Sunday, 29 April 2012

James, Henry “The American”

James, Henry “The American” - 1875

1875, towards the end of the 19th century, society thinks it has become more modern. But has it really? A rich American moves to Europe where he meets a French woman and they fall in love. But the class difference stands between them, his money does not make up for a snobbery that has been cultivated for centuries. Social traditions are so important to her family.

I love reading about the different kind of world in the past, especially if it was written from a contemporary point of view. Henry James is the American Jane Austen, he points out all the problems society had at the time without being able to show a solution, even a glimmer of hope because he couldn't see it from where he stood.

I especially like the style of writing these authors employed. It's a pleasure to read, even if it was just for the words and not the story. But the plot is quite interesting, too. Good book.

In this classic collision of the New World with Old Europe, James weaves a fable of thwarted desire that shifts between comedy, tragedy, romance, and melodrama.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Dickey, Eric Jerome “The Other Woman”

Dickey, Eric Jerome “The Other Woman” - 2003

This book looked interesting, a book about a modern marriage. They are separated already at the beginning of the story through their work, they rarely meet. The consequences are inevitable. The relationship ends in betrayal. This could have been an interesting novel, the plot was not bad. But the writing was. Not my cup of tea. Disappointing.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Vonnegut, Kurt “Breakfast of Champions”

Vonnegut, Kurt “Breakfast of Champions” - 1973

I don't remember when I heard the word "vonnegutesque" for the first time but I remember thinking "what a wonderful word". If you spelled his name according in German and translated it, you would get the expression "good bliss", so maybe that added to the good feeling I had about that name.

When I picked up this book, I fell in love with the description already: "In a frolic of cartoon and comic outbursts against rule and reason, a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce, Kurt Vonnegut attacks the whole spectrum of American society, releasing some of his best-loved literary creations on the scene."

A "frolic", that is the right description. What a whirlwind! The story jumps around in a funny way. There is satire, magic, a mix between comic and novel, drama and tragedy. The whole book seems like an explanation for aliens, is this how they would see our world? Probably, I think Vonnegut draws a good line, his criticism of modern (American) society is to the point. Ouch!

I also love his playing with words just for the sake of it. When he sees the name of a truck company, Pyramid, he asks "why would anybody in the business of high speed transportation name his business ... after buildings which haven't moved an eighth of an inch since Christ was born?" Apparently, the answer is "he liked the sound of it". And I liked the sound of so many words Kurt Vonnegut used.

This book is hilarious, it gives you a good laugh. But it is also very critical. I loved it.

Really have to check out "Slaughterhouse-Five".

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Forest, Jim "The Ladder of the Beatitudes"

Forest, Jim "The Ladder of the Beatitudes" - 1999

Another great book by Jim Forest. If you want to explore Christianity, if you want to get closer to your religion, these are the books you should read. Jim has a great way of describing any part of our belief in giving real life examples and explaining scripture drawing from his own experiences and/or those of friends. His books are easy to read but not an easy read.

In this work, he describes the Beatitudes. For those who don’t know what that means, I am sure you have heard the words "Blessed are the poor in spirit".

A lot of topics in this book speak to me. I just want to quote and comment on one issue I found on page  49: "Few aspire to humility; we prefer being proud. 'I'm proud to be .... (fill in the blank).' We’re proud of who we are, what we’ve done, the national or ethnic group to which we happen to belong. Coming from 'humble origins' means not being born with a silver spoon in your mouth but, through perseverance and hard work, leaving poverty behind and achieving things to be 'proud of'."

I have a huge problem with racism and I believe that patriotism is the first step towards it, same as being proud of anything we haven't done ourselves. Jim Forest just knows how to express this in much a better way than I ever will be able to.

How can you not admire this guy?

Also read: "Praying with Icons", "The Road to Emmaus. Pilgrimage as a Way of Life" and "Confession. Doorway to Forgiveness".

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Moyle, Franny "Constance"

Moyle, Franny "Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde" – 2011

I love Oscar Wilde and I love biographies. So, when I discovered this biography about Oscar Wilde's wife, I didn't have to think twice. I just had to read it.

And I wasn't disappointed. I must say, I had no idea Oscar Wilde even had a wife. And children. Of course, once I knew, I could only imagine a tragedy. And so it was. The life of a woman was hard enough in the middle of the 19th century but being married to one of the most prominent people at the time and being involved in such a scandal must have been an insurmountable obstacle.

Franny Moyle describes Constance's life from the beginning to the end, her youth in poverty, her ascent into society after marrying Oscar and the inevitable fall after his secret life was unveiled. How much power a woman has when it comes to the task to prevent her loved ones from disaster. Constance has shown this to us.

If you are only remotely interested in Oscar Wilde and/or women's lives before ours, this is the book for you.

Also read: "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "A Woman of No Importance".

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Smucker, Barbara “Underground to Canada”

Smucker, Barbara “Underground to Canada” – 1977

Barbara Smucker is a well-known Canadian author. Why would her book be interesting for European children at this time? The novel tells the story of two slave girls who escape from a plantation near Vicksburg, Mississippi, and steal toward Canada on the Underground Railroad. The description is very clear for children of all ages, especially if they are interested in history.

From the back cover: "One of a series of top-quality fiction for schools, this novels tells how, for the black slaves of 19th-century America, heaven didn't lie in the blue beyond, but over the border in free Canada."

Monday, 16 April 2012

Follett, Ken "World Without End"

Follett, Ken "World Without End" - 2007

The follow-up to "The Pillars of the Earth" which I absolutely loved. This takes place 200 years after the first book, so our heroes have all passed away. But, they have descendants, so the drama can start again. The Independent warns: "You won't be able to put it down", the Daily Express promises "Medieval life at its best". Both are completely and utterly right. What a book!!!!

If you remember Jack and Tom Builder, Aliena, the Earls' daughter and her brother Richard, William, the bad guy and Prior Philip ... well, they all seem to have been resurrected. You will meet Caris and Merthyn, Gwenda and Ralph, four kids whose lives get intertwined over the years. They fight war and the plague, some together, some against each other, the novel is full of intrigues and plots, passion, love, murder, family disputes, a secret about the King, more building to be done in Kingsbridge. You can enjoy the novel on its own but it's interesting to know that a lot of the story is based on historical facts. Whereas Kingsbridge, Shiring and our heroes and their families are fictional, the background isn't. I love historical novels.

As in the first description of life in Kingsbridge, I love Ken Follett's style, his writing is gripping, he builds anticipation in a way not many authors manage to, the book is indeed unputdownable. Can't wait to see the mini-series that will be aired later this year (2012).

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Mak, Geert "Jorwerd"

Mak, Geert "Jorwerd: The Death of the Village in late 20th Century" (Hoe God verdween uit Jorwerd. Een Nederlands Dorp In De Twintigste Eeuw) - 1996

The original Dutch title is (translated) "How God disappeared from Jorwerd". The story is about a small village in Friesland and the changes it underwent in the first half of the 20th century, changing from farming to a commuting place, the influence of modern technology on a people that had lived off the land for centuries. But it is not just the story of Jorwerd, overall in Europe, the countryside changed. This little place with a population of just 700 became even smaller through the "Silent Revolution". After  more industrialization and mechanization of the farming, only about half of those people still live there, and they are getting older and older.

Geert Mak lived in the village for half a year to explore all the history and the changes. One remark I will never forget, life in a village in the Netherlands was closer to life in a village in Russia than to life in a town in the Netherlands. I think this was true overall, especially when comparing this book to that of Russian authors. "Anna Karenina" comes to mind where village and town life are described very well.

A very interesting book showing us what development and improvement has done to our lives. And the title, the more the people can rely on help from outside, the less they depend on changes of weather, etc., the fewer of them go to church and the believers attending the services are getting less and less.

This book is very interesting, no matter from which country you come, it’s a great account of the lives our grandparents still lived.

Geert Mak has carried on writing about the life of ordinary people in Europe. "My father’s century" and "In Europe. Travels through the twentieth century", both are on my reading list.

I read this in the original Dutch.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Simmonds, Jeremy “Number One in Heaven

Simmonds, Jeremy “Number One in Heaven – The heroes who died for Rock ‘n’ Roll” - 2006

Apparently, the author worked eight years to put together all the facts on all those Rock & Pop icons that have left us far too early due to an untimely death. He didn’t miss anybody, including Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin going on to Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence, Kirsty MacColl, to name but a few. Great description of the Great ones.

I love reference books on any subject, this is one very close to my heart and I am glad someone took the time to research all those details. So many of them, an amazing collection of stories. A MUST for every music lover.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Danticat, Edwidge “Breath, Eyes, Memory”

Danticat, Edwidge “Breath, Eyes, Memory” - 1994

The world of Sophie Caco, her world starts in Haiti with her aunt Atie while her mother lives in the United States. We follow her from the age of twelve into adulthood where she has to battle with her mother's past, her mother's ghost.

This is an immensely interesting story about the life of women in any kind of culture, about the life of women in Haiti especially, the life of anybody living within a culture that prescribes what your are supposed to do according to “other people”, what people are doing to defend their “honour”.

A highly gripping tale, a walk between tradition and future. A highly recommendable novel.

A quote that speaks to me: “She told me about a group of people in Guinea who carry the sky on their heads. They are the people of Creation. Strong, tall, and mighty people who can bear anything. Their Maker, she said, gives them the sky to carry because they are strong. These people do not know who they are, but if you see a lot of trouble in your life, it is because you were chosen to carry part of the sky on your head.” p. 25

From the back cover: "When her mother leaves Haiti to find work in the US, Sophie is raised by her aunt. Their parting, years later, when her mother sends for her, is as wrenching as the reunion in New York. Though she barely knows her mother they both carry secrets from their homeland that will haunt them forever."