Classic · Fiction · History · In the Library · Page-Turner · Sadie J · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Gone with the Wind | by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
(Scribner, 1964, 1037 pages)

Scarlett O’Hara’s mother raised her to be a Southern lady and the belle of the county. Scarlett has multiple beaus and has properly refused proposals from many suitors while she waits for Ashley, her true love, to propose. But when she hears that Ashley is about to announce his engagement to Melanie, Scarlett hatches a plan to turn everything around for her. As the Civil War and Scarlett’s jealousy rages on, she must continue to make adjustments in her life to not only survive but continue to be close to Ashley and to put up with the constant irritations from Rhett Butler. Although her mother’s teachings on how to be a lady seem to be forgotten, Scarlett promises that once she has enough money and Ashley by her side, she can return to her position as a lady.

What a beast of a book to read. There is so much scandal, war, new life, and death that I don’t think there was a stretch of time where I was bored despite the 1,000 pages. The drive that Scarlett has to get what she wants and the sacrifices that she makes whether they hurt herself or those close to her are truly remarkable. The difference between how smart and successful Scarlet is in her business ventures and how poorly she interacts and upholds her social bearings is incredibly frustrating because Scarlett really could have everything she ever wanted if she just opened her eyes a little bit more. I would recommend this read to anyone and don’t be scared off by the high page count, it is truly worth it.

Andrew S · Art · Fiction · Graphic Novel · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Prelude to a Million Years, Song Without Words, Vertigo (v. 2) | by Lynd Ward

Lynd Ward v. 1-2

Prelude to a Million Years, Songs Without Words, Vertigo (v. 2)
by Lynd Ward
(Library of America, 2010, 728 pages)

This second volume of “wordless novels” by Lynd Ward is made up of two shorter stories or movements and one long novel. Prelude to a Million Years depicts an artist who desperately pursues his ideal of beauty in the midst of the despair and chaos of the Great Depression. In Song Without Words an archetypal women wanders through a world corrupted by capitalism and fascism. She despairs of bringing a child into such a world, but in the final scene, she holds her newborn child in her arms as she and her husband gaze past the dark city and look to the horizon in hope. Vertigo is the longest of Ward’s novels. It follows three characters, “The Girl,” “An Elderly Gentleman,” and “The Boy.” The story critiques the failures of capitalism as it shows how each character is effected by the Great Depression.

As in the first volume, all of these woodcuts are beautiful and intricate. There is something particularly appropriate about the black and white medium for expressing the despair and fear of American society during the Depression. The shadow is cast not only by a devastating economic crisis, but also by the rise of fascism in Europe. The contemporaneity of these themes and the sophistication with which Ward utilizes such an old technique combine to give the images in these novels a very modern feel. They may in fact be forerunners to what we now call graphic novels, but I wonder if any contemporary graphic novels can actually rival their effective use of this visual storytelling medium.

Andrew S · Art · Fiction · Graphic Novel · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Gods’ Man, Madman’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage (v. 1) | by Lynd Ward

Lynd Ward v. 1-2

Gods’ Man, Madman’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage (v. 1) by Lynd Ward
(Library of America, 2010, 812 pages)

Each novel in this collection consists of a single woodcut per page without any text. These “wordless novels” were early forerunners to today’s graphic novels. Lynd Ward’s visual stories deal with themes like the role of the artist in society, the consequences of industrialization, the plight of the worker, the failures of capitalism. In Gods’ Man a young artist arrives in the corrupt city and makes a Faustian deal with a mysterious stranger that results in his rise to the top of the art world. He eventually flees the city and finds love in the country, but the deal he struck ends in tragedy. In Madman’s Drum, a murderous slave trader returns home with a demon-faced drum, bringing with it a curse that sets the man’s family on a disastrous trajectory. Wild Pilgrimage follows a factory worker as he leaves behind the dirty and violent environment of the factory for the unsullied countryside. However, he finds hatred and violence even in this rural setting, and he returns to the factory to lead a worker’s rebellion.

The woodcuts that make up these novels are beautifully executed and remarkably detailed. In Gods’ Man, the ominous shadows cast by looming skyscrapers communicate the corrupting influence of the city on the idealistic artist. The faces of the characters in Madman’s Drum are remarkably expressive. In Wild Pilgrimage, Lynd alternates black and white woodcuts with red “dream sequences” to communicate the reality versus the ideal of a socialist agenda. God’s Man has a strongly allegorical feel. It is the simplest of the stories, and it flows smoothly. The images in Madman’s Drum are more complicated. The story is more complex and it is not easy to follow at every point.

The collection includes an introductory essay by Art Spiegelman which helps to contextualize Ward artistically and socially. In the back, there are three essays written by Ward that correspond to each novel. These are very helpful, both for making sense of some of the more difficult parts of the stories and for appreciating the artistic techniques that Ward employs.

Award Winner · Fiction · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages) · Theresa F

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
(Little, Brown and Company, 2013, 771 pages)

I can’t say enough good things about The Goldfinch; I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a long time. I know it won’t strike everyone that way but I became really immersed in the story and Theo’s trek through his incredibly tumultuous life. Like the painting The Goldfinch, the novel was, for me, “mysteriously captivating.”

You can also check out Julia’s review.

“Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.  As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love–and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.” – Amazon.com

Andrew S · History · Non-Fiction · Religion · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal | by Arthur Edward Waite

The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail

The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal by Arthur Edward Waite
(Rebman Limited, 1909, 713 pages)

This is a very strange book. A. E. Waite was an English writer who produced scholarly research on mystical, occult, and esoteric themes. Despite their academic quality, Waite’s books on these subjects are not simply detached observations about the development of occult practices and secret societies. Waite himself was a Freemason and a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He eventually founded his own order, the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, which fused interests in occult and magical practices with Christianity.

In The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal, Waite provides an extensive study of the textual sources that make up the legends of the Holy Grail. Grail legends which traced the progress of the chalice from the table at the Last Supper and into Europe were ubiquitous in the medieval period. Waite compares the Celtic, English, German, and French versions of those legends, which are mixtures of Christian allegories and pagan folk-tales. The study is extremely thorough (and by thorough I mean boring), but tracing an extensive history of these texts serves a different purpose than simply academic record keeping. In the Introduction, Waite says that he is “about to set forth after a new manner, and chiefly for the use of English mystics, the nature of the mystery which is enshrined in the old romance-literature of the Holy Graal” (vi). The book is ultimately about the practice of hermetic rituals as it is about literary archaeology.

Waite believes that the various manifestations of these legends point to an actual phenomenon, what he calls an “arch-natural Eucharist.” As varied as the legends are, Waite sees them as pointing to a set of secret rites centered on the Grail that are known to only a few (the “secret Church”) and embody the true spiritual meaning of the official Church and its Eucharist. Waite writes in a way that indicates personal knowledge of this “secret Church” and its rites, but he is pretty cagey about the details.

My interest in this book, and in Waite more generally, springs from the influence that it exerted on Charles Williams. Williams’ novels contain occult themes, and he was a member of Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross for a time. The imaginative impact that Waite had on Williams is most evident in Williams’ two volumes of Arthurian poetry, Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars.

Fiction · Jean R · Mystery · Page-Turner · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages) · Thriller

Command Authority | by Tom Clancy; with Mark Greaney

Command Authority

Command Authority by Tom Clancy; with Mark Greaney
(Putnam Adult, 2013, 740 pages)

Command Authority by Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney is the last Jack Ryan novel written by Tom Clancy who died October 1, 2013. In Command Authority, Jack Ryan, Sr. is still the President of the United States. Jack Ryan, Jr. is working as an analyst at what should have been a nice, safe job for Castor and Boyle in London. As usual, things are not as they seem. Jack Ryan, Sr. is dealing with a Russian invasion into Crimea and the Ukraine. Jack Ryan, Jr. is researching ties between Scottish billionaire, Malcolm Galbraith, and the Russian Gazprom company. As it turns out, there is a connection between the Ukraine invasion and the case that Jack Ryan, Jr. is working. Command Authority shifts back and forth over thirty years to detail that connection.

I am a big Tom Clancy fan and am hoping that even with the death of Tom Clancy that the Jack Ryan novels will continue. Clancy has been working with Mark Greaney for the last three Jack Ryan novels. Jack Ryan has been part of American fiction since 1984 when The Hunt for Red October was first published. I feel like there are more Jack Ryan stories left to tell.

As with all the Jack Ryan novels, Command Authority has many characters and plot lines. Knowing this could be the last time that I read about Jack Ryan, I tried to slowly savor the novel. But that didn’t really happen. The story pulled me in and I just had to keep reading. If you are a Tom Clancy fan, you don’t want to miss this last novel.

Andrew S · Fiction · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

A Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement | by Anthony Powell

A Dance to the Music of Time

A Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement
by Anthony Powell
(University of Chicago Press, 1995, 746 pages)

It took me a while (months of on and off reading), but I finally got through this second movement of Powell’s twelve volume sequence of novels. As it turns out, I enjoyed the last of the three novels in this volume more than any other so far. Like the first volume, this one consists mostly of conversations and encounters at parties, bars, and restaurants. The narrator, Nicholas Jenkins, is engaged by the end of At Lady Molly’s, the first of the three novels, though he tells us very little about his courtship or marriage itself in the novels that follow. It seems that he proves his own observation that “Marriage was a subject upon which it was hard to obtain accurate information. Its secrets, naturally, are those most jealously guarded; never more deeply concealed than when apparently most profusely exhibited in public” (234). The marriages, near marriages, and divorces of Jenkins’ various friends and acquaintances make up much of the interest of the plots. While many new characters are introduced, it seems that old ones are constantly appearing in unexpected places. The people depicted range from starving artists to aristocrats with radical political views.

One of the dynamics of these books is the contrasting picture of an older generation that had been defined by the first World War and the younger generation that is about to be thrown into a second. As the personal dramas of various characters play out, most of which appear fairly trivial, there are constant rumors circulating about the political developments in Germany as Hitler comes to power. This adds a tension to the frivolity of the upper classes, and we see people attempting to profit from, brace themselves for, or distract themselves from the coming conflict. Jenkins himself seems to spend more and more time dwelling on his childhood and youth, interpreting his current experience through the light of the past. By the end of the final novel the war has broken out, and Jenkins is trying to secure a position as an officer in the infantry.

The most interesting character continues to be Kenneth Widmerpool, Jenkins’ old friend from school. Widmerpool manages to be both comical and menacing as he climbs higher in the worlds of business and politics. Awkward and self-serving, he is a person you cannot imagine having any real friends, though he retains a kind of affinity for Jenkins. He confides in Jenkins, and despite how obnoxious Widmerpool is, Jenkins seems to have a sort affection for him. I can’t figure out why this is exactly, but I’m very curious to see how Widmerpool will develop in the books that follow.

{Andrew reviewed A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement last July if you want to check that out as well 🙂 }