Saturday, May 31, 2003

With a wedding this weekend and lots of old friends in town, I haven't had much time to post, or even to read anything of substance. I did recently revisit some old favorites, though, which I will share with you. Most people have heard of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, but for some reason his other works are not nearly as popular. I remember being delighted as a child to discover the odd story Momo, which I just found again at our public library, and it's as good as it was years ago. It speaks against our instant gratification "microwave society" with the homogenizing of a town by the gray men, unnerving creatures that coerce people into saving time. Of course, the more time that's saved, the less time there seems to be. Momo, a little girl with the great ability to listen so that anyone in her presence becomes more creative, more talkative, and happier, is the only one who can save the town and her friends. My halting prose, as usual, does nothing to evoke the charm of the story, but it's well worth the couple of hours spent reading it.

Thank goodness Edith Pargeter was such a prolific writer! I only wish she had written more of her historical novels, though there are quite a few of them, but her repertoire of mysteries (written under the name Ellis Peters) is impressive and utterly enjoyable. I haven't read all the modern-day ones, although I am very fond of Inspector Felse, but she certainly achieved true excellence in the Brother Cadfael series. I'd been thinking about the last one, The Holy Thief, for reasons I can't now remember, so I picked it up the last time I was at the library, and happily immersed myself in monastic life at the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in medieval Shrewsbury. While the mystery is by no means unpredictable, it is also the least important part of the story. Peters' language is so beautiful, and her characters so rich and larger-than-life, that they usurp the plot wonderfully. This is also an interesting story because it deals with the divinity of saints, a belief I have never espoused, but which is tenderly played out with the unassailable faith of those it affects. Don't read this one first, though, as it is the last in the series and relies heavily on the plot of the first, A Morbid Taste for Bones (with which I intend to familiarize myself soon).

Monday, May 26, 2003

Halfway through The Marriage of Sticks, I was ready to write a paean of praise for Jonathan Carroll. Then I finished it. I can't say that it was bad, exactly, because I did enjoy it, but the direction in which I thought it was going was so much more fascinating than the direction in which it actually went. Carroll raised the idea of a person who completely screws with destiny by making choices other than her predestination. While this is not a concept I believe in, it was very interesting and I would have liked to see where it could go. Instead the plot took a nosedive and ended with a conclusion that didn't make any sense, seemed like a cop-out, and was frankly boring.

But this is not to discourage you from reading Jonathan Carroll's works. Sleeping in Flame has been on our bookshelf for quite some time, but for a long time I didn't read it because I had it confused with a travel book (for no apparent reason). Finally one day there was nothing else to read, so I picked it up, and, once I started, couldn't stop. It's a deft re-telling of "Rumpelstiltskin", complete with Carroll's interest in reincarnation, weird careers (I want a job in his world), and Vienna.

Then I read Bones of the Moon, which connects nicely with Sleeping in Flame, following a woman's adventures through her dreams, which turn out to be much more real than she suspected. One of the main events in this novel is that the main character has an abortion, and the direction the plot takes because of this is very interesting. I'm pretty sure Carroll did not intend to espouse a pro-life message, but I realized that there was really no other option. To make an abortion one of the main events of a novel requires looking at it as a trauma (at least for it to be believable). The natural question that follows is, why is it a trauma? And, of course, the natural answer to that question is that a human being has been murdered. While Carroll's character says that she personally regretted her decision but that for other women it would have been the right choice, the reason for her regret is that she killed her little boy and now he only exists in the dream world. Funny how what's right is also what makes sense.

After that I read After Silence, which I've put completely out of my head because it was dumb and boring. So I'm two for two, with another in my stack. The Land of Laughs promises to be fun--we'll see how it turns out. I'd also like to get a hold of his latest work, White Apples, but one of my summer goals is to be frugal, and our library has not yet acquired the book. Patience is a virtue, but alas, not one I possess. Looks like I'll be spending some time reading furtively in Borders.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Just got back from seeing "The Matrix Reloaded," and all I have to say is-- LAME!!! I know you're all going to see it anyway, so I won't give anything away, but, man, I could have bought a book with that $7.50.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Italy has always been on my list of places to visit, and was bumped up to first as I've been reading Desiring Italy, essays by women writers collected by Susan Cahill. Some, of course, tend towards the dull side, but most are vibrant and evocative, bringing the delights of Tuscany, Firenze, Emilia-Romagna, and Venice to life. Thus, if ever I have money again, I will be visiting this wonderful land. And reading of the lovely Miss Kate's adventures only makes my desire stronger--I want to travel, to have interesting settings for the perusal of interesting books.

Monday, May 12, 2003

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Check it out.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Just finished the most recent installment in the Series of Unfortunate Events, The Carnivorous Carnival. I started the series a few summers ago, reading the first five in a couple of days, but as the new volumes keep coming out, I begin to lose my initial interest. The concept is excellent, and Lemony Snicket is an amusing author, but he never gives quite enough story to fill out the clever quips, puns, and etymological asides. In fact, each book is exactly the same, with a different setting, and the poor Baudelaire children never get any further in their quest to solve the various riddles that surround them. I'm wondering if there will actually be an end, or if Snicket will blithely continue to produce the series until he comes to an unfortunate demise.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

It was Peculiar who first introduced me to Rebecca West, with the lovely little novel The Return of the Soldier. My next venture was The Thinking Reed, which found its way onto my list of favorites, and just recently I discovered The Fountain Overflows. For some reason it was at the bottom of my library stack, perhaps because I thought it would be a more serious book like her others that I've read. To my delight it was quite different, being an enthralling story about a highly unusual family in the early twentieth century.

The narrator is the third daughter, Rose, whose voice is refreshing and reflective as only a child's can be; she is a promising musician, following in the footsteps of her mother and her older sister Mary. Unfortunately the oldest child, stunningly beautiful Cordelia, is not such a musician, though she and many others firmly believe her to be, and she torments the family with her mawkish and sentimental violin playing. The youngest, Richard Quin, could be a virtuoso if he applied himself, but he prefers eclectism and the affection showered on him by the entire family and particularly his ne'er-do-well Papa. The family is poor and strange, and thus shunned rather by the general populace, but still they enjoy themselves much more than anyone they know, and have much more interesting adventures than proper gentlefolk.

The oddest thing about this book was something I've noticed before but never thought about directly, and I am very glad it is becoming less and less the fashion. For a very long time the purpose of a family was simply to keep Papa happy--to act, while not quite like slaves, a bit like a harem. Because he was the breadwinner (and, like Mr. Aubrey did in this book, could conceivably leave were he displeased), everything had to be arranged and orchestrated to make a home pleasant just for him. Of course everyone else wanted to be happy too, but little sacrifices were always made--a good book laid aside because Papa wants a game of chess, or pork instead of lamb because that's what Papa likes, or conversations on politics rather than music or gardening. It's bizarre, and not a little annoying.

Friday, May 09, 2003

The best thing about Bridget Jones's Diary is where she describes her mother leaving the following message on her answering machine (very loudly and clearly): "Bridget Jones's mother."

Annie Dillard's mother, portrayed brilliantly in An American Childhood also had some interesting phone eccentricities--upon receiving a wrong number call, she would hand over the phone to one of her children with the instruction, "Your name is Claire", or simply, "It's for you."

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Coming out of Edith Pargeter's Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet is like surfacing from a mountain lake--everything is bright and loud and strange, and you've forgotten you're not a fish. By any other hand, Pargeter's writing style would be melodramatic and overdone, but instead it is magical and hypnotizing, describing people too beautiful to live and delving deeper into characters than one ever thought possible. This has been on my list of favorites since I first discovered it as a teenager, and this recent reading proves it even better than I remembered.

The four books span the lifetime of the second Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, who sought peace and unity for his country and lost it all through no fault of his own. His loyal companion and birth brother, Samson the clerk, is the narrator of these events as well as a minor protagonist himself, weaving his own tale of unrequited love throughout the tragedy of the brothers of Gwynedd.

It's so difficult to review books such as this because the plotline is historical (and thus not easily summed up) and because every sentence seems traitorous to the true beauty of the work. My greatest reaction to this reading was towards those left behind at the end, the families of Llewelyn and his brother David, who were unfortunate not to die in that they were kept miserable for the rest of their lives with only memories of the greatness that had briefly shown among them. At least in fiction, one has the luxury of imagining happier endings for tragic characters, but my heart was wrenched at the realization that all this really happened, and all those beautiful children were locked away from the world because of their fathers' sins.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I haven't posted for a while for several reasons, the main one being that I simply didn't feel like it. Also I've been busy, and sauntering through a work of 800+ pages so that most everything else I've read this past week has been brief and not worthy of note.

Recent forays to used bookstores have filled a new bookcase with fantasy novels and other little treats, one of which I was pleasantly surprised by. Black Cats and Broken Mirrors, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, is a collection of short stories about superstitions, written by various authors known and unknown. Nearly all of them are excellent, and I particularly liked the first one, "How It All Began", by Esther M. Friesner, which makes Joseph (of the Coat of Many Colors, aka the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) the father of all superstitions in a clever and amusing tale. Also included are a lovely story by my new interest, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and one of my favorite stories by Charles de Lint.

This is one of the very few anthologies I've read where nearly all of the stories are worthwhile--it's a keeper, and definitely recommended.