Book Notes

Book Notes

For some reason I haven’t been able to pull together anything coherent on anything I’ve read in the past few months. I’ve been meaning to write about them and meaning to write about them and I’m realizing I’m just not going to get around to full-fledged blog posts about them; but I wanted to mention them and jot down a few thoughts before too much more time passes. So now that 2010 is almost over, I feel compelled to just jot down a few notes about what I’ve been reading in the last quarter of the year.

1. All Clear by Connie Willis is the nominal sequel to Blackout; but really though they were published two years apart in terms of plotting and narrative arc the two are not separate novels but two halves of a long book that was divided by the publisher. All Clear and Blackout may well have surpassed Doomsday Book as my favorite all-time Connie Willis work. Although many of the reviewers at Amazon complained about the novel being rambling and repetitive and slow, I found it none of those. (Here are my previous thoughts on Blackout.)

2. Silence by Shusaku Endo was discussed at Reading for Believers before I joined up. I decided to read it earlier this fall. It’s a novel about two Portuguese missionary priests who go to Japan in the 16th century after Japan has closed her borders to Westerners. Wow! I really wanted to write a blog post about it. Especially about the ending. I feel like I still haven’t processed it. I want to write more; but for now this place holder will have to do.

3. October was my month to choose a book for our book club and A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai-Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb was my choice for the group. It seemed like a good follow up to Silence

I picked up Song of Nagasaki because I’d just finished reading Nagai’s memoir of the dropping of the atomic bomb, The Bells of Nagasaki, and my interest in Nagai was piqued. Bells is an amazing story by a man who was a devout Catholic convert,  a scientist and physician, as well as a survivor of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. I love the way his book draws those different strands together. But Bells has a very limited scope. It only tells the story of the dropping of the bomb. A Song for Nagasaki, Paul Glynn’s biography of Nagai, fills in the details of the rest of Nagai’s life and even provides greater context and detail of the events recounted in Bells. Reading it, I became utterly fascinated by Nagai and his life. The two of these books together were probably the best non-fiction I read this year. I am now in mourning because I just received for Christmas the only other of Nagai�s books that has been translated into English because once I finish it there will be no more. Our book club’s discussion was here if you want to take a look.

4. Dusk: A Novel/Po-on by F. Sionil Jose. I know next to nothing about the Philippines so when Enbrethiliel chose this novel for us to read I was intrigued. I felt I was setting out into a truly foreign land. I was not disappointed. It was a great read and a wonderful opportunity to push myself to learn a bit more about the history and culture and language of the Philippines. But I’m not going to say much more here. If you’re interested head over to Reading for Believers for the book group’s discussion.

5. 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. I was surprised to see that this novel that inspired the Disney movie was by the author of I Capture the Castle. The story is very much a children’s book and the characters are rather black and white (no pun intended) but it does have a very different feel from the animated picture.

6. I picked up Room by Emma Donoghue because of Pentimento’s review. I’m going to be lazy and just quote her summary, which I know I’ can’t improve upon right now:

Room is the story of five-year-old Jack, who, as the narrative begins, has lived his entire life, along with his mother, in captivity in an eleven-by-eleven foot room.  When the two are unexpectedly thrust into the world, both must learn to redefine their relationship to it, and to each other, in ways that are, in a sense, even more painful and traumatizing than their captivity has been.  Donoghue draws freely upon children’s “reversal” literature, most prominently Alice in Wonderland, to present the reader with the story of one of the great developmental dilemmas faced by all children—how to understand, interpret, and navigate reality—made exponentially more poignant for Jack by the sensory and social deprivation of his early years.

Room is a novel which will haunt me for a long time. While the novel has a chilling subject, it was full of so many warm and tender moments that it’s hard for me to even begin to categorize. As Pentimento says:

Jack’s narrative voice is captivating, and his young mother is a giant of strength, love, and resourcefulness, who, in their imprisonment, has turned Jack’s cruelly confined world into one of beauty and adventure.  The two are completely dependent upon each other, and the transition to a less-enmeshed relationship is one of the most difficult challenges Jack faces in “Outside.”

The mother’s strategy is a little like Roberto Begnini’s fatherwho protects his young son from the horrors of the concentration camp in Life is Beautiful by pretending it is all a game. I suppose it speaks to me as a mother of what it means to be a parent in a fallen world. We all to some degree must shelter our children from the cruelty and tragedy of life. Especially when they are very young.

7. Louis de Wohl�s Citadel of God: A Novel About Saint Benedict was one I picked up after Alicia mentioned it.  I was really blown away by the story. Masterfully told. I wasn’t expecting much, hagiography can so often be dull. But De Wohl sets the lives of his saints against the political background of their day and in the novels about Francis and Benedict the bulk of the narrative actually follows other characters, a remarkably effective device. I also read
The Joyful Beggar, and Lay Siege to Heaven, novels about St Francis of Assisi, and St Catherine of Siena respectively. My current read is The Glorious Folly, his novel about St Paul.

8. An Autobiography by Agatha Christie. Connie Willis clearly is a great Agatha Christie fan and not only do the characters in several of Willis’s novels, including Blackout and All Clear discuss Agatha Christie’s mysteries, but Christie herself makes a cameo appearance in All Clear. I haven’t read an Agatha Christie novel since I was a teenager; but I was a voracious reader of mysteries back then and I think I read most of hers. Then recently someone somewhere on the internet mentioned reading Christie’s autobiography and said it was good. Willis having whetted my appetite, that recommendation was enough to spur me to put it on hold at the library. I am so glad I did. Christie is a wonderful storyteller and her account of her own life is no exception. There were so many passages I wanted to copy out and post on my blog and I only actually did post a couple of them.

I know there must be more books I read which I intended to write about. But it’s getting late and I’m tired. So this will have to do for now. At least I’ve got a few thoughts written out that weren’t there before. This seems a fitting last blog post for the year. Books, scattered thoughts, unfinished business. Happy New Year, everyone. I look forward very much to seeing what 2011 will bring us.

* * * Yes, the product links take you to Amazon. Yes, Dom and I get a bit of money when you buy products through Amazon after clicking on these links. Also, I get a nifty little stat count of how many people bought each book, which is kind of exciting. To see people actually buying books I’ve recommended. But you know, feel free to check them out from the library or to buy them from someone else if you don’t like Amazon. After all more than half of these are books I borrowed from the library.



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  • I can never seem to muster the “holy delight” I wish I could have on Christmas.  Too much to do.  But Royal Hours on Christmas Eve certainly took me closer.  And then the days following, and this year we have spent many of them at church, the story keeps getting told, sung and looked at, and the holy delight comes not in a rush, but a steady stream.  In our Eastern Catholic Church, we also celebrate the Circumcision of our Lord, and St. Basil.  We had Vespers New Year’s Eve, Liturgy yesterday, and of course church today.  I can’t help but see this season as set apart when we spend so much time in church.  Again, Happy New Year!  and Merry Christmas!

  • What a lovely, long post full of good things (and thanks for the link!).

    I love the Eliot poem.

    Epiphany often kind of gets lost for us, because it’s mixed up with our oldest daughter’s birthday. But I too am glad that Christmas is a whole season and not just one day. I’ve kind of blown this one on too much online time, which I don’t normally allow myself, so it hasn’t felt as holy as it might have, though on the other hand, it’s been nice to catch up with blogs, actually leave comments, and reach out to the people I’ve met through the internet who’ve come to be important to me. You do what you do, I guess.

  • You know, I was really dreading Christmas this year, because my oldest son got leave for Thanksgiving and would be away for Christmas.  But God is very good, and gave us many gifts.  We have turned some kind of corner with our kids.  The oldest came home, and although she didn’t join us at Mass, she was definitely happy to be here.  When I told the boys that NO altar servers had volunteered for the 8:00 AM Mass on Christmas Day, the 10 yo said, “Then we’ll do it.”  And we had a discussion about presents, and behold, the presents came after Mass.  And that oldest son – he got up at 5 AM his time and got on Skype with us, and spent most of the day on the computer, carried about from room to room being part of our day.  Dinner was a little too long in the making, and a little too late for our friends’ small kids, but we worked around it.  It was a good day, and started with God.  Your time will come, too.  And you will look back on the hectic days and wish they were back again.  I’m hoping to have a little more noise and commotion next year!

  • Thanks Melanie – this was lovely reading with my breakfast! It’s interesting that so many of us are feeling similar things about Christmas. We have such high expectations – I’m exactly the same. I was disappointed that we spent all of Christmas Day going from one family to the other, without any time for church or even really to reflect. But really, as Abby pointed out so wisely, loving people is the best thing we could be doing on Christmas Day.
    Our church is on holiday so we went to mass at St Patricks, a big city parish, on Sunday morning. It was beautiful. Such a joy to be there. They took the children out for children’s liturgy for part of the mass, and the girls loved it!  Happy New Year to you and your family, may you know God’s richest blessings in all the adventures and treasures that 2011 holds for you.