Adam Bede, my last major Eliot novel

Hetty Sorrel and Captain Donnithorne in Mrs Poyser's dairyWithout unveiling anything that happens in the course of the book, I will say it becomes a page-turner only about halfway through. Early on, whenever someone asked me what I was reading, the only descriptions I could give made it sound like a simple love story with little else to offer. But it picks up. Once I hit the middle point, I soon read through the rest before anyone else had a chance to ask me about it.

To sum up a moral for the story, it is how one brief bit of carelessness can lead to evils untold, for others and for oneself; consequences that can last far longer than the original act that set them in motion and can endure even to death, and even more. Of course, what does it matter if one is careless, so long as no one finds out? Again, this book demonstrates how great are the repercussions that follow on the smallest revelation—how much more when all things are revealed? Then it will only be those who have no secrets that will be at ease and without shame. Continue reading

Advertisements

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

wheat bouguereau“Now that I think of it, most of my girls have married men they were afraid of. I believe there is a good deal of the cow in most Swedish girls.”

O Pioneers! is the first volume of the Great Plains trilogy by Willa Cather. It centers on a Swedish family migrating to Nebraska at the turn of the century, and their struggles and triumphs, with the land and with the neighbors that surround them. She portrays not just Swedish people and customs, but also the neighboring Bohemian, French and Germans immigrants. As the novel goes on, some of the character become more “American”: only speaking English at home, leaving customs aside that attract the neighbors’ attention, and always seeking out the latest must-have invention or fad. The more charming characters are those who keep something of the old country, whether it is the old grandmother who only speaks Swedish and is afraid to use the bath tub, or the barefoot horse doctor who has vision and spells but is perfectly harmless. Continue reading

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

decline and fallThe Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh splits nearly into two parts: the first is spent in an all-boys school, the second in a prison. The two parts side-by-side give the impression that the settings are not as entirely different as one suspects. The first half of the book spends a long time introducing each of the characters and the second half of the book takes its time killing each of them off. Characters have silly names, such as Lady Circumference.

A problem with funny writing is that the joke might not make sense after a couple years, or in the case of Decline and Fall, after 90 years. Continue reading

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Sigrid_Undset_youngHow does one write a brief reflection on such a large work? Kristin Lavransdatter is the 1100-page, three-volume masterpiece of Sigrid Undset (1882–1949), a Norwegian novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. This novel follows the life of a girl growing up in 14th century Norway. Without giving away nearly anything of the plot, I want to highlight a few of the elements that make this novel excellent.

The interior life of a woman. A friend of mine once said, “If you want to understand women, you need to read this book!” I have consequently been told by female readers of the book that this is an overstatement, and yet they also back up the authenticity of Undset’s portrayal of Kristin. Continue reading

Crowdsourced List of Funny Books

two women laughingSomeone asked me at dinner the other day for a book recommendation—a funny book recommendation. It was difficult to think of any right away! Although I laugh while reading many books, I haven’t read many books that I would characterize as comedies. So I turned to Facebook with the question, “What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?” I received quite a variety in the results! I have gathered them all here for convenience. (Note: I have not read most of these.)

  • Cervantes, Don Quixote (1615).
  • Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal (essay, 1729).
  • Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749).
  • Voltaire, Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759).
  • Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1836).
  • Edgar Allen Poe, «Never Bet the Devil Your Head» (1841).
  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
  • Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (1889).
  • Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband (play, 1895).
  • P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), generally recommended.
    • Psmith, Journalist (1915).
    • Leave it to Psmith (1923).
    • Summer Moonshine (1937).
    • World of Mr. Mulliner (1972).
  • O. Henry, «Ransom of the Red Chief» (1910).
  • Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall (1928).johnson
  • Evelyn Waugh, Scoop (1938).
  • Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1954).
  • W.E. Bowman, The Ascent of Rum Doodle (1956).
  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961).
  • Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth (1961).
  • Michael Green, The Art of Course Acting (1964).
  • David Lodge, The British Museum is Falling Down (1965).
  • Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979).
  • John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980).
  • Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes (comic strip, 1985-1995).
  • Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens (1990).
  • Terry Pratchett, Small Gods (1992).
  • Dave Barry, Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys (1995).
  • David Foster Wallace, «Shipping Out» (1996). Reprinted in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), or available here: https://harpers.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf
  • Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997).
  • David Sedaris, general recommendation. Best known for his essay collection Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000).Astounded
  • Augusten Burroughs (1965-present), general recommendation. Best known for his memoir Running with Scissors (2002).
  • Chuck Klosterman, essays. Best known for his essay collection Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto (2003).
  • Terry Pratchett, Going Postal (2004).
  • Michael Perry, Off Main Street (2005), especially «Rock Slide!», a story about kidney stones.
  • Mark Helprin, Freddy and Fredericka (2005).
  • Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006).
  • David Wong, John Dies at the End (2007).
  • Christopher Moore, Fool (2009).
  • Justin Halpern, S███ My Dad Says (2010).
  • Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011).

I also want to add Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and «Revelation» by Flannery O’Connor. Happy reading!

Overview of 2017 Reading

George_Eliot_by_Samuel_LaurenceBack in April, I started my Classics Challenge—a plan to read 50 classic works over the course of 5 years—but that was not the start of my reading for the year. Here is a quick overview of the books I finished in 2017.

The author that stands out this year is George Eliot. Having discovered Middlemarch in 2016 and loving it, I continued to read George Eliot throughout 2017:

Apart from The Lifted Veil, I could recommend any of these excellent novels. Middlemarch remains my favorite Eliot novel, but Daniel Deronda and Romola are not far behind. In addition to those books by George Eliot, I read 11 other novels in 2017. Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Some of these were excellent:

Some of them were quite good:

Some were good, but not as enjoyable as I had hoped:The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić

And there were a couple that I did not care for at all:

Toward the end of 2016, a classmate started a Shakespeare reading group which gave me occasion to read Henry VI, Parts 1-3 and Richard III, as well as the Sonnets. This group continued into 2017 where we read Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1-2, and Henry V. Apart from these plays and poems of Shakespeare, I also read the classic Metamorphoses of Ovid and the modern Rosmersholm of Henrik Ibsen.

mass photo maxThe most momentous event of the year for me was certainly ordination to the priesthood on June 24th, and with this came further reading about the saints and the liturgy. I read the Letters of St. Cyprian, the Lausaic History (about the desert fathers), biographies of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Dominic, Bl. John Henry Newman (both by himself and by another), and a handful of saints canonized in 1881. In the last month of the summer, having said Mass every day for a couple months, I wanted to read more about its history and how the prayers came to be as they are, and found the excellent Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid and Voice of the Church at Prayer by Uwe Michael Lang. Continuing my canon law studies, I have read all sorts of articles and books (in whole and in part) that I won’t list here. All the reading in canon law spurred my interest in other legal works, and so I read Cicero’s Republic and Laws, a huge chunk of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, and the Qur’an.

This last month, I have almost exclusively read about the history of canon law, especially in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic tradition. With Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather in my carry-on, I expect to read more literature as 2018 begins!

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

moscowI just finished reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The novel becomes dramatic within the first few pages, though it takes 100 or so more before it arrives at the central drama of the book.

He includes so many details of the moral life and illustrates them well: habits, virtues and vices; passions, joy, sorrow, anger; jealousy, bitterness, regret; emotions quick and enduring, reasonable and ungrounded; friendships and family relations; men and women, children and parents; the effects of work and of play; faith and doubt, divine and human faith, superstition, ritual; the importance of place, home; thought, intellectual ambition, intellectual despair; contradiction among persons, contradiction within oneself, contradiction with society; death and birth; money, luxury, necessity; the tension between physical beauty and moral goodness.

But when I finished the book, I was disappointed by how it ended. It seems it could have ended the same way much sooner, and it wouldn’t have made a great difference. (I would contrast this with Middlemarch by George Eliot, where I don’t think the novel could have ended anywhere else than where it actually ended.) I could say more about his approach to religion, which I found quite true to reality at the beginning, but a bit superficial and moralizing by the end. Beyond anything, Tolstoy excels at showing the effects of sin, both internally and externally, and in the effect it has on others. Perhaps I did not like the later parts of the book because he does this too well.

[This book is #9 on my Classics List.]