What I Read – March 2018

Read:

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday Canada, 2011)

More style than substance though I enjoyed it while I was reading it. A month (or less) later, I can’t remember much but it entertained me at the time.

And No Birds Sang – Farley Mowat (McClelland & Stewart, 1979)

Mowat is a Canadian classic and I’ve read a few of his books now, all ranging broadly in subject. This is his memoir of his time serving during World War Two. It was recommended to me by a friend who has served in the Canadian armed forces. It’s an honest and brutal book.

(I reviewed a young adult novel by Mowat, The Curse of the Viking Grave, here.)

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger (Bantam Books, 1986)

A re-read. Sometimes you just need some quick, interesting short stories, you know?

A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage – Bill Gaston (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017)

I wrote a review for this one! Read it here.

The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi (Nan A. Tales/Doubleday, 2005)

And another review! Read it here. Maybe I’ll actually start writing real reviews again.

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller (Anansi, 2015)

Still hoping to write a real review for this book. Stay tuned…

Didn’t Finish:

The Gift of Rain – Tan Twang Eng

(After hearing multiple recommendations of this book I was really disappointed. I just could not get into it and found the beginning dragged on and on until I gave up. What clinched its abandonment for me was also the repeated negative portrayals of all things Chinese. As far as I could see, it wasn’t necessary and added nothing to the story other than making me dislike the narrator.)

Currently Reading:

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien

When I was a Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson

Funny Once: Stories – Antonya Nelson

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains – Yasuko Thanh

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Book Review: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible - Arthur Miller (Bantam Books, 1977)

The Crucible – Arthur Miller (Bantam Books, 1977)

I have yet to see The Crucible in its play form so it feels a bit unfair to judge what is only a script. I have no doubt that the play is more compelling when seen than when read.

Because, let me tell you, it’s not that compelling when read.

This is primarily the fault of Act One in which Miller consistently interrupts the action to give background information on characters, something going on for pages. (Once all the characters have been introduced he stops doing this but it made for a painful slog through Act One.) While the information is relevant, it’s an entirely artless way to present it and it’s clearly not necessary since (I presume) these wouldn’t be included for the viewers of the play. From there, the script picks up the pace but it definitely required some recovery time.

The Crucible famously depicts the Salem Witch Trials and was written in McCarthy-era USA. Miller brilliantly captures what it can look like when the courts have too much power, as well as the dangers of combining church and state. There is a real sense of powerlessness as the characters struggle against accusations of witchcraft. How do you declare yourself innocent of invisible crimes?

There are a fair number of characters for a relatively short play and it took me a while to sort of who was who and how they were connected. (Miller’s interruptions did not help.) I felt like I was just beginning to get a sense of the main characters when the play ended. Again, this is something that maybe wouldn’t be an issue in a well-acted play.

As it is, I felt like I was reading something with a lot of potential but left vaguely unfinished.

What I Read – November 2016

Station ElevenEmily St. John Mandel (Harper Avenue, 2014)

At the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness Andrew Peterson (Water Brook Press, 2008)

Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller (House of Anansi Press, 2017)

Prayer – Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2014)

I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith (Red Fox, 2001)

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis (Faber & Faber, 2013)

By Gaslight – Steven Price (McClelland & Stewart, 2016)

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaAnthony Marra (Vintage Canada, 2014)

Currently Reading:

Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories – Tolstoy

What I Read – July 2016

Revolutionary RoadRichard Yates (Vintage Contemporaries, 2008)

A Tangled Web – L.M. Montgomery (Bantam Books, 1989)

The Painted Kiss – Elizabeth Hickey (Atria Books, 2005)

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers – Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw Hill, 2005)

Six Walks in the Fictional Wood – Umberto Eco (Harvard University Press, 1994)

The Vegetarian – Han Kang (Portobello Books, 2015) (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be – Farley Mowat (Pyramid Books, 1968)

Currently Reading:

Rumours of Another World – Philip Yancey

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Don’t forget! You can follow along with what I’m reading in real time on Instagram @karissareadsbooks.

What I Read – April 2016

*I’ve added a new page on the blog that lists all the book reviews. Currently, it is alphabetical by author’s last name. Let me know if you have thoughts on better/additional ways to organize that. Feel free to check out some of the older reviews, including some books I’d forgotten I’d ever reviewed! Did you know that I read and reviewed J. K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy? Or that I’ve reviewed two books by John Green? Can you find the only sci fi book reviews I’ve ever done?

And now, here’s what I read this month:

A Separate Peace – John Knowles (Bantam Books, 1998)

Pax – Sara Pennypacker (illustrated by Jon Klassen) (Balzer + Bray, 2016)

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 1981)

“Go on,” Helen said, “justify yourself.”

“It would take too long,” he said. “One would have to begin with the arguments for God.”

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist – Sunil Yapa (Lee Boudreau Books, 2016)

The Secret History – Donna Tartt (Vintage Contemporaries, 1992)

His Whole Life – Elizabeth Hay (Emblem Editions, 2015)

He didn’t know how to put it all together, death and life and things looming up. Your heart lies in pieces on the forest floor and the days and nights keep coming.

But You Did Not Come Back – Marceline Loridan-Ivens (Penguin, 2016) (translated by Sandra Smith)

Currently Reading:

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

…That a clean room feels better to be in than a dirty room. That the people to be most frightened of are the people who are the most frightened. That it takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak. That you don’t have to hit somebody even if you really really want to. That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.

Like You’d Understand, Anyway – John Shepard

 

Book Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

A Separate Peace - John Knowles (Bantam Books, 1988)

A Separate Peace – John Knowles (Bantam Books, 1988)

A Separate Peace is one of the more unusual books about World War II that I’ve ever read. Set in 1942, it begins in the summer term at Devon, an upscale boys’ prep school in New England. Our narrator is Gene Forrester. Quiet, smart, a little awkward. Summer term at Devon is a lull in their normal lives; with only a few staff and students present, things happen that wouldn’t normally occur. Some rules are a little looser. Partially, this is due to the presence of Gene’s best friend, Phineas. Phineas – or Finny – is charming, charismatic, with a loose confidence that seems to make everything in his life fall perfectly into place. Until one, terrible thing doesn’t and both Gene and Phineas are changed forever.

The terrible event – alluded to early on by our narrator, an adult Gene – is easy to see coming. Gene’s role in it, however, feels both surprising and inevitable. The whole novel has that sort of momentum. I was surprised when things happened and yet it seemed that the book had been leading in that direction in such a way that nothing else could possibly happen.

It is the setting in time of this story that makes it unique and gives it it’s particular poignancy. Halfway through the war, Gene and his classmates know that they are moving forward into battle. Sixteen and seventeen, enlistment or the draft are all their future holds for certain. Even their education has morphed to prepare them for their role in the war. Yet, for now, they have a reprieve. They can pretend for a little longer that the war doesn’t exist. They are safe for a little longer. Until, as the novel progresses, the war creeps closer and these young men begin to catch darker and darker glimpses of what may be to come.

What I Read – May 2015

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

It’s been a while since I read this one and so I’d forgotten that, well, not much happens in the story. It’s a creative idea – bringing the Pevensie kids hundreds of years forward in Narnian history so that their return is like the return of King Arthur – but it sort of falters on the action front. By the time the kids reach Caspian, the book is almost over and the final “fight” is kind of anti-climactic.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage, 1994)

I knew this was a book about World War One and so as I began to read the first section, I was surprised by its content. Beginning in France in 1910, it obviously doesn’t start with the war but the action is really of an entirely different sort. From there we jump to 1916 into the heart of trench warfare. Faulks does a heartbreakingly good job of showing the horrors of this war and just what a war of attrition looks like. By focusing on a few different characters with different roles, we see the myriad of ways that war affects and scars people.

I disliked the sections where the story jumped forward to 1978 and felt that they added nothing to the plot. I also found it pretty unbelievable that Elizabeth was an educated woman in her thirties, in England, and seemed to know nothing about World War 1. I knew more than her by the time I graduated high school and I would assume the world wars are also taught in English schools. Her ignorance felt false, simply for the sake of the plotline which, as I said, added nothing to the book over all.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

This story is unique in the Chronicles of Narnia as it’s the only story that doesn’t involve a child from our world entering Narnia. Set during Peter’s reign as High King, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy all make an appearance but our main character is Shasta, a young boy growing up in Calormene. Shasta makes his escape with a talking horse called Bree and the two have a few adventures as they travel to Narnia and the North. This one is a straight-up adventure story and a fun one to read aloud (you get to do a horse voice!).

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

My favourite of the Narnia series. I love sea stories and this one has it all – mysterious islands, a sea serpent, merpeople. I love the development of Eustace’s character and the friendship he and the Pevensies have with Caspian. I think Lewis’ imagination shines as he creates multiple adventures for the children. I could re-read this book forever.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

As a child, this was the scariest Narnia book for me and so I’ve probably read it the fewest times. I think it’s the idea of being trapped underground plus being under a curse for ten years. The giants freaked me out too. It still strikes me as one of the bleaker books. The weather is bad even when Eustace and Jill are above ground and they never seem to experience that magical, beautiful aspect of Narnia like the others do. I did find Puddleglum much more charming than I used to though. And I applaud Lewis for taking the reader to a whole new region of this imaginary land.

Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t finish this book. That isn’t anything against Saramago (his book Blindness is one of the best I’ve ever read). It’s more about my life right now. Saramago has a very distinct style. He doesn’t use quotation marks and he moves very fluidly between time and characters. Add that to the Portuguese names and the fact that I was trying to read it in ten or fifteen minute chunks and I just didn’t seem to be able to keep up with what was going on and who these people were. It’s a multi-generational tale of Portuguese history and I hope to approach it again when I have the attention span for it.

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (Bantam Books, 1964)

This was a re-read. Something simple and quick to read after I gave up on Saramago. Great to read at 4 in the morning when you’re struggling to stay awake.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

I remember not liking The Magician’s Nephew that much as a kid. Maybe because the characters seem more disconnected from the other Narnia stories? I’m not sure now. It’s actually quite a beautiful creation tale. There is a beautiful scene where Digory longs to ask Aslan to save his mother’s life and when he looks in the lion’s face he sees that Aslan is weeping with him.

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

I think this was the first book I ever read where the heroes lose (uh, do I need to call spoilers on this?). Of course, if you keep reading past that final battle, you’ll see that they’ve really won. But it’s still awful to read about Jill trying to keep her bowstring dry as she weeps over Eustace’s death, or the horrible scene where the horses are all killed. It’s a sad book and it gets sadder until suddenly the reader and the characters get to see the bigger picture, the bigger plan. It’s an unusual way to end a children’s fantasy series but fits in well with the larger, allegorical tale that Lewis is telling.

Though I always did feel really sorry for Susan.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Touchstone, 1995)

(translated by R.H. Fuller)

I started reading this one back in January and have been picking at it slowly over the last few months. Executed in 1945 after imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, Bonhoeffer is certainly an inspirational figure. This version included a short biography of him at the beginning that was very informative and put his writing into a larger perspective. I found the book to be a dense read but with a lot of wonderful thoughts (not always concisely put). I was underlining and jotting down in my journal and folding pages a lot.

I thought the chapter about the visible church and the church body was fascinating, especially in light of Bonhoeffer’s later life and death. (He was only 39 when he was killed.) He writes about respecting the way things are in the world and how, as Christians, it is not necessarily our place to incite revolution or change ruling powers. Obviously, his thoughts on this seem to have altered as he was faced with the growing evil of the Nazi regime, but I think his basic meaning here stayed the same. There’s lots of good stuff here.

Currently reading:

Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner

Confessions by St. Augustine

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl