Monday, October 26, 2020

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker

An appropriate read for October, don't you think?

I first read Dracula in May of 2000 while on tour in Canada with my college's choir.  I was freshly in love with the TV show Angel and its titular vampire hero, and I decided I ought to read the greatest vampire novel of all time.

Maybe this is not a good book to read while riding on a bus for hour after hour.  Or while missing your first real boyfriend, whom you've been dating for like a month.  Or when you're twenty.  I don't know.  I just remember thinking this book was boring and being mad because my favorite character died.

Reading it again at age 40, after spending half my life intrigued by vampires, but also after having read a whole lot more Victorian fiction?  I reeeeeally dug it.  Boring?  Not at all!  I found it tense and fast-paced, with a excellent suspense that mounted page after page.

And this time, my favorite character didn't die.  Because this time, my favorite character was Abram Van Helsing.  (Sorry, Texan.)  My goodness, what a fount of courage, knowledge, and resourcefulness!  I've never been prouder to be half Dutch.

I really liked the epistolary format that Stoker uses, because it made this feel like everything was happening right now.  Very immediate, and great for building suspense toward the end as different characters told what they were doing, and you know what was happening to others, but they didn't.

(My photo from my Instagram account.)

Particularly Good Bits:

The real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the god created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow (p. 142).

What a fine fellow is Quincey!  I believe in my heart of hearts that he suffered as much about Lucy's death as any of us; but he bore himself through it like a moral Viking (p. 238).

We are all drifting reefwards now, and faith is our only anchor (p. 424).

How can women help loving men when they are so earnest, and so true, and so brave! (p. 486)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for scary situations, suspense, and some icky stuff about eating bugs and spiders, plus quite a lot of blood.  It's not gory or graphic like a modern horror novel or thriller, but it's intense sometimes.

This was my seventh book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Friday, October 23, 2020

"A Man Called Peter" by Catherine Marshall

This is a loving tribute of a biography.  Catherine Marshall, famous to us today for her novel Christy, wrote the story of her husband Peter Marshall's life after he passed away, publishing it two years after he died.  It traces his growth from a Scottish boy working in a factory to his calling to become a minister in America, on through his schooling here in the US and his career as a minister that eventually led to his being the chaplain for the U.S. Senate.  

I think both Marshalls had beautiful faith, and I think I would have liked them both as people.  I really enjoyed this biography, though I'm not sure I would read it a second time.  But I'm eager to see the movie version now that I've read it, as it stars Richard Todd, an actor I'm quite fond of.  In fact, I read much of Peter Marshall's dialog in Todd's voice in my head because Todd has a delightful Scottish accent, which Marshall reportedly had also.

I must confess that I did not read the sermons and prayers included at the end of this book.  As is to be expected, since I am a Lutheran and they were Presbyterians, I did not agree with some of the theology presented in the bulk of the biography, and did not feel like wading through sermons and prayers I would undoubtedly spend a lot of time disagreeing with.

Particularly Good Bits:

"But it's no sin to be tempted," Peter loved to say.  "It isn't the fact of having temptations that should cause us shame, but what we do with them.  Temptation is an opportunity to conquer" (p. 49).

Dreams carried around in one's heart for years, if they are dreams that have God's approval, have a way suddenly of materializing (p. 68).

"Lord, where we are wrong, make us willing to change, and where we are right, make us easy to live with" (p. 139).

Peter was exceedingly realistic and consistently Christian in his attitude toward death.  In his mind, the soul and the body were two completely separate things.  "You and I are souls," he reiterated frequently, "living in bodies" (p. 231).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Clean and lovely.

This is my sixth book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list, and also my 39th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Monday, October 12, 2020

"A Grief Observed" by C. S. Lewis

It's been a while since I read one of CS Lewis's books, and if I'm going to make my goal of reading six of them this year, I'm going to have to get reading, as I think this is only number four.  No, wait, we just finished listening to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe audiobook -- so this would make five.

Anyway, so, this is a really hard book to read.  It's excruciatingly personal.  Lewis was devastated by his wife Joy's death, and he wrote down his feelings and thoughts and questions and fears as he moved through the grieving process.  And then he shared them with us.  I'm glad this book is short, because there's so much raw pain in its pages, and I don't think I could have handled much more of it.

I am glad that Lewis was able to work through the spiritual crisis brought on by losing his wife, and that he shows others that just because you ask God a lot of hard questions doesn't mean you have lost your faith.  And also that just because you don't like what God seems to be giving you for answers also doesn't mean you're not still a Christian.  I think those are easy traps to fall into, and it's important to help people understand them.

But I don't think I will ever brave reading this book again.  I'm glad I did read it, though.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for dealing with some really hard situations that kids aren't going to want to read about anyway.  It's clean, it's just... heavy.

This is my 5th book read and reviewed for my third ride with the Classics Club and my 38th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

"If Only They Could Talk" by James Herriot

 If, like me, you see the title of this book and gasp, "Wait, there's another James Herriot book I haven't read yet?!?!?" let me allay your questions.  When the Herriot books were originally published in the UK, publishers in America thought they were too short to be a hit over here, so they combined short books into bigger ones and retitled them.  So If Only They Could Talk and the next UK book, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, were combined into All Creatures Great and Small in the US, basically.

Anyway, I've read all of Herriot's books, but long ago.  Like, more than twenty years ago.  I'm teaching high school lit to another niece this year, and she likes animals, so I thought this might be a fun author for her to read.  But I didn't want to intimidate her with a big, thick book, so I got her this smaller one instead.  And got one myself, while I was at it, since I semi-collect these MacMillan Collector's Library editions.  They're so cute and pretty and fun to read and... yeah. 

Well, naturally I had to reread this book before I could teach it.  And I am happy to say that I loved it all over again.  Herriot had me laughing at least once a chapter.  Sometimes, I laughed so much, I had to put my book down and wipe my eyes.  I adore his humor, so dry and absurdity-based and British.  My goodness, what writing.

If you've never read these, I suppose you might want to know what they're about.  James Herriot (actually James Wight) was a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England.  In this book, he first arrives there, fresh out of veterinary school, and encounters many unusual people and many interesting veterinary cases.  Some of which are fairly serious, and others of which are simply funny.  (And some of which are pretty icky, so don't read it if you think animal poop is too gross to ever be mentioned in print.)

I always thought that these were strictly non-fiction, told in a funny way, but I learned recently that Herriot did fictionalize some of his stories.  And many of the ones that supposedly occur in the 1930s and '40s are based on things that actually happened in the '60s and '70s, when he was writing.  You know what?  I don't even care.  It's Herriot's writing that delights me, after all, not whether or not these things actually happened exactly as he sets them down.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for a lot more cussing than I remember.  Maybe they cleaned it up some for the American edition?

This is my 4th book read and reviewed for my third go-'round with the Classics Club.