Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Recent Reads

Over the last week or so I've been gobbling down novels like they were M&M's. Here are some mini-reviews of my latest spate of fiction.

  • Flabbergasted

  • (Found at Goodwill ages ago for $.50)
    Wacky, fun, clean and happy beach book. I'm sorry I never read it sooner. Andrew Peterson narrates the audio version, and I bet it's hilarious. That said, though there are some GREAT lines in this book, the ending left me a little flat. I won't spoil it, but up until the end it had managed not to sound preachy or contrived-- in fact it seemed the best form of satire, mocking the Sunday singles scene from within-- and though I wasn't necesarily disappointed with the outcome, it struck me as off. I really wanted it to end differently, a la Tim Keller's brand of being Christian in the city (if you've read it, and know who he is, that MIGHT make sense). I suppose, though, I'll have to read the sequels, because Ray Blackston really knows how to make his readers chuckle.

  • Midwives

  • (Also found at Goodwill)
    Moving, powerful novel. While reading it, I had the strangest sense of deja vu, like I'd read it before even though I knew I hadn't, because it came out after I'd graduated high school, and you'd think I'd remember it if I'd read it in the last 10 years. I think this was due to the writer's talent and style. Bojhalian was able to put the reader in the mind of a 14-yr old girl and a thirty-something midwife, and I found that astounding. He really did his research. Thrilling suspense, and a gripping read until the very last page. I loved it!

  • Children of Men

  • (Purchased from Amazon)
    I hate to say I watched the film first, so when I finally read this, I had to completely put it out of my mind. It was hard, because I thought it made a good movie, but they had so mangled the book that I kept getting characters confused and seeing the actors in my mind's eye. The movie bears very little resemblance to this masterpiece by PD James. If you haven't seen the film, read the book first. The concept itself is intriguing and could be taken a number of different ways: what would happen if the entire world suddenly became barren? However, it remains a very character-driven and introspective novel. I would describe this as a narrative depiction of total depravity--we all have the capacity for ultimate evil. Not that this is a hopeless story, but it is certainly fascinating and thought-provoking look at human nature. A must-read.

  • The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

  • (Found at Goodwill)
    What inspired me to pick this up? It was sitting on our shelf at eye level after I finished the previous book, but I also like to think that watching an episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. in which they mentioned this Mark Twain mystery had something to do with it. How I became an English teacher having never read this classic I can only contribute to a distate for early American literature that lasted through college. (I blame high school.) I did manage to squeeze in a course on 19th Century African-American Lit in graduate school, and I think reading this during that summer would've been helpful. I definitely appreciated it more now than I would've earlier in my life. I found the caricatures somewhat amusing and slightly appalling at times, though nonetheless I was entertained. I would recommend it for those familiar with this period in American literature, because otherwise you're going to get lost in the dialect and proficient use of the n-word. It does make a decent detective story and displays Mark Twain's humorous wit.

  • A Passage to India

  • (Purchased at Borders on sale)
    It has been 10 years since I first read this E.M. Forster classic for my high school AP Lit class. It enchanted me then, and continues to do so. This is a haunting story about the "muddle" of British-controlled India, and focuses on the confusing relationships between East and West. The unfolding of events is not nearly as striking as the co-mingling of place and character. From the "boum" of the echoing caves and the spiritual chant of "Esmiss Esmoore," in this story, everything speaks. Though you can sense the heat of the omnipresent sun (fitting when for so long we were under drought conditions which only relented this weekend) and spy the outline of the Marabar caves, it is the noise of the novel that remains. The voices of the characters spring from the page, and the tryptich of Mosque, Cave, and Temple serve as backdrops for masses of people longing for freedom, for unity. Sadly, no one in the novel ever really finds what they were looking for, especially Miss Quested (fitting name), our heroine, who was always longing to see "the real India." Though definitely not portraying a particularly Christian or even historical viewpoint of the situation, I would recommend this book as an honest portrait of British India in the early 20th century and a fascinating read. It makes me want to travel.

    For an interesting perspective, check out the original 1924 review from the Guardian. (Warning: this review gives the plot away, if you care about such spoilers. I don't, really, on a book like this, though I was surprised the main plot points were given away on the back of the Borders Classic version!)

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