Saturday, July 20, 2013

Book(ish) #18: Some of the Bible

Last summer I had  grand epiphany about the things I get really excited about and how most of them aren't really related to Jesus (unless I try really hard to make an argument for these exciting things being related to faith, because if I try really hard I'm sure I can do it!).  So I signed up to have a daily Bible reading delivered to my email every day from Bible in a Year. As of July 8, 2013, I have read all of the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. I'm counting it as one of my books for the year.

I found that I did not read my email every single day, but sometimes I would catch up and read several days at a time. There were many passages that were comfortable in their familiarity, but others when I thought "How have I never heard this before?" It wasn't a study of the Bible, but a cursory reading. Sometimes I felt like I was doing it just to say that I had done it, and sometimes I found passages to be moving and appropriate to whatever was happening on that day in my life. I suppose the Bible can do that!

I loved the convenience of having the emailed delivered to me every day because it sort of added it to my "to do" list and I would not let myself off the hook until I had read each passage. However, I did miss the opportunity to highlight and make notes that I would have had if I had used a paper or electronic copy of the text.

I need to make my way through the Old Testament (with the exception of Psalms and Proverbs), but the site I used previously doesn't have an option for that. If you have any suggestions, please pass them along!

Book #17: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Several people I know recommended this book to me, and I am grateful for the suggestion because it was the perfect book for vacation.

Little Bee is the story of a Nigerian refugee (named Little Bee) in England. In Nigeria she met Andrew and Sarah, a British couple, only once and only for a few minutes, but their lives are forever linked after that day.  The back cover of the book and the description on Amazon all say pretty much the same thing - this is a good book but we really can't tell you what it's about. I find that to be accurate, so I won't attempt to describe it without describing it.

I liked the book. I liked the first 175-200 pages better than the last 75-100. I felt like the author had this amazing story, but then he didn't know what to do once the story was told. The ending was anticlimactic and, well, lame. Also, a character surfaces midway through the novel that I strongly dislike, and that character actually makes me dislike a character I previously really liked. (How's that for confusing?) The novel would have been better as a short story so that the author didn't feel a need to write about the aftereffects of the incident in Nigeria. Just tell the riveting, harrowing, moving part of the story and leave the rest to the imagination.

Would I recommend it to someone else?  Absolutely!  I enjoyed reading it, and at only 260 pages I think other readers would really like it, too.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book #16: The Son by Philipp Meyer

I really like westerns. Cowboys and Indians and an unreasonable love of the land make for a great book, in my opinion. The Son fit right into that mold, and it did not disappoint.

The novel details the lives of three generations of the McCullough family. Eli, also known as the Colonel, was born in 1836 and was part of that raw, restless generation that settled Texas, for all practical purposes stealing it from the Indians and the Mexicans in the process. His son Peter is the second character detailed in the novel, but Peter seems to be made of weaker stuff than his father, and the Colonel's obsession with land and wealth and success seem to have skipped Peter and been delivered in double dose to his son, Charles. The final main character is Jeanne, Charles's daughter, a woman who grew up under the wing of her great-grandfather and struggled her entire life to find the balance between loving people and loving Texas with its land, oil, and cattle.

I enjoyed reading of Jeanne's struggle with success. It's clear that for a woman in her day the definitions of success for a man and for a woman were drastically different. She is a cattle woman and an oil baron, but still she feels that she isn't good enough. Her narrative begins with her as an old woman in obvious distress, and we don't discover the cause of that distress until the very end of the novel. Honestly, it is much bigger than the predicament she is in at that moment.

Peter is awkward and uncomfortable, both courageous and cowardly. His storyline is the primary source of angst in the novel. He is burdened with being the child of a wildly popular, bigger-than-life father.

The Colonel's stories were my favorite, as he lived the classic cowboy and Indian life. It isn't romanticized here, but described as something painful, beautiful, unavoidable, yet inherently wrong. I don't want to give away too much, but even as a child Eli had a lust for the frontier.

The chapters alternate with the stories of each character, much like Meyer's novel American Rust. While it's long (561 pages), I was never bored. I am impressed that a novel of this length never dragged on.

(Sidebar: The Colonel often references "Old Scratch" which reminded me of The Devil and Tom Walker.)

The Son is a novel about 150 years of Texas -- the death and the life that brought the state from a wild untamed land to the Texas we know today. The characters are well-developed and real. It's was pretty darn amazing, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes that sort of thing.