Friday, March 4, 2011

Eight Book Takes

Some more books read in the last couple of weeks, for my 52 in 52 Challenge
There are 8, so I can't count it as Seven Quick Takes, but Eight Quick Takes has a kind of assonance that almost makes up for it.   


Loss and Gain the Story of a Convert by JH Newman.   I didn't realize until I started it that this was a sort of novel.  Furthermore, it's an odd kind of novel -- the life events of the main character take a back seat to his discussions with schoolfriends and teachers and other people he meets as a student at Oxford.  I learned quite a lot about Oxford life and finding encouragement that I'm not the only one to whom ideas play a bigger part in my inner life than actual daily experiences.

And what do you know, this book mentions The Betrothed too!   Apparently it was very influential on British Anglicans of the time!


A Spiritual Aeneid by Ronald Knox.  Another conversion story from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, this one autobiographical.  I found it at Google Ebooks and converted it from E-pub to Mobi format.  Father Knox has a lively sense of humor and a scholarly but accessible way of writing.   I can't think of many other books that start a sentence something like "I don't know if anyone's reading the Latin tags that head the chapters....."  I could totally picture Ronald Knox as a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College.   This couplet from Absolute and Abitofhell (a Dryden-esque pastiche satirizing Anglican relativism) keeps running through my mind:

When suave Politeness, temp'ring bigot Zeal, 
Corrected, " I believe," to " One does feel."


This one is free right now on Amazon's Limited Time Promotional.  ... a first novel apparently, with some uneven patches.  It is the first in a series about a an alcoholic, gifted, tough cop,-- the twist is that the cop is a woman in her mid-30's.  She is the daughter of a mean, abusive retired cop that as the story begins has just had a heart attack and is in a nursing home.   There is a lot of language in the book and some graphic descriptions of violence.  At best the book is intense, gripping, vivid -- the plot crafted out well with twists and turns, though I guessed the ending way ahead of time.  At worst there is some frankly unrealistic plot turns (who would send a 9 year old orphan off in a witness protection program with only an alcoholic and out of control female cop as guardian?)  and some rather poor patches of writing -- since at best the writing was taut and crafted in a modern way, I think the effort needed more editing than it got.    It's not the kind of book I usually read -- I think it's been years since I've even read a book with swear words in it.   But it certainly was a page turner.    By the way, almost every character was either an alcoholic, a former alcoholic, or a meth addict.


THis one was free at the time I downloaded it and is a Boarding School Mystery from this Zondervan Faithgirlz line   A girl called Jeri is a 6th grader on a scholarship at a girl's boarding school off in the mountains.  It is mid-winter when a bus carrying her roommate and several other girls simply vanishes in mid-road.   The rest of the novel describes Jeri's attempts to play amateur detective in her efforts to find her dear roomnmate and the other girls in the wintery setting.   The story has an explicitly Christian perspective. It was quite a short novel, I suppose because it's meant for the 9 to 12 age group.   


The Education of Catholic Girls.  This is of interest even if you are educating boys and not Catholic.  It is a worthy supplement to Charlotte Mason's books and discusses many of the same subjects and ideas that CM does.   It is very sensible -- the tone reminds me of Laura Berquist, practical and thoughtful at the same time.  You can find it in html at Gutenberg if you want to glance at it.


Waverley -- this is fiction of course, a novel by Sir Walter Scott.   I started it back near the beginning of February but got bogged down in a couple of places and read other books instead.   I finally finished it.   It's an interesting book because it seems to start off as a character tale, in that Waverley's education and temperament are laid out very carefully, but then it develops into a Scottish adventure tale with background sketches of history and cultural life.    At the beginning it seems that Waverley's flaws are going to be shown up in the book, but though he does mature over the course of his various mishaps, he comes off well in contrast to the other main characters in the book.    Through his generous nature he wins friends and support from all sectors of society and though described as "wavering" and overly impulsive he tends to hold on to his friends by putting their plights and wellbeing before his own convenience.   It is a good book, well worth reading.  ... nothing unsuitable for a middle schooler or high schooler who is capable of reading, say, Dickens or Victor Hugo. 


A Voyage to Arcturus
 I read this because my oldest son was reading it and it is free on Kindle!  My oldest read it because CS Lewis discussed it in one of his essays on science fiction.    Here's Wikipedia's summary; here's a thoughtful review that includes the CS Lewis quote I remember:

It was Lindsay who first gave me the idea that the "scientifiction" appeal could be combined with the "supernatural" appeal—suggested the "cross" (in biological sense). His own spiritual outlook is detestable, almost diabolist I think, and his style is crude: but he showed me what a bang you cd get from mixing these two elements.
I could totally see Lindsay's influence on CS Lewis's Space Trilogy and to some extent on Lewis's imaginative conception of diabolical motives in The Screwtape Letters.

Voyage to Arcturus was an uncomfortable read -- my take on it is similar to Lewis's -- I felt like it was written with probably intentional primitivism and that the underlying message was one of hatred for love, life and delight.  Other than that, it's a fine book, LOL. 


Callista:  A Tale of the Third Century
 So to get away from the unholy trinity of Maskull, Nightspore and Krag (what names!)  in the voyage of Acturus, I thought it was a good time to read another novel by Cardinal Newman.   Callista is the story of an African town in the early days of the Church.  Callista is the pivotal character rather than the protaganist of the novel.   She is an accomplished, well educated Greek girl who crafts idols for a living along with her brother.

Newman describes the corrupt atmosphere of paganism well, and the response of the early Christian Church.  The Bishop Cyprian appears in the novel, and a cloud of locusts make an appearance too.  Someday I will quote the passage.   The style of Callista is completely different from that of Loss and Gain -- Loss and Gain had a sad twilight feeling, something like an Evelyn Waugh novel without the sharp humor, while Callista was something like Walter Scott informed with Catholic perception  and Newman's elegant style and historical scholarship.  In spite of the theme of persecution and martyrdom, the "tone" is much happier and more peaceful than that in Loss and Gain, though the conversion process is somewhat similar -- Callista is the flower of what secular civilization has to offer, and finds it is not nearly enough.     In that way Callista, though it stands as historical fiction, also seems to evoke the latter days of the British empire.  

The description of a demonic possession in the book reminded me sharply of David Lindsay's entire novel.

1 comment:

  1. You are an amazing reader, Willa! My jaw just drops at how fast you can read! I seem to be getting slower and slower at it. I'm still stalled out in the 4 books I'm trying to read at the same time. . . .

    The Newman and Knox books sound really intriguing.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!