Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Reports

A bit more about what I've been reading in the last month or two. Just highlighting the good stuff. (You can find all the books I've read this year ... and more ... at Goodreads which I like quite a bit for keeping track of such things).
  • Jane Eyre: Looking for some fiction, my eyes fell on Jane Eyre and I realized just how long it had been since I read it. You tend to remember the big events of a favorite book but rereading has reminded me of just how many small things get lost in memory. This book is truly delightfully and subtly written, for all the over-the-top elements it contains. And just how could I have forgotten the old gypsy? It was even more wonderful than I remembered. This has everything ... true love, sacrifice, redemption, steadfastness ... and that crazy cousin who Jane may have understood and admired but I certainly couldn't. Talk about giving me someone to hate. Oy veh! If you haven't read Jane Eyre for a while (or ever), just go get it.

  • One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz: UFOs, aliens, an empathetic dog, a crippled girl, and a host of supporting characters overcoming past traumas to reach out to others all are combined by Dean Koontz in a book that is the most compelling statement I have ever seen made about the right to life, no matter what one's condition. As always with his novels, few things are what they seem.Two basic plots run parallel before their heroes find themselves coming together to fight off a very evil villain. "What is one door away from heaven," is a question that one character has asked another since her childhood. The answer, along with the overall theme of the book, is enough to make us all examine our lives more carefully ... and be thankful that Koontz's writing reflects his beliefs so honestly. A favorite for rereading and that's what I'm did ... reread it and it held up beautifully.

  • The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri #1) by Tarquin Hall: I learned about this series from Mystery Scene magazine. A judiciously quirky Indian detective (meaning realistic) and his operatives are highlighted, as well as his Mummy who sets out to solve a  mystery that her son does not take seriously. This was an enjoyable "cozy" sort of mystery, like a trip to India, and also somewhat frustrating as I have to look up many of the native words in the glossary in the back of the book. I understand if a word requires complex descriptions, as do some of the common terms. For example could not the author simply have used the native word for gardener and then put "gardener" in parentheses? Yes, I am just that lazy, or possibly there are just that many native words used in this book. Ultimately, this was a classic mystery in many ways and yet it still managed to fool me. Extremely well done and gave a bird's-eye view of India without needing tons of info-dumps. Highly recommended. (P.S. I am a big fan of his Mummy.)

  • The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (Vish Puri, #2) by Tarquin Hall: I enjoyed the first in this series so much that I was delighted to find the second book had just come out. A few chapters in, there is the main mystery in which a professional skeptic who exposes fraudulent, famous gurus is apparently murdered by a manifestation of Kali, in full view of a group of friends. Then there is the sub-mystery which Vish Puri's Mummy is investigating and taking Vish's wife, Rumpi, along for the ride. I love the Punjabi characters and see that the author says that one could say Punjabis are the Texans of India. No wonder I like them! All the characterizations were very enjoyable as were the insights into Indian life. However, if the author is going to continually use native terms then they should all be included in the glossary. I don't have the first book available for comparison, but I feel that the glossary was much more complete than in this second book, where sometimes there would be a sentence with no translation following and which was not in the glossary either. Now, the argument can be made that there was context, and so there was, but one could make that argument for many of the terms that were in the glossary. I felt the main mystery was unnecessarily complicated. I understand that Vish Puri explores the big mysteries but this felt rushed and with too much crammed into it ... still recommended, I just didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first book. I will still look for the third book when it comes out though.
  • Sweet and Low by Emma Lathen: John Putnam Thatcher, Wall Street senior vice president at The Sloan (one of the largest banks in the world), has been named as a trustee on the Dreyer's Chocolate charitable board. Think "Hershey's" and you'll get a good idea of Dreyer's power and money. Early in the series of meetings, a cocoa buyer is found murdered in the hotel pool. Luckily Thatcher's long experience on Wall Street means he has a deep experience of that always-present commodity, human nature. Only Emma Lathen could make Wall Street riveting as happened in every one of her mysteries (yes, I know the author's name was a pseudonym for two cowriters ... don't care). Written with understated humor, these books are a joy to read and reread, which is what I did, being a big fan of the Lathen mysteries. It is too bad that so few people seem to have heard of Emma Lathen these days.


  1. Tante Léonie9/28/10, 2:23 PM

    Re: Jane Eyre and the crazy cousin - I assume you're talking about St. John Rivers.

    OK, he isn't the most sympathetic character in the book, but he did save her life and gave her an opportunity to be independent (as the village school mistress).

    I think it's within Jane's character to appreciate the good and even great qualities that St. John has (he is not a person like Rev. Brocklehurst, for example).

    I have compassion for him; he's not a bad man -- it's just that he's all Law and no Grace. All too common, even in this day and age.

  2. You pegged it on the crazy cousin's identity. I can even live with him being all law and no grace, but he thinks he's practically perfect in every way. And he surely ain't. He won't listen to anyone else and believes he has the answer to everything. I am not sure I agree that does not make him a bad man. He does not intend harm but he does not care enough to truly intend good for others. Not their greater good. If Jane had listened to him against her better judgment, as his sisters pointed out, she'd have died soon after becoming a missionary. As well, he would force her into marriage because he himself was too rigid to give his beloved the gift of himself. So that is an actual marriage between two people that shouldn't have been because of his stiff-neckedness.

    No, I do not really have compassion for people (at least in literature) who have every chance to do the right thing, to actually try to change ... and who deliberately turn away from it. I don't think we're supposed to. We're supposed to see that the prodigal son (Rochester) has earned the grace while the eldest son has spurned it ... and thinks himself hardly used when people won't do what he wants. :-)

  3. Tante Léonie9/29/10, 2:01 AM

    "No, I do not really have compassion for people (at least in literature) who have every chance to do the right thing, to actually try to change ... and who deliberately turn away from it."

    The problem with this, Julie, is that if this is the criteria (characters have to change for the better), then half of great Western Literature is swept away.

    Are we really meant to have no compassion for Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Achilles, Othello and scores of other great tragic characters? It is their tragic flaws that make them human and allows us to relate to them.

    Great literature is supposed to hold a mirror up to society and by extension, our very selves. It teaches us how to live by both negative and positive examples. It's uplifting to the spirit to see Roskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment” be redeemed by the love of Sonya. But if all literature ended this way, there wouldn't be much power in it; it would be simply a series of morality tales.

    Can I look into my own heart and say that Emma Bovary got what was coming to her? No way.

    Even when we think our motives are pure, our hearts are deceptive. This is what makes great art.

    Regarding St. John Rivers: I don't want to defend him, but I don't want to condemn him either. It is significant that Jane (and Bronte) doesn't. After all, she gives him the last words of the novel, and that is not a small thing.

    Our modern minds and sensibilities are not the same as 19th century ones, but I remain steadfast in believing the author's intent was not to make us despise St. John.

  4. You very well may have a point, if only I was more familiar with any of the examples except Othello. And I do not find Othello's deliberate malice to be at all defendable. And, I do not believe Shakespeare did either. However, I must confess, I only know of him from a very long ago exposure and must reacquaint myself with him.

    I believe that the mirror also shows us precisely what not to do ... such as Bill (if I got that right) in Oliver Twist. We like Fagin because he is a likable scoundrel, but does that mean we should defend what he was doing? No. There is something in him that can be redeemed, but not at the moment we see him (or such is my admittedly weak memory).

    Bronte gives him the last words. I believe St. John's place in the novel was to make us see the strength in Jane's repeated acts of forgiveness ... which is, as we see, what allowed her to love Mr. Rochester and he to love her, after all. Though in Mr. Rochester's place the person he had to forgive was himself.

    Bronte may have forgiven him. I cannot. Perhaps because I see so much of myself in him were I to let my baser self reign. And I speak whereof I know. Thank God for the Catholic Church is all I've got to say on that point. But I really, really, really understand St. John. Believe me. Not because I am him, but because I could be him at the drop of a hat. :-)

  5. Tante Léonie9/29/10, 10:57 AM

    Bingo! We are in partial agreement: we are not meant to defend Othello (I don't know about Fagin, because I dislike Dickins), Emma Bovary, etc. We see ourselves in them and we know we could become them -- that's where the power of the art lies.

    I don't share your notion of the purpose of the character of St. John in the novel. I don't think he's there for the reasons you state. He is much more complex. Jane genuinely admires him, as does Mary and Diana. He is not a loathsome or a bad person. He made a heroic sacrifice in not marrying Rosamund and he fulfilled his destiny, as he understood it.

    Anyway, this has been a stimulating discussion. I hadn't thought too much about St. John, but now you have me doing some deeper consideration of him and his place in the novel.

    For me, I'm with Thackeray who thought St. John "a failure" but "a good failure[;] there are parts excellent.”

    (did you know that the character was based on Henry Martyn, whom Bronte's father knew at Cambridge?

    Thanks for the opportunity to have this lively discussion!

  6. Tante Léonie9/29/10, 10:58 AM

    Oy! That would be DICKENS. I dislike him so much I can't even spell his name correctly!

  7. But I lurve Dickens! :-)

    You are very probably right that I am meant to admire St. John. I don't count Mary's and Diana's regard as he is their brother and they are limp in many ways. Jane's regard is more difficult to ignore, which is why I say that I am probably wrong. However, I also reserve the right to disagree with Jane and the author. (I'm just that stubborn.)

    Also, we can't ignore the possibility that just as Steven Spielberg (sp?) was very surprised at what a reviewer saw in one of his movies ... and later thanked for giving him that insight ... Bronte may not have shown what she thought she showed.

    But, all that said ... I'm probably wrong. I still, emotionally, dislike him entirely and know that the reason he got Jane that job was practice for missionary work. :-D

    And I agree ... thank you for this discussion. Great fun and very thought stimulating.

  8. Tante Léonie9/29/10, 12:51 PM

    Take heart!

    One day someone may make a zombie Jane Eyre and you will have the delectable pleasure of seeing St. John's brains being eaten!

  9. That day is now. Jane Slayre's been out a month or two.

    Re: Vish Puri, the audiobooks are wonderful. I'm not sure if they defined all the Indian terms in the audiobook or not. (Probably. There's a lot of silent emendations in the audiobook world.) #1 starts a bit slow, but #2 goes at a pretty good clip all the way.