Review: Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As of late, I’ve been struggling with the question, “Is God speaking to us today? If so, how?” I know He speaks through the Bible–some would say that it’s the only way he speaks. But is that true? Are there other ways he can speak through?

Karen Swallow Prior believes so. In her memoir “Booked”, she lists 8 books and several poems that influenced her faith. Most of the books are classics; the most recent are Charlotte’s Web (the only book I fully read on her list) and Death of a Salesman. She also didn’t have any books from authors of color. But the books she mention are still interesting, and I’ve got many on my to read list.

I think the book worked best when she was in “teaching mode”. I was most struck by how she dove into John Milton’s Areopagitica and used that to form her reading philosophy of how books should be “promiscuously read”: the best way to counteract falsehood is not by suppressing it, but by countering it with truth. Pretty cool coming from an anti-censorship tract. I also enjoyed her chapter on Jane Eyre (dealing with identity), and her chapter on Gulliver’s Travels; having always grown up on the child-sanitized version, I didn’t even know it was originally adult satire…nor did I know about all the innuendos.

The memoir sections took a while for me to warm up to, particularly in the Charlotte’s Web chapter, where she talked about horse raising. And towards the end, it felt like she was running out of things to pull out of her life to put in the book. Perhaps it would have been good for her to include other people stories along with her own. Or maybe used the rest of the book to deal with harder questions–she did this with the last chapter: The Poetry of Doubt, but I felt it could have been expanded…

It felt like my original question: “Is God speaking to us today?” wasn’t answered as I wanted (the answer I came away with was: yes…through classics). Still, it got me to thinking what influenced me in my faith over the years. For me, it wasn’t just books: my faith in God has been shaped through graphic novels and movies, songs of all types and short stories. Even webcomics, I’ve found, can strike me as profound when I’m struggling with a certain issue. And when it’s backed up by Scripture, it makes me giddy. So yes, God is still speaking to us today. At least, from my point of view.

I’m glad I got Booked. At the very least, it gave me some old classics to put on my reading list, and if there was ever a way I could go to a class taught by Prior, I’d do it. This gets 3 books out of 5, and extra points for the phrase ‘promiscuous reading’, even though it is from Milton.

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Review: Watership Down

Watership Down
Watership Down by Richard Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After watching the movie when I was a kid, I avoided the book because I thought it would be dark and disturbing. Not so. It’s mainly about a bunch of rabbits that set off to form their own colony. There’s a lot of rambling about flowers and nature and oh-isn’t-this-pretty? prose that I skipped. I also found the written accents, such as Kehaar, to be grating on the eyes. But I did enjoy the character development of all the rabbits (my favorite was Strawberry), and the myth tales of El-ehrairah was a delight to read. A new way to look at the Rabbit Trickster mythology. I think this would be a good book to read to the boy. I’ll keep him away from the movie, though.

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Book Reviews at the Cafe (Or why should you care what I think about the Mists of Avalon…)

If you’re a regular at the Cafe, you’ll notice that I haven’t done any book reviews for a while. I can say that I’ve been busy working on our house, so I haven’t had time to read, much less write. And while that’s true, there’s also a more simpler reason–I got a bit burnt out on writing reviews.

It’s a big downside of being a writer. I can’t really read a book out of entertainment anymore. When I pick up a book, there’s a part of me that turns into an scientist of sorts, analyzing every word, every sentence. Why did the author chose ‘this’ word instead of ‘that’? Why would he chose to do this whole passage in dialog without any tags? Why put the description of the eyes ‘here’ when he could have done so at the beginning of the book?

Granted, it’s also a big plus, being a writer. It means that there are two levels I can enjoy the book: for entertainment, and for instruction. If it’s a really wonderful book, I learn how to incorporate its techniques into my own work. If it’s a mediocre, or even a horrible book, I learn what not to do and correct my writing accordingly. Writing book reviews is a way of cementing the lessons I learned into my brain, while at the same time giving you guys out there advice on what books to read and which ones to run away from (in some cases, screaming).

I’ve been wondering these past couple of months if I should continue doing book reviews at the Cafe. It’s not like I can’t do the same thing at a book review website–and I have been wondering if I should branch out a bit more to other blogs and such to gain more writing experience. Getting paid to review books is an option, too, though I don’t think there’s many avenues for this anymore. The book review as a whole has grown somewhat devalued since this whole blogging thing has started. And since “less people are reading books nowadays”, many newspapers have begun to cut down on their book review sections (I wasn’t surprised to learn that our own paper chose to move the book section from their Sunday section to their Saturday edition–which was a lame blow). Why bother paying for some schmoe’s review when a person could log onto anyone’s blog and read a review of it…for free?

I might look into doing some reviews on some outside blogs once everything here settled down into normality again (if that will ever happen), but in the meantime, I think I’ll continue my reviewing here. I can be open and honest with what I think, and I can write about any book I want, old or new. Plus, most of the people coming to the Cafe come to read my book reviews, according to my blog stats. If it’s a way to bring more people to the Cafe, then hey, come on in and dine to your fullest intent.

I think what I might do is limit myself to one book review per month. That way, I won’t get so burnt out in writing. I will list what I am reading for that month, so once I figure out that widget, I’ll put it up. And feel free to make comments of your own if you read the book or not. I have gotten some very interesting points of views from people who I don’t normally agree with, but the Cafe is an equal opportunity place. As long as you don’t say anything extremely nasty, we welcome all opinion.

And I should point out, all the reviews at the Cafe are copyrighted by LaShawn M. Wanak. Anyone using a Cafe review on their own website without permission will be bonked on the head with a plastic mallet.