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I’m back with books I’ve finally finished in February! This may be a thing! (I also survived February, which is almost a miracle. February is a jerk.)
This first book I finished was Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. This was actually a reread, and I was reading along with the podcast book club Close Reads. Because I’d read it before, I actually started by listening to the audiobook. And then I realized that this book is really too rich to listen to. I was missing too much, going too fast. It certainly wasn’t a close read. So I pulled my copy off the shelf and started over. It took me a long time to read this because you really have to savor this book. It’s beautiful and thought-provoking and reads you as much as you read it.
I think I probably read it too fast the first time too. Reading it in conjunction with the podcast gave me a lot more insight. (Which is not a particularly insightful comment.) One of the things Berry does — possibly with all his books, but definitely in the two I’ve read — is to abruptly change topics. At first, it seemed very disjointed and frustrating to me. (It was one of my main problems — maybe my only problem — with Hannah Coulter.) The podcast hosts talked a lot about those shifts and what Berry was trying to communicate, and I was able to see the story from a new perspective.
I had far too many quotes from this book, so I’m limiting myself to two (and it was very hard to pick these two!):
“I liked them varyingly; some I didn’t like at all. But all of them have been interesting to me; some I have liked and some I have loved. I have raked my comb over scalps that were dirty both above and beneath. I have lowered the ears of good men and bad, smart and stupid, young and old, kind and mean; of men who have killed other men (think of that) and of men who have been killed (think of that). I cut the hair of Tom Coulter and Virgil Feltner and Jimmy Chatham and a good many more who went away to the various wars and never came back, or came back dead.”
“That grief should come and bring joy with it was not something I felt able, or even called upon, to sort out or understand. I accepted grief. I accepted the grief. I accepted the joy. I accepted that they came to me out of the same world.”
Bonus quote because it really punched me in the gut (and my blog, my rules!): “It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”
Jayber Crow is good and beautiful and true, and the best book of those I finished last month. It also stood as a standard by which I measured the other books. Poor other books.
The second book was an audiobook, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This was a fun book that I have a lot of issues with primarily because it had the misfortune of being read (listened to) right on the heels of Jayber Crow and because of how the two books deals with nostalgia and memory. Both Jayber Crow and Ready Player One deal with nostalgia for a lost world. But Berry examines real places and real people with honesty — the community of Port William is portrayed with love but not with blinders, whereas Cline’s book is all about 80s pop culture. Not all about. That’s not fair. But the longing for the past is a longing for the past via the entertainment of a lost culture — which is really depressing considering the dystopian setting. It’s not lost communities or freedom or nature that’s idealized; it’s sitcoms. There is a community in Ready Player One, and I was definitely rooting for them, but I didn’t love them the way I loved the people of Port William — even the jerks.
Despite the fact that the book has a lot of quotes that I recognized and smiled at, I don’t have a favorite quote. Part of that is because I was listening on audio, but I generally stop a book and copy down a quote — or at least google it — if it strikes me. There’s just no “there” there to a 30-year-old John Hughes movie quote. (I’m betraying my generation, but it’s true!)
But my biggest problem with the book is that it doesn’t ring true, a fact that didn’t really strike me until the end. There are spoilers here, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, keep scrolling. But if you want to know where the book fell apart for me, highlight the text below.
At the end of the book, the winner is talking to the avatar of the man who created this contest that took years and required the contestants immersing themselves in pop culture minutia. These contestants had to eat, sleep, and breathe the movies, music, television, and video games that this guy was obsessed with in order to win his contest. (And the stakes are high. The world of the book is miserable, and winning the contest would mean escape from a subsistence existence for the main character.) So what does Mr. Contest Maker do? He takes the winner to a (virtual) window of the real world and says, “Don’t neglect the real world and real people because they’re more important than the virtual world I created.” (My paraphrase) So he made a game that required people to neglect everything real in order to win and instructs the winner not to neglect everything real? It felt like a tacked on moral that didn’t fit with the thrust of the story. It betrayed the premise and invalidated much (though not all) of what the protagonists had done. If I were the hero, I’d have punched that avatar in the throat.
The book is a lot of fun. The good guys are entertaining, the villains are cartoony, the pop culture references are a blast, and my husband and I both loved it. It’s very amusing, but ultimately it didn’t ring true for me. (Some people might call this book a guilty pleasure, but I don’t think you should feel guilty about being entertained by a book that has flaws — even major flaws. The error would be in not recognizing the flaws or worse, excusing them.)
I actually finished the audiobook of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe in January, but I forgot to list it. It’s one of the boys’ assigned books this year. I tried to read this aloud to the girls when they were younger. It was an utter failure. I didn’t even try to read it to the boys; I just went straight to Audible. Since we’re in the car a lot going to and from therapy sessions, it fits perfectly into our schedule. There are a lot of options, some really inexpensive, but I chose to spring for the version narrated by John Lee because I already knew it was going to be harder to attend to. A bad narrator of a hard book is a death blow.
Some usual ingredients that you might find in [url= Penis [/url] pills include catuaba, dodder seed, gingko bilboa, Korean red buy super viagra ginseng, hawthorn, muira pauma, yin yang huo, yohimbe, etc. Yet, generic cialis 40mg when we stop and focus on a satisfying sexual experience. Truly speaking, you are advised viagra online to check for yourself and for your loved one. If your main motive is to satisfy levitra shop buy your partner so much as it can satisfy without condoms. I had a vague culture awareness that Robinson Crusoe was an adventure story. It is much more a tale of one man’s redemption. It’s the story of Crusoe’s salvation and sanctification with some really cool survival details thrown in. (That might be an exaggeration, but Crusoe’s personal journey is really compelling.) Like I said, we listened while driving, so I didn’t note any quotes. However, there were several passages that struck me. One, which I’ll paraphrase since I can’t find the quote, was when Crusoe was debating whether or not to attack the cannibals who came to his island to perform their gory sacrifices. Ultimately he decides that he does not have a right to kill them because they aren’t a threat to him. While the state has the right and power to render justice, that is not his right. (Again, paraphrased, and it’s been a while.) He eventually does attack the cannibals in order to save lives, but that is different than the question he put to himself: Ought he kill them for their crimes alone given that they were no threat to him? What right do individuals have to dispense justice? The boys and I had many interesting discussions over several months.
The next book is another Close Reads book and a reread, Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m a huge fan of Sayers, and this is probably the fifth or sixth time I’ve read this book. Again, it’s a different experience reading with a book club than just reading on my own. This book is set in an advertising agency, which happened to be Sayers day job for a while. She was the copywriter responsible for the “Guinness is Goodness” ad campaign, so she’s got that going for her too. This novel has a different feel than many of her novels, I think in part because she had the inside scoop, so to speak.
Sayers is a mystery writer, but her books are about more than whodunit. There are always bigger questions lurking — one recurring question being what right does Lord Peter Wimsey have to do what he does? In Gaudy Night, she explicitly discusses the cost of truth, although that’s a theme that can be seen throughout all her books. There’s a lot to love about Sayers, but one of the best is that, even though detective stories can be formulaic, she never writes in cliches and her characters are always real. Even her stock characters (the English Lord and his trusty valet) defy stereotypes. My favorite thing about this particular book is the delightful cynicism.
A thought-provoking quote from Murder Must Advertise:
“The firm of Brotherhood believed in ideal conditions for their staff. It was their pet form of practical Christianity; in addition to which, it looked very well in their advertising literature and was a formidable weapon against the trade unions. Not, of course, that Brotherhood had the slightest objection to trade unions as such. They had merely discovered that comfortable nd well-fed people are constitutionally disinclined for united action of any sort — a fact which explains the asinine meekness of the income-tax payer.”
The next book is a children’s book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I grabbed it when it was the Audible daily deal, and I wanted to preview it before giving it to my kids. It is beautiful, stirring, and probably too intense for my boys right now — at least my youngest. But it is a really lovely book. I would be careful with particularly sensitive kids and kids who are adopted because it deals with children being forcibly taken from their parents and abandoned to be killed. And yes, it’s a really lovely book — not all is as it seems. This was another audiobook, and I didn’t stop to write down any quotes.
Next, I read Monuments Men by Robert Edsel about the unsung heroes who saved much of the patrimony of Europe. The Nazis in general and Hitler specifically stole as much art that they could. And what they didn’t steal, the often destroyed — especially modern art. The Monuments Men were served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the military, and their job was to search out and safeguard the art of Europe during World War II. Most of these men came from the art world, and it’s surreal to read about art historians and museum curators doing their often delicate work in midst of battle. They also had to be detectives, trying to ferret out where the Nazis had taken the art, and they had to gain the trust of people who had very little trust left to bestow. At one point I got so anxious about the fate of a particular painting that I googled it to make sure it was still around.
It was fascinating to read of the beauty of the art alongside the horrors of the war and the holocaust. One of the MFAA soldiers decided against visiting the liberated camps because he knew he’d have to work with Germans to recover the still missing treasures. He wrote, “I did not go, because much of my work depended on friendly relations with German civilians, and I feared that after seeing the horrors of the camp my own feelings toward even these innocent people could be affected. (Numbers of our officers who did go could not eat for some time afterwards; some survived on whisky alone for days.)”
Because of the vast scope, it was a little hard to follow at times and I had the feeling a lot had to be left out, but overall it’s a great book about this little-known aspect of World War II. We owe a great debt to the men and women who saved so much of our heritage. (Apparently, it’s also been made into a movie. Man, I need to get with the times!)
A favorite quote from the book is from Jacques Jaujard, the Frenchman who was director of the French National Museums during World War II, “There are fights that you may lose without losing your honor; what makes you lose your honor is not to fight them.”
Finally, I read (gobbled) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows in a day. It’s historical fiction dealing with the German occupation of the Channel Islands set just after World War II, and it’s written mostly in the form of letters between the protagonist and a host of other people. It’s a book about books — which I love — and it’s about a historical event I was completely unaware of. So I learned two things about World War II last month.
I do have a quibble (most notable in comparison to Jayber Crow and Murder Must Advertise.) This book is full of black hats and white hats, and never the twain shall meet. It does play with the categories a bit — there’s a good German, for example. But the good guys are impossibly good and the bad guys are caricatures. For example, there’s a petty, judgemental, jerk of a woman named Adelaide Addison, and that’s pretty much the entirety of her character. The writing was delightful and the story was interesting, but the people weren’t quite true. But it’s still a fun read.
A favorite quote from the book:
“Later, I came to see that Mr. Dickens and Mr. Wordsworth were thinking of men like me when they wrote their words. But most of all, I believe that William Shakespeare was. Mind you, I cannot always make sense of what he says, but it will come.
“It seems to me the less he said, the more beauty he made. Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is ‘The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.’
“I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them– and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words ‘the bright day is done and we are for the dark,’ I’d have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance — instead of my heart sinking to my shoes.”
And that’s what I finished last month. What are you reading?