How can it possibly be the last week of August? This is one fast year!
Throughout all of the decluttering, donating, and painting involved in getting our house ready for sale, I’ve been reading as usual, but not blogging as much. I’m woefully behind on reviews and instead of letting good books go unremarked upon, I thought I write a ‘recently read’ post. Here goes. Links go to Goodreads.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
I process withdrawls at the library where I work and when a copy of Rosemary’s Baby landed on my cart I couldn’t resist reading it. (Don’t worry, we still carry it.) Its a book that’s long been floating around in the back of my mind as one I’d like to read. I saw the movie as a kid and thought it was pretty freakin’ weird–a bunch of old people in a coven who conjure the devil to impregnate a young woman. It had been a long time since I saw the movie and I had no idea about the book’s reputation, so I was thrilled when I ended up LOVING THIS BOOK. It was published in 1967, but written and set in 1966. I was born in 1966 and have a friend who was born on–no lie–6/6/66. His mother called him her little diablo baby. So you know a lot of writers who were interested in horror stories saw the possibilities of all those 6s. There is so much that is good about this book. It’s a solid horror story that can also be easily read as a feminist critique of society, commentary on relationships, and more. After finishing the book I watched the movie and it also holds up very well (its currently streaming on Netflix).
Son of Rosemary by Ira Levin
This 1997 sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, set in 1999, is awful. I got to page 44 before I start skimming pages, and then skimming big chunks of pages. Rosemary has been in a comma for 27 years and suddenly wakes up when the last member of the coven dies. During her comma her son has become a worldwide charismatic leader who preaches hope. Everyone loves him. Most people wear ‘I heart Andy’ buttons. Rosemary loves her grown up baby but is suspicious. Lots of stuff goes down with devil daddy and then–I shit you not and here comes a big spoiler bomb so look away if you have plans on reading this novel–at the end of the novel Rosemary wakes up in bed with her husband from the first book saying what an awful dream she just had. Wow…just…wow. It’s like the Left Behind Series meets Dallas.
Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution by Mark Puls
I first heard of Knox while reading Chernow’s biography of Washington.
Knox was a bookseller who
became one of the most important generals in the Revolutionary War. He was in charge of artillery and behind the founding of West Point. I didn’t finish this book mainly because I was tired of reading about the war (it was my third revolutionary war book this year) and mainly had wanted to learn about Knox’s time as a bookseller. Including his store, there were eight bookstores in pre-revolutionary Boston. Unfortunately, his shop was ransacked during the war.
–Knox was a apprenticed to a bookseller before opening his own store. He excelled as a bookseller for a variety of reasons, one being that he innovated using blurbs from a literary magazine (Critical Review) to advertise books.
–Knox was was forbidden from leaving Boston because the British wanted to keep an eye on him. Paul Revere was not yet under suspicion and when he visited Knox’s bookshop and loyalists or British soldiers were pretend to argue, hurling insults at each other. Eventually British spies revealed themselves to Revere to get more information on Knox, thus giving themselves away to the rebels.
–Knox had extensive knowledge of military books and supplied congress and the army with books or at least lists of books from Harvard and Europe on how to conduct war. Other than watching British soldiers drill and talking with other military men, reading books is how he learned to wage war (from drill to strategy to casting cannons), becoming one of the foremost military strategists that the rebels had.
–Knox used cutting edge artillery techniques. Rather than have the artillery come in behind the fighting troops as was common at the time, Knox proved to Washington using the big guns prior to battlefield engagement with the enemy was the way to go in order to soften them up.
–Knox very early on petitioned congress to establish a military academy to teach the art of war and to maintain a standing army. He was woefully familiar with the performance of the militias and wrote: “The militia get sick, or think themselves so, and run home; and wherever they go they spread panic.”
The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyle
This is a book that’s been on my list for a few years and I’m glad to have read it. Half-way through I became annoyed by what I thought was the extreme and unrealistic naivete of the camp commandant’s son, but then I considered the spirit of the story and let myself fall into it. I highly recommend the book and believe it would be a graceful introduction to the Holocaust for younger readers.
This House is Haunted by John Boyle
This novel was a disappointment. It’s not out in the States until October 8th, just in time for Halloween,
but if you’re an avid horror/ghost story reader this one may not please. However, if you don’t read very much horror or ghost stories this one might be a decent Halloween read. It’s a retelling of James’s The Turn of the Screw which has been over-done. Even the writing wasn’t particularly good, particularly in consistency of voice and context. There’s a scene when the protagonist, a young usual quiet woman, asks what jury would possibly convict her for smashing the head of an unresponsive clerk with a paper weight. Considering the story is set in 1867, I replied, “all of them!”
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
Last year’s entry in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, The Beautiful Mystery, end with a painful cliffhanger regarding Gamache’s relationship with his right-hand man and Beauvoir’s addiction. How the Light Gets In is another satisfying read, filled with Penny’s beautiful writing about pain, grace, and forgiveness that has earned her a world wide following of loyal readers. If you live in the Chicago area Penny will be at Anderson’s Books in Naperville on 8/28.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
I listened to the audio version. The first part about personal habits–how they form, how to form them, how the habit loop works–was very interesting. The second part about advertisement and business was so-so. By the end, however, I was becoming growing tired with what seemed like superficial speculation regarding personal responsibility and neurological conditions, habits, and addictions. Perhaps this is one I should have read rather than listened to.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
I read this novel for Savidge Reads’s Greene For Gran, a tribute to his grandmother who recently passed away. Initially I planned on reading The Quiet American but the first paragraph didn’t grab me and Simon struggled through it, so I returned it to the library unread and looked for another Greene instead. Standing in front of his novels on the library shelf, I sighed as one of my old book snobberies reared its ugly head, the one about not wanting to read a book that everyone else loves/praises/buys. In the end my curiosity won over my ego and I checked out The End of the Affair. Once more I’m reminded that there’s usually good reason why so many people love a book…because its a great read. Duh, right? This novel is gorgeously written and the characters are incredibly vivid. Maurice Bendrix, the narrator, is a complete ass but I couldn’t help liking him, feeling his pains and joys and relating to him and other characters even when I didn’t want to. The novel is about an affair Maurice had with a woman and the fall out for him, her, her husband, and a few other characters. It’s also a passionate rant about love, hate, and god. Even minor characters like the arrogant, detached priest, Father Crompton are vivid, “His nose ran down his face like a buttress.” Great, great novel.
Phew, okay, now I feel caught up. Have you read any of the above books? I’d love to hear your take on them if you have.
Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!