Saturday, April 30, 2011

Too Little, Too Soon

In the midst of a greater writing project and preparations for a transatlantic move, I managed to read only two books in April. As with my top two books in March, Twilight and Prophet are vastly different books. Both are well-written, and both have proved, in the months and years since their initial publications, groundbreaking volumes within the world of contemporary literature: each has initiated its own sub-genre and has been imitated multiple times.

Instead of selecting one of these two volumes to serve as my monthly favourite, I'd like to introduce you to a fascinating and occasionally frustrating little volume that has received a tremendous amount of my attention this month and is, in many ways, my actual favourite book read this month (although I'm reading it for school).

To those of you in search of a slightly unique read, may I highly recommend St John's, Cambridge, Manuscript S.23. Compiled in the early 1600s, this lovely little volume contains poems by Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Donne, and many of their contemporaries, and it is freely available online in digital facsimile through the Scriptorium project. In it you will find some lovely familiar poems and a number of early modern favourites that have been mostly forgotten in the intervening centuries.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Peretti Project: Prophet, A Controversial Thriller

Peretti, Frank. Prophet. Crossway, 1992.

Though probably best known for his novels depicting spiritual warfare as mere mortals have never seen it, Peretti has managed to blend the ethereal with everyday life in this contentious and intriguing book about abortion, politics, and conspiracies. The book looks most closely at news anchor John Barrett, a popular and fresh face on his local news station and the son of an active conservative whose radical views are a subject of ridicule and, subsequently, murder. Following the death of his father, liberal newscaster Barrett begins looking more closely at his father's beliefs and enemies, and soon discovers that many stories, including those broadcast by his increasingly popular station, don't make as much sense as they ought. Although Peretti's strongly conservative viewpoint may leave some readers skeptical, the conspiracy theory Barrett uncovers is one that has indubitably been imitated by countless politicians both conservative and liberal in the decades since this novel first reached print. Because of the controversial and religious themes prominent in this book, it is primarily a novel that Christians would enjoy, but the plot is well crafted, the suspense equal to that of any novel published in the secular world, and the writing elegant and clear.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Twilight, Twilight, Burning Bright: On the Bookshelves for the Teens . . .

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. London: Atom, 2009 (2005).

I'm a bit hesitant to post that I've read this novel, and, perhaps, even more hesitant to post a review of a book that has been contested so hotly for the past five years.Twilight certainly isn't the next Great American Novel, and Meyer certainly isn't Shakespeare--but, then, who is, these days?

Twilight is simply written and well edited. And where two books I recently began and set aside due to frustration with their recurring grammatical errors have been critically acclaimed (and nominated for awards) on the basis of their high literary merit, Meyer's mere teen fiction has been proofread and is composed of grammatically precise English. The story is laboured in spots, and Meyer's teenage narrator is occasionally frustrating and unrealistic, but the story moves quickly. Certainly, although Twilight is neither as classy nor as deeply researched and plotted as The Historian, Meyer does draw upon many of the elements that made Kostova's novel almost immediately popular. Meyer's vampires are compared to and based upon not the literary elements of Dracula but upon the results of an internet search, but they are inventive and (I found) more compelling than her humans.

Truly, my greatest frustration with Twilight is a flaw that I find irksome in Romeo and Juliet as well. The love that protagonist Bella has for the dramatic vampire Edward--and, to some degree, his love in return--is based completely on external appearances and to no degree on personality or spirit. Where Bella adores the perfection of his body--and Meyer lets us know that he's quite good in school--and he appreciates her scent, their love is based on few of the elements that matter to us mere mortals. Maybe in Twilight, where Edward will remain Seventeen Forever (and I'm surprised that isn't a hit pop song by now), a love based on physical attraction will last because the physical attraction itself can never diminish. But I digress.

Where the first two-thirds of the novel are a slightly sappy love story based on looks and smell, the final third of the novel turns into a spy thriller with perks. Although Meyer avoids the slippery slope of time travel, she does offer visions of the future and a cross-continental chase scene that manages to be predictable enough that readers will be frustrated with Bella's decisions and complicated enough by the ever-shifting visions of the future that Meyer very nearly touches on an interesting discussion of fate and destiny. If you can endure the flimsy romance that begins the book, the excitement and hints of intrigue in the final pages will get you neatly to the conclusion. However, that said, I'm very content to leave the series at the end of this book, and doubt I'll be looking out for its sequels.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Two Swell Imitations and an Agony of Choice: My March Pick of the Month

I had two favourite books in March this year, and the difference between them is great in many ways. What they have in common is their imitative style: Gilbert Adair's The Act of Roger Murgatroyd (review here) borrows from Agatha Christie and Colm Toibin's The Master (review), about Henry James, aptly captures the soft and introspective feel of many older novels.

For sheer and base enjoyment, Adair certainly wins hands down. The Act of Roger Murgatroyd is the book to take on holiday, to read on the airplane, or to pick up after a hard day's work. Adair's novel is a masterpiece of detective fiction. On the other hand, The Master strives for elegance and in many places achieves a things of beauty: his novel left me a little haunted by the story of a man I've mostly overlooked in literature and about whom I'd--now--like to know more. So while the part of my brain that reads Shakespeare (and his critics) all day is screaming at me to send The Act of Roger Murgatroyd to every detective-story-loving friend I have, for sheer and simple beauty, Colm Toibin's The Master wins out.