Friday, August 31, 2012

August Book Report

My system finally failed me and I had two duds in August.  I read half of one and listened to half of the other.  I'm going to give a short report on both of them before I get to the three books I finished in August.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
I read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, all very smart and complimentary.  Several people said it was destined to become a classic.  I plowed through the first few chapters, bored but determined that I'm smart enough to enjoy the book.  There are passages in foreign languages without explanations in English, there are pages and pages of explanation on the political atmosphere at a monastery in Medieval times.  Whatever - I can read that.  A monk and his ... assistant monk-in-training go to a famous monastery in Italy to try to resolve some issue that I didn't understand.  Right before these guys get to the famous monastery, one of the monks is found dead on the rocks below a cliff edge near the cemetery.  Was it suicide?  Was it murder?  Instead of finding that out right away, let's introduce a bunch of creepy, unlikable monks and show them having philosophical throw-downs (Christ never laughed, so we monks should never think anything is funny - discuss) for 100 pages or so.  Then let's have a grizzly murder that makes Nicole want to throw up and add some kinky stuff and then...  Yeah, that's where I got off the Crazy Train.  Too weird for me.

Testimony by Anita Shreve
I am still kicking myself for buying this on audio to listen to while I jog.  The story is completely disgusting.  I did not read enough of the reviews to realize how explicit it was.  I was only reading about how the audio was a bunch of different voices and how great that is.  Every single thing about this book is THE WORST.  No redeemable characters, bad writing, dumb/disgusting story.  DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.  Do not.

Now for the stuff I did finish. :)
1.  The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

I listened to this while jogging in the cemetery.  Then I read some of the passages again on my iPod.  I wish I'd read this 20 years ago and every year after that.  Screwtape is the name of a devil who is writing letters to a devil-in-training named Wormwood.  The letters are Screwtape's tricks and encouragement to Wormwood on how to turn his "patient" (a man on earth living in England during World War II) to The Dark Side. 

If I put in all my favorite quotes, I would pretty much be reprinting the book here.  I'll just put in one of the first things that struck me so hard that I stopped jogging, rewound and listened again.  Screwtape advises Wormwood to make The Patient think that his time is his own.  If something comes up - meeting his friend for a drink and the friend's annoying wife tags along and monopolizes the conversation - The Patient feels justified in being disproportionately annoyed that his time was taken up by this woman when he wanted to be with his friend.  Then Screwtape warns Wormwood to make sure The Patient doesn't realize that if Jesus stood before him and asked him to spend 20 minutes with an annoying person, The Patient would be disappointed at being given such a small task.

Is it just me?  Does anyone else forget that sometimes those annoying little things (changing yet another poopy pants) that take up time - time that I could spend learning a new recipe, sewing on a quilt, reading a good book - are exactly the thing The Savior has asked me to do?  Take care of the little spirits he has sent to me.  That's it, for now.  Not forever.  It's changed the way I view changing diapers.  :)

There are so very many amazing nuggets of pure gold in this book.  There are 81 of them posted on Goodreads, if you care to take a look.  Better, though, to read it or listen to it yourself because the nugget that will hit you over the head may not be on the list. 

2.  Then Again by Diane Keaton
When I've seen Diane Keaton in movies, I've liked her.  I watched "Annie Hall" more than 10 years ago and I remember really liking her in that.  Now that I've read her memoir, I still like her, but I think she's very strange.  She is observant and funny now after being self-obsessed for most of her life.  Her strangeness is probably what has made her successful as an actor.

This memoir is more about Keaton's relationship and the parallels of her adult life with her mother's, Dorothy Hall.  Dorothy sounds like a lovely person - she was singularly devoted to her four children and loyal to a fault to her husband.  Each of the Hall kids are sensitive and creative, which I think sound like difficult attributes to harness in a positive way, but Dorothy did a great job.  Dorothy's creative outlet was keeping a detailed journal always, and creating collages (that reminds me of Makenzie).  There were a few times when Diane sounds like she is sad for her mother, whom she sees as an artist without a medium.  Before I read more about Dorothy, I didn't think that was fair.  I was stepping up to my soapbox to wonder why being good at motherhood is seen as not fulfilling enough for a woman.  There aren't that many truly great mothers out there - it's a very difficult job. Motherhood makes a much deeper mark than any painting or movie, and yet a mother is "just" a stay-at-home mom.  (Hmmm - perhaps Screwtape is behind such backwardness.)  Then it turned out that Dorothy wasn't crazy happy in her marriage and that she was plagued with depression and loneliness quite often.  Okay - that's a different animal.

I really enjoyed Then Again. It was funny and it felt very honest and intimate.  Diane admits that she was bulimic for 5 years when she first came to New York to be an actress.  That was heartbreaking stuff to read about even though she was pretty matter-of-fact about it.  Some of my favorite things were her descriptions of being on movie sets with other weird actors - how Al Pacino didn't know how to eat a meal with another person.  Diane runs into a make-up artist from The Godfather at a nursing home thirty years after The Godfather.  The make-up guy has dementia and doesn't recognize Diane, but he does tell her (and her brother) to take off their hats in his "home."  Hahahaha!  That guy never did like hats.  The best thing about Diane Keaton is that she rolls with the weirdness in others.  That probably makes her a decent mother. :)

3.  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
After getting burned by two books in one week, I decided I needed to go to a source I trust implicitly - my friend Brittany.  She gave five stars to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, so I bought it and read it.  Calpurnia Tate is an 11 year-old girl living in a small Texas town in 1899.  Her family is wealthy and she has six brothers.  They live on a working farm amid cotton fields.  Calpurnia's grandfather is a retired Confederate Army captain.  Grandfather Tate scares his grandchildren with his gruffness and eccentricities.  Calpurnia breaks through and becomes friends with her Grandpa when she decides to become a naturalist and scientist like him.  They spend the next six months collecting specimens and he teaches her all the things she's missing from her education (which is kind of a lot at that time - she was mostly learning how to walk with books on her head).

This is young adult fiction, by the way, and it is a delight.  Kelly's turn of phrase is sometimes unexpected and always fun.  "Father, on learning that we would miss our lessons, said, 'A good thing, too.  A boy needs piano like a snake needs a hoopskirt.'" Calpurnia gets into all kinds of fun scraps and misadventures.  She sees domestic life as a jail sentence, which I didn't love so much.  Her mother and the housekeeper and the cook were all respectable characters, though.  Kelly showed how much was expected of women and how much they needed to know just to run their corner of the home.  The six brothers are great fun, as is Calpurnia's relationship with each of them.  I was pleasantly surprised to feel smarter after reading this book. :)

Calpurnia and her grandfather find a new species (or hope they have found a new species) of vetch that they send to The Smithsonian.  The scenes with Calpurnia and her grandpa are really wonderful. I thought of my own grandpas a few times and sometimes it made me laugh and sometimes it made me laugh/cry. 


allyn said...

Sorry about the disappointing books and thanks for the warning.
Have heard of the screwtape letters, but had no idea what it was. And the calpernia one sounds like something I and my girls should read.

(found an ancient classic at the THRIFTSTORE. Decameron, by Boccaccio. Have you read? I think you would be fascinated. I have read the first 6 pages and have been very fascinated.)

Brittany said...

Glad you liked it. You should try"Hattie Big Sky". One of my favorites, also young adult fiction.

Jill said...

You can never go wrong with C.S. Lewis. My favorite is Mere Christianity. There are so many gems in that one that your entire copy with be marked with red pencil.