Monday, July 23, 2018

What I'm Reading: Grave Peril, Brideshead Revisited, Why Evil Exists, This is Murder, Best Cook in the World

The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.
Our next book club selection — and one I've tried to read several times in the past. Because it is "assigned" I've been forced to get past the first two chapters that always turned me off before. Now, about halfway through the book, I'm enjoying it more as I go along. Partly that is because I have been listening to the Close Reads podcast episodes* on it, which helped open up themes. Partly it is because I recently realized how very much I do not care about Sebastian (who was the main focus for a lot of the beginning.) I won't go so far as yet, since I'm not finished, to say I dislike Sebastian, but it is the way I'm leaning. Anyway, I'm just so happy not to dread picking this book up every day — that in itself is a win.

*(Close Reads is also on iTunes. Their Brideshead Revisited episodes aired during the summer of 2017.)

Wizard and private detective Harry Dresden has squared off against a multitude of supernatural bad guys. You might think nothing could spook him. You would be wrong.

Something is stirring up angry apparitions all over town. Something that can break all the laws of supernatural physics. Something that doesnt like Harry. His closest friends are being targeted. The net is closing in. Harry must find a solution soon or find this is one Nightmare from which he will never waken.
I read this series avidly when the books came out, until Changes (#12) which I didn't care for at all. I'd had enough of Harry and felt I knew the books well enough from rereading, so I gave mine to my daughter in one of my regular bookshelf purges.

Recently I read Melanie Bettinelli's interesting posts on Harry's character development after the point where I quit reading. My interest was piqued, but it took an in-person conversation with a couple of people about how those last books were insightful about faith and religion to make me want to revisit the series.

I thought I could just look over the Wikipedia book summaries but ... my goodness the series got complicated early on! Luckily the library has James Marsters' excellent audio of the book so I've begun my slow way into the series from close to the beginning. And, I can't deny, it is a nice light counterbalance to working my way through Brideshead Revisited.

Award-winning Professor Charles Mathewes of the University of Virginia offers a  dynamic inquiry into Western civilization's greatest thinking and insight on this critical subject, the question of evil.
I loved Charles Mathewes course on Augustine's City of God so much that I picked up his only other course on Audible. I'm not necessarily attracted to the topic, but the reviews were so uniformly good and, as I said, I like the teacher so much that I opted on for the 36 classes ... so it's gonna take a while. In the first four lessons, Mathewes has been riveting and really good at delineating how various ancient cultures viewed evil, as well as relating these points of view to their modern equivalents. I'm really enjoying it.

And now I realize I never told you about that first course, here's a brief review:
Books that Matter: The City of God

This class did what I never thought possible - make me want to read The City of God.

Professor Mathewes is insightful, giving this ancient work an understandable context and connecting it to modern life. He's got an accessible lecturing style and an elegant turn of phrase that helps open up the material. What is more he makes a compelling case for why The City of God is relevant for understanding not only the ancient, but our modern world. Highest recommendation.

Because, you know, when you've been reading Brideshead Revisited and listening to courses about Evil, you want something less taxing for bedtime reading.

Advertising man Sam Moraine wants to tag along when his poker game is broken up by a call for his buddy D.A. Phil Duncan to look into a kidnapping case. Duncan agrees and Sam soon finds himself taking cash to trade for the victim. But all is not what it seems (no surprises there) and Sam soon is conducting his own amateur investigation. And that puts him at odds with both the law and the bad guys. This is a stand-alone and I am really enjoying it. It's just perfect for reading right before lights out.

A delectable, rollicking food memoir, cookbook, and loving tribute to a region, a vanishing history, a family, and, especially, to his mother.

Margaret Bragg measures in "dabs" and "smidgens" and "tads" and "you know, hon, just some." Her notion of farm-to-table is a flatbed truck. But she can tell you the secrets to perfect mashed potatoes, corn pudding, redeye gravy, pinto beans and hambone, stewed cabbage, short ribs, chicken and dressing, biscuits and butter rolls. The irresistible stories in this audiobook are of long memory -- many of them pre-date the Civil War, handed down skillet by skillet, from one generation of Braggs to the next.
I'm really loving this which is much more memoir than recipe book. There is plenty of personality, old customs, and living through hard times in Rick Bragg's family tree. I am not one who likes stories of dysfunctional families and I appreciate that the dysfunctions are smoothed out or merely hinted at because the emphasis is on how the recipe came into the family or how someone learned to cook. By wrapping the stories around the kitchen we can take the good with the bad, especially when it comes with a helping of Axhead Soup or Chicken and Dressing.


  1. I read Brideshead a few years ago after multiple people who I trusted recommended it to me. Let's just say those first few chapters made me wonder if I really knew those people at all. What is this, I wondered. But yes, it picks up wonderfully and by the end, you'll be sad it's over.

    1. It's an odd book. I go back and forth now over whether I like it or not. Possibly because the people are generally so unlikable. But I can't deny that Waugh is a really wonderful writer. The way he can say something in one or two sentences that have several layers is really great.

  2. I watched the first adaptation of Brideshead (Granada Television, aired by PBS in the US in 1982) with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. Fell in love w/Jeremy Irons forever, and found Anthony Andrews much more amusing in other things. Read the book afterward, which was much more tolerable as a result, as the production was absolutely beautiful and stayed in my mind. It was a successful strategy for me!

  3. James Downing7/27/18, 8:30 AM

    I can definitely understand having some problems with Changes. It is a pretty drastic shift in tone and content. And it was actually meant to be. There's a reason why that book is the only one in the series with a one word title (all the rest have two words). It's the halfway point, a major turning point for both the characters and the events.
    However, you did choose a terrible point to end the series. The very next book, Ghost Story, is not only very strong spiritually, but it wraps up a number of character threads that Changes left hanging (due to its abrupt ending).
    I'm glad you're reading it, though. And I do hope you make it through the series.
    And do try to pick up the short story "The Warrior" after you read book 10 (Small Favor). You will not regret it. :)

    1. My problem with Changes is that it had so many things crammed together with so little of anything else. It was our conversation at Shakespeare in the Park which was the push to make me revisit it. Thank you! :-)

      Here's how I felt about Changes, which I retrieved from my HC review. It didn't feel like a turning point but a small jar crammed with too many things. I will reread it so I can get to Ghost Story but am not looking forward to it. As you can imagine.

      Changes Review

      I just finished reading the latest Harry Dresden novel, Changes. That's several hours I won't get back again.

      What the Sam Hill was that supposed to be?

      It was like a book version of a bad sequel to an action movie.

      SPOILERS ... for those who haven't gotten this far in the series but not for this book.

      So much action and yet I didn't care about it. I got the idea that author Jim Butcher didn't care either and was forcing the action to have to avoid actually thinking about character development or plot.

      I have occasionally wondered if I was getting tired of the series and then something would happen that would reignite my interest such as Molly becoming Harry's apprentice or the rise of the Gray Council. This was just one damned thing after another (literally) with Harry calling in one favor after another.

      And yet I didn't care.

      As for the ending ... what the Sam Hill was that supposed to be?

      This book wasn't as disappointing as Connie Willis' Blackout (it would have to be monumentally horrible to match that), but it was a big mess nonetheless.