July 21, 2011

2011 Reading Update: Summer

I chose to feature the author photos this time, mostly because I couldn't resist that photo of Greene.  Clockwise from top left: Iris Murdoch, Margery Allingham, David Lodge, Laurie Colwin, Jasper Fforde, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.

Ah!  I am so behind in telling you about my reading. I had been planning my spring reading update (or, rather, Easter reading, as my last update was in the middle of Lent).  But then Spring and Easter were over and Summer came and, as you know, life has been BUSY.  Its too bad, because over Easter my theme was love, and I read 4 books that looked at love (and, lets be frank, sex) from vastly different angles--and the comparison was fascinating.  In my head.  But it will have to stay there in my head.  In the meantime, here are the books with brief summaries.  You know the drill: I'm only reading books recommended to me this year.

+ Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh:  This was my Easter treat to myself.  I have, of course, read this many many times, and it is my favorite novel.  But I had not read it in several years.  I came to it so oddly: each word was familiar but new.  In my quatro of love books, it stands at the center as the fullest, most just, and most right.  I think it's fair to say that the novel is, fundamentally, an exploration of loves, but my reading of it was influenced heavily this time by the books I read around it.  In fact, it was the measure.

+ Changing Places by David Lodge: Needless to say: if Brideshead Revisited was the measure, not much would stand up.  Changing Places is a parody of 1960s and 1970s university culture, but its really about sex, with some witty caricatures of English professors and academia in general. Mostly, I thought it was tedious. What was hilarious to my former boss (who works in academia, and inherited the mess made in the 60s and 70s) was an overdone inside joke to me. I got it; I was faintly entertained, but didn't really care. If university culture is still only about sex (an argument could be made), it is for very different reasons than back in those days. I'd rather read I am Charlotte Simmons.  (Actually, it would be fun to compare the two.) The single most hilarious joke of the book was described to me by the recommend-er, and I won't spoil it for you, but if you've read the book, then you know: it has to do with English professors, their area of expertise, and the works they haven't read.

+ Goodbye Without Leaving by Laurie Colwin:  I am so glad Miss Hale is still on her Laurie Colwin kick, since it means whenever I read a sour book this year, I can jump into her pleasant, comedy of manners novels, and bask in the warm, safe glow of their little worlds obsessed with love.  I'll leave the summary to Miss Hale, and say simply that this was Colwin's heroine with whom I most identified.  Though Geraldine's struggle is much more existential than any I've ever had, she is a searcher and wanderer, floating along life till she finds an anchor.  I'm not searching for a faith or tradition to ground me, but I know I've been searching for something for a long long time.  (Have I found it?  Time will tell.) I quoted this book here.

+ A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken:  I was prepared to love this book.  It is greatly beloved by many people I admire, and it clearly fits with my favorite time period of English Literature (1920-1960 English). There were parts that I just loved--it is very quotable--and the story is incredibly moving. But, to be perfectly frank, it irritated me. He was just so keen to get his point about love across, when I think the story of their life is a compelling enough witness. And I don't suppose I can blame him since he was a philosopher not a novelist to write with less narrative flourish. I think that if I had read it in high-school, when I had no real idea what married life and married love is like, it would have influenced me tremendously.  But, as an adult, with many dear friends who are happily married and working every day for their marriage and their family, many of the book's revelations were not news to me. It does, however, have my very favorite C.S. Lewis story--a story I  live by very consciously.

+ The Potting Shed by Graham Greene: This play, also recommended by Miss Hale, is remarkable work for Graham Greene, for it comes out strongly in favor of faith.  Greene is, first and foremost, a Catholic.  Even his silliest spy books (which, incidentally, I love) grapple with faith and doubt and love and mercy and judgement. But when the final page is upon us, he often hedges, and won't give the answer his characters, his readers, and even he needs.  Is hate the beginning of love (The End of the Affair)? Is that a prayer on Scobie's lips (The Heart of the Matter)?  Anyway, The Potting Shed is less of a play and more of a discussion (like The Cocktail Party) and its action is of the metaphysical variety: a coming to know oneself and one's purpose.  I would love to do a dramatic reading of it someday.  And, if any high-school drama teachers at Christian schools are reading, this would be a fine challenge for your students to perform.

+ The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch: Oh boy, I don't know where to begin on this one.  It is by far the finest novel I've read in a long long long time (excepting Brideshead of course).  It won the Booker Prize in 1978, and well deserved too. We read it for bookclub, and if you have a bookclub, I highly recommend reading this--it is an excellent book for discussion.  I don't think I could describe it, so I will just say: it is absorbing and powerful, beautifully written, with masterful characters.  Told in the first person--Charles is a newly retired quite famous (and totally self-absorbed) director living isolated on the sea--one neither fully believes or trusts Charles' tale, nor likes him at all, and yet we couldn't put the book down. It is not a pleasant read, though.

+ The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde:  Everyone has been telling me I must read these books.  Literary nerd-ery, mystery, and humor.  Sounds like a perfect fit.  AH!  Not so much.  I could not get through it more than 100 pages. Fforde has created an alternate version of our reality, where books literally come alive, time travel is possible, and the state (England, not US) is some kind of big-brother.  But he never actually sets the scene--he only vaguely refers to it.  It is as if you walked out the door one morning, and everything seemed normal, but then when you turned on your car, you discovered it was a hovercraft, and whats more your carpool buddies teleport into the car (why they can't teleport to work, you don't know). I think the stories would make a marvelous movie, because a movie is visual, and you have your stage set for you.

+ The Crime at Black Dudley, The Fashion in Shrouds, and am today finishing The Traitor's Purse by Margery Allingham:  I will need to devote a whole post to Margery Allingham and her marvelous hero, Albert Campion on another day. I love him. Not quite as much as Lord Peter, but almost. Also, I need to stop reading them at bedtime.

2011 Reading List | Spring Update

1 comment:

  1. Hey Miss Mags. I couldn't get through the Eyre Affair either! It seemed like literary cleverness ranked above STORY which for me is always a death toll.