Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January's Jumble of Books

It's the last day of the first month of a new year, so of course it's the perfect time to give my first-ever monthly update! A reading update, that is. Here's a list of all the books I finished in January, and a little bit of what I thought of them.

The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke

Rather beautiful little book. Finished in January; favorite character...Artaban, I suppose, since there's no one else.:

It was Christmas at the beginning of this month, you know--strange thought!--so I started the year with a Christmas story. I think this was the first time I'd read it all the way through. Although I enjoyed it--it was full of lovely descriptions and had a good theme--I can't say I was very deeply moved by it. Artiban was my favorite character by default.

How close, how intimate is the comradeship between a man and his favorite horse on a long journey. It is a silent, comprehensive friendship, an intercourse beyond the need of words.
--The Story of the Other Wise Man

The Song of Roland, translated by Dorothy Sayers

My Roland! And Oliver! Finished in January; favorite character, Roland.:

This was my favorite book in literature class during my freshman year of high school. Oh, what a joy it was to revisit it! At first, I was almost disappointed by the simplicity of it--found it hard to really get invested in the story. But I got over that soon enough. As Dorothy Sayers says in her introduction, The Song of Roland isn't literary, but it's great literature.

At first, Roland's rallying cry "Paynims are wrong! Christians are in the right!" seems shallow and petty. But if you think about it, it's really not. Roland is concerned, first and foremost, with rightness and wrongness--with the truth. Truth is so important to the heroes of this epic that they are willing to suffer and bleed and die for it. That's an admirable thing. To be sure, baptizing Muslims at sword-point as Charlemagne does is not the way to go about evangelization. But our relativistic society could take a lesson from the characters' dedication to truth.

Speaking of the characters! Oh, they're delicious. The action and dialogue seesaws between the hilarious and the heartbreaking. From Charlemagne's blunt ordering of his men to "sit down on that carpet and be quiet" when they displease him to Oliver's desperate attempts to pound some sense into Roland's thick skull, there are plenty of humorous lines in this epic. But oh, the characters run deep, too. Roland and Oliver's friendship leads to some of the most heartrending, touching scenes I know of, and as for Roland'd development as a person--well! You'll have to read it and see for yourself.

Roland is fierce and Oliver is wise, and both for valour may bear away the prize.
--The Song of Roland

Quoth Roland: "Why so angry with me, friend?"
And he: "Companion, you got us in this mess."

--Roland and Oliver


The Man Who Knew Too Much, by G. K. Chesterton

Anything by Chesterton gets five stars. But--but the ending! Horne Fisher! Harold March! Chesterton! What have you done? Finished in January; favorite character, Horne Fisher.:

I picked this up back in October because 1) it's a Chesterton book, and 2) it was free on Kindle. Originally I was expecting it to be a novel. Which was a tantalizing thought, since I'd never read a Chesterton novel and always wanted to. Then I got to Chapter Two and realized, "Oh it's not really a novel, just a bunch of mystery stories like the Fr. Browns." Which was a trifle disappointing, but, pfft, it's a Chesterton book, I'm gonna love it no matter what. 

And lo and behold! The final story actually acted as a conclusion to the entire thing and tied it up with a neat little bow. And a bittersweet one...*sniff*

Horne Fisher, the amateur detective, was an interesting character--almost like Fr. Brown without a backbone. At first I didn't like him very much, but by the end I had developed quite a fondness for the listless old fellow. And he grew at the end in ways that--well, spoilers. Let's just say he showed some real sparks of life and even heroism for once.

"He may be mad, but there's a method to his madness. There nearly always is method in madness. It's what drives men mad, being methodical." -- Horne Fisher

"I dare say every cigar I smoke and every liqueur I drink comes directly or indirectly from the harrying of the holy places and the persecution of the poor."--Horne Fisher

"Blackmailers do not always go to jail. Sometimes they go to Parliament." -- Horne Fisher

Manalive, by G. K. Chesterton

Oh what a delightful book! I love seeing Chesterton's philosophy in novel form. Finished in January; favorite characters, Michael Moon and Innocent Smith.:

Seconds after finishing The Man Who Knew Too Much, I was so hungry for more of Chesterton's scrumptious prose I jumped right into Manalive (which was also free on Kindle). I think I enjoyed this book more than any other I read this month. Chesterton's style is just delicious--so colorful, and fresh, and witty, and beautiful, and full of deep insights and fun paradoxes. 

This book actually was a novel, to be supreme delight. And what a delightful novel! It's all about this eccentric man (named Innocent Smith) showing up at a boarding house and bringing all the people there to life with his strange behavior--and then being accused of murder. It was so much fun! 

And now I must take a moment to squeal about that cover. Just look at that cover for a minute. It's so beautiful I might just flail. The gun is exceedingly significant--it's the gun Innocent Smith "deals life out of"--and that hat in the background blowing away makes me insanely happy, because there was a hat motif in the book. Of course the London-ish buildings and skyline in the background fit the setting perfectly. And look at that tagline! "A Comic Novel by G. K. Chesterton about Murder, Bigamy, Burglary, Insanity, and Truth, Beauty, and the Goodness of Life." It sums up the whole thing masterfully with a real dash of Chesterton-esque humor. (Whether Chesterton wrote that tagline or not I have no idea, but it delights me.)

This book included so many quotes that I'd heard before and even collected on my Pinterest board of Chesterton quotes, but which I'd never known were from Manalive. At one point my favorite character, a stormy Irishman named Michael Moon, opened his mouth and said, "Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should refuse"--and I about jumped off my chair squealing, "I know that quote! I know that quote!"

Speaking of favorite characters, Michael Moon was my favorite one for a good deal of the book...most of the best quotes and most hair-raising scenes were due to his bursts of passion. But by the end of the book Innocent Smith had wormed his way into my heart to such a degree as to push Michael Moon aside.

If I was going to complain about one aspect of this glorious book, it would have to be that Part 2 is primarily a court scene with most of the action taking place in letters from the witnesses which act almost like mystery stories on their own. I tend to like it better when the action is in real time. But this is just a picky thing and in no way takes away from the overall delight of the novel. (Have you noticed that Chesterton can do no wrong in my eyes?)

"Unless you marry God, as our nuns do in Ireland, you must marry Man--that is Me. The only third thing is to marry yourself--yourself, yourself, yourself--the only companion that is never satisfied--and never satisfactory."--Michael Moon

"I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him--only to bring him to life."--Innocent Smith

"If one could keep as happy as a child or a dog, it would be by being as innocent as a child, or as sinless as a dog."--Michael Moon

The Secret of the Old Clock, by Caroline Keene

So nice to revisit Nancy! Gosh, she's gutsier than I'll ever be. Finished in January; favorite character, Nancy Drew.

My sisters have been into the Nancy Drew mysteries lately, so I reread this. It was fun. Rather embarrassingly (except, I'm not really embarrassed, just amused), Nancy has become a sort of confidence-booster to me. Last time I read about her she was a grown up and I was a little girl, so her pluckiness was all accounted for. But now I read it and I'm like, "This girl's my age and she's doing what?"

It's not so much her bravery when it comes to facing thugs and thieves that I admire. It's her lack of shyness. Nancy is the opposite of me when it comes to social encounters. If I find out I have to make a phone call to someone I barely know, I squirm inside and desperately look for a way to wriggle out of it. Nancy would make a phone call in a heartbeat just to ask a stranger some questions. Silly as it sounds, thinking "If Nancy can do it, I can" has actually given me a couple doses of bravery recently.

"Let me out!" she pleaded. "I'm not one of the thieves! If you'll only let me out of here, I'll explain everything!"

There was silence for a moment. Then the voice on the other side of the door said dubiously, "Say, you aimin' to throw me off, imitatin' a lady's voice? Well, it won't do you any good! No, sir. Old Jeff Tucker's not gettin' fooled again!"

Nancy decided to convince the man beyond a doubt. She gave a long, loud feminine scream.
--The Secret of the Old Clock

Cinderella, by C. S. Evans

It's amazing, the delight a simple fairy tale can bring! Finished in January; favorite character, Cinderella...although I loved the Prince and the Fairy Godmother, too. And I don't think I've ever seen the stepsisters handled so well.:

I found this (a different copy of it) at Half Price Books and couldn't let it sit. An old chapter-book version of Cinderella that didn't attempt any twists or changes? It was the version I'd always wanted to read! I ended up giving it to my sister for Christmas. When yesterday I finally sat down and read it all the way through in one or two settings, I was enchanted. It's amazing how much enjoyment a simple fairy tale can bring.

I think my favorite part about this version was Cinderella's treatment of her stepsisters. She's sweet in every true-to-the-original retelling, and forgiving in most of them, but "do good to those who hate you" was never so explicitly obeyed by any other Cinderella I've ever met.

"Tell me, Prince, who are those two ladies sitting over there in the alcove by the pillar? Poor things, they have not been asked to dance once the whole evening. I feel quite sorry for them."--Cinderella

The Complete Father Brown Stories, by G. K. Chesterton

How dare I finish this?? I've been reading it for years and enjoying all the twists and surprises! I wanted it to last forever! Finished in January; favorite character--oh please don't ask me to choose between Fr. Brown and Flambeau, they were both stupendous.:

Yes, another Chesterton book. I've been reading this for the past three or four years. Finishing it is slightly sad. It was these stories that really introduced me to Chesterton. Again and again the riddles perplexed and the solutions flabbergasted me. Several times I nearly fell out of my seat. Once or twice I had part of the mystery figured out and felt like Sherlock Holmes for the rest of the day.

Fr. Brown has been a good friend, ever kindly and fanciful and wise. Flambeau has been just as lovable--it was always a delight to see that old rogue pop up in a story, especially when he'd been absent for a good long while.

Now, there are no more surprises left for me in the Fr. Brown stories, unless I can learn to forget. But the settings and the adventures, the colors and the conversations, will still be there for me to wander through...and I'm sure Fr. Brown won't object if I ask to go strolling about with him through the English countryside.

A stormy evening of olive and silver was closing in, as Father Brown, wrapped in a grey Scotch plaid, came to the end of a grey Scotch valley and beheld the strange castle of Glengyle.
--The Honor of Israel Gow 

"Stand still," he said, in a hacking whisper. "I don't want to threaten you, but--"

"I do want to threaten you," said Father Brown, in a voice like a rolling drum, "I want to threaten you with the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched."

"You're a rum sort of cloak-room clerk," said the other.

"I am a priest, Monsieur Flambeau," said Brown, "and I am ready to hear your confession."
--The Queer Feet

So there it is! The seven books I finished this month. Have you read any of these? What kind of reading adventures did you have in January? Do you like fairy tales? Mysteries? Chesterton quotes??  

6 comments:

  1. Cool bunch of books! And man, you were busy! ;)
    Haha, that is almost creepily hilarious. Because guess what two detective series I'm reading/re-reading. Nancy Drew, and Fr. Brown Mysteries. :P That's sooo weird. And guess what book is written down on my list for reading? The Song of Roland... I'm starting to get scared by you, Lucy.... :P

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    1. Oh really?? Great minds think alike, what can I say? And you're going to read The Song of Roland!! You will love it. And if you don't love it you'd better not tell me. ;) Just kidding, just kidding...I can actually think of several reasons not to like it, but it's got such a special place in my heart and is so fun and is considered one of the Great Books for a reason, so I prefer not to dwell on those. :)

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  2. Manalive looks like a good one. I'll have to try it!

    I'm mostly happy with my January reading adventures. I was able to finish The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead; Cyrano DeBergerac; Island of the Blue Dolphins; and The Big Four.
    I think I'll be able to get to the Song of Roland soon.

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    1. Oh yes, by all means do! :)

      Ooh, I've read Island of the Blue Dolphins! It was a long time ago, but I remember loving it. :) I hope you like The Song of Roland! I suppose I've already said this about ten times, but I love that book. :)

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  3. Wow you read a ton of books! I didn't read nearly this much. Only two or three. :) Nancy Drew!!!!!!!!! I love her so much, as you already know.

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    1. Haha, I was surprised at how many books I managed to read. :) I think it helped that so many of them were short...or half-finished at the beginning of January.

      Nancy Drew is stupendous! I need to read more of her. :)

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