#42: Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life by Michael Dirda. Dirda is a staff writer for the Washington Post Book World, and is a Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism. This is a little gem of a book, basically excerpts from Dirda's own quote journal/commonplace book. With book lists thrown in! What's not to like?
#43: Jonathan Stange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke. This is the first book off my Autumn Reading Challenge list--the Big Books list. This is a book that I had heard a lot about, both good and bad. It was one of my steals from Half-Price books, off the clearance shelves. Before I cracked it open, I went out to Amazon, and read a few pages of reviews. I can say that it easily has the most varied set of a reviews I've ever encountered on Amazon. And they are skewed strongly toward the extremes. Lots of 1 and 5 star ratings. Lots of rantings and ravings: "Best book ever!" and "Don't waste your time on this bloated mess!"
I liked the book. It wasn't my favorite of all time, but it was fun. Written in a "half Jane Austen/half fantasy fiction" style, I thought the author had imagination to burn. I love the fact that she has made up such a world that she can include numerous "footnotes" to explain it and tell additional stories about it. Perhaps I would have liked it even more if I were a regular "fantasy" genre reader. My recommendation for this one is up in the air. Try it. You'll either love it or hate it. Oh, and those people who refer to it as an "adult Harry Potter"? Pay no attention to them. It's NOTHING like HP.
#44: Things As They Are by Paul Horgan. This is our book group's read for this month. It's been reissued as part of the Loyola Classics series. A good book, but a melancholy one. Richard is a boy growing up in a devout Catholic family, with a mother and father who love him and one another. The book consists of vignettes of his childhood--the vignettes of times when innocence was lost, sin reared it ugly head, or childish misconceptions were torn away. It's the story of a child's eyes being opened to "things as they are"--not as he "thought they were" or even as "they ought to be."
#45: Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse. A complete about turn from the above, this is the first of the "Blandings" novels that Wodehouse wrote. It's the first novel in the omnibus edition LIfe at Blandings that is on my reading list. The blurb on the front jacket is from an unusual source: Douglas Adams. And he says: "Wodehouse is the greatest comic writer ever." I don't know. Mr. Adams is a pretty funny writer himself. But this was a completely enjoyable novel, that I couldn't help but visualize as a stage play the whole time I was reading. Wonderful characters: The American dyspeptic millionaire Mr. Pierce. The very English, very forgetful Lord Emsworth. The personal secretary known as The Efficient Baxter. All gathered together in a romp that has imposters pretending to be servants, a stolen/gifted scarab, an attempt at theft, and a scene with broken crockery and a tongue on the floor that was comic genius.
Wodehouse said: "I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn." I'm glad he chose the comedy route.
Next up? Spiritual reading will be My Life with the Saints and regular reading will be North of Hope by Jon Hassler, next month's book group selection.