Do thou, too, remain warm among ice

“It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (Chapter 68)

Review of Gilead

Gileadcover.jpgWhat was it about?

Rev. John Ames is an elderly congregationalist minister in Gilead, Iowa writing to his 7-year-old son about his ancestry and his relationship with Jack Boughton, the troubled son of a close friend. Rev. Ames’ father and grandfather were also ministers and were heavily involved in the abolitionist movement in the region. Throughout the epistolary novel, Rev. Ames’ influences include the reformed theologian Karl Barth and the atheist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. He sees God’s hand everywhere but never thinks he’s somehow set apart from the rest of humanity. He recognizes his flaws and his doubts, disagrees with his father’s pro-war beliefs, and wishes he could have had a better relationship with Jack. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson shows how Rev. Ames’ story and life experiences shaped his faith and the sermons he preached on Sunday.

What did I think of it?

I am not the first person to compare Robinson’s prose to Willa Cather’s. The narrative of Gilead is as lyrical and character-driven as Death Comes for the Archbishop. Like Cather’s works, Gilead is not a conventional novel with a beginning, middle, and end. Rather, it is a series of anecdotes about the lives of one or two individuals. Because I prefer character-driven, philosophical works to fast-paced thrillers I really enjoyed Gilead. Rev. Ames has a very holistic view of life; he clearly recognizes how everything is interconnected. Robinson is a self-professed Calvinist, so there are themes from the reformed tradition strewn throughout the work. I was surprised by how ecumenical Rev. Ames was; he attends a Quaker service and appreciates the Methodist presence in Gilead. It is amazing how many sermons Rev. Ames has written throughout his long career as a minister. He has boxes filled with sermons in the attic, but never has the courage to reread his old sermons. After a lifetime of pondering existence and salvation, Rev. Ames is still overwhelmed by the most basic mysteries of life. Gilead certainly deserved the Pulitzer it won in 2005.

Favorite Quotes

“Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined. I’m about to put on imperishability. In an instant, in a twinkling of an eye.”

“It has been my experience that guilt can burst through the smallest breach and cover the landscape, and abide in it in pools and darknesses, just as native as water.”

“I pity [Jack]. I regret absolutely that I cannot speak with him in a way becoming a pastor, knowing as I do what an uneasy spirit he is. That is disgraceful.”

“At that point I began to suspect, as I have from time to time, that grace has a grand laughter in it.”

June and July in Review

Smileys For BlogThis is my first “month in review” post of the year. I really need to get back to doing these at the end of each month.

Books Read in June and July

Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain, the Knight of the Lion) by Chrétien de Troyes – :) :) :) :) :)

The Once and Future King by T.H. White – :) :) :) (I will be doing a review of this book soon)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien – :) :) :) :)

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes – :) :) :) :)

Locomotive by Brian Floca (Illustration samples are below. This is the most fantastic picture book I think I’ve ever read. If you are a train enthusiast or want to prove to your scoffing friend that children’s literature is art, check out/buy this book.)  – :) :) :) :) :)

 

Reading Plans For August

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (I’m currently half way through it)

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (for a buddy-read with Masanobu @ All the Pretty Books; we’re beginning August 19)

Praise of Folly by Erasmus

I doubt I’ll get through all of these, but this is what I’m hoping to read in the next month or so.

Tolkien’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo

I am not going to review J.R.R. Tolkien’s translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo for one simple reason: I cannot. I would give too much away if I were to summarize all three poems. It is better to go into the stories blind. While I enjoyed all three lays, I have neither the background in poetry nor a knowledge of the art of translation to give a thorough review of Tolkien’s work. I will simply leave you with a sample from each poem to whet your appetite. The book includes a reasonably lengthed introduction to the poems. Unfortunately, I have not read it yet. But when I do, I will write a follow-up post so that you are given a proper introduction to Sir Gawain, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

After the season of summer with its soft breezes,
when Zephyr goes sighing through seeds and herbs,
right glad is the grass that grows in the open,
when the damp dewdrops are dripping from the leaves,
to greet a gay glance of the glistening sun.
But then Harvest hurries in, and hardens it quickly,
warns it before winter to wax to ripeness.
He drives with his drought the dust, till it rises
from the face of the land and flies up aloft;
wild wind in the welkin makes war on the sun,
the leaves loosed from the linden alight on the ground,
and all grey is the grass that green was before:
all things ripen and rot that rose up at first,
and so the year runs away in yesterdays many, and here winter wends again, as by the way of the world

it ought,
until the Michaelmas moon
has winter’s boding brought;
Sir Gawain then full soon of his grievous journey thought. (II, 23)
 

Pearl

Both bliss and grief you have been to me,
But woe far greater hath been my share.
You were caught away from all perils free,
But my pearl was gone, I knew not where;
My sorrow is softened now I it see.
When we parted, too, at one we were;
Now God forbid that we angry be!
We meet on our roads by chance so rare.
I am but mould and good manners miss.
Christ’s mercy, Mary and John: I dare
Only on these to found my bliss. (Part 32)

Sir Orfeo

Sir Orfeo was a king of old,
in England lordship high did hold;
valour he had and hardihood,
a courteous king whose gifts were good,
His father from King Pluto came,
his mother from Juno, king of fame,
who once of old as gods were named
for mighty deeds they did and claimed. 
Sir Orfeo, too, all things beyond
of harping’s sweet delight was fond, 
and sure were all good harpers there
of him to earn them honour fair;
himself he loved to touch the harp
and pluck the strings with fingers sharp. (v. 25-38)

Complete TBR and Suggestions for Buddy-Reads

So, the Top Ten Tuesday meme for today got me thinking about my current TBR. I bought a ton of books in the past year – more than ever in my life. As you may know, up until recently I almost exclusively used the local library. But while I was in graduate school, I obtained quite a few books from the local secondhand bookstore (a few are new). While I bought most of the books for under 7 dollars, I have made it a goal to read 20 of my unread books before buying any new ones, so that I can keep a manageable TBR. In this post, I will list all the unread fiction that I have purchased in the past year or so. I’m leaving out any unread anthologies because I don’t want to read them in one go. If you would like to buddy-read with me any of the books on the list, please indicate the book in the comments section. Here’s my list.

1) O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

2) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (I’ve read half of it)

3) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (a bargain buy; brand-new hardback with deckled edge paper for 5 dollars!)

4) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

5) Bleak House by Charles Dickens

6) The Way of Kings (Book 1 of The Stormlight Archive series) by Brandon Sanderson

7) The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling (the only Harry Potter I own although I have read the 7-book series)

8) Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien

9) Beowulf translated by J.R.R. Tolkien

10) The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

11) The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien

12) I, Claudius by Robert Graves

13) Arms and the Man by Bernard Shaw

14) The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

15) Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot

16) Faust (parts I and II) by Goethe translated by Philip Wayne (1949 edition in perfect condition)

17) Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

18) The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

19) Hild by Nicola Griffith

20) Peter Pan & Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie (yes, I’m cheating)

21) Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

22) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

23) The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (translated by Nevill Coghill)

24) Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

25) In Praise of Folly by Erasmus of Rotterdam

26) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

27) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

28) The Secret History by Donna Tartt

29) The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger (a Kindle impulse buy)

30) Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

31) The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Are there any books on this list you’d like to buddy-read with me?

Review of Ginger Pye

What was it about?

Jerry Pye (aged 10) and his sister Rachel (aged 9) wonder whether Gracie the cat would be bothered if the Pyes purchased a dog. Just the other day, Ms. Speedy offered to sell one of her puppies for a dollar. After seeing the puppies in the barn, Jerry and Rachel knew that they just had to have one. Mom said that it was OK and Sam Doody, their high school friend, promised the children a dollar if they would dust the church pews. With the help of 3-year-old Uncle Bennie, Jerry and Rachel dust the pews and purchas their puppy Ginger. But things suddenly go very wrong. The dog hasn’t been in the Pyes household for very long when he’s suddenly taken by a stranger in a yellow hat – or at least they think the thief has a yellow hat for they have spotted it at various locations in town. They don’t, however, know what the thief looks like. Rachel is sure that he must be ugly and sinister. Jerry agrees and draws a likely portrait of the “unsavory character” to give to the local police. Ginger Pye written and illustrated by Eleanor Estes is the 1952 Newbery Medal-winning book about Jerry, Rachel, and Uncle Bennie’s search for a beloved missing dog and his unsavory thief.

What did I think of it?

Eleanor Estes has successfully accomplished a rare feat – writing a compelling story from the perspective of 9 and 10-year-old children. It is difficult to write believable dialogue between children, but there was never a time in the whole book when I felt like the children were acting in ways atypical of their age group. This is probably the primary reason why Ginger Pye was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1952. But this cannot have been the only reason. While I was able to predict early in the book the identity of the thief, a young child would be left guessing until the very end because Rachel and Jerry react very believably to the situations they encounter. I was entertained by the light suspense as well as by the humor. It is worth noting, however, that the eponymous dog is mostly absent from the story, for obvious reasons. Some children see a dog on the cover of a book and assume that it is a “dog book”. In reality, Ginger Pye is mostly about the children who are looking for their dog. The cover and title may be slightly misleading, but the book is exciting just the same. I am glad that I read Ginger Pye and definitely think it deserved the Newbery Medal.

Favorite Quote

“Well, of course, since Mama was such a young little thing and wore only a size two shoe, and, moreover, ate like a bird, Papa had to marry her. They fell in love at first sight and though she was only seventeen, they got married as soon as all the permissions could be granted.”

 

This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge