Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Victorian Jersey Shore

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Who knew that Lady Austen was so very naughty?  This book read just like a Victorian Jersey Shore.  The story centers around Lady Susan. At first glance, she appears to be a harmless coquette, a flirty young widow misunderstood by jealous wives of friends.  Soon, though, her true character emerges.  Think of a truly evil femme fatale and you have the character of Lady Susan.  She is trying to marry off her innocent daughter of 14 or so to some count of duke.....unless of course she can snag the man for herself.  The whole time she is also trying to pull the wool over the eyes of her family and acquaintances so she can continue to enjoy their financial support.

It isn't like a regular novel.  The story is told through a series of letter, from and to various characters in the book.  Austen occasionally does with her stories and I love to see the inside intrigues from various points of view.

This was probably my favorite Austen of them all.  I loved the absolute naughtiness of it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Musical Tragedy

The Band That Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down With the Titanic by Steve Turner
Just when you think you've read all the books on the Titanic, here come one with new information and a completely different slant.  It is told from the viewpoint of a musical historian and focuses on one of the best loved myths surrounding the Titanic.

It is a story of eight regular guys turned heroes.  A story of working band members who took up their instruments in a moment of tragedy and panic to bolster the spirits of their fellow shipmates.  And, they kept playing and playing.  Even as the ship sank, even as the lights extinguished, even as the frozen waters claimed them.  Their eternal contribution to the world is not just the haunting refrain of "Neared My God To Thee" but a reminder that music has a responsibility to those who hear it and those who play it. 

While there may be debate over the title of that last song and some particular details, this book settles the rumors once and for all.  The myth is true. 

The author painstakingly researched every bit of detail possible, providing pictures and first-hand accounts of those not normally connected to the Titanic in such a way.  I really liked the perspective of hearing from a musical historian.  It forced me to look at the story in a different way, a way not familiar to me, being 'unmusical'. 

The author found tidbits of information and connected it to the story that made the tragedy so much more personal, more human, more like something that wasn't found in some dusty history book or museum but a story of people I might have known or been connected to.

It is a look, simply, at the short lives of a group of men in a band who were nothing really remarkable but have become quite unforgettable. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Animal's Look at Humanity

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
(Adult Fables)

This book is a hilarious look at the inhumanity of humans as portrayed by various beasts and these creatures really make us, the people, look like the biggest animals of all.

It is a series of short stories, or fables, told from the various view points of squirrels, chipmunks, mice, owls and other assorted wild and domesticated animals.  The stories range from love lost, slippery infatuations, toxic relationships, taking a chance and trying to see things from a different perspective.  The lesson here?  Sometimes taking that chance can just, in the end, have you looking up a hippo's butt hole. 

At least, that's the lesson I learned.  And there are many lessons to be learned. (Yes, political correctness can go too far.  Is it really racist to call a snake, well, a black snake, even though it really is one?)

If you like books that are dry, dark and extremely naughty, then David Sedaris is just the author for you and I can't think of a better book to start with than this one. (Caution:  keep away from the kids.  It looks suspiciously like a book younger kids will like but does not make a good read-aloud...as I learned to my chagrin!)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

An Uncomfortable Reality and Bittersweet Truths

Sarah Court by Craig Davidson
(Adult Fiction)

Take a look around your subdivision, or neighborhood, or black.  Peel back the roof and look inside the lives of five random families.  Not the outside personas, the faces put on for the public; but, the real heartbreak and grit of churning out a life.  We all like to think we are unique and independent but do we really know how much we rely on those around us, in healthy or unhealthy ways?  Are our secrets really a secret from those who know exactly when we take our trash out and our papers in?

This is the story of five neighbors in a small town in Canada and how the threads of their lives are connected.  Those threads are not like a smooth running seam in a beautifully wrought blanket, but a messy and dirty knot that takes time and care to unravel on a pair of old and smelly sneakers, the ones we love even though they are past usefulness and are even beginning to smell a little. 

There is Abby, a power lifter pushed past endurance by her father; Patience, a collector who adds a real life baby from Walmart; Collin, a daredevil who flings himself over Niagara Falls; there are demons in boxes a hit man with a soft spot for candy and each one of them is connected in a weird, and mostly bittersweet, way.  This is a story of broken people who are relying upon another broken soul  to prop up their own spirit.
The book is very funny in a dry and dark way.  And, then it is pitiful and then, at times, sweet.  It is a roller-coaster of emotions and circumstances and a joy to read from the first to the last.  It’s one of the books you want to read again and again, just to see what you might have missed the first time.  And, at the exact same time you squirm while reading parts because it is so uncomfortable, like hearing your neighbors arguing again over the backyard fence or hanging out your underwear on the line, the ones with stains that won’t quite come clean.

It was an incredible read and I can’t wait to pick up another by this author.  Welcome to my literary world, Craig Davidson!  I can’t wait to pick up your other books and count myself into what will become a huge fan base.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not the Last of Holmes

His Last Bow:  An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Honour is a medieval concept" 

This story starts off rather strangely for a Sherlock Holmes tale.  Usually we enter the scene at Holmes's study, 221 B Baker Street.  Holmes usually already has his nose on the scent of a crime and we are pulled along for the adventure.

This story starts with a study, but it is very clearly not Holmes who is the center of attention.  In this very short story, Holmes has come out of retirment as a bee-keeper and has gone undercover to pose as a traitor to the British government, willing to sell secrets during WWII.  In a classic double-cross, Holmes reveals his hand at the last minute to trap a German spy. 

Since we only get to see Homes at the very end of the crime, we don't get to see any deductive powers in action, which is what makes Holmes so great.  This story is a very typical WWII British tale with a lot of anti-German sentiment.  If you've never read Holmes, don't start with this one.  If you're a Holmes-phile, you might enjoy knowing he retired briefly to keep bees.  Who knew?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Before There Was Even Dracula

The Castle in Transylavia by Jules Verne
Jules Verne was such a visionary.  At times, it's a little creepy.  While most certainly known as the Father of Science Fiction, so much of what he wrote about would later become just another fact of our crazy world--submarines, travel by balloon, travel to the moon, etc.  And here is just one more example:  Verne started the vampire craze?!?

Before there was even a Dracula on the market (published in 1897), Verne had published The Castle of the Carpathians in 1893 (Carpathians don't sound nearly so scary as Transylvanians, hence, perhaps the re-release).  While this book was most certainly republished to captitlize on the current paranormal fad, I'm glad.  Otherwise, I might never have stumbled on this gem. Plus, if it gets people reading Jules Verne, who am I to judge?

The story ironically begins with this quote:  "We are living in a time when anything can happen--one can almost say, when everything has happened.  If our tale is not very likely today, it can be so tomorrow, thanks to the scientific resource that are the lot of the future...."  That is still a quote any sci-fi reader or writer could take to heart, over 100 years later.

And the story itself is Victorian to the very end.

The castle in the Carpathia countryside has been vacant for years so when strange smoke and sounds are observed in a nearby village, there is panic.  Enter a young count upon the scene.  His is a strange connection to the castle and to the village.  He is wandering the countryside, trying to get over the loss of his fiancee's sudden and tragic death.  In the prime of her life and fame, the fiancee was the victim of a stalker and, quite literally, scared to death by him.  This stalker was none other than the Baron who owns the castle.

When the count investigates the castle, he is startled to see his beloved, or her ghost, and is a man determined to reclaim her.  Thus begins his improisonment and attempt to escape which leads to a supernaturl encounter with the Baron and the beloved singer they are both obsessed with.

I loved this story, an old-fashioned ghost and science fiction classic.  I loved that the book uses such words like 'phantasmagoria'.  We just don't use words like that anymore.  Our language today is slowly becoming narrowed to words like 'yo'.  Sigh.

And, we just don't get to read stories like this where the true horror comes the madness of a deranged lover.  The supernatural and special effects of phonorgrams and optical illusions is just enough for any sci-fi junkie of the 1800's and I bet a lot of haunted houses could learn a thing or two from Verne.

If you've never read Jules Verne before, start with this one.  And, if you're a true vamp tramp, then start with the one that started the legend.