|Readers Picks for the Holidays|
by Wendy Bronson,
Special Services, Ekstrom Library
Theoretically, I take great comfort in the steady progression of seasons as the year unfolds. Of course, in Louisville the seasons seem to have a rather antic disposition, taking turns as they see fit--there is none of the steadying gravity that comes with the inexorable advance and grudging retreat of winter that I grew up with in Minnesota. Maybe this is why I never really feel prepared for the winter holidays here, even though the commercial onslaught begins well before Halloween now.
Instead, this time of year has the feeling of one of those days when you oversleep by fifteen minutes and scramble the rest of the day. My actual take on the progression of time is more like C.S. Lewis': "Term, holidays, term, holidays, till we leave school and then work, work, work till we die." Except, of course, that we are fortunate enough to work at a university and so can combine the term, the holidays, and the work, work, work into one unified experience.
Still, I love this time of year. The shorter the daylight hours, the more time to curl up with a good book (or whatever--or whomever--you choose) by lamplight. Ideally, this is a natural time of year to cultivate peace and quiet reflection. It does help to have a constitutional aversion to shopping malls and a silenced TV--we cover ours up, like a squawking parrot in a cage, to keep it as quiet as possible. However you do it, I hope all of you can find some quiet time for yourselves over the holidays.
Whether you do have the time to read or are just looking for good gifts, I have two good novels to recommend for this season. I think that Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier, Browsing PS 3556 .R3599 C6 1997) is the best novel about the Civil War that I have read. It is the story of a soldier trying to get back home near the end of the war, and many vivid scenes show how terribly war damages individuals and their communities. Winner of a National Book Award, Cold Mountain is so well written that its evocative images resonate long after you've read it.
The Poisonwood Bible (Browsing PS 3561 .I496 P65 1998) is Barbara Kingsolver's new novel. She is one of my favorite writers, and this book takes her work to a new level. Set in the Congo in the 1960's and beyond, it is narrated by the wife and four daughters of a missionary family. Kingsolver's dark humor, rich details from her own experience in the Congo, and acute moral sense of how the personal and political intertwine make this an amazing and moving novel--and my favorite of the year.
There is also a new nonfiction book out about the assault on Africa in colonial days. King Leopold's Ghost (Adam Hochschild, Browsing DT 655 .H63 1998) chronicles the genocidal ďcivilizingĒ of the Congo. An estimated 10 million people lost their lives as King Leopold of Belgium simultaneously created a fortune for himself and managed to portray himself as a humanitarian working solely for the good of the Congolese. This is the Congo that Joseph Conrad described in Heart of Darkness, and the horror is mitigated only slightly by the human rights campaign that attempted to end this cruelty. (Unfortunately, Kingsolver's novel shows the U.S. as eager inheritors of Leopold's legacy.) Another good book about the colonization of Africa is The Scramble for Africa: 1876-1912 (Thomas Pakenham, DT 28 .P34 1991), which covers all of Africa and illustrates that what happened in the Congo was not an exception to the rule. Well, I guess thereís nothing like keeping up with the latest in genocide and war reading to brighten your holidays.
On a more hopeful note, two books which I found very thought-provoking and helpful this year are The God We Never Knew (BR 124 .B67 1997) and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, both by Marcus Borg. The first examines ways we think about and image God; the second presents a portrait of the historical Jesus (in contrast to the later teachings of the gospels and the church). Both books are thoughtful and moving explorations of the search to find an authentic and mature faith.
I have one last book to recommend: Anne Porter's An Altogether Different Language: Poems 1934-1994 (Bingham PS 3566 .O6295 A48 1994). Kathleen Norris, an excellent writer herself, introduced me to Anne Porterís poetry when she was in Louisville for the Guarnaschelli Lecture at Bellarmine. She said that she buys this book ten at a time to give to friends who donít yet know about this wonderful poet. Anne Porterís poems are spiritual, intelligent, and ďat once visionary and down-to-earth.Ē This book makes wonderful reading (and a great gift) for this time of year.
Shaun W. Daniels
When Rabbit Howls, Truddi Chase; Sybil, Flora Schreiber (RC 555 .S37) If you have never read these fascinating stories, they're well worth a weekend read, although not for the squeamish. They are, of course, the stories of probably the two most famous cases of multiple personality. They had been on my "To Read" list for quite a while . . . glad I got around to it.
Cry To Heaven, Anne Rice. This is a lot different from the Vampire and Witch books. Its the story of a castrato singer in Italy. Even if you're not an Anne Rice fan, this is an interesting story. (A castrato is a castrated male opera singer.)
Where Angels Fear to Tread, E.M. Forster (PR 6011 .O58 A12 or W43 and PZ3 F7735 W2a) You probably need to like Forster to like this, but if you do, then you will!!
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (PS 3562 .E353 T6 335 1999 or T6 1995) I really thought I was the only person that had never read To Kill a Mockingbird, but apparently there are others. If you've never read it, itís a great story.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (PS 3527 .A15 L6 1991--annotated version) I only decided to read this one after I saw several folks in Circulation buzzing about it. Itís a twisted love story, and worth the time, but I would get the annotated version, as stacks maintenance assistant John Daniels (no relation) advised me to do.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (PS 3559 .R8 P7 1989) One of my all-time favorite books. The opening paragraph should be enough to get anyone to finish it. I couldn't submit a reading list without it. Itís about a quirky little boy who lives near a rock quarry, kills his best friendís mom, and saves a bunch of people's lives. And armadillos are important--lots of meanings, lots of symbolism. Great book.
After watching Beloved with my wife several weeks ago, I pulled out the unread paperback I have and have discovered much of the printed story that was lost to me in film language (Toni Morrison, PS 3563 .O8749 B4 1987). I was also surprised at the Faulkner influence that has surfaced in the book.
I missed participating in the F. Scott Fitzgerald celebration last year, but I have a rereading of The Great Gatsby (PS 3511 .I9 G7 1996) next on the docket after Beloved.
I am still amazed at how many times I keep referring back to the Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry edited by J. D. McClatchy (Bingham PN 6101 .V56 1996). This remains one of the best single volumes in my collection.
Anna Marie Johnson
All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy (Browsing PS 3563 .C337 A44 1992) First of the Border Trilogy books, this Western set in 1949 has adventure, love, and lots of horses. It reminded me some of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove (PS 3563 .A319 L6 1985). The protagonist, John Cole Grady, is a 16-year-old who leaves his home in Texas for Mexico, and it is like traveling back in time. He ends up working at a large ranch, breaking horses and falling in love with the ranch owner's daughter, only to be thrown into prison for stealing a horse--which he didn't do. Grady is by turns incredibly brave and incredibly passionate about horses and the daughter, but as all great Western heroes, he doesn't speak much. The language in this story is beautiful, only occasionally going too far in trying to evoke the mood of the land and the mystery of horses. I also read The Crossing (Browsing PS 3563 .C337 C7 1994) and Cities on the Plain (Browsing PS 3563 .C337 C58 1998)--both are in the same vein. I'd suggest spreading them out rather than reading them all in a row.
Dragon's Winter, Elizabeth Lynn (Browsing PS 3562 .Y443 D73 1998) Pure fantasy with dragons and wargs, wizards and mages. Twin brothers are born: Karadur, a dragon-changeling; the other, gifted only with wizard powers. The younger Tenjiro steals the birthright (the ability to become a dragon) from the elder and wakes an evil being with magic to give him even more power. Tenjiro turns the entire northern part of the country to ice, slowly killing everything around him. Finally Karadur must ride north to fight Tenjiro in order to save his land, his people and to take back his birthright. This supposedly will have a sequel.
Bridget Jones' Diary: A Novel, Helen Fielding (Ekstrom Browsing PR 6056 .I4588 B75 1998) This is a hilarious little book that was a huge hit in Great Britain. It chronicles a year in the life of the very likable Bridget Jones who struggles with dieting, quitting smoking, and finding a decent man. Most of the book is interior monologue with occasional dialogue along the lines of When Stella Got Her Groove Back (Browsing PS 3563 .C 3868 H68 1996), and her private thoughts make for very funny reading.
Katherine Burger Johnson
Dr. Marianne Walker, professor at Henderson Community College and author of Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone with the Wind (PS 3525 .I972 Z94 1993), was the speaker at the Spring 1998 meeting of the Kentucky Council on Archives. She was so enthusiastic about her research on Mitchell and Marsh that I just had to read her book, and I was not disappointed. First of all, Walker was very thorough, really delving into subject, and checking documents that other writers had either not used or ignored. The historian in me really respects someone who does good research. Second of all, she writes well, creating a very readable dual biography of one of the most famous couples in the United States in the 1930's and 1940's. The bibliophile in me really likes such a well-written book. If you have not read Gone with the Wind (PS 3525 .I972 G6 1936 or PZ3 .M69484 Go), do that first. Then to find out the real story behind that classic, read this biography. These two large volumes should fill up plenty of the long winter evenings that are approaching.