Too Much Happiness: Stories by Alice Munro
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, 303 pages)
I’d heard nothing but good things about Alice Munro so I was excited to see the audiobook for one of her short story collections available at the library. This collection of nine short stories had me engaged from the start – I really enjoy Munro’s voice and will certainly be reading more of her work. I’m not really sure how to provide an overall summary of the collection since all of the stories were so different. The audiobook itself was enjoyable; there were two narrators, a man and a woman, both of whom did a great job. Because I appreciate Munro’s use of language I think I’ll actually pick up the physical books to check out more of her work; she writes in a way that makes you want to curl up and get cozy with the book 🙂
Arthurian Triptych: Mythic Materials in Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and T. S. Eliot
by Charles Moorman
(University of California Press, 1960, 163 pages)
Arthurian Triptych is an interesting study of myth in the writings of three important twentieth century British literary figures. Moorman makes the case that these authors employ the Arthurian legends as a myth which they shape in order to articulate their critiques of the secularizing trends of the twentieth century. Along with looking at the specific use of myth by these writers, Moorman articulates a theory about the place and function of myth in modern literature more broadly. The use of myth helps to bring a sense of order to the sense of chaos inherent in modern life.
Moorman spends the most space discussing Williams, which makes sense, considering that the Arthurian legends were something of an obsession for him. Their themes ran through his novels, and his two volumes of Arthurian poetry are considered by most to be his greatest literary accomplishment. Moorman skillfully exposits Williams’ poetry in order to show his unique contribution to the Arthurian legends and his use of these legends as a literary vehicle to articulate his particular religious critique of secular society. This book should be helpful to those interested in the role that myth plays in literature.
A Dance to the Movement of Time: First Movement by Anthony Powell
(University of Chicago Press, 1995, 732 pages)
It’s difficult to know where to begin with a review of A Dance to the Movement of Time. Even though finishing the “first movement” involves over seven hundred pages of reading, it still feels like I’m not far enough into this expansive account of twentieth century England to really say much about it. The Dance is a twelve volume cycle of novels collected into four movements, each consisting of three novels. The story is centered on the life, relationships, and careers of the narrator Nicholas Jenkins and several of his friends. The first novel begins with their final days at school in the early 1920’s and follows them through university. The third novel, which completes the first movement, takes place in the early 1930’s and has seen Nick and his friends Charles Stringham and Peter Templar launch successful careers, begin and end marriages, write books, and develop drinking habits. Along with these three friends, the path of another school acquaintance, the awkward and despised Kenneth Widmerpool, is tracked as he gains prominence in political and business circles.
A Dance to the Movement of Time offers a window into the social life of the British upper class. The action of the novels plays out at college luncheons, society balls, formal dinners, gallery openings, and weekends at country homes. Through the eyes of Jenkins, who functions as a kind of everyman, Anthony Powell shows us the elasticity of time. We do not get a full account of all of the years that the novels cover, but rather, we receive extended and detailed accounts of particular conversations, chance meetings, and other seemingly mundane events. Friends and acquaintances appear for a time, and then recede into the background to appear again at an unexpected moment. The significance of these events and characters only becomes evident as their various connections slowly unfold throughout the course of the cycle.
I became interested in reading Powell a while back when I read the late Christopher Hitchens’ enthusiastic recommendation. The novels offer fascinating insight into the British class system – well, to be more accurate, they offer an in depth look at the workings of the privileged class. The story is engaging and Powell employs a dry sense humor that becomes more prominent as the novels progress. The ever expanding and revolving cast of characters can be a little difficult to keep a handle on, and I anticipate this becoming even more difficult as I get into the second movement. The effort is well worth it. Powell creates the sense of getting to know his skillfully drawn characters over an extended period of time and in a variety of settings, giving them a fully rounded quality. There is an element of soap opera in these novels – albeit a very literary soap – which makes me think that it might appeal to fans of the TV miniseries Downton Abbey.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
(W. W. Norton, 2013, 348 pages)
I had read Mary Roach’s other titles and while they were overall enjoyable reads, I didn’t find myself falling in love with her writing style. When I heard about Gulp I knew I was going to pick it up, simply because it ties in with one of my interests: reading about food. Gulp takes a look at the gastrointestinal process from the smell of food to the body’s “natural exit” – with all the stops along the way. I definitely learned a lot reading this book. It’s amazing how little you understand about basic bodily functions simply because you take it for granted that they’re even happening. Gulp teaches you random tidbits about things like the importance of saliva, why women are prone to being gassier than men, and how it’s possible to die from constipation…
I was surprised how much I liked this book – to the point that it makes me want to revisit some of Roach’s earlier titles to see if maybe I just didn’t appreciate her humor/writing style earlier. If you’re into fun science and learning a little more about how the human body works, you’ll appreciate Gulp.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
(Mulholland Books, 2013, 455 pages)
Cormoran Strike is a private investigator down on his luck. He just broke things off again with his fiancée and is living in his office that he is about to lose due to his lack of client income. But when the brother of Lula Landry, a famous model who’s death was ruled a suicide three months ago, hires Strike to take a second look into her death, he has a chance to turn his business around. With the help of Robin, his temp secretary, Strike dives into a world full of secrets and fame to discover who would want to kill the beautiful Lula at the height of her career.
If you couldn’t tell from my previous reviews, I’m a pretty big Rowling fan. So I immediately ordered her latest book when it was revealed she was writing under a pseudonym. I was extremely glad to see that this read was nothing like the Harry Potter series or The Casual Vacancy. The number of characters and side stories weren’t overwhelming but instead she stuck mainly to the mystery at hand and building the few characters that I hope will be seen in the continuing series. Strike was a tad grumpy but an extremely smart man that you could see putting the pieces together while Robin is the perfect fit for Strike to build a successful business with her organization skills and her empathy for him. My favorite part of the read is that Rowling revealed the clues that led Strike through the case but held back on how they fit together for the very end so it kept the reader guessing until the very last page.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
(Bloomsbury, 2008, 831 pages)
In what is supposed to be their seventh year at Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione, and Ron instead go searching for Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. With the little information that Dumbledore left Harry with, they must find and destroy each Horcrux before coming face to face with Voldemort in the final battle. As the prophecy was made years ago, “Neither can live while the other survives.”
The last Harry Potter book came out the summer before I left for college. More specifically it was released when my best friend was in Africa for three weeks and my boyfriend at the time was in Germany. The Harry Potter series was just named #7 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 100 All Time Greatest Books because it was such an amazing coming of age story, which was exactly what it was for me. Spanning from the time I was in elementary school to right before I left for college, it was a series I grew up with. The thing I learned from reading Deathly Hallows the second time is you have to take your time reading it. The first time, I just blew through it wanting to know what happens in the end. This second reading, I caught onto a lot of things I missed or didn’t remember. I’m definitely glad I took the summer to reread one of my favorite series.
You can also check out Julia’s review of the book, here.
Slingshot by Matthew Dunn
(William Morrow, 2013, 416 pages)
Slingshot by Matthew Dunn is a spy thriller featuring Will Cochrane, super spy. Slingshot begins in Berlin in 1995 with a secret meeting of some of the top American and Russian officials. The information shared at that meeting was so secret that if anyone in that room threatened to share that secret that person would be the target of an assassin’s bullet. The novel fast forwards to present day. An important document has been stolen. The contents of the document are unknown, but it is known that the document’s contents are deadly. Special agent, Will Cochrane, is tasked with risking life and limb to recover that document.
Slingshot is the third novel in Dunn’s Spycatcher series. The author, Matthew Dunn, was a real life “spycatcher”. Dunn was an MI6 field officer who uses some of his real life experiences to write his novels.
At first, I found this novel a little confusing. There seemed to be too many characters and too many plots. As I continued to read, the confusion disappeared. The story line was easier to follow and much more enjoyable. While I ended up liking the book, I don’t intend to read the earlier Spycatcher novels in the near future. I think I’ll read something with a little less death and destruction and a more likeable main character.
Miles to Go: The Second Journal of The Walk by Richard Paul Evans
(Simon & Schuster, 2011, 320 pages)
Alan Christoffersen, a once-successful advertising executive, wakes one morning to find himself injured, alone, and confined to a hospital bed in Spokane, Washington. Sixteen days earlier, reeling from the sudden loss of his wife, his home, and his business, Alan left everything he knew behind and set off on the cross-country journey of a lifetime. But a vicious roadside stabbing has interrupted Alan’s trek and robbed him of his one source of solace: the ability to walk. Homeless and facing months of difficult recovery, Alan has nowhere to turn—until a mysterious woman enters his life and invites him into her home.
An astonishing tale of life and death, suffering and healing, love and second chances, Miles to Go picks up the story of The Walk, continuing this unforgettable bestselling series about one man’s unrelenting search for hope.
This is the second installment of a series about a man who loses everything and sets off to walk from Seattle to Key West. This is a great story about not only his walk, but finding himself along the way. I read the first book in the series before this one, which was amazing, although you can pick up the story from here you will miss a lot of the background story. I could not put this book down! It was just that intriguing! I’m now on the third installment, The Road to Grace, and let me say, I’m loving it! Richard Paul Evans is an excellent author weaving beautiful feel-good stories with real life characters. After I read the first book in the series I couldn’t wait to read the second one. The parts that continue to resonate with me were the inner workings in the characters portrayed; not the outer circumstances. I just want to get to the end of this journey and see all the lessons learned along the walk. They are sad, funny, mysterious, pure and clean writing like all his books.
I am finding out that the big problem with Richard Paul Evans “Walk Series” books is once you start them, you cannot wait until the next one becomes available. I want to hurry and finish the 3rd one so that I can get started on the 4th. The book has all kinds of twists and turns in learning about the characters and realistically tells Alan’s journey on the road. It’s a great read, I highly recommend it. Extremely well written and interesting.
Playing with Fire by Grevel Lindop
(Carcanet Press, 2006, 94 pages)
The themes of fire, its imagery, and its effects, are the subjects of Grevel Lindop’s verbal play in this volume of poetry. The four groups of poems reflect on natural landscapes and the fires of color and flame that accompany them; the flames of passion and romance; the disintegration and death brought about by the fires of time. Lindop not only describes fire and its effects but sees fire as the source of his poetry. In his first poem, “Lightening the First Fire of Autumn,” he reflects on the life giving fire in his hearth as he watches images of forest fires on the news:
Fire is the dark secret of the forest.
The green crowns drink sunlight until their dumb
hearts are glutted with fire. Then, decaying or burning,
give up whatever they have. A match flares
and the paper ignites. Watch, and the poems will come. (11)
Fire inspires Lindop to poetry in even the least obviously poetic of place, like an East London strip club where his verbal dexterity describes a pole-dancer as “she winds herself round like a flame, moving and still/reflected” (48).
My favorites of Lindop’s poems are found in the last grouping which deals mainly with the nature of time and of death. In “Scattering the Ashes,” he takes an ostensibly gruesome memory of burying his hand into an urn of his father’s consumed ashes, his brother standing alongside, and transforms it into a meditation on the deep connection of family:
And the grit under our nails
was the midpoint of a spectrum that ran from the pattern in our cells
to the memories of two children, and it was all right. (75)
Thinking back to his youth in “Amanita Muscaria,” Lindop speaks of the hallucinatory effects of time and of the aging process:
Those were the days of dope and LSD.
But we have drunk a stranger drug called time –
Are bleached, reshaped, wizened to simulacra (76)
The Wind in the Willows: Candlewick Illustrated Classic
written by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated and edited by Inga Moore
(Candlewick Press, 2009, 184 pages)
Kenneth’s Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows is a set of stories that cries out to be illustrated, and many artists have obliged. Inga Moore’s artwork makes a wonderful companion to Grahame’s verbal depictions of the natural beauty of an English riverbank, the homey comfort of a Mole’s tunnel, and the grandeur of Toad Hall. The animals and the settings in which they live and move reveal distinctively English attitudes towards comfort, nature, hardship, and privilege. Moore’s rendering of the riverbank is both beautiful and wild, really giving a sense for why Ratty so loves “messing about in boats.” Mr. Toad’s ancestral home, Toad Hall, looks as though it could be a portrait of a real English manor house, complete with pristine gardens and ivy covered walls. In the second half of the book, as Mr. Toad goes out on his adventures (stealing motor cars and horses, escaping from prison, and jumping from moving trains) there is a wonderful and comic sense of movement to the illustrations.
This is an abridgment of Grahame’s book, and as abridgments go I think Moore is pretty successful. I would have loved to see how she treated some of the chapters that were excluded. There was a time or two when choppy transitions or gaps in the story resulted from abridgement within chapters. However, on the whole Moore’s selections are well chosen.