Monday, July 31, 2006


Hey ladies,

September's picks were EASY to collect from you all. Thanks so much for fast responses to my e-mails! As previously discussed, we're letting Lisa and Karen (two bookfest stalkers and occasional readers) make two of our selections for next month. Per usual, I like to pick the next month's books in advance just incase I need to make an interlibrary loan request (which is frequently the case). However, I don't think we'll have much of a problem in September. Both of our guest selectors offered me a couple of choices and both seemed to think that Wodehouse was in order as apparently we shouldn't go without one of his books on our list. So without further ado, and barring objection, these are September's books:

1. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens (Carrie);

2. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare (Rose);

3. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (Lisa); and

4. Piccadilly Jim, by P.G. Wodehouse (Karen).

October's picks go to Sky, Erika, Anneke & Bonnie so be thinking! If you already know what you will pick, please leave a comment here that way I can just come back to this post and see what your selections were when the time comes. It's nice to stay ahead of the game.

Thanks and happy reading!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

An Explanation of Housekeeping

I loved this book, especially Robinson's gift for capturing the very essence of an experience in a few words. She has a gift for limiting her story's details in a way that adds to its mystery. Basic facts are withheld, so that the story seems timeless, universal, and haunting.
I do believe that the title is the key to the meaning of this story. The three daughters lose their father to the lake, and are ever afterwards haunted by its presence in their lives. Robinson speaks of the loss of their father as ( if I remember correctly) a stone dropped in a pond, with gradually subsiding ripples that end in a return to a smooth unruffled surface. Obvious allusion to the ever-present lake. And so their lives go on after the death of their father, household chores, trips to the library, the small everyday details that make up a life. But something deep down has been lost. Buried, undiscoverable (just like the body of the father), but with serious ramifications. The foundation of their lives has gone. Outwardly, their lives are unchanged, but inwardly, they drift. One daughter escapes to the mission field, seeking a structure, perhaps, a real calling. Two daughters marry, and both marriages fail. Their world has no permanence, no real structure. And so the granddaughter, Ruth, grows up in a world that is like a play already in Act III. She has certain odd tendencies, and her coming of age is, in a way, the process of her discovering who she is and why she is this way. Her life is a life of constant change, transience. Eventually she gives up her house (ends her 'housekeeping'), and simply accepts who she is and acts on it. She crosses the lake, dying to her old self and, strangely, following in the way of her father.
I don' pretend to understand the whole story. I have no idea what she means by the Cain and Abel story. I do think she is named Ruth in order to tie her story into the story of Ruth leaving her family and following her mother-in-law to a new land and a new life.
When I finished this book I wanted to go back and keep Ruth from leaving, from becoming a transient. I wan't to rail against the ending and cry that it couldn't happen, it shouldn't happen. But it did. Why? Because I believe no one in this story ever really dealt with the death of the father. They wanted life to go on. The mother wanted a smooth, simple life. And so life went on, unchanged, but the realness died along the way. The family drew back, and drifted from others. The cover of this book spoke of 'the danger of transcience'. Ruth eventually chose a life of change, of superficial relationships, of no real roots. The failure of her mother to deal with the loss and move on to a new life was passed down to the next generation.
BTW, I do not necessarily agree with Robinson's theology. On a background note, she is a pastor in the Congregationalist denomination, and has written an excellent volume of essays entitled The Death of Adam. I highly recommend them.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

The impression this book left me with is a mixture of confusion and disgust. Proclaimed as "brilliant and compelling" it is at the very most verbose in description of landscape and the author's odd thoughts on life.

The story is based around two sisters whose grandfather and mother both died tragic deaths in the lake near the small town they live in. All their lives they live in one house and the relatives take turns caring for them and dying.

Ruth is the youngest sister and the story is seen through her vision and feelings, her personality is hindered by the hints of odd behavior.

Lucille is the eldest she is not in the picture for very long because she moves into a spare bedroom of a teacher so as to escape the down falling of her family.

Sylvie is the last of their relatives, an aunt who has seen many roads and seems to be more at home sleeping on a park bench then in the house caring for the girls.

The town, represented by the sheriff, deems Sylvie unworthy of caring for Ruth and there is to be a court hearing, so Sylvie and Ruth decide to burn the house down and fake their own deaths by running away.

The storyline is strange and unclear, I had no idea where this was going but kept reading thinking that the "coming of age" plot was going to make a point.

And then I got to chapter 10. Here the story of Cain and Abel is used to point out that God might have created Man but He wasn't quite sure what He was doing and kept realizing along the way that some of the laws He came up with had more consequences then He thought. Cain is portrayed in such a way that we are supposed to blame God for becoming indignant over slight things and thus Cain killed his brother, giving the earth a voice. And because of this "second creation" of people God had to kill them with water to purge the earth making all water taste of human sorrow.
God is described as a very faulty creator and ruler, reminiscent of Greek mythology. I am repulsed by this weak way of asserting God as fallible, as in any argument against God it is stupid and inane, contradictions pop up in every turn of the page; she claims that God created the world but wasn't able to foresee that His creation wouldn't be perfect. That Jesus healed and performed miracles but died a young and tragic death. His resurrection is passed over as a figment of loved ones, His friends only "felt" his presence because their memories of Him were so poignant.

Now how this ties into the whole story I have no idea. Was she trying to tell us that the dead walk among us as long as we remember them? I don't think it's anything so deep. I think that the author has a lot of ideas and thoughts but lacks the creativity to put them into a book form in an understandable manner.

Sadly, I cannot say that it ended well, Sylvie and Ruth escape and spend the rest of their days wandering around in oblivion, there is an allusion to rape and an unwanted pregnancy but it does nothing to the story.

The aftertaste of this book is dreary and sad. There is no hope for a brighter day, no beauty of life, no laughter with the family you have, just dull and dreary life that gives nothing but heartache.

I am thankful for the reading of this book because it made me sit down and write out my thoughts but I wouldn’t recommend it and I would not own it.

PS I have absolutely no idea why it is titled "Housekeeping"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Crime and Punishment

My own experience with Russian literature is somewhat limited, primarily to such dry and often dreary tomes as War and Peace, so I was expecting Crime and Punishment to be along the same lines. I can't say it wasn't dreary, but I was pleasantly surprised to find how interested I was in the story. I read the introduction before beginning the book, and I'm glad I did, because it really put everything into perspective. Of course, it also gave away the basic plot of the story, but that didn't keep me from wanting to read it. What fascinated me the most was that this book is basically a psychological thriller, and I didn't anticipate that when I pulled it off the library shelves. I actually found myself struggling with tension the entire time I was reading it, just knowing that Raskolnikov had committed a crime and that he wasn't going to get away with it--and most of all, that I couldn't stand him trying to get away with it. Even when things started looking up for him (as when that nutty fellow confessed), and Raskolnikov thought he was home free, I would still have that awful feeling at the pit of my stomach; he had something hanging over him, and he couldn't escape it.

There's been some debate among scholars about Dostoevsky's purpose in writing the book. Apparently, he lived during an era in which the "progressive" thinking was to rationalize all behavior in terms of its impact on society. In other words, Raskolnikov's killing the old woman could be justified because she was just a useless crone that nobody cared about anyway. Obviously, Raskolnikov (I'm getting sick of typing his name now) was carrying out an experiment, thinking that he might be a Napoleon who could do a small evil for a greater good. (There was a similar kind of idea that was ultimately rejected in that movie Kingdom of Heaven, if anyone saw it.) Some fool over at Amazon tried to claim that Dostoevsky believed in this rationalization and was trying to prove that Raskolnikov didn't necessarily do anything wrong in his action. But then again, why would it be Crime and Punishment...? Anyway, most scholars now agree that Dostoevsky's own life shows just the opposite, that he was instead strongly opposed to such thinking. He spent some time in prison for unwisely associating with the progressive set in his youth, and this book was born out of his moral reformation while serving his time.

Some scholars do find the ending a bit cheap, though, thinking that it tries to wrap everything up too nicely after Raskolnikov goes to Siberia. I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with this. It did happen a little quickly, but I think that was Dostoevsky's idea. For the entire length of the book, Raskolnikov fought his conscience. He knew he couldn't get away with his crime. He really only confessed because he knew the police were onto him. But he rejected any idea that the old woman was valuable--simply as a human being--until the end. I don't think the book would be quite as satisfactory without it.

I loved the character Sonia. I love that Dostoevsky chose a woman who would be at the very bottom of society, maligned by everyone for her lifestyle, and still found something beautiful and human about her. In a way, she's a contrast for the old woman. Raskolnikov found the old woman worthless, but everyone else would have seen Sonia the same way. I think Dostoevsky is trying to remind us that human value should remain in God's eyes alone. We can't be too quick to start dealing out death and judgment (did I just quote Gandalf?), because we see with biased eyes.

All that to say, I loved the book. I think it should be required reading for every high school student because of its strong position on the importance of human life. This could lead to a great discussion about abortion and the way that people justify it in the modern world. All in all, this one is a keeper for me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Some Helpful Guidelines

Ladies, I though it might be interesting for us to "polish" our book review skills! Here are some quick and interesting tips I found while browsing online:

Describe the book:
Is it interesting, memorable, entertaining, instructive? Why?

Respond to the author's opinions:
What do you agree with? And why?
What do you disagree with? And why?

Explore issues the book raises:
What possibilities does the book suggest? Explain.
What matters does the book leave out? Explain.

Relate your argument to other books or authors:
Support your argument for or against the author's opinions by bringing in other authors you agree with.

Relate the book to larger issues:
How did the book affect you?
How have your opinions about the topic changed?
How is the book related to your own course or personal agenda.

Go here for a more indepth guide!


Ok, here's the list for August:

1. Utah Blaine, by Louis Lamour (Sky);

2. Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller (Bonnie);

3. Revelations of a Single Woman, by Connally Gilliam (Erika)

I've been trying to get a hold of Anneke to get her pick for August, but I haven't heard back from her. If we don't hear anything from her by next week, I would suggest we confirm the list with "Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast" by Robin McKinley which another friend had suggested to me. It's an awesome book! (I just got started in it.) Lots of fun. Quick read. Barring objections and word from Ani, I'd say let's go for that and start making our interlibrary loan requests. ;) (Which I ALWAYS have to do!)

Also, here's some interesting book news:

What do you think?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Grasshopper Trap by Patrick McManus

These books bring back fond memories of my childhood. We had a friend who had all of them and whenever we went to his house I would sit there and read as many as I could. I haven't read one for years!

I love PM's style of writing, he comes off like a good ol country boy but he has an intelligent and quirky way of telling his stories. I have never read this particular one so I was enthralled as soon as I started. My favorite chapter was The Human Fuel Pump, I don't know how many times in my past I was sitting on the back of a pickup truck hoping that the rivet attached to my jean lined butt was going to be enough to hold me on when we went over the next bump! And I can't even count how many people I know that got stuck on a mountain out in the middle of nowhere because they were trying out their "new" old truck! I laughed out loud every time I heard punkity, punkity, punkity in my head!

Metamorphosis and Other Outdoor Phenomena Wives Don't Understand is most defintely my Daddy! There were so many guns in our house! I was making my bed one day and I found a rifle in between my matresses!?!? Many times I was "bought" a gun that I never saw! Somewhere over there I have a shotgun, a .22 and a deer rifle! (My Glock is with me..)

I love that "hunting" and "gettin' a deer" are two totally different things. It is so true, men just love the idea of going outdoors and being that primitive creature that God created! Where I grew up though if you didn't get a deer your family didn't have any red meat for the whole winter. And winter in Idaho lasts nine months!

Carrie, I enjoyed it so much I laughed out loud! Not many things do that!

I could go on but this post is long enough.......

The Da Vinci Code

I read this some weeks ago and have been waiting for all the ramblings and rumblings to settle into place and allow me to write a coherent review. Let us see if I can be as unbiased and unprejudiced in writing of it as I was before I read the book. For I insist, I approached it with a very open mind, having heard so much negativity about it that I determined to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, we all know it's bad, false, untrue, inaccurate, and full of lies about Christianity, but I disdained to read any of the rebuttals because - come on! It's a novel! It's supposed to be made up! That is how I began to read the book.

The very first word that came to mind as I began to read was pretentious. It's an overblown account of the author's cleverness and knowledge, and he takes care to shovel as much of this information into every possible paragraph, as if he is acutely aware of just how much work this book was to research and write and wouldn't miss out on a single opportunity to impress the reader with the depth of his insight. For instance, one of the early chapters has the main character walking across the lawn, thinking deep thoughts about history and whatnot. He mentions a couple of these facts to the stolid French policeman, and then the narrative continues something like: 'He thought of mentioning [blah blah blah], or that [blah blah blah], but decided that the policeman probably wouldn't appreciate it.' But of course we the reader are expected to appreciate, enjoy, and even recognise this tidbit for the important part it is to play in the unfolding drama! After all, policemen are well-renowned for being stupid clods, while your average paperback novel reader is well-informed, up-to-date, and cultured, so it's good of the author to scatter these juicy bits of largess to the populace.

There's a lot of information packed into this book. But it's all crippled by our inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. There have been many books written discrediting some of the more vicious attacks on Christianity, so I won't get into all that, but we know that many of the claims he makes are simply flat-out false, many of which he parades around as 'facts.' (Some of his history of the early church councils, the description of how the 'genuine' and 'mystical' gospels were weeded out, his exegesis of certain words, etc.) This makes a lot of the incidentals really hard to swallow. For instance, he mention this glass pyramid on the lawn of the Louvre, commissioned by some pope-or-other, containing the ominous number of 666 panels of glass. Is there really such a pyramid on the lawn of the Louvre? Probably. Was it really commissioned by so-and-so? Does it really have 666 panels of glass? I have no idea.

Another annoying thing is how the author continually strokes the ego of the reader by tossing out pathetically easy clues for the reader to uncover, in an attempt to make the reader feel like a genius by outsmarting the main characters, who stupidly walk into the most obvious traps and ambushes that I could see coming a mile away. The two main characters are a world-renowned symbologist (if there is such a word) and a top-notch cryptanalyst. Yet they keep stumbling over and missing the most obvious clues.

For instance, early on we see the cryptic message 'O draconian Devil!' Now, I may have a bit of an edge because I am, after all, reading a book called The Da Vinci Code, but I spotted right away that that was an anagram of Leonardo da Vinci. But these two geniuses fumble around for pages before finally cracking that code. Later on, we come across a mysterious bit of obscure writing. Is it Sanskrit? Ancient Hebrew? No, these two bright-eyed ones are familiar with all the major languages, ancient and modern, and know right away it is none of these. But it takes them pages and pages to make the blinding discovery that - lo and behold! - it's backward writing! Just hold it up to a mirror and it becomes legible!

Also very annoying is the very patronising attitude he takes toward Christians. Aside from all the blatant historical falsehoods, he manages to work in quite a few sideswipes at the modern church, pausing to have the main character note with irony how few people who worship the symbol of the Cross probably really know the origin of the word, that it is synonymous with torture, and that it provides us with the word 'excruciating.' EXCUSE ME!!! Of COURSE the Cross is as symbol of torture, suffering, and shame! We all know that!! We even have a hymn about the old rugged Cross, 'the emblem of suffering and shame.' It was common knowledge even in the Bible that 'cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.' The beauty of the crucifixion is that Jesus transformed that symbol of shame, hopelessness, and despair into victory over sin and death! Yes, it was an old Roman method of torture. (And put this in your pipe and smoke it, Dan Brown: It was invented by the Persians, not the Romans!) And it was so very painful that they coined a word for it. Lots of people know that, lots of people don't. Being or not being a brilliant linguist who knows all the origins of words has nothing to do with one's ability to revere a symbol that represents the cornerstone of our faith.

Also extremely annoying is his attempt to tie everything together by weaving a mystical tapestry of symbols, cabals, and significance through everything. I was insulted by his confident assertion that the Eiffel Tower was designed to resemble a sexual organ. He scatters sexual references everywhere (and there was one particularly disturbing scene).

So, all in all, it was a badly written and quite forgettable page-turner. The action moved so fast that it was pretty easy to keep engaged, if you even cared about the characters, which I didn't very much. It was pretty much nonstop action.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Peterkin Papers

It took me two weeks to read this. Not because I didn't have the time. Not because I don't like to read. Not because of anything other than my dislike of it. (Sorry, Rose.)

I thought the description of it being about "a family who takes everything literally" wasn't quite accurate. Perhaps I'm too attuned to the possibilities of someone making an off-hand remark and having it be taken quite literally as a result of my sibs-in-law. This book wasn't anything like them at all.

This book is about a stupid family that you'd like to strangle to end their misery. It's written in a similar style as The Five Little Peppers which I also just read recently. (It's a style I can't say I care for a great deal.) A little too innocent. A little too unbelievable.

I have to say its a relief to be done with this, not for the content struggle (although there is that) but for the boredom.


All I really have to say on this one is........

If you did not read it - do so.

It starts with a bang and finishes off nicely. I loved the adventure, the romance, the mystery. Because I'm not sure if/when anyone else read it (or is in process) I don't want to say too much about it.

I bought an additional copy to give to my brother-in-law for his birthday. He'll love it.

So will you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Note on Atonement

I just arrived back from vacation and discovered the book list for July , with Atonement first. I talked to Carrie about this, but wanted to write a general note as well. I was recommended this book by Dr. Leithart, and read it a few months ago. I found it well-written, thought-provoking, and haunting. I also found several to-skip sex scenes. SO, this is just a note of warning: it's a good novel, but 'modern' in the sense that sometimes the author doesn't know when to draw the curtain. I hope nobody is too surprised or offended. And sorry about the mix-up. If anybody does read it, I 'd be interested in your response.
I do have another suggestion. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. It was published in the last two years, and I found it at the library without having to place a hold. Hope you like it!