Here in the upper Midwest of the U.S.A. the weather is flirting with spring. Robins are back at the feeder. Rain is coming more than snow and we are getting more T-shirt friendly days than heavy-jacket ones each week. For me, my mind is starting to compose my all-important summer reading list while reflecting upon the books I’ve read this past fall and winter. Since my last book related post I have read Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden, Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. LeGuin, Of This and Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis, A Light in the Window by Jan Karon, and I have almost finished reading The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. All told I’ve read 13/36 works on my list, which is a little more than 1/3 of all the books I wanted to read during fall and winter. I’ve also made great strides in reading Sherlock Holmes’ adventures as my off-list guilty pleasure (that’s the subject of a different post). I am pleased. For my 50th blog post (ooooh! big, round, number!) I hope you enjoy the following capsule reviews.
Of This and Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis
“The logic of a fairy tale is as strict as that of a realistic novel, though different.” –C.S. Lewis from Of this And Other Worlds
This book took me a couple months to read for the simple reason that I was incapable of reading it without a pen, my journal, and a desk. There was just so much I wanted to write down from vocabulary to recommended titles to quotes (so many quotes!) that I couldn’t just keep it in my purse to read whenever a moment occurred. It is a marvelous book. I will need to re-read it many times. Lewis writes so concisely, so logically, and with such spirit. I love what he has to say on fairy tales, children’s stories, and scif-fi. Lewis’ remarks on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings are sublime. He made me tear up with his essay on the subject. I have journaled more on this book than any other; only Voyage of the Beagle would be a close second. Reading Lewis these past months has made me more productive on my own worlds of fictional fantasy; several of the essays in this collection are informative on writing technique and criticism. I will leave off with my favorite quote from the collection:
“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”—C.S. Lewis
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
“We didn’t really talk much about being gay; most of the time we just talked about ourselves. We were what seemed important then, not some label.” –From Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
I put off reading this book for a long time for the simple reason that I feared it would be depressing and I had no desire to read something depressing. Finally, I found some backbone, read the book, and I am so glad I did. It was one of those stay in my PJs until 1 o’clock reading days when I find myself gripping the book with white knuckled hands, eyes darting over the page at the absolute limits of what my brain can process. It’s not a thriller, in fact it is a wholesome teenage love story, but I couldn’t put it down. I loved the heroines of the tale, Liza and Annie. I identified with their characters in that they seem like the kind of women I’d want to be friends with, women who like books and museums and doing well in school and gardens and nice cats. It’s hard for me, very hard for me, to wrap my mind around why so many people in different times and places since the publication of this book have wanted to burn it, ban it, and otherwise keep it off of shelves and out of sight. I am convinced after reading some of the challenge excerpts at the Office of Intellectual Freedom website that on some primal level such people are terrified that homosexuality is contagious. For the record, I am still straight, for whatever that’s worth, after thoroughly enjoying this book. I think the only things readers are likely to catch from this book include an interest in classic poetry, two more literary characters to love, and a raging case of compassion. Annie and Liza start out as friends and then spend most of their courtship going to museums and doing their homework together. I would say their relationship is very healthy. Nothing explicit happens on page; this book could not be described as porn or salacious by any stretch of either term. The language and syntax are both age-appropriate for teens. The heroines and their older foils are women of character with solid self-images and dreams. That’s more than I can say for the handful of heroines I’ve read in harlequin romances or all six pages I read of Twilight (I read the wiki page and saw the movie as well; I was not impressed by any of them). I am also thrilled to point out that it is not depressing either, at least not more so than any tale about teenagers in love tends to be, and it ends well. I liked the morals it imparts about judging people as people rather than labels, being true to oneself, and letting love win over ignorance and hate. I want to read more of Nancy Garden’s work; the woman can turn a quotable phrase well. I’m glad I read this book at last; it is the first book I’ve read with an LGBTQ character as the protagonist. I am happy to report that not only did I read a copy from my local library; I read a very well loved copy from my local library’s YA section. The binding was loose, the pages bore many thumbprints, many a page had been turned-over multiple times, and there was even a random ketchup blotch. Yeah, the library probably needs a new copy, but it makes me so happy to know that this book, this often banned and hated book is being read a lot from the YA section; this is just as it should be.
“There are a lot of unfair things in this world, and gay people certainly come in for their share of them— but so do lots of other people, and besides, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the truth of loving, of two people finding each other. That’s what’s important, and don’t you forget it.” –From Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. LeGuin
This book was a bit of a shocker for me in the sense that I had assumed (always a bad idea) it would be sci-fi/fantasy and it proved to be not sci-fi/fantasy. It is a collection of short fiction where all the stories take place in different time periods within the fictional country of Orsinia which seems to be somewhere in the Communist bloc area of Europe. I enjoyed the writing as well as the interconnected nature of the stories. Yet, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. Much as I find stories about socio-political issues in the recent history of humanity to be interesting, honestly, I prefer them in the trappings of sci-fi and fantasy. I am a sucker for both genres. Still, it was good to read more work by one of my all-time favorite authors and I’m sure that I will appreciate her fantastic worlds all the more for having ventured into Orsinia.
A Light in the Window by Jan Karon
My grandma-in-law got me into this series. I was skeptical at first but her assertion that it was like the world of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery finally hooked me. Nothing will ever be quite like Avonlea, it is unique, but the town of Mitford is certainly a kindred spirit. I like the characters. Their exploits make me laugh. Karon’s use of scripture has yet to offend or insult me (this is a great achievement) and I find myself humming “A Balm in Gilead” when I read about Mitford. I’m not sure why exactly but I hypothesize that it is because these books are a balm for the spirit, at least so far. I’m in no rush to finish the series, I think because the cynical bits of me suspect that Karon will drop the ball, so to speak, and I am dreading that happening. So far so good though and the third book will definitely be on my Spring/Summer list.
Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
“First impressions at all times very much depend on one’s previously acquired ideas.” –Charles Darwin from Voyage of the Beagle
I confess, I’ve been dragging my reading of this book out. It has been my boon companion since summer 2011. It bore me company as I finished my thesis and it has lifted my spirits as I search for meaningful work with my degrees. My time with it, for now at least, is at last drawing to a close. I only have one and a half chapters left to read. This is definitely one of those books that will inspire part of me to mourn after closing that cover for the last time. I will save the majority of my remarks for when that time comes. Let me just say, prior to closing with a quote, that it has been immeasurably gratifying to read about Darwin by Darwin and to discover that I can respect him for himself, foibles included, and not just for his incredible contributions to science and to biology. I know I have blogged about these feelings before but they never cease to fill me with wonder and delight.
“Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact—that mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth.” –Charles Darwin, after a passage discussing the curious natural history of the Galapagos Islands. From Chapter 17 in The Voyage of the Beagle
Edit: Below I have copied my Fall/Winter reading list, complete with my progress of crossed-off books. I plan to post my Spring/Summer reading by the end of April. Until then I’m going to keep chugging away at this list and see how far I get. I plan to prioritize other banned books and Shakespeare. I hope the list gives you some inspiration for your own reading adventures.
Ellen’s Fall/Winter 2011 Reading List!!
- Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Voyage of the Beagleby Charles Darwin <– Done!! 🙂
- Slippage by Harlan Ellison
Alone Against Tommorowby Harlan Ellison <– Done!! 🙂
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Annie on My Mindby Nancy Garden <– Done!! 🙂
- Forever by Judy Blume
- Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume
All Alone in the Universeby Lynn Rae Perkins <– Done!! 🙂
- Changes by Jim Butcher
- Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
One for the Moneyby Janet Evanovich <– Done!! 🙂 Sunshineby Robin McKinley <– Done!! 🙂
- The Collusus of Marusi by Henry Miller
- Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote
Gulliver’s Travelsby Jonathon Swift <– Done!! 🙂 Othelloby Shakespeare <– Done!! 🙂 The Taming of the Shrewby Shakespeare <– Done!! 🙂 A Winter’s Taleby Shakespeare <– Done!! 🙂 The Call of the Wildby Jack London <– Done!! 🙂 Orsinian Talesby Ursula K. LeGuin <– Done!! 🙂
- The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
- 100 selected poems by e.e. cummings
The Enchanted Castleby Edith Nesbit <– Done!! 🙂
- Volume One of the Journey to the West
A Light in the Windowby Jan Karon <– Done!! 🙂
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
- The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
The Riddle Master Trilogyby Patricia McKillip <– Done!! 🙂 The Blue Castleby L.M. Montgomery <– Done!! 🙂
- Arabian Nights
- Maurice by E.M. Forster
The Deception at Lymeby Carrie Bebris<– Done!! 🙂 Of This and Other Worldsby C.S. Lewis <– Done!! 🙂 Mistress Masham’s Reposeby T.H. White <– Done!! 🙂