20 April 2012

What I Read....Since my last What I Read This Week

Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas by Tom Callahan - It's exactly what it sounds like. The book follows John Unitas from his childhood in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania to his ascendency as MVP as the quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, to his retirement. I would say the book is more of an oral history since it's mainly comprised of interviews with Unitas, his family, and his teammates and opponents. If you are weird and not into football, skip it. But if you are interested in the man whose record of consecutive touchdown passes has STILL not been surpassed and who led the first overtime sudden death win in NFL history in The Greatest Game Ever Played, this is a fascinating read.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I linked the title to my review.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - I loved this book! It reads almost like Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts but a little less poetry and it's fiction. It takes the form of a diary or a long letter from a dying minister to his seven year old son. It's mainly comprised of his own family background, some wise advice, and the minister's own struggles with death and aging. The voice is convincing because it reads like a regular human's thought processes, which means it can get a little rambly. There are two major stories in the book, but neither are explored very much. The first is that the minister's grandfather fought with John Brown at Bloody Kansas and his son (the minister's father) became a pacifist. There was conflict between these two men, which was never resolved. Then another father-son relationship (the minister's best friend and his son, Jack) was pulled apart due to Jack's rebellion and turning from the faith. The stories are hinted at in the dying minister's letter, but neglected in light of the ultimate father-son relationship (between humans and God). This is why I was so shocked to learn this book won the Pulitzer in 2005. It is OVERTLY Christian. And it's not even the lovey-dovey best selling your-best-life-now type of Christian. The minister recounts his reading of John Calvin's Institutes and interacts with Ludwig Feuerbach. Theology is discussed and real temptations are overcome. It's fabulous and real and honest and beautiful. Read it!

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt - Ok, it was ok. I read it because I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and I felt like he was trying to recapture the magic of that book and it wasn't working. This one is about Venice. The author arrives in Venice to write about "the real Venice" (as opposed to the one tourists see when they come to party at Carnival), and ends up coming just as The Fenice (an historical opera house) accidentally catches fire and is completely destroyed. The author follows around key players in the building and restoring process of The Fenice, and also watches as one of Venice's finest lawyers Felice Casson. The events in the story are true, so that makes it kind of interesting. I don't think the characters are as colorful as the ones in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but you can't beat the south for colorful characters, so it's really unfair to compare. There is one man who grew up in a castle with his two sisters, who is interested in populating Mars and makes the author fill out a request form signed by a print from his big toe, in order to interview him. Outside of him, I thought the story sort of dragged. If you are interested in Venice or in the semi-eccentric and outrageously wealthy, then this might be something to interest you.

Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop by Adam Bradley - This book is basically a defense of rap as an art form. I was already significantly sympathetic to his argument so I can't speak to whether or not Mr. Bradley was convincing. He is an English professor from Harvard, so I hope he has a little expertise. One of the things he brought out at the very beginning was the fact that when the public thinks of poetry they ultimately think of rhymes and couplets and meter. Since most of modern poetry is exploring free verse and internal rhyme, poetry has, in a sense divorced itself from the public consciousness. The only strict rhyme and meter surviving is rap, and Mr. Bradley thinks this explains rap's appeal. I personally don't think it explains all of it because even what I would consider poor poetry in the rap field is often inexplicably popular, but I think he definitely has something going on in his argument. Mr. Bradley is a little too gung-ho postmodernism for me, but other than that I think he does a fairly decent job. I did learn a few things including the fact that rapper NAS has a song called "Fetus" written from the perspective of a person inside the womb. Now, that, interests this pro-lifer very very much. I looked up the lyrics, and I wouldn't advise doing it if you are sensitive to strong language, but it's a very moving pro-life song.

Death of a Hussy and Death of a Snob by M.C. Beaton - More of the Hamish MacBeth series. So silly.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - I expected the first book to be a fluke, and I didn't expect to like this one. I did. I haven't put together "why" yet, and I think reading them with my brother does enhance the experience, but I don't think I can reduce the appeal to just that. I'll let you know what I feel like at the end of the trilogy. One of my friends pointed out that most people say they loved The Hunger Games till they read The Ender Saga, so I'm interested to read that after I finish the trilogy. Again, I will let you know.

Oink: My Life with Mini-Pigs by Matt Whyman - In case you are wondering who that is and WHY you should care that he lived with mini pigs, he's a children's author and writer of advice columns for teenagers. I bet you didn't know they HAD advice columns for teenagers. If I wrote them, I doubt they would be that much fun for teens. They would probably go something like this: "Quit whining." "Obey your parents. You know they are feeding and housing you for free right?" and the like.
Anyway, I read this book because I want a miniature pig. I do. They are so cute and small and adorable. Well, I did until I read this book. After I read about them I realized that they are probably a lot more work than I had anticipated. They are still adorable, and I still kind of want them, but not enough to go through all the work.
Mr. Whyman is hilarious! His style of writing is what I would call a self-deprecating humor, almost to the point where you feel sorry for him, but you are still laughing. There is language in the book and for someone who writes advice for teens, his teenagers are particularly bratty. Also, right at the beginning the reader is told that the Whyman family (despite the mother's desire to have a large family) has decided that they are done after the fourth because clearly a fifth child would be insane. Of course this made me think, why? Why do we just accept that that is insane? But other than those issues, it was really funny and talked me out of my dream of owning a mini-pig. I guess I'll have to go back to my dream of owning a snake then.

The Black Tower by P.D. James - Adam Dalgliesh, after a brush with death has decided to give up his work as a policeman. He goes to visit an old family friend in a home for the infirm, and arrives to find that his friend has died. His death was officially by natural cause, but Dalgliesh doesn't agree. After a few more deaths at the home, Dalgliesh resumes his role to capture the killer.

Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok - Review May Contain Spoilers: We read this for book club, and it was one of my favorite reads of this month and within the top three of all of our book club books. It's a coming of age novel about a young girl named Ilana Davita. Her parents are Michael Chandal (a non believing Christian) and Channah Chandal (a non believing Jew). In the midst of WWII, she watches her parents as they embrace the cause of communism and give their lives (one of them literally) to an idealism that leaves them shattered and empty. Other characters lives weave into Ilana's, most prominently a few orthodox Jewish families whose rituals and songs fascinate Ilana, and a writer of political stories, Jacob Daw, whose obscure fairytale-like stories stick with Ilana through the book.
This is the only story that Chaim Potok writes from a girl's perspective, and while I'm not excusing some of the inappropriate content (specifically two scenes, they aren't long and I don't think they ruin the book, but I just wish they weren't there), I think this might explain them. I didn't feel like the inappropriate stuff was in there to be purposefully titillating. I didn't like it, but I have enough for Potok as a writer to believe he had a purpose in including them. I don't plan on dwelling on that purpose because I don't want to talk about them.
Mainly this is a book about a young girl finding her place and who she is, in a chaotic and ever-changing world of ideologies calling for her attention. We leave her knowing that she will always be discontented, but she should always be respectful. Discontentment, if treated correctly, is a good quality. The wrong way to take that is to be angry with God for where He has placed you in life, or with what He has given you. The right way is to realize that this life will never be perfected. Communism and Fascism and Capitalism and Feminism and Obeying religious laws will never bring peace and renew the world. Only a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, Potok wouldn't draw that same conclusion being an orthodox Jew. I'm just drawing that because that is what I believe, and that is why I could appreciate Ilana's final words to herself.

Phew! That was a long one. I should be a lot better about writing these just so I don't have to talk about 10+ books like I did today. Let me know what you've been reading! Unless you are Carrie...then I probably already know. ;-)


Optimistic Existentialist said...

I recently borrowed The Hunger Games from a friend and I will start it shortly. I must see what all the hype is about :-)

BerlinerinPoet said...

Maybe you should review it for us when you are done. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm already in the midst of the Ender Saga. I'll probably read Hunger Games at some point because my siblings have read them, but I expect that they won't live up to Mr. Orson Scott Card.

Gilead is on my stack, good to know you liked it!

Hamish McBeth? Have I heard you talk about these?

Davita's Harp is also on my list. I have loved everything I've read by Chaim Potok so far.

I'd tell you what I'm reading, but you stalk my goodreads anyway. ;) Today it's a mysterious benedict society book.

Carrie said...

Yeah, ok, I'm a little behind with my reader. I keep saving this post to read during a "quiet moment." (All of the little people are in bed. It's quiet.)

Laughing HARD about what an advice column to teens would look like if you wrote it. We should write "fake" advice columns in all seriousness. A new blog. I don't know what we'd call it but I suspect it wouldn't be very popular with the audience it would be designed for.

BerlinerinPoet said...

@Shosta: I've still got that Orson Scott Card in my immediate stack...it's turn is very soon.
Gilead is perfect. Just perfect. Perfect.
Davita's Harp is good in my humble O, but my mother thought it was boring and pointless. Soooo...I guess it's a hit or miss.
I've mentioned Hamish MacBeth (soooo silly and kind of formulaic) before.

@Carrie: HAAHAHAHA! Yes, it will be called "Don't Bother Reading Unless You Plan on Taking Our Advice."