Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Some of the controversy surrounding this book preceded the film’s opening in Texas. Unlike my usual practice, I went to see the movie first. I was surprised at the complexity of the plot, surprised at the number of pre-teen children in the theater, but not at all surprised they spent most of their time running up and down the aisles. They may have been as confused as I was by some of the plot twists and turns.

I already had a copy of the book, and I was curious to see exactly how sanitized this first volume of the trilogy was. In the film, the villains are associated with an organization known as the “Magisterium.” The book refers to them directly as “the Catholic Church,” and “the Vatican,” and there is “talk of reviving the Office of Inquisition.” There were a dozen or so other references to “the Church.”

The ending of Book One reveals the origin of Dust and the conflict between the Church and scientists. I do not want to give away the ending, but now I understand quite a bit about the rationales of religion, especially fundamental Christianity.

Most of the mysteries of the plot were handled by subtle foreshadowing. Although this story is not quite as well-written as the Harry Potter series, it is a rip-roaring good tale.

The heroine Lyra is, as the jacket promises, spunky and lovable. The exact explanation of the role of the “daemons” (pronounced “demons”) is clarified. Interestingly, Pullman writes that “Bernie was…one of those rare people whose daemon was the same sex as himself” (124). There must be something here about gender, sexuality, the soul, and all sorts of other metaphysical possibilities. I want a daemon! Perhaps an ermine, or a wolverine!

Most of the time, I could hardly put it down, but if it has any flaws, it is the stiff and sometimes childish dialogue of the adults. J.K. Rowling has it all over Pullman there.

Another viewing of the film is in order, I think, and I definitely can’t wait to get to the next volume. Armored bears? Woo-hoo!
--Chiron, 4-1/2 stars

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We have a winner!

The winner of the quiz was Jennifer Black. You can check out her blog at:

Congratulations!! Woo-hoo!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Connecting Flights by Lou Barrett

After finishing The Road, my wife and I fixed breakfast together, and with a cup of tea, I sat down to read this slim volume of poetry. It only took an hour, and even though I read all the poems, I am going to carry this around in my briefcase for a bit and savor the ones I like.

The poems were uneven. Some I absolutely loved, and others I did not like even a little bit. Here is an example from one I loved, “Young Fisher King”:

He carries his rod
to the morning river
far from home
alone deepbooted
wading without shadows
in the stream.
He casts his line among mists

The secret scent
of ancient waters
rise around him
and he flings into the flow
the language of his heart
like bait (15)

The short lines, the sparse language, the abrupt shifts in thoughts and lines all appeal to me. It resembles the kind of poems I write.

Everyone needs to sit down and read some poetry at least once in a while. If you do not know where to begin, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, is a good place. It covers thousands of years of verse, with plenty of familiar lines and plenty of unknown authors. Three and a half stars.
--Chiron, 1/20/08

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Years ago, McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses came up for a read, and I quickly invoked the rule of fifty. The style was annoying, and I did not like the characters from the beginning. Maybe I will go back and give it another try after reading his latest work.

At first, I thought this was another of his works with a style I did not like, but I kept at it, and I was so absorbed in the story, I forgot about the style. I started this book about 2:00 PM yesterday, stopped for dinner about 5:00, then picked it up for the last 80 pages at 8:00 AM this morning. The style perfectly fits the mood, tone, and story line of this terrific read.

“The man” and “the boy” are wandering in post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by nuclear winter, and populated with desperate people who have long since finished looting everything accessible and visible, and have resorted to cannibalism, murder, and theft. The Road is Lord of the Flies updated to the 21st century with the desperation and savagery exponentially increased.

The story is harrowing, but as you can see, I could not stop reading. Five stars.
--Chiron, 1/20/08

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rumi's Mathnavi: A Theatre Adaptation by Joe Martin

N.B. -- I wrote this review for the Early Reviewer program of See the website for details.

Generally speaking, reading plays is not my thing. Even when I cover them in my literature classes, I assign parts for reading, then we all watch the video in class.

Rumi's love poetry was part of my wedding, and I really enjoy those works. I asked to review this because of the title.

Reading was a struggle, because the explanatory, biographical, and historical information was thin, and it seemed aimed at those familiar with Rumi and his works.

Nevertheless, there were some pretty cool passages. For example:

The Prophet said that women prevail
With the intelligent and the wise
On the other hand it's the ignorant men
Who prevail over women (28).

Whenever I think of women and religion, or simply the attidude of men toward Hillary Clinton, or women's rights, I can't help but think of the Chinese proverb, "Women hold up half the sky." So this view of women was a pleasant surprise considering what we think we know about Islam's attitude toward women. Three stars.

--Chiron, 1/18/08

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

I am not sure where to begin this review. Maybe the beginning is the best place.

My wife bought this book for me when it was published in November of 2007. She hid it and refused to give it to me until 12/24. So, I decided to make it my first read of 2008 -- a perfect beginning for what I hope is a spectacular year of reading.

Last week was the beginning of the semester, but I still could have finished it then. I dragged out the last hundred pages or so, because I did NOT want it to end. Since about the 11th, I have been reading 3-4 pages at a time. Not even whole chapters – just pieces of them. Today, I faced the inevitable and finished it.

Now what? Few books have affected me as much as this one. This is a powerful story, filled with interesting, finely drawn characters, and events of such intimate detail, it made me a part of the town of Thomaston as only the best works of fiction can do.

Long a fan of Russo, I have read all his novels, and Straight Man was my favorite before Bridge. That, now #2, Russo novel is about an English professor in a small, liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania. I quickly identified with the main character on most levels -- enough levels to convert me to a Russo fanatic.

If you saw the HBO special, Empire Falls, you might have some idea of Russo’s work, but not nearly enough. His novels are complex, and contain complex characters with enough feeling and emotion for a reader to become lost in the world he creates.

Bridge of Sighs is no exception.

This multi-generational novel is told from the viewpoint of a character almost exactly my age. As he approaches his 60s, he begins to write his memoirs, beginning with his parents, their triumphs, failures, foibles, and flaws. He expands into his friends as a small boy, takes us through his high school years, and into adult hood. He doesn’t forget any of the minor characters either. He brings them along, and we all age together.

An interesting feature of the book, one that will bring me back for a second read soon, is the role particular objects play in spinning a web which ties characters, generations, races, classes, and events together. Drawings, walls and fences, kisses, a stream, a store and, of course, bridges – literal and metaphoric – create a painting of massive beauty. Some thing like those huge paintings by David, with dozens of figures in a sweeping landscape.

If you call your self a reader, you must read this book. Do not let the length (528 pp) daunt you. The story flows so smoothly, you will be done in no time – unless you drag out the last 100 pages the way I did. Five stars. -- Chiron

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Quiz Answers

Here are the answers. 23 people had three right, so I will send each a tie breaker question.

2007 marks the first time I have counted the books I read in a single year. I was astounded to find I had read 75 (although, I am reading #76 now, and if I finish by midnight). Check back in a couple of days to see if I made it. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to post a short quiz to start off 2008. This one is all about women. Next time -- something else. I will send a book to the person with the most correct answers by 5:00 PM CST, Monday, January 7th

1. What was Madame DeFarge knitting?
"Things. Interesting things. Shrouds for example."
2. How did Rodolphe send his break up letter to Emma?
By placing a "Dear Jane" letter in a basket of apricots.
3. What job did Lucy Snow have in Belgium?
4. Where did Jane wait for a coach to take her to Thornfield Hall?
The Inn at Moreton
5. How did Anna Karennina die?
Threw herself under the wheels of a train.

--Chiron, 1/8/08