Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Great Divorce

I am not one to exaggerate on books very often.  The list of earth shattering, life changing books for me is very short (i.e. one).  Similarly, I am not one of those to be challenged by books so often that they shape my world view or resonate with me beyond the closing of the book (my apologies to all authors who thought that is what they were doing).  But the list of challenging books for me just got lengthened by one.

The Great DivorceThe Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis engaged me in a way that "fantasy" fiction never has (most of the time I don't give it a shot).  This may be because the book is really just a thinly veiled allegory for the things we hold onto so we don't have to step out in faith.  For the uninitiated (as I was), the story is that of a man who takes a bus ride to heaven.  The unfolding scenes are the backdrop for discussions that cut to the heart of faith, unbelief, rebellion, and selfishness.

I realize that all our readers would not generally be interested in anything by C.S. Lewis (other than the Narnia series) based on his religious beliefs, but I truly think this story deserves a hearing.  By way of encouragement, I offer these tips for reading this book:

1. Read it out loud, as you would to a child.  Throw the voices in, as well, you will have fun trying on a Scotch accent for size, at the very least.
2. Read only one chapter a day.  This should take no longer than 10 minutes for the longest of the chapters.

I don't know if it was just these strange choices for reading this novel that led me to such a rich enjoyment of the book, but I know it really added to the experience.  I even found myself weeping at the end of the book (haven't done that in a while), a strange and beautiful crescendo of an ending whose denoument is all to brief.

Have any of you read this book and if so are you as enraptured with it as I am?

Rating: 6.9 out of 7


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blind Assassin

Ok, so I will freely admit it...I have been in a reading rut.  Well not so much a reading rut, but a writing rut.  Blind Assassin marks the 5th (maybe 6th) book I have read in the last few months for which I have not written a review.  I know some of our readers must be sad.  Wait, do we still have readers?  Oh well....

I do have a credible (in my estimation) excuse.  That being the baby we are expecting in the early part of summer sucks all my brain cells normally dedicated to writing and uses them for more useful things, like fashioning itself out of small bits of DNA.  So baby excuse aside, I will attempt to write more reviews over the next couple of weeks of books I need to let the world know I have read, if for no other reason than to try to jog my memory of their various subject matters. 

The Blind Assassin: A NovelThe Blind Assasin by Margaret Atwood....what do I think of this book?  Interesting.  It is the second of her books I have read.  The first, A Handmaid's Tale was so incredibly odd and engrossing and obfuscated that I STILL don't know what I think about that one.  This must be the modus operandi for Ms. Atwood's writings.  She, like no other modern author I am aware of (keep in mind that limits the scope quite a bit), approaches storytelling in shocking and very dissimilar ways.  I get the feeling by reading just two of her books that upon opening one of her novels, the reader will never quite be sure of what to expect. 
Case in point, the story of The Blind Assasin is equal parts: novel within a novel, flashback sequences to tell a story, fictional newspaper clippings, and modern day musings.  Atwood weaves the tale (let's call it a mystery) in so many different ways, it can be offputting to the reader.  Often I found myself trying to remember what I should have already known about the characters, while attempting to guess at what was coming next.   The story that spans the period between the World Wars appeals to the senses of the reader and includes many images that blur the lines between the author's created fiction and her created reality.  In a way, Atwood gives almost everything to the reader but then removes just one or two things, thus blinding (get it?) the reader to the real truth.  When you get to the end, you feel almost let down, like you didn't really get the mystery solved, but you are left with more questions.  Again, I think this must be a hallmark of Atwood's work. 

Bottom line: I don't think I get it as much as I should, although it wasn't bad.  This would be an excellent book club selection, as it would generate much discussion. 

Rating: 5 out ot 7