Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Under the Volcano - Malcolm Lowry

Under the Volcano
Title: Under the Volcano
Author: Malcolm Lowry
Publication Date: 1947
Pages: 432
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 8/24/16

Summary: Alcoholic Geoffrey Firmin serves as British counsel in a small Mexican town. His marriage is crumbling and things are looking generally awful for him.

What I Thought: I'll be the first to admit...as I sit down to write this review, I can barely remember what the book was even about. That's not a great sign, since I only finished it a week ago. I'm in a slump with the 100 Best Novels list. I'm aching for another Angle of Repose or Main Street. At least this one broke out of the crushing pattern of early twentieth century English literature. 

The book's setup is interesting. It consists of twelve chapters, each representing one hour on the Mexican Day of the Dead. The consciousness shifts between characters for each chapter, which I always find a little confusing. In this case, it made me feel as though I was jumping in and out of different stories. I could never quite tell who was talking; this was particularly exacerbated by listening to audio book format. I accept responsibility for that choice. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hamilton - Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter

Hamilton
Title: Hamilton: The Revolution
Author: Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter
Publication Date: 4/12/16
Pages: 288
Genre: Play / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm in love with the show.
Date Completed: 8/23/16

Summary: The "Hamil-tome" includes thoughts on the making of the hit musical, behind the scenes info and stories, beautiful photos, and the complete libretto with Miranda's notes.

What I Thought: I'm obsessed.

I never thought I would say that in regards to a hip hop musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton. I mean....seriously? History and musicals...I'm great with both of those. Wouldn't have necessarily put them together like this, but you could have convinced me there. But the hip hop? That's not my style. I was skeptical. Just like you are now if you haven't already listened to the Hamilton cast recording. If you haven't, may I politely suggest you stop reading this, block out a few hours, and listen to the album in its entirety. It's on Spotify. In fact, let me make it easy for you. Here it is. The whole album. Stop before reading on and at least listen to the first song...

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
Author: Marie Kondo
Publication Date: 1/15/11
Pages: 213
Genre: Self-Help / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Everyone is talking about this book
Date Completed: 8/15/16

Summary: A plan to organize, purge, and tidy up your home.

What I Thought: This book has gotten so. much. buzz. It's insane. It was everywhere I looked there for a while. Nothing says first world like everyone buying a book to teach them how to get rid of stuff. 

Kevin and I are currently (slowly) working our way through a little purge of our own, just in an effort to get rid of things we don't need or want. Not inspired by this book, I swear; Marie Kondo would have some serious judgement about our methods. It was complete coincidence that I got my hands on a copy of this book in the midst of our fall purge. 

As Kondo notes, we have all heard and even adhered to dozens of organizing tips over the years. This idea is nothing new. We have too much stuff and getting rid of it can be so freeing, if not just downright necessary. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne

The Irresistible Revolution
Title: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
Author: Shane Claiborne
Publication Date: January 2006
Pages: 367
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've been aware of Claiborne's work since college, but never read any of it.
Date Completed: 8/9/16

Summary: Claiborne reflects on his life as an ordinary radical. He is pursue and proclaiming a lifestyle driven by the most basic messages of Christ. It is counter-cultural in extreme ways.

What I Thought: Back when I attended a conservative Christian college for my undergrad, Shane Claiborne was invited to speak in one of our chapel services. I'm not exactly sure what all went down, but my guess is the conservative board of trustees caught wind of his planned attendance and felt him too liberal to be speaking to students. Claiborne was dis-invited. A local church then invited him to speak there instead. Many students ended up going and hearing him speak. At the time, I had only a loose understanding of what was going on. I did not go hear him speak and I didn't think much about the whole thing.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Ugh. Am I that old? I'm finally picking up Claiborne's book and reading those messages that were deemed to controversial for my little baby student ears. I have a much different understand and perspective on the world these days. It makes me wish I had gone to hear him speak back when I had the opportunity. It makes me wonder if listening to him speak about living as an ordinary radical would have pushed some of my worldview growth along a little faster.

Ahem. Rather than spending a post pondering the maturation of my faith and worldview, let's actually talk about the book, shall we?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies
Title: Fates and Furies
Author: Lauren Groff
Publication Date: 9/15/15
Pages: 390
How I Found It: I've been wanting to read a Groff novel for a while now.
Date Completed: 8/2/16

Summary: Fates and Furies tells the story of Mathilde and Lotto. First, with Lotto as hero and playwright extraordinaire. Then, focused on Mathilde, her dark history and the differences between who the world sees and who she really is.

What I Thought: I have to start this post by admiring Groff's writing skill. It's where the conversation about this book must start. Just read those quotes below. I loved them for reasons other than their literary beauty, but they serve as lovely examples all the same. Groff's writing is so polished. It's how I want to write, how things sound in my head and never quite make it to paper. On nearly every page, I marveled at her skill and command over words. Certainly, the end product we see comes after much blood, sweat, and tears. Every once in a great while, I write one sentence of which I am incredibly proud and which utterly exhausts me. To write a book full of such writing.... I am in awe.

I say all this fully knowing that Groff's style isn't going to be for everyone. Yet, she writes in a voice so close to the one I would love to cultivate.

I cannot believe I haven't read a Groff book before. She's been on my radar for years, but I had never actually picked one up until this summer. Fates and Furies has gotten a lot of online buzz in the year since its release. It seemed about time to pick it up and find out for myself.

Friday, September 16, 2016

1984 - George Orwell

1984
Title: 1984
Author: George Orwell
Publication Date: 1949
Pages: 268
Genre: Classic / Dystopian / Political / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 8/1/16

Summary: The year is 1984 and civilization has descended into a dystopian state. Big Brother is watching everything.

What I Thought: I had read this before. Back in high school, I believe. I liked it then and I really liked it now. Particularly after enduring so much bland British literature on this 100 book march, this was a nice diversion.

Plus, I like dystopian literature and this is basically the original. I mean, it's not really if you look strictly at literary history, but it definitely had a big role in kicking off the influx of dystopian literature we see in the modern market.

Reading it this time around, I had much more of an understanding and appreciation for the genre. I was able to follow Orwell's technique and recognize his skill more so than I could have as a young student. Another enhancement in the experience also comes with age: I now understand how truly terrifying Big Brother is. Certainly as a teenager, I grasped the basic concept of eradication of privacy and government control. As an adult, however, I know a lot more about the realities of the world and how tangible this fiction could be with just a few small steps - at least in some countries.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop
Title: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author: Willa Cather
Publication Date: 1927
Pages: 297
Genre: Classic /Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 7/29/16

Summary: Commissioned to serve the distant new Western territories of the United States, Father Latour faces a myriad of challenges as Catholic leader of New Mexico and beyond.

What I Thought: This is one of the 100 Best Novels I knew virtually nothing about before beginning it. I went it nearly blind, with only a modicum of excitement due to the rare presence of a female author on the list. I came out delighted.

I loved this book. The writing is beautiful, restrained, and thoughtful. The story of Father Latour is so simple and I think that's part of what makes it so lovely. He has been given this rather undesirable territory in which to foster Catholicism. He does his work with dignity and dedication, never complaining or wishing to be given a more plum assignment. 

Each section of the book has a few chapters and tells an almost stand alone story. The book all ties together well, but these individual vignettes would also work well on their own. Each is unique and offers a different insight into life out in the western territory.