Saturday, October 04, 2008

Reading Log, August and September 2008

I know that most readers of blogs have given up stopping by here, looking for updates, and I don't blame them a bit! For my own sake, I want to keep my records here of the books I'm reading at the very least, although I'm a bit behind. This is the list for August and September--a weird, motley collection of titles as usual. I spent a lot of August watching the Olympics, and didn't do much reading in that last month of summer, until I went on a kind of strange Christian-fiction binge and read a whole series in a matter of a week or so. I've plunged into my heavier reading habits of fall, so September looks a little more serious, but here it is, all mixed together.

First, a collection of slightly macabre short stories:

"The Mark of the Beast" by Rudyard Kipling--In which few Englishmen learn that at the very least they shouldn't make fun of the local religions.

"The Man That Was Used Up" by Edgar Allan Poe--In which appearances are very deceiving.

"Laura" by Saki--In which a strong woman dies and a weak woman lives, and the power of suggestion wreaks havoc.

Next, a spate of Christian fiction, which I rarely read. I went on some kind of binge and read an entire series in the space of a week. The other book was a birthday present (my birthday was in August), and it was actually rather well done.

A Penny for Your Thoughts
Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels
Dime a Dozen
A Quarter for a Kiss
The Buck Stops Here

All by Mindy Starns Clark.

It's a Christian fiction series called "The Million Dollar Mystery Series" about a widowed investigator and her rich boss who hires her to check out the charities he wants to support. No depth to them at all, thin plots, and the usual romantic angle. Someone loaned them to me a year ago, and I have to give them back soon.

A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman--Christian fiction about two mothers whose sons were killed in a car accident. It wasn't "great literature," but it wasn't trite or silly, either. It was a sensitive, honest look at the way tragedy touches lives.

And then...the rest of the books...

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim--a sort of diary in the year of a young wife and mother, who convinces her city-dwelling husband to come live in a country house, where she spends most of her time in the garden. It was written in 1898, about an Englishwoman married to a German man (she calls him "The Man of Wrath"), so there are some interesting peeks into a different time period and lifestyle as well. It's quite well done and "modern" in tone, in spite of having been written in the Victorian era! I honestly don't know whether this should be classified as fiction or non-fiction.

The Daffodil Mystery by Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace--An audiobook mystery, via Librivox. I enjoy listening to these while I crochet, but these older mysteries are very transparent and obvious to those of us who've been weaned on Agatha Christie and much more devious mystery plots. I can usually tell several chapters ahead of time what the next "surprise" is going to be.

Through a Glass, Darkly by Helen McCloy--A vintage mystery published in 1949, so it has that postwar flavor. (If you've not read much from that era, I mean all the characters are still a bit shell-shocked and trying to get on with life as normal. They are usually disillusioned, without faith, and take life pretty seriously, trying to make up for the war years.)

A school teacher is dismissed from two positions because of a mysterious "double" (doppleganger, fetch, etc...) that keeps appearing. She is distressed and dismayed, and a prominent psychologist undertakes to investigate the phenomenon. Or is it something far more physical, after all?

Interesting to see how a mystery writer can incorporate philosophical themes into a story.The blurb on the back of the book suggested that the story was "a supernatural puzzle" that would "scare you stiff before going to bed." I think they must have been easier to scare in 1949. It was a well-done story, but Stephen King or Dean Koontz scare me WAY more than this would. (I rarely read horror fiction.)

Jean and Johnny by Beverly Clearly--(reread) YA fiction from a bygone era--but I love Beverly Cleary. I picked it up when I was feeling ill just to distract myself and read it straight through!

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers--This is considered a 20th century classic so how did I manage never to know about it? Nevermind--now I know. This story is in the "Southern Gothic" tradition--pretty dark and hopeless, and I do like a little bit of silver lining. Nevertheless, the book is well written, and if stark tragedy and unfulfilled longing and abject loneliness are portrayed with compassion, I will just have to grit my teeth, and maybe read something more cheerful the next time around.

Seriously, this is a well-written book, but there is just no relenting in the tragedy, sorrow, despair, grief....need I go on? No one in the book is happy, and during the course of the year, things happen to make them unhappier still...the end. This is the sort of book you read just to have it on your list, I think--the cover is crowded with reviews such as "the brilliant first novel of the great American author Carson McCullers, written when she was only 22, etc, etc,..."

It is beautifully written, and there were one or two episodes that were absolutely lovely, but I think the youth of the author is partly responsible for the unrelenting darkness. People just aren't universally in a blue funk all the time.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid--I'm still mulling this one over. The story is narrated in first person in a sort of "real time" narrative, as a Pakistani man meets an American and, because he speaks English and has studied and and worked in the US, invites the American (who never says a word) to sit down for tea. They remain at the table through a couple of meals, until it is quite dark and deserted in the marketplace, while the Pakistani man relates his story to the American. The American's reactions to the story are sometimes conveyed to us through the narrator ("You seem disturbed..." "You do not believe me?" "You keep looking nervously at our waiter..."), but otherwise, he is a sort of shadowy, uncertain presence (you couldn't call him a "character" ) in the story.

The meeting is more than it appears at first, but I find the ending ambiguous--as I believe it is meant to be. I found the motivation of the narrator uncompeling.

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley--(audiobook) The bookshop is "haunted" by the spirit of the authors. I wish I'd read this with my eyes, so I could have made notes about the books mentioned (they were legion). This was written right at the end of WWI, so there is a bit of anti-German sentiment (maybe even more than a bit in some characters), but it is balanced, and you don't get the feeling that the author is strongly anti-German. It wasn't a bad story, and of course the bookish setting was delicious, but I can't say it has my unqualified approval. The author is a bit preachy about his philosophy, and it is not the same as mine.

And there we have it--two months of eclectic reading all over the spectrum--Christian, secular, biographical, mystery, horror, young adult fiction, modern classics, newer releases, and little in common besides the fact that I read them.

I have NO serious reading plan for the immediate future, and my list of current reads (I'm in the midst of three or four books, with my eye on a couple more) looks more less the same. I'll save those titles for my "October" posts...


At 2:23 AM , Blogger queen shenaynay said...

well, i'm still here.

peradventure would you spare your blog for only me?


At 3:24 AM , Blogger Katie said...

I'm paying attention. I have you on my feeds, and I always check when I find you have posted something. :O)

At 1:30 AM , Blogger Eva said...

I check over here every once in awhile. Now I will have to go look for Elizabeth and her German Garden.

At 1:49 AM , Blogger Melanie said...

I love Elizabeth and her German Garden; it is hard to classify, you are right. Would it fit in our new category of creative non-fiction if it was published today?

Also, I feel like I should reread The Haunted Bookshop just to make notes on all the books he mentions as well. Have you read Parnassus on Wheels yet?


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