Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Well, I'm heartened to discover via my sitemeter that there are quite a few people out there reading Anne Bronte. Unfortunately it's clearly for a class, since they seem to be too lazy even to go to a store and buy the cliffnotes ("summery [sic] of anne bronte agnes grey", etc). No summaries OR summeries here, suckers! I must confess sometimes I am tempted to, as Odious once did with the word "ninja" to affect the old banner ads on Blogger, put up a post of the names of bestselling authors, interspersed with "review", "summary", and "synopsis". But I refrain.

I'm trying to prepare our cats for this afternoon's arrival of my mother and her two dogs and two cats. I don't think they quite understand, although Finn clearly senses something is going to happen, as he's been extremely affectionate all day. Lizzy just yowls, but that's hardly out of the ordinary. She's been particularly annoying lately ever since they destroyed one of their old favorite toys and consequently created a new superfavorite toy. A friend of ours bought them a toy called the bird last summer, and it is really an excellent gadget--a bunch of feathers tied to a string tied to a long flexible rod. When swung through the air it makes a soft swooshing sound that they find most tantalizing, and will leap magnificently to catch and disembowel it. Well, as with all pet toys, it finally met its end when the string broke and they carried off the remains to a unknown hiding place. Now, however, they find the remaining string tied to the rod an even better toy than any we've conceived of yet. Lizzy spends about half the day (and night!) lying on top of it yowling piteously at everyone who comes near. It's pathetic, but mostly really, really annoying.

I did start this post with the intention of writing something about books--not much, but something. Oh yes, since someone found the blog with a search for Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, I thought I'd mention that it's not nearly as good as others of hers that I've read. The heroine was much too wimpy, for all that Mrs. Gaskell tried to describe her as strong and righteous, and I was so disappointed that she ended up marrying who she did. From the moment he was introduced it was clear they'd end up together, and yet I kept hoping... He was kind of a jerk. Anyway, Cranford and Mary Barton are much better, so I'll just write this off as the one she wished she hadn't written.

Also, I've now read The Sound and the Fury. I can cross it off my list. At some point I may possibly read another Faulkner novel, since I did like The Reivers, and found Go Down, Moses fascinating, but on the other hand I may stick to books with apostrophes.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Internet is a scary thing. Some days I get on to check my email, look at friends' blogs, and then I'm done simply because I can't think of anything else to do. Then there are days when I understand how Odious can spend hours on end surfing the web. After clicking on a "next blog" button this evening and discovering, for once, a well-written and interesting site called The Anchored Nomad, I found myself swept away in a wonderfully interesting tide of literary blogs and sites. One leads to another, which leads to four others... Everyone's making note of Arthur Miller's death, which I must say excites little emotion in me, but I did learn that Pride and Prejudice has been named the most romantic novel of all time. I couldn't agree more; however, I was rather perturbed to find that Rebecca ranked #4 in the poll. Maybe all the people who voted are also the strange people who adore Laurence Olivier, but I'm having a hard time imagining a less romantic novel! Both the book and the movie give me shivers, and the characters are both impossible to relate to and hopelessly unsuited for each other. Ah well. My take on books is often quite different from the general one.

Other excellent finds: Brandywine Books and The Discerning Reader.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The only thing I don't like about reading a really good, captivating book (a Thumping Good Read, as dubbed by The Common Reader) is the feeling of loss once it's finished. No other book can fill the void, and I flit from tome to tome in the vain hopes of finding something to sweep me utterly away again. And then, very occasionally, I'm lucky enough to light upon an unexpected book that does just that.

Though I've read Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion several times, in my opinion it ranks among the best fantasy--even the best fiction--ever written, and each reading only makes me lov eit more. Moon's prose is simple yet captivating, and the story a riveting one, with a nearly perfect heroine. With every reading my admiration of Paks grows--she possesses the quality of doing and saying, always, what she believes to be right, without being influenced by anyone else. Reading of her steady, quiet, honest journey from sheepfarmer's daughter to paladin chokes me up, and the many trials that she endures only serve to make her stronger. She is not particularly intelligent or good or brave in herself, but her strength of will and faith are astounding.

This may, in some poor fashion, serve to illustrate my condition after reading the last page of this trilogy a week or so ago. I cast about for something, anything, to content me again, and happened to alight upon a recently acquired novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. I'd read his The Club Dumas on Odious' recommendation, and enjoyed it greatly until the unfortunately disappointing ending (he built it up way too much, and there was no way it could ever conclude satisfactorily). When I saw The Flanders Panel in a used bookstore, I was willing to give him another chance, and am quite glad I did.

The heroine is a young art restorer named Julia, who has been given a little-known yet valuable Flemish painting to restore its original condition so that it can be sold. During the process, however, she uncovers (literally!) an intriguing secret that purports to solve an ancient mystery. But it soon becomes clear that danger lurks in the present as well as in the past, when an old lover of Julia's is found dead. With the help of a taciturn chessmaster and an art dealer, Julia solves each puzzle as it is presented until mysteries both historical and contemporary are concluded. This book is satisfactory, and beyond doubt a TGR.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

E.M. Forster's books always surprise me. One is so easily lulled by his gentle prose, by the eccentric characters going about their odd but pleasant lives, and then suddenly things happen with an abruptness that makes one realize just how shocking they are. Howards End is no exception--I was going to give an example, but don't want to spoil it for anyone. To be circumspect, great milestones of life suddenly surge up in a brief sentence that might almost be missed by the reader, just as those involved in such a situation might almost go on without noticing, then be brought back stunned by what has happened. Forster writes these things just as they might occur, blending into the rest of life until the shock hits after the fact.

I like this way of writing, that acknowledges how little there actually is to say about a sudden death, or a kiss, or the discovery of a hidden pregnancy--far more details are to be found in a conversation between friends, or a stroll down London streets, or the covert glances among family members concealing a secret. Life is lived in these small moments, not in the great occurences, and what we do in crises is merely a reaction based on the character built during the details and mundanity of every day.
I picked up The Good Earth because it was being read by a book group I wanted to attend--an hour later I found myself 2/3 of the way through and somewhat breathless. I can't quite say it swept me off my feet, as it's too unassuming for that; but the smooth steady prose is rather like drifting for miles down a gentle river without realizing just how far you've gone. Chinese history is not a subject that's ever appealed greatly to me, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to live in China at that time (or, really, at all), but as an acquaintance of mine said about the movie "Hotel Rwanda", 'It makes you realize that most people just want to live well and love their families and be left alone.' Wang Lung's love of the land and simple desire to prosper and provide for his family particularly resonate for me right now as I yearn to be away from this life-in-limbo, to be steward of my own good earth.

The book group discussion turned out to be excellent, surprising me pleasantly. After St. John's, I'm used to sitting through "discussions" that turn into lectures or Q&A, but the leader of this group came as close to a tutor as I've found outside of school. We had quite a lively conversation, and everyone was interested to hear from me that Pearl S. Buck actually wrote a trilogy. A friend gave me a copy years ago, and once I'd read the first one I couldn't stop--I had to find out what happened. Sons was not as good, but I quite enjoyed A House Divided, as Wang Lung's grandson returns to a love of the earth.