Saturday, July 01, 2006

Booknotes and Summer Reading Ambitions

I would love to write a review of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, but I fear that I may never actually finish the book. It is seriously dense. But it is so lively and conversational in tone that it never seems to drag on. This book may be the quintessential Victorian English novel, as Thackeray seems bound and determined that his readers would get the full worth of the eight shillings or so that they spent on this tome. But do not by any means let its length deter you from a heck of a lot of fun. These characters are so vivid, and the omniscient authorial interventions are so amusing and biting and insightful, that it may just be the perfect summer read. Thackeray was obviously a keen observer of human nature and was able to translate every quirk and foible and perversity and those rare snatches of nobility into highly realized human beings that breathe and live in his story (unlike, say, John Irving, who writes erractic, detached characters that never seem fully to come to life). Somebody, read this book! I want a fellow traveler in this tour of Vanity Fair.

Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat ride with that old sly boots, John Wilkes Booth, as he plots, executes, and escapes the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Of course, he does not escape for long, but the story of what happens after the bloody scene at Ford's Theater almost seems incredible -- I had to keep reminding myself that every word in this book was truth; every line of dialogue was taken from court records and correspondence and journals. I know that the author has said that John Wilkes Booth was not written to be the hero of this story -- that Swanson finds Booth and his actions despicable. But, I dare you to read this book and not develop a grudging admiration for the sheer audacity and éclat of this most notorious of American villains. I'm no Rebel sympathizer by nature, but a large part of me was rooting for Booth to find that oh-too-impossible method of escape during the final shootout and continue his daring, desperate journey back into the heart of Dixie.

Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Poet Laureate of Light Verse by Douglas M. Parker is a long-overdue biographical tribute to my favorite poet in any genre. When I was twelve years old, my dad gave me a collection of Ogden Nash's animal poems for Christmas; thus began my love affair with this master of wordplay and irreverent interpreter of meter and rhythm. Most joyful to discover was that Ogden Nash was as delightful a man in his personal and professional lives as ever you would assume him to be from his delightful verse. If you've never treated yourself to his poetry, find a collection in your local library or bookstore and drink in his sly observations, understated witticisms, and the unexpectedly keen social commentary that permeate his work. After your interest is piqued by his verse, you will want to read this biography and learn more about the man. He will not disappoint.

If you get as much of a kick out of language as I do, you may want to check out the Latin series by Henry Beard (Henricus Barbatus), published by Villard. Much like the unwilling peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Latin is "not dead yet," and "does not want to go in the cart." At least, that is what Beard wants us to believe. So he has compiled three books of useful, humorous, everyday expressions in Caesar's tongue. Latin for All Occasions, Latin for Even More Occasions, and X-Treme Latin are damned funny and should be read by all those who want a taste of what a time-warped gladiator might spout out at parties or sporting events. Here is a sample of the hilarity from Latin for Even More Occasions:

An All-Purpose Get Well Note
I just wanted you to know that I have sacrificed a good-sized she-goat to Mercury on your behalf in order to hasten your recovery.
P.S. The entrails were auspicious!
P.P.S. Get well soon!
Volo te scire me capram magnam Mercurio sacrificavisse pro salute tuo celerius restituendo.
P.S. Exta fausta fuerunt!
P.P.S. Convalesce velociter!

Also helpful is the handy pronunciation guide that tells you that everything you intuitively know about pronouncing Latin is incorrect. Veni, vidi vici? Try saying it as "weni, weedi, weeki," and you'll feel a lot less emperor-ish and much more Hawaiian. But, apparently, that's the way those crazy Romans spoke. Go figure!

Well, we're off to Canada again for a week at Camp Barnabas on Keats Island, BC. Another Independence Day spent in a foreign land, away from the Americana my red, white, and blue soul craves. I think that next year we will forego Barnabas, at least when Carolyn Arends is speaking, to give Sadie her first, real taste of an all-American Fourth of July celebration. Light a few fireworks for us, will you? See a parade, watch a baseball game, eat some hot dogs. Go to church, kneel in your closet, bow your head around the picnic table with your loved ones and thank the Lord for this amazing country we share -- I will be doing likewise, up in Canada.

Here are the books I'm taking to camp, though I suspect that I won't even get close to reading all of them. The ones I don't finish this coming week will comprise most of my rest-of-summer reading list:
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, of course -- oh, who will join me on this adventure?
Ann Coulter's book, Godless, has inspired me to read: Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe; The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin; Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth by Jonathan Wells; Summer for the Gods by Edward J. Larson
Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich -- though I am starting to get really sick of Stephanie Plum and her dysfunctional, incompetent ways
In Our Hands by Charles Murray -- I've had this for a while now, but have yet to give it more than the cursory once-over
Instead of Education by John Holt -- I love the way this man respected and nourished the individuality of children with his educational philosophies. I treasure his insights.

1 comment:

vermonster said...

Looks like you have thrown down the gauntlet regarding Vanity Fair. While I make no promises, I will make an attempt. I have 2 books (both Marian Keyes--oh what you've started) at the ready for vacation, what's one more!

Have a wonderful time at camp! I'm sure you will learn more and take away much that will help you day to day!