Sunday, January 29, 2006

Yikes, I didn't mean that last post to be so depressing. I just get tired of the doomsayers! The end may very well be nigh, but that doesn't necessarily mean things are any worse than they've ever been. Different, yes, but worse? Frankly I'm perfectly happy not to have to test my faith against lions and gladiators.

I was thinking about sinning clergy while reading The Way of All Flesh. There are many examples of the subject in the novel, the greatest being the serious emotional abuse that Theodore Pontifex, a well-respected clergyman, inflicted upon his children, but the one that particularly struck me was the practice of buying a living. This concept comes up all the time in English literature (the privilege supposedly taken away from Wickham in P&P, for instance), and it's a bizarre one. Taking orders was a career like any other during that time, one for second sons or less-privileged men, rather than a calling. And if you wanted a good place, you'd better have some cash available. Is this really any better than current clergical sins? Can we claim that people in the 19th century were really more devout or Biblically literate? More of them may have been able to recite their chatecism, but I'm not sure that counts, and they certainly didn't all go to church. The narrator of The Way of All Flesh didn't, nor did several of the other characters, and even the protagonist rejects Religion in the end.

Speaking of the time frame, I realized that the reason I liked this book so much was because it didn't really belong on a list of modern novels. While it was published after the turn of the century, Butler actually wrote it in the 1870's, so it's set in an era in which I feel right at home. It's a good novel, too, though it begins weakly; I nearly despaired when after the first 50 pages I still wasn't sure who the hero was. Actually I think it ends weakly too, but that may be intentional. As I said, the protagonist rejects Religion, but he never really understood it in the first place. He never had a relationship with God, so he couldn't sever it; rather, he turned his back on the church and his father's idea of Religion. And I can hardly blame him.

Poor Ernest Pontifex grew up under the tyranny of selfish and narrow-minded parents. He was sent to a school that seemed indifferent to providing moral strictures or regulations of any kind until forced, and the aunt who befriended him died suddenly. The woman he fell in love with turned out to be a drunkard, and his desires to live a quiet, simple, common life were trampled by everyone around him. The narrator, an old family friend, comes off as Ernest's savior, but only in a material sense. In the end Ernest is just as lost as he ever was, and maybe that is the way of all flesh.

Oh dear, this post is depressing too.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

This post from Librarianne reminded me of a similar list given to my Bible study, of seven indicators that a nation is in trouble:

1.All rules broken
2.Bibical illiteracy
3.Sinning clergy
4.Uncontrolled lust
5.Sinning leaders
6.Deceitful prosperity
7.Excessively litigious

It's easy to read these lists and find oneself nodding with recognition--"Yes, it's true, that's exactly what's happening, our nation is in trouble." Well, this list was compiled by a Biblical scholar studying the book of Hosea. All these things were happening around 2700 years ago! When in history has there been a time when everything was really good, when everybody obeyed the laws, knew their Scripture, controlled their lusts? When have all leaders and clergymen been upright moral beacons? Haven't there always been people who gained wealth through illegitimate means and brought ridiculous lawsuits to court? I could go on to Librarianne's list, but you catch my drift. We live in a fallen world peopled by fallible beings who make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Yeah, we're in trouble. So what else is new? According to Solomon, nothing under the sun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Well, I'm feeling proud of myself. I've already read three of the books on my list for 2006, and am working on two more. It shouldn't be surprising, since I do respond well to lists; but somehow I really thought reading at whim would overcome any resolutions. I did get terribly sidetracked by Rebecca Wells' latest novel, Ya-Yas in Bloom (it's always fun to revisit characters--like seeing old friends), and a Ruth Rendell mystery, but then hauled myself back with The Turn of the Screw. [By the way, I added to my 2006 list after posting about it; it now includes about thirty other books that have been patiently waiting on the shelf in my bedroom for who knows how long.]

Henry James is in love with commas. I've decided I don't think he's a very good writer, but this may be unfair since it's been ages since I read any of his other books; however, it's annoying to be constantly rereading sentences in an attempt to discover what the author is trying to say. And he really does love commas. I'm quite fond of them myself, but make the effort, at least, to try, to the best of my ability, to control this tendency. (It was shocking how much I wanted to add 'like' and 'you know' to that last sentence...)

Anyway, I remember The Turn of the Screw as being a bizarre book, but I'd forgotten how absurd it is. I suppose in a way it's scary, but I kept wanting to laugh at the melodrama, not to mention the inexplicable lack of clarity. Was it that he couldn't think of things horrible enough, or that he didn't want to shock his readers? Why aren't we told what exactly happened in that house? I found upon this reading that I didn't much care, but it's strange nevertheless. Perhaps James thought that two creepy children, two ghosts, and two impressionable women (mix together in a remote mansion, shake, and serve chilled) were enough to terrify without the bother of details. Also, I wonder why he set it up as a story being told to a group of people, then didn't return to them in the end and give their reaction. If he felt that would be anticlimactic, why didn't he change the beginning? What was wrong with his editor, darn it, and why is this a classic? With these questions filling my mind, I'm unsure why I decided to read the book again. Hopefully this will remind me not to try a third time.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Two Things Meme (from Writing and Living)

2 names you go by:
1. Katy
2. Sweetie

2 parts of your heritage:
1) Norwegian
2) German (These are the main ones. According to my mother, there's also English, French, Scottish, Irish, Belgian, and Swiss.)

2 things that scare you:
1. Not knowing what's going on
2. Stormy nights

2 of your everyday essentials:
1) Reading
2) Carbohydrates

2 things you are wearing right now:
1) My favorite sweater (shapeless and brown with multicolored flecks; also Odious's favorite, both on me and on him)
2) My favorite pants (pink corduroy)

2 favorite bands or musical artists:
1) Over the Rhine
2) Sarah MacLachlan (I know these are a real shock, since neither one is EVER listed in my On The Stereo sidebar...)

2 things you want in a relationship (other than real love):
1) Honesty
2) Intellectual stimulation

2 truths:
1) Last night at my mother's I had three helpings of her homemade macaroni and cheese. It was really, really good.
2) In the last month I've watched (on DVD) the first season of Felicity, the first season of Veronica Mars, and most of the fifth season of Angel.

2 physical things that appeal to you (in the opposite sex):
1) A rugged outdoorsy physique
2) Biceps

2 of your favorite hobbies:
1) Reading
2) Crocheting

2 things you want really badly:
1) A strawbale house
2) A working farm

2 places you want to go on vacation:
1) Italy
2) The French countryside

2 things you want to do before you die:
1) Build a strawbale house
2) Publish a novel

2 ways that you are stereotypically a chick:
1) I talk things to death.
2) I have a very low tolerance for alcohol.

2 things you are thinking about now:
1) That I should make pumpkin soup and buttermilk biscuits for dinner tonight.
2) That I'm going to watch one disk of the second season of Felicity.

2 stores you shop at:
1) Powell's City of Books
2) Trader Joe's

2 people I would like to see take this quiz:

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Reading has always been such a necessary part of life for me that I've never thought of looking back at the previous year's book list or making a new one for the coming year. Other than the occasional "Read more classics", books haven't figured much in my New Year's resolutions. I like the idea of such a summing-up, but I'm afraid the urge to read at whim might prove too overwhelming. On the other hand, I usually respond well to lists, and I know one in particular that will provice much encouragement in the year to come. One of our Christmas gifts came with the Modern Library list of 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (yes, another one of those!), of which the sender had read all but a few and Odious and I have read only a few. It was rather more impressive than the lists we'd been working through before. I've got a long way to go. Here are the ones I think I'll start with:

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiel Hammett
Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather
Main Street, Sinclair Lewis
A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
The Magus, John Fowles
The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington

In addition to these, I've got to break my library habit of day-absorbing novels, and get to work on the stacks growing in my bedroom. We own way too many books that I haven't yet read, and they're taunting me.

As for the year in review, I'm afraid my book list is too long and too unimpressive to post verbatim, so maybe I'll just mention my favorites. Some of them have, of course, already been discussed here, but they're certainly worth a second recommendation.

The Professor's House, Willa Cather
A beautiful little book that captured me completely.

Treve, Albert Payson Terhune
I was thrilled to find this book by a favorite childhood author in the bargain rack of a secondhand bookstore; it's a predictable but entirely enjoyable dog story.

Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate Dicamillo
Haven't seen the movie; don't want to.

The Ice House, Minette Walters
The first by this author that I read, and the most clear in my mind. A creepy, thoroughly absorbing crime novel.

All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West
Whatever I was expecting from this book, it was not what I got, and I loved it.

How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill
Must add Cahill's other books to my 2006 list...

Beyond the Shadowlands, Wayne Martindale
A fine, intelligent look at C.S. Lewis's views on heaven and hell; very enlightening.

Young Wizards series and The Book of Night With Moon, Diane Duane
Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Year of the Griffin, Diana Wynne Jones
I was introduced to both these authors last year, which makes it a red-letter year. I'm astounded never to have read them before, and I can't recommend them highly enough to those who enjoy good-quality young-adult literature.

View from a Sketchbook, Marjolein Bastin
You've seen her artwork before, on cards or calendars--delicate watercolors of birds and flowers. This peek at her life is lovely too.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
I received the BBC miniseries for Christmas, and can't wait to watch it.

Undaunted Courage, Stephen E. Ambrose
A must-read upon moving to Oregon. Possibly plagiarized, but interesting and readable.

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, Daniel Mark Epstein
An excellent biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, which inspired me to read her beautiful poetry.

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
I don't know how many times my mother recommended this to me, and I should have read it sooner. It changed the way I think about the world and how it works.

How To Read A Book, Mortimer Adler
He's annoying, but smart. I may have to read this once a year.

Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence
After Women in Love, I read a lot of Lawrence before finding another book as good. This one is it.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin
The expert! She's seen it all, and tells it like it is. If you're pregnant or planning to be, read this book.

Inkheart, Cornelia Funke
I love books about books, and this is a good story, plain and simple.

A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle
I've already raved about this, but it is possibly my favorite L'Engle. To call it luminous sounds like a book blurb, but it's true.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
I shuddered, and wanted to avert my eyes, but mostly because not much has changed. Scary.

Birthing From Within, Pam England
Get rid of What To Expect When You're Expecting--yes, just drop it right in the trashcan--and read this instead.

Od Magic, Patricia McKillip
Right on schedule, a new and lovely book by this disgustingly prolific writer.

Well-Schooled In Murder, Elizabeth George
I somehow managed to miss this Thomas Linley mystery until now, but it's one of the best.

No Name, Wilkie Collins
Gothic novels are so awesome...

Child of a Rainless Year, Jane Lindskold
Weird and magical.

Isabel's Daughter and The Baker's Apprentice, Judith Ryan Hendricks
More delightful books by the author of Bread Alone--yum.