Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Amazing Grace!

Marissa, you were right. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood is a fantastic book! I loved the historical context of the story and I love reading about this time period in general and the life back then. I was fascinated by the science they used at the time to help diagnose Grace and help explain what may have happened at the murders. I also liked that no character was perfect. Everyone had their faults – there was no perfect character riding up on his horse to save the day.

Books like this one portraying life in the 1800s always make me want to be more industrious around the house. Learn embroidery, mop my kitchen floor, bake bread, etc. Women back then did SO MUCH by hand. I’m just amazed by how much they did and how much easier we have it now. I did a couple of loads of laundry by hand this winter when our washing machine was having some issues and it is HARD work. I can’t imagine having to do that constantly, plus making all that food by hand, churning butter, etc. Yikes. I guess that’s why wealthier families had so many live-in servants.

This is definitely one of my very favorite books so far!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Not cool.

The other day I was reading over the last few blog entries I wrote and I noticed that I conclude that pretty much every book was “cool”. I need to become more creative with my descriptions.

Therefore, Albert Angelo by B.S. Johnson was not “cool”. It was really interesting, very different, some might say neat, nifty, or swell. (Those last 3 words are synonyms for cool.) I have never read a book like this before. The book jacket says this book “extends the possibilities of the novel” and I definitely see how it does that.

I’m not sure I totally got everything that was going on, but basically this book is about one thing (a man who wants to be an architect but has to work as a teacher to pay the bills), but is really about something else as well. Interesting. I’m not sure it was one of my favorites or anything, or that I will think about it a lot over the next few days or weeks, but I am glad I read it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Crusading through volume one.

The Albigenses by Charles Robert Maturin is 4 volumes! I did not know this when placing my interlibrary loan request. So I’m waiting for volumes 2 through 4 to come in! This entry is only about volume 1. I think I’ll write a separate entry about each volume. I don’t want to forget my thoughts about volume 1 by the time I reach the end of the series.

These books are no joke. Volume 1 is 439 pages long. However, the print is on the large side so it is probably more like a 250 to 300 pager if it were set in normal size type. But in any event, I’m looking at 1200+ pages.

THANKFULLY, I like the topic. The book was published in the 1820s and it’s about a crusade in the 1200s. I’m not sure which crusade it was, but the crusaders are aiming to stamp out heresy in the Languedoc, not take over Jerusalem. The Albigeois are a group of religious nonconformists that the crusaders are attempting to get rid of. It is really interesting to view the 1200s through the lens of an 1820s writer.

Volume 1 deals more with the personalities and characters of the crusaders, not the Albigeois. And there is a lot of intrigue and interesting stuff going on. One of the knights, Paladour, has a mysterious background and a sense of déjà vu when he enters the towers of the Lord of Courtenaye. There are all kinds of scary things going on including a mystery woman who seems to be up to no good. Oh, and the beautiful Lady Isabelle.

Marissa is going to laugh at me. But this book reminds me a little bit of The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. The Other Boleyn Girl was an attempt to fictionalize medieval history for a 21st century audience. And similarly, at least so far, The Albigenses is an attempt to fictionalize some aspects of medieval history for a 19th century audience. I have no idea whether Maturin’s work succeeded in the 1800s but it succeeds with me. I’m excited to get the other volumes and dive back in.

I have Albert Angelo here and I may try to knock that one out (only 180 pages!) while I wait for volumes 2 through 4 of The Albigenses.

Monday, March 15, 2010

20 down, 981 to go!

I just finished reading Aithiopika by Heliodorus. I can’t believe I’ve already made it through 20 books! Before I get to my thoughts on Aithiopika, I’d like to quickly go through some highlights and lowlights of the first 20 for me.

Weirdest Premise: Ada. Incest in some kind of parallel world? Really?

Most Bizarre Act of Revenge: Pooping outside someone’s window, in L’Abbe C.

Most Bizarre Activity: Encrusting a turtle with gems to see how it brought out the colors of a carpet, in Against the Grain.

Mind-Numbing Series of Sentences: Adjunct: An Undigest. I’m sure it wouldn’t be mind-numbing if I actually GOT THE POINT of the random sentences that formed this book.

Character I Would Not Want to Meet in a Dark Alley: The Worm from the After the Quake story. Yuccckkkk. Yuccckkkkkk.

Now to Aithiopika. This book presented logistical challenges for me. It is available free online. Which is awesome. I also recently got a new phone with souped up Internet capability. Which is also awesome. However, reading a 10 chapter, 300 page-ish book on a 2x3ish inch cellphone screen was horrendous for my eyes. Also, you can’t bookmark where you are online the same way you can on the Kindle, so there was a lot of scrolling around trying to figure out where I had left off. Anyway. I made it through and I can still see.

Aithiopika is a complicated book with a very traditional theme of a man and a woman who want to be together, but life keeps throwing things in their path that keep them from getting married. In their case, it isn’t money or disapproving parents or anything like that that keep them apart. It’s things like getting caught in the middle of a war and taken prisoner, or being captured by a band of thieves, or being nearly offered as human sacrifices. It’s interesting how it’s a contemporary theme but the things that befall the couple are so unbelievably different.

The book was confusing in parts because there are SO many flashbacks. It was also confusing because Heliodorus decided to make most of the male characters’ names start with T. So for the first couple of chapters I couldn’t tell Thyamis from Theagenes. Then later on come the C names. So once I figured out the T’s, along came Calasiris and Charicles and I was Confusedicles. This wouldn’t have been as big of an issue if I were reading this in normal format and could flip back a few pages more easily to figure out who was who. Anyway. This was a really cool read and I enjoyed reading something so old but with relevance, too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Appreciating simplicity.

It is hard to describe The Afternoon of a Writer by Peter Handke. If I tell you the gist of what goes on (guy goes for a walk after writing all day) then you’ll say, “What a snooze that book must be.” But I really didn’t find it a snooze at all. Yes, it is a really simple story but the descriptions are so beautiful and the ideas in the book are so thoughtful.

This book is super short (something like 85 pages) and I felt like it was over before I even really got started. It’s an amazing portrait of an individual and the whole craft of writing in a very short novel. I’m impressed when writers can accomplish so much in so few pages. This was a really simple but very cool book.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Adventures of a misanthrope.

Not much going on in Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans. This guy doesn’t like anyone. Not anyone at all. So he sells the family chateau, buys a house and shuts himself up in it reading, looking at paintings, and generally being a grouch. The guy also does some really random things searching for new experiences.

The novel is a tool for the author to explain his views on various pieces of art and literature and religion. So obviously there isn’t a lot of action, each chapter provides the opportunity for the author to explain what he thinks of say, Baudelaire, or whatever.

Since I haven’t read any of the underlying literature and I don’t know much about the paintings, I didn’t get a whole lot out of this one. I think I understand why it’s on the list (and it’s interesting to read a novel that is more than a story and is used as a tool for commentary), but it just dragged for me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

DO something, lady! (Or, why I would not have been a good Victorian woman.)

By some weird stroke of weirdness, I read Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte at the same time I’m in the middle of Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn (which is a non-1001 book!). It was a striking contrast to see how children are treated in Agnes Grey (mostly like property that must be bent to the parents’ will) when compared to the ideas Kohn has about raising children!

I think this might be the first book I’ve read by a Bronte sister. While it was a good story, I was underwhelmed. I didn’t think the book fit together well. The stories from the first position she takes as a governess seem kind of unrelated, there is very little discussion of how she ends her governess position at the Murrays (I’d think it would be hard to give notice and I was interested to see what Mrs. Murray would have said about Agnes’ plans with her mother), and it all wraps up just a little bit too neatly at the end for my taste.

Also, I don’t know whether it is simply a function of how women were treated/expected to behave at the time Bronte was writing, or what, but I really didn’t like Agnes very much. I found her to be way too navel gazing and not self-determining. She just kind of sat around and waited for things to happen to her. I kept wanting to yell at her, “DO something!” Unfortunately she never really did.

You know what I like about this project? Seeing the portrayal of the lower to middle classes in European society. So much of the history I learned in school focused on whatever the lords and upper classes were doing – and I didn’t have a great idea of what everyday life for everyday people was like. This book was cool for that reason, and that’s another reason why I liked Adam Bede, too.