Cather argues, what the Midwest was built on. Willa Cather. I don't know why, but at times I got distracted in remembering that it's really a woman talking here, and not the narrator, Jim Burden. Particularly, in describing Jim's observations about the character Lena Lingard, who is similar to Antonia in some ways but seems to ooze sensuality constantly (sometimes unconsciously, sometimes not), I kept thinking, "this is Willa writing about short skirts and slinking walks." And I wish she'd let us in on either a little more or a little less about Jim. At the beginning of the novel we're told that he's married a wealthy but unenthusiastic woman whose actions seem to be motivated by pure selfishness, Antonia's polar opposite. Jim asserts early and often in the novel the superiority of these hard-working foreign women to the pale, lifeless town girls. To the very end, his devotion to Antonia seems strong. Why marry someone whose type he'd renounced as inferior? I get that the book is supposed to be about Antonia, but there's so much of Jim in it too that I wished that choice had been explored further. I loved peering through the lens of Willa Cather's writing into such a different time and place. I am still amazed by the devotion of those who worked the land that was still largely barren, building a place for their families far from home. What a rich national heritage we possess! ...more
This novel was completely engrossing and very well-written (for escapist literature). The story explores loss and isolation, fantasy and restoration,This novel was completely engrossing and very well-written (for escapist literature). The story explores loss and isolation, fantasy and restoration, and ends hopefully, despite a lot of heartache along the way. Ultimately it is a mystery, with a little bit of romance as well, where generations of women from an unknown family lineage discover the dark secrets of their heritage and learn to embrace life. I wish there had been a little more humor, but apparently Kate Morton likes her characters tragically dysfunctional, devastatingly wounded, or just plain nuts, which leaves little room for laughs. I gave it a high rating because it really was a well-woven yarn, which drew me in enough that I wasn't bothered by its slightly formulaic style until a while after I'd put it down. I will say that I figured out the "big shocking twist" of the story simply ages before she meant me to...but still enjoyed the read! Now, on to something great where the tale serves the truth and not the other way around....more
I can see why some people love this book. It's engaging, easy to read, interesting, mysterious, and emotional. It touches women in an integral place bI can see why some people love this book. It's engaging, easy to read, interesting, mysterious, and emotional. It touches women in an integral place by causing us to examine our own relationships with our mothers (and on a lesser level, husbands and sisters) and how those important women have helped to shape us. Our book club had a good discussion over its themes, including the way people respond to trauma, the importance of communication, the absolutely bleak situation in Leningrad during the Seige, and much more. We also collectively agreed that there were some hokey elements--the twist at the end and the epilogue (which I will not spoil for prospective readers), for example. Kristin Hannah is obviously a talented writer, did a great deal of good research, and has a heart for the bonds between women, especially those who experience hardship together. I was thoroughly involved in the story, which brought me to tears. So why, now, am I so ambivalent about the book? The ending had something to do with it, I'm sure. Also, for me, it was a little bit like watching and enjoying a movie because it happens to be on TV, although you wouldn't have paid to rent it. It was not great literature, but it was an interesting book....more
How can I describe how wonderful this book is? It's so wonderful that I could be in a complete stupor of new baby sleep-deprivation, my brain would liHow can I describe how wonderful this book is? It's so wonderful that I could be in a complete stupor of new baby sleep-deprivation, my brain would literally be turning itself off, and I would keel over with the book in my hand. It's so wonderful that it took a woman who had formerly considered all things Western quite boring and made her want to watch a John Wayne movie. That's 27 years of aversion turned around, folks. It's wonderful. The story is one of faith, family, adventure, and loyal love. The characters are the Land family, Jeremiah (the father), and Davy, Reuben, and Swede, his children, with Reuben as the protagonist. Each major character is so rich and demands that you care about him/her. The setting is Minnesota and North Dakota in the 1960s, and the plot centers around the family's response when Davy is arrested for killing two boys from his school. I could try to offer a play-by-play, but I'd rather just say that, although the story is exciting and touching and poignant, Enger's writing makes literary magic. Each page is a joy, and I found myself putting the book down after certain turns of phrase simply to say, "wow!," and then pick it back up again. This book will be one for me to read and reread, a modern classic for sure. ...more
Another book club pick, this book gets a strong 3.5 stars. I didn't expect to enjoy it at all--I mean, it's billed to be about an elephant and her keeAnother book club pick, this book gets a strong 3.5 stars. I didn't expect to enjoy it at all--I mean, it's billed to be about an elephant and her keeper at a washed-up zoo. But it turned out to be about more than that: real characters, each with defining moments, baggage, fears, and quests for purpose that made me understand and feel compassion for them. It also represents a variety of psychological/chemical disorders in its characters that made for very interesting reading for this former psychology undergraduate. The main character is an elderly black man named Sam whose love for Hannah (this elephant) keeps him working long past his body's ability to continue. He is loyal, loving, and quite philosophical despite several tragic life experiences. And yet, I connected just as much with the secondary characters and even (in a very frustrated way) to the villain, the zoo's dysfunctional manager, Harriet. I found the spiritual elements of the book to be intriguing as well. Many of the characters had a desire to relate to God in some way, and talked about their conceptions of Him openly. The way each person tried to fill the 'spiritual gap' was both interesting and sad. The ending is hopeful on many levels, and so is the spiritual element meant to be, but from a Christian standpoint it still represents futility. Even so, from a worldly perspective, the sense of purpose and hope in this book was very strong, and I appreciated much it had to offer....more
What a wonderful book! What stands out the most to me is Hardy's ability to paint word pictures--he does a fantastic job establishing the setting of tWhat a wonderful book! What stands out the most to me is Hardy's ability to paint word pictures--he does a fantastic job establishing the setting of the English countryside, more rural than any of Austen's settings, a place where time seems to stand still. Both of his protagonists seem so real and experience believable development throughout the novel (that is, staying themselves while learning to control their baser impulses). His use of dialect is a source of much humor throughout the book, especially contrasting the well-spoken Bathsheba with her least intellectual farm hands, who stutter and have the tendency to spend much of their conversation on wild tangents rather than speaking concisely. But, contrasted with his use of humor, Hardy expresses unspeakable tragedy with amazing beauty and wisdom. By the time the book comes to resolution, the reader has had the opportunity either to empathize with or at least to understand each major character on a deep level. This was a book club pick for us, and some of the ladies found it difficult to get into at first, but I think anyone who has grown accustomed to the slower pace of 19th century British literature will find a lot to appreciate in the 'wordy' beginning, which contains a lot of Hardy's personality and personal wisdom. I did! ...more
I was amazed to learn that Ray Bradbury wrote the initial version of this book in only nine days--it seems to me that his insight into society, the reI was amazed to learn that Ray Bradbury wrote the initial version of this book in only nine days--it seems to me that his insight into society, the relationship of our cultural degradation with our growing lack of contemplation, and even the workings of the human psyche would have been the product of a much lengthier effort. Then again, it is clear that Bradbury wrote what he had studied around him, and simply threw it a few hundred years into the future. The result is quite startling, and hard to ignore. (Can YOU envision a world with wall-sized televisions, earbuds, sensory overload, moral decline, and a general consensus that if we can't agree on something, we should just pretend that it doesn't exist? Yeah.) I also enjoyed Bradbury's ability to write real characters (although they are 'real' in an imaginary world, and some have more depth than others). Far from being a dry treatise on censorship, this book allows the reader to experience Montag's awakening, feel the challenge of arguing with Beatty (the novel's human villain), and mourn for the hopelessness of Montag's lopsided relationship with his wife. I'm glad this book is required reading for so many schools these days, and recommend it as a part of a well-rounded education in school or in life! ...more
Having bought the trilogy of "The Hawk and the Dove" series, and having enjoyed the first book so much, I was really eager to continue on. The WoundsHaving bought the trilogy of "The Hawk and the Dove" series, and having enjoyed the first book so much, I was really eager to continue on. The Wounds of God starts much like The Hawk and the Dove did, with the same style of a "meta-tale," many of the same characters, but some new themes. I did enjoy this book. However, about midway through, Melissa and her family (the protagonists in the present) simply dropped off the scene! These stories were supposed to be their family's tradition, truer in some senses than others, meant to explain their heritage of faith. I really felt the loss of this aspect of the book, since Melissa's reactions to these stories were an important part of the way the reader related to them. As the title suggests, this book also places an incredibly high emphasis on the physical sufferings of Christ. This didn't surprise me, since the symbol of the Catholic church is a crucifix, but the feeling seemed to be that the fact that Christ once and for all defeated death and now reigns at the right hand of God does us no earthly good. It seemed to serve the purposes of the characters better to remember Him in agony, so that they could identify with Him better. That may sound nit-picky, and I really do understand the comfort that can be drawn from the fact that Christ partook of our sufferings. However, the preponderance of "God's wounds" in this book really does miss the lessons we learn from knowing where Jesus is now, and what the bearings that has on the way we live out our walks. I may read this book again, or I may not...for me, it fell somewhat short of the Wilcock's first offering....more
Wow! I really enjoyed this book. I think the correct term is "meta-tale," or a tale within a tale. The protagonist, Melissa, lives in the present, butWow! I really enjoyed this book. I think the correct term is "meta-tale," or a tale within a tale. The protagonist, Melissa, lives in the present, but the main focus of the book is on stories of 14th-century monks her mother tells her, which have been passed down through the generations of her family. Each tale has the feeling of a vignette, but they all hold together nicely. Whatever Melissa is facing in her everyday life, she can learn from and is encouraged by the lessons the brothers learned in their journeys of faith so long ago. As for Wilcock's treatment of the Christian faith, I found her very insightful. She deals with a wide spectrum of its elements--from faith through suffering, to gaining an eternal perspective, to loving one another despite faults, to the genuine application of theology to how we live each day. Of course, the biblical basis for the monastic lifestyle itself is a bit of a mystery to me, but that's another story! The writing took a little getting used to, but as Christian fiction goes it was pretty good. Maybe it helped that Wilcock is British. :) I do heartily recommend this book, and will read it again. ...more