Captivity by György Spiró (a glorious first read of the year, although I am not yet finished)

fullsizerender-3

Behold Captivity, a novel of a mere 832 pages, each one riveting me to the story of Uri and his companions who are on a mission traveling from Jerusalem to Rome. Do not imagine that Uri is a sturdy traveler, nor that his companions are his friends. He has been selected for reasons he knows not why, other than that his father has loaned a tremendous sum to Agrippa, and it seems being a part of the delegation is the outcome of such a favor. But Uri is mistrusted, his bags are consistently searched, and he is spied upon during every leg of their journey.

Indeed Uri seems an unlikely candidate for such a trip. When they began his ankles were not strong, his belly carried a paunch, his head was balding, his chin was doubled, but worse than any of that is the fact that he cannot see well. His eyesight requires tremendous squinting to see any distance from afar, and Uri had developed a board through which to peer when he was at home in Rome.

But poor eyesight did not hinder him from reading, or from learning languages. Rather Uri can speak Greek, Latin, Egyptian, Hebrew and Aramaic. His favorite passion is reading.

“I also need peace,” he said hoarsely, “to read, because for me nothing else is of interest. I can recite to you the whole of Greek and Latin literature by heart. No one is using me to pass messages to anyone: I swear by Everlasting God who is One that this is the truth.”

Studded throughout the pages of this novel are characters who are already familiar to me from reading through the Bible:

    • Pilate
    • Herod Antipas
    • John the Baptist
    • Simon the Magus
    • the Sanhedrin
    • the high priests such as Caiaphas

I am hopeful that reading this prize-winning historical novel will further enhance my understanding of Biblical times. In and of itself, however, it is a fabulous read. Even if it will take me a few more weeks to finish. (I plan on posting a final review at the end of January.)

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

img_3515

This book tells a story within a story within a story. There is, at the core of it, the relationship between Taro Azuma and Yoko, his childhood friend. These two are where the resemblance to Wuthering Heights is strongest, for they are obsessed with each other although Taro is an unwanted ruffian, and Yuko comes from an affluent family.

Her family is served faithfully by Fumiko, a character through whose point of view much of the story is told. After all, she was there when the children were small; she was there when they grew into their complicated adult lives. But, she does not tell everything, leaving certain parts of the narrative out until the very end, which were only revealed by Yuko’s aunt in the final few pages.

It was a novel I wanted to enjoy, and certainly there were parts which I did. But, I found much of it tedious and overwrought; I was unable to care about the characters who seemed increasingly dramatic and immature. I could not find  much emotional involvement of my own within its pages, not like that I have for Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, or even Jane Eyre.

This novel may by considered a Japanese rendering of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and indeed it resembles that classic. But the way A True Novel calls to mind the indelible relationships we form in our youth, or the pain we may have experienced in waiting for someone to perfectly love us, is a theme that involves many romantic novels, most of which I found more compelling than this one.

Find more reviews at Vishy’s Blog, A Bookish Way of Life, Tony’s Reading List, and Mirabile Dictu.

Books Read in 2016

biblioteca-comunale-di-maranello-by-andrea-maffei-e-arata-isozaki

~January~

~February~

~March~

~April~

~May~

~June~

~July~

~August~

~September~

~October~

  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  • The Last Hurrah by Frank O’Connor
  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
  • I.Q. by Joe Ide
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
  • The Haunting of Hillside School by Kristina Gregory

~November~

  • The Trespasser by Tana French
  • The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni
  • I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
  • Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten and Other Thankful Stuff by Barbara Parks

~December~

  • The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  • A True Novel by Minae Mizumura
  • The Bible

2016 in Review

img_3598

Usually I peruse a list of over 100 books read during the year that was. But as I write I find myself looking at a list with a total of 56, barely one book a week. It’s been an odd year, one in which I struggled to keep my focus on both reading and blogging, but reviewing the year encourages me.

There were lovely parts to 2016:

For me, the best part of blogging is reading with others, and surely those read-alongs and events were a highlight. And now, in no particular order (except for the two largest books in the middle of the collage which were the most well loved), my ten favorite books of 2016 are:

The Story of The Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

As for 2017? I look forward to reading more Japanese literature, Haruki Murakami’s Absolutely on Music in particular. I look forward to the C. S. Lewis discussion group held every Saturday morning at Wheaton College which begins with That Hideous Strength. I look forward to reading Captivity by György Spiró with several bloggers including Vishy,  Jessica, cirtnecce, DorianTJ and Dwight. Please feel free to join us as we begin in January.

Wherever January takes us, in our bookish adventures and daily lives, I look forward to new ideas. Interesting books. More discussions. Thank you for being a part of my journey these past ten years.

Not As Simple a Christmas As Planned, but Lovely Nonetheless

The house was prepared for Christmas early this year, on Thanksgiving weekend in fact, when I usually wait until after my son’s birthday on December 7. I’d hoped for simplicity, but somehow that always escapes me; a balsam tree with only twinkling fairy lights became a full blown event as bins were drawn out of the basement crawl space by my husband ad infinitum.

However, now that each event (a concert at Wheaton College, a family party, a Secret Santa book exchange) is ticked off the calendar, I find myself quite filled with joy. There is no time to read, of course, and probably won’t be until December 26, but it is better to focus on the moment at hand rather than rush past them toward the ones to come.

I wish you could be with me at school. You can’t imagine the excitement that 29 third graders produce the week before Christmas. We will read The Jolly Christmas Postman, What Do Snowmen Do At Night?, and are currently devouring The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Every day after lunch they clamor, “Read one more chapter!” It is my favorite refrain.

Just as C. S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. I am anticipating reading much more of his work this year, as a dear friend has invited me to the C. S. Lewis Reading Group she attends at Wheaton College every Saturday. They focus on him, and the authors who influenced him, such as J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton. So, I will be posting about those discussions, and authors, a lot more in January.

img_3609

Until then, may your days be bright. May Christmas stars shine on you and fill you with peace.

 

I Was Made for Another World

img_3541

img_3544

img_3545

I took these pictures on a walk last night, and while they are dark (it was past dusk after all), they put me in mind of Narnia.

Snow has a way of making me think of that magical place, especially when it covers the evergreens.

And Narnia makes me think of its author, whose writing always makes me pause. Especially when I consider this most magnificent quote I read for the first time yesterday:

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. ~C. S. Lewis

December Is…

img_3516I saw a post entitled “How to Survive Christmas”, and I thought it was the saddest title I’ve seen in a long time. Survive Christmas? What happened to celebrate Christmas? But, it is no wonder that if we are not careful we are reduced to a survival mode rather than a celebratory one.

The political climate has not enriched our sense of peace or hope. The inundation of advertisements do not contribute to satisfaction with what we have or what we’ll give. The pressure “to do” is perhaps greater now than it is at any other time of the year. If we are not careful, joy will escape us.

I thought of my goals for this season, goals which you may find helpful as well:

  1. Simplify. I wanted to put up one balsam fir, with white fairy lights, and the crèche my parents made for me when I was eight, and that’s all. We have a bit more than that in our home, including two little, felted snow girls with a reindeer, and a small collection of snowmen on the mantle. But simple is my favorite.
  2. Reduce my expectations. This used to be an enormous load for me to bear; my expectations for myself far exceeded what I was able to accomplish, let alone those I held for anyone else. Ridiculous. Instead of expect, I am now better able to accept, and it makes me so much happier.
  3. Focus on what matters. We might have different things upon which to focus. But, if those few things become the center, I will be less inclined to turn my attention to every other trivial thing demanding that I acquiesce. I will focus on Christ (advent, the church, the crèche), and I will focus on my family.

The End.

Except, not really.

img_3515Because I didn’t write anything about books, and that, after all, is why I’m here. This December I will be reading A True Novel by Minae Mizumura for the Japanese Literature Challenge 10 and for my own pleasure. Vishy and Nadia will be joining me I believe, and perhaps a few others. All are welcome, of course. Here is the blurb from the publishers:

A True Novel begins in New York in the 1960s, where we meet Taro, a relentlessly ambitious Japanese immigrant trying to make his fortune. Flashbacks and multilayered stories reveal his life: an impoverished upbringing as an orphan, his eventual rise to wealth and success—despite racial and class prejudice—and an obsession with a girl from an affluent family that has haunted him all his life. A True Novel then widens into an examination of Japan’s westernization and the emergence of a middle class.

The winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Literature Prize, Mizumura has written a beautiful novel, with love at its core, that reveals, above all, the power of storytelling.

Storytelling. Love. Christmas. All the things I want December to be.

 

I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

img_3448

Sixty-something Felix Funicello, cousin of the famous Annette Funicello, screens movies for the Monday night movie club which meets at the old Garde Theater in New London. He enjoys this group more than the college kids he teaches, before whom he can use film, celluloid, the real deal which come on old film reels contained in metal canisters. (How well I remember my early teaching days, when my team member and I would order movies for the upcoming week, thread them on the projector, listen to the repeating “thwap…” when the film ended and struck the empty reel before we could turn the projector off.)

Film is an appropriate medium for this narrator, a man who nostalgically visits his past whether it’s via an apparition or some hallucinatory trip. He reviews the film of his life by going back in time to 1959 when he is six, seeing Pinocchio for the first time with his two sisters, and then when he is twelve. The year is 1965, and the film shows scenes including rice paddies in Vietnam, Malcom X’s widow, Gale Sayers’ touchdown for the Bears, and clips from The Sound of Music.

These vignettes sharply mirror my own life, creating a piercing nostalgia and a recollection of times in my life which parallel those of Felix, a fictional character, until we come to the intimacies of his family, which of course are particular to him alone. (“All unhappy families are alike each in their own way,” as Tolstoy reminds us.)

I’ll Take You There  reminds us of life in the forties, fifties, and sixties; of families then, and of being a woman where your value depended on being beautiful and married, but certainly not pregnant and unwed.

In stark contrast to life in decades past is the one which women live today, inhabiting “a world dramatically changed by technology, globalization, and gender politics…” Women are far more empowered today with Facebook, Twitter, personal blogs in which to assert their feminism.

And yet, do we want anything far different than what our mothers wanted? Felix’s daughter writes in her blog, Invincible Grrrl, that we “rally around nonviolent problem solving, and we join forces against the immoral abuse of power.”

I am not a feminist; I am not a loud voice claiming what ought to be my rights as I don’t see them as anything less, or more, than anyone else’s. In fact, brazen women tend to annoy me, just as brazen men do. I prefer to stand by a person’s character rather than their sex, so for that, this book’s theme of feminine ideals didn’t intrigue me as perhaps was intended.

Instead, I was captivated by the look backward through time, eras that I well remember living through at my mother’s side. It is those memories, portrayed by Wally Lamb so vividly, that intrigued me as a reader.

img_3449