I’m giving in and admitting to myself that I’m not going to write the elaborate reviews I want to write. So here are some brief notes for some of my recent reads.
This is the Arthurian/Grail book I’ve always wanted. Seriously. It traces step by step the development of the legends from the earliest Christian stories about the cup of the last supper and the earliest Celtic stories about magical cauldrons and bowls through the very latest in today’s best sellers. Which by itself would be quite handy. But best of all this book is not neutral about the topic. No, the authors are most concerned not with whether Arthur really exist (though they do address the topic of the historical Arthur) but with the real meaning behind the stories of the Holy Grail.
Revised pagan mythology, anti-Christian propaganda, swashbuckling adventure—none of these give an adequate account of why the Grail legend has survived. After all the empty Grail is just a cup.
The true mystery of the Grail is the mystery of the Eucharist. I loved that that understanding is at the heart of this book. That makes this the best account of the Grail I’ve read.
I picked this one up on Melissa Wiley’s recommendation. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it was very good. Stilgoe is a historian at Harvard whose class sounds absolutely fascinating. He gets his students out of the classroom and exploring their environment. The history he recounts has to do with what he stumbles upon during these explorations. So there is a chapter about all the wires one finds overhead on a city street: telephone, power, cable, etc. I learned about railroad right of way, about mailboxes and fences and lawns and all sorts of features one might notice on a walk about the block or a bike ride through the surrounding countryside.
I’ve always been the type to wonder about features as I walk along, to really notice things like manhole covers and fence posts. But this book took that idle wondering and made it delve deeper into the reasons why and the history behind. Definitely a good read. At times I found the style a little off-putting. It was all in the second person. And some of the conclusions felt a bit forced. But maybe that was just me.
In the latest volume of the series Dean Koontz’s most lovable fry cook hero, Odd Thomas, finds himself in a California seaside town. I love the Odd Thomas series because of the sense that at the heart of things is order and mystery. Koontz’s very Catholic world shines through in this series most of all. Life isn’t random. Evil is evil and good is good and truth is not relative.
I was a bit annoyed that the story early on introduced a character who looked to be a major character who then faded into the background for the rest of the novel. I assume this character will feature prominently in the next book. Feels like the story grew to be too big for one book and got chopped in two.
An animal fable. The hero of the story is Chaunticleer the rooster, a familiar character from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. (Bella has this medieval story in picture book form.) A tale of the battle between good and evil, dramatized here in the animals’ struggle against the great Wyrm, imprisoned under the earth, and his minions Cockatrice and the Basilisks. Although the cover blurb compares it to Animal Farm, Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings, I think none of the comparisons are very apt. The battle scenes are reminiscent of the Iliad. There is also a wonderful love story—what you didn’t think chickens could star in a romance? think again.
Had the potential to be heavy handed, but I think it managed to make the characters human, well, except for the fact that they were animals. Of course it had the usual problems fables have when spun out too long: if you think too hard about what the friendly carnivores eat, your head will start to hurt. But maybe that’s just me. I usually have problems getting my mind around anthropomorphic animals, I’m just too literal sometimes.
Since I liked Acedia and Me, I thought I’d give Kathleen Norris another try, even though I’m not usually a memoir reader. This one was very different but still enjoyable. It begins with Norris’ college days at Bennington and continues as she moves to New York City post-college and a job as an assistant at the Academy of American Poets where she begins to find her identity as a poet under the mentorship of the director, Betty Kray. The book is as much an homage to the almost-unknown Betty Kray as it is Norris’ account of her own self-discovery. It also offers a fascinating insider’s peek into the New York art world in the 60s and 70s and into the life of a poet.