Books: Recent and Not So Recent

Books: Recent and Not So Recent

I haven’t been so successful at keeping a reading log this year. Pregnancy does that. It addles the brain and saps the record-keeping desire.

But I’ve read a few books in recent months that I have wanted to write about, have wanted to discuss at length. Perhaps I’ll just jot a few notes perhaps people will even chime in. I often wonder: would I get better book discussions on my blog if I were to write more frequently and more consistently? Or maybe I should be posting about books on Facebook. I feel so unfinished and dissatisfied when I finish a book and there is no one to discuss it with at length. My long-suffering husband is as patient as can be but since we rarely read the same books he can only do so much listening as a ramble at length about what I’m reading. And I can only monopolize the conversations for so long.

1. Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story is a musical memoir by John Holt, the educational theorist and reformer and one of the founders of the homeschooling/unschooling movement. The book traces all the various encounters with music in his life in all it’s forms both as a listener and as a musician. The focus of the story, though, his how Holt learned to play the cello when he was in his forties, having never taken music lessons as a child and having grown up in a relatively music-deprived environment. He explodes the conventional wisdom that you have to start young or you can never master a musical instrument. Although he does concede that it takes much more work in some ways for an adult to learn to play, in other ways an adult has the advantage of being able to think in the abstract, of being able to define problems and to find solutions for himself rather than to rely on a teacher to do that for him.

Holt’s thesis is that learning is a lifelong process and should be rooted in joy of discovery and pleasure in the process of learning itself. Much of what he discusses in this book about the process of learning is more broadly applicable to education in general. And that really fascinates me as a mother and especially as a homeschooler. I love Holt’s emphasis on learning being driven by the child’s desire to know and of the teacher as a coach and mentor who helps the child learn what the child already wants to know rather than learning being about the teacher trying to cram knowledge into an unwilling vessel.

This one was pretty fun and an easy read and good food for thought. Holt’s work has had a way of sticking with me and I think this book will be the same.

2. Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon Godden and Rumer Godden

I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of Godden’s India novels; but reading her memoirs has definitely helped me to appreciate them much more. This memoir is a little different than the other two volumes I’ve read because it was co-written by Rumer and her older sister, Jon, who was also a successful novelist. The book is written in the first person plural, which is a very disconcerting narrative voice; but Jon and Rumer are accomplished enough to pull it off. They spin stories about their childhood in India that seamlessly combine both points of view, which has a very interesting effect because unlike most memoirs, the memoirist isn’t stuck inside her own head, her own memories, her own perspective. Instead, each has the corrective of the other’s point of view so that the stories have the advantage of both the interior and exterior perspective.

I think I prefer Rumer’s solo memoirs; but this was definitely an interesting read. Fascinating to learn more about Jon, who does not seem to be at all read these days. And I’m now one step closer to the sort of unofficial goal of someday having read her complete works.

3. Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecot

I’m reading this one very slowly. It’s a book I’d love to read with a group rather than on my own. I think I’m going to hold off trying to comment on it till I’ve read more but I’‘m throwing it on the list here now because I wouldn’t mind comments from others who have read it or are reading it.

4. Wolf Hall: A Novel by Hilary Mantel

I went into this book knowing nothing about it. I generally like having no expectations about a book, as I said in my recent post, it lets me meet a book on it’s own terms. So my first impressions were favorable. I enjoyed the characters and liked the point of view. About halfway through the book though I started getting annoyed at the egregious swipes at Thomas More—they really amounted to deliberate character assassination—and to the general anti-Catholicism, which is so pervasive that it can’t be attributed only to the main character’s point of view but comes from the narrator as well in what is presented as objective fact.

I almost gave up midway but slogged through to the bitter end. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have been happier just stopping. The book didn’t get any better and I later found out it’s just the first in a series. I am not going to read any of the sequels. Mantel seems to be the sort of bitter ex-Catholic who can’t say anything nice about the Church. I was vastly annoyed at her portrayal of More, especially since the common reception of the novel seems to have been to take it at face value. I kept thinking: is there any proof at all for these assertions (such as the terrible way he treats his family, and especially his wife, beats his servants, and relishes int he torture of heretics) or for any aspect of this portrayal?

5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (who lives in my hometown of Austin!)

I picked this one up on a whim on my birthday. I recognized the title because Melissa Wiley mentioned it a few times. I picked it up, put it back on the shelf. Picked it up again. Thought about it and then went with it. I am so glad that I bought it. Finished in less than a day and enjoyed it immensely. Another book that I knew nothing about before I read it (though I did read the blurb on the back cover) and I think I prefer it that way. I loved the characters. The setting was so believable. The plot was a roller coaster ride. Definitely an “I can’t put it down” book.


6. The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

Dom’s been a Scalzi fan for a while and has several of his novels hanging about. I got bored and was casting about for my next book and decided why not. Bearing’s recent link to one of Scalzi’s brilliant blog posts probably didn’t hurt. Also the title, a reference to the Philip K. Dick story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, that inspired the movie Bladerunner. A movie which was mentioned in Ready Player One. So there’s that too. This book just seemed fated to be read.

I enjoyed the story very much, though the ending felt a little flat. It tied up all the plot lines well enough but I think I wanted a little more from the characters. I don’t know. I seem to be slightly dissatisfied with all endings lately.

7. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

With Bella’s recent interest in continents Australia has come up a lot recently. I have had this book on my shelf for some time. I got it after I discovered Erin’s blog of the same name. What a great novel! I loved the Woolcot family and hope I can find the rest of the books about them. They remind me a bit of what I love about Alcott’s March family. I was very impressed at how the author managed to give all seven children very distinct personalities and interesting stories, juggling them all very adeptly. There aren’t many books out there about big families and I think one of the reasons is simply how hard it must be for a writer to keep all the characters and stories lively and distinctive. I don’t know much about Australia and I very much want to learn more. If you have suggestions for novels especially but also I’d love a very good history book that would give me a good overview and perhaps a better handle on some of the vocabulary. So many words I just didn’t know!

8. Odd Apocalypse, the latest Odd Thomas novel by Dean Koontz.

I love Koontz’s books and especially Odd Thomas. Koontz has such a thoroughly Catholic worldview and yet I don’t know that a non-Catholic would at all pick up on it because it’s not anything blatant that Koontz ever promotes directly in his books. It’s just that he has a very Catholic cosmology and a sacramental vision of reality and a Catholic understanding of good and evil, love, death and of human nature and of personal responsibility. (And yes, Koontz is Catholic but not many of his characters are.) Koontz also drops unattributed Eliot quotations into his prose. How lovely to stumble across a line from my beloved Four Quartets. Again, if you don’t know Eliot by heart you won’t notice that he’s even quoting poetry because it’s just a part of the narrative voice. But it’s just pitch perfect.


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