Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only plot here is that which you might find in anyone’s life. The book flows through Bishop Latour’s years without relying on external forces of any kind. A quote toward the end of the book expresses the way the work itself moves:

“He realized also that there was no longer any perspective in his memories…. He was soon to have done with calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for him. He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible.”

Click on the link above to read the rest of my review of Death Comes for the Archbishop.

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Negative Blue: Selected Later PoemsNegative Blue: Selected Later Poems by Charles Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first Charles Wright collection I’ve read. I appreciated the natural imagery, the interesting mix of backyard and international vantage points, the reaction pieces to his reading material. There were many “moments” as I read, and a few full poems that really spoke to me. There were also times when I thought “there’s that arborvitae, again….”

What appeals to me most is the recurrent theme of internal spiritual/religious struggle and Wright’s facility in connecting the natural with the supernatural in a realistic, non-fantastical way–from the recurrent references to the titular “Blue” that ties the Heavens with the Earth (e.g., Blue Ridge Mountains) to the constant use of images of winter-barren plant life. The Man (Adam?) I see throughout this collection is one who, after a youth of religious devotion and fervid expectation, has experienced a life that challenges that Springtime passion. At the end, he sees rather an absent God, one who has lost interest in His creation. But even then, the Man cannot deny God’s existence, though at times it appears that this is his desire. It seems that the essence of God remains, but the Edenic rupture has yet to heal. Throughout the poems, there is a thread of anger, frustration, abandonment, and doubt as to whether that rupture can heal. But always there remains a sense of reality, even if that reality is difficult to put into words; the spiritual/religious elements are rooted in solid ground, not flitting about in ether.

A bit of the poem “Ostinato and Drone” speaks to this:

“It’s reasonable to represent anything that really exists
by that thing which doesn’t exist,
Daniel Defoe said.
and that’s what we’re talking about, the difference between the
voice and the word,
The voice continuing to come back in splendor,
the word still not forthcoming.
We’re talking about the bush on fire.
We’re talking about this quince bush, its noonday brilliance of light.”

This book is not a skimmer. It deserves consideration. My observations are limited by my knowledge of Mr. Wright and my single reading of this collection.

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The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On: A Jungian Interpretation of Literature (Chiron Monograph Series : Volume 5)The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On: A Jungian Interpretation of Literature by Clifton Snider

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Snider is adept at offering a better understanding both of Jungian archetype and of the literature he discusses. I come away from my reading with a desire to explore, to read the pieces I have not read, to think, to discourse and converse. These responses, rather than an unquestioning agreement with everything asserted herein (which is not the case with me), is what makes this a “5-star” book.

Works considered include:
* various with Merlin as subject
* “Tristram of Lyonesse,” Swinburne
* The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
* Orlando (and) The Waves, Virginia Woolf
* The Member of the Wedding (and) Clock Without Hands, Carson McCullers
* Several by W. H. Auden

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I just finished this book last night.  It earned 3 GoodReads stars from me: a fun, light read.  A step up from the Nancy Drew mysteries I cut my reading teeth on, but then, it’s not really written for an elementary school audience–more challenging vocabulary, deeper characters, some language (swearing, cursing, whatever you want to call it), better storyline (of course, it’s been a while since I’ve perused ND).  The book is appropriate for YA, Adult, and precocious Middle Graders.  Set in England during the 1950s, this mystery frolic follows 11-year-old chemistry phenom Flavia de Luce through adventures dangerous and dastardly.  I found myself mentally traipsing back to my childhood, imagining myself living her life.

The protagonist is, admittedly, a bit annoying at times.  Perhaps that is inevitable considering the evident influence of intelligence, privilege, and cool, sometimes even antagonistic, family relationships.  Still, the author knows his character and by the end, she has grown and I have gained some sympathy for her.  This is accomplished, in part, with brief, sometimes poignant, glimpses into the “sweetness at the bottom of the pie” that shows through subtle cracks in the “crust” of self-confident, capable Flavia, reminding me that she is really just a little girl riding her bike around the environs of her small town seeking pleasure and her place in the world, and dealing with death in the process.

A couple of final notes on the book:  It is the first in a series, and it is slated to be made into a TV series in 2015.


One of Flavia’s sisters, Ophelia, is a pianist, and Bradley uses her as a vehicle to sprinkle references to music throughout the book.  I loved this.  I actually noted each piece so I could listen to them.  I cruised around YouTube, and this is what I found.

Toccata from Sonata in A Major, Pietro Domenico Paradisi

Originally for Harpsichord

Eileen Joyce on piano

Arrangement for Harp and Strings

Flute and Bassoon (I don’t understand the “homage to Barbara Streisand bit.  Can anyone enlighten me?)


Robert Schumann sonatas  

Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op 11 (Emil Gilels)

Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op 22  (Martha Argerich)

Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op 14 (Grigory Sokolov)

If you liked those, or want something a little shorter, try something in this Schumann piano playlist.


Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Glenn Gould studio recording (video of studio session)


Ophelia did not play the following, but they were mentioned in the book.

“Harry Lime” Theme from The Third Man, Anton Karas

Originally instrumental (with zither and accordian)

Piano (straight)

Piano (variation)

Piano (and now it gets wild!)


UK Ukulele Orchestra


Beethoven’s 6th Symphony “Pastoral”

As there are many recordings available, and as it is 42 minutes long, I’ll just post one link.

Pastoral Symphony



Court of Honor and Grand Basin at Chicago Worlds Fair

I followed up my first trip to Chicago this year with a reading of The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  The book has a fabulous Notes and Sources section.  This guy knows how to research and it shows in the informative and interesting text.  It is cleanly written and ambitious.  When I think of the scope of this book, I’m still impressed.  Larson has attempted to illuminate a diverse group of strong personalities both individually and collectively.  It works well with the men directly related to the Fair and even with the side story of Mayor Harrison and P. E. J. Prendergast.  H. H. Holmes, on the other hand, is so tangential that he doesn’t fit into the whole.  An interesting personality?  Yes.  But his only relationship with the others is one of proximity.  The two main stories are independently interesting, but they don’t seem to mesh well.  There are also points where the pace lags simply because there is so much to tell.  Larson has such stores of information to share it must have been a terrible task to choose what to leave out.  Particularly in the middle of the book, I felt overburdened by too many stories, too many emotions, and too much waiting for that Fair to open already!  Still, the book is worth reading.  Beside the value inherent in itself, the book expanded my knowledge of Chicago, architecture, and what hotels NOT to stay in.  It also piqued my interest in Frederick Law Olmsted and landscape architecture.

While considering the strengths and weaknesses of The Devil in the White City, I was reminded of two other books I’d read that employed similar methods of mixing history with biography.  I know that sounds funny.  The two seem to go together naturally.  The two books I’m thinking of, however, both use an historical background to illuminate their human subjects.  Most of the biographies I’ve read do the opposite, showing the historical event(s) within the context of the subject’s life.  It’s the difference between placing a character within a setting, and developing the setting from which the character is then drawn out.  These books seem to approach the history and the biography in a balanced way that I enjoy.

The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester, is a great example of drawing the subject from his surroundings.  The link between the Civil War and the madness Dr. W. C. Minor later experiences (which may have actually allowed him to make his huge contribution to the OED) is developed with a sensitivity to story that reaches the reader simultaneously as a biography and a history.  I won’t write a full review on this book.  It’s been years since I read it, but I remember it as a positive experience, even if I’ve forgotten many of the details.  Some, on the other hand, I have not.  Some images are powerful enough to remain imprinted on my brain.  That’s all I’m saying.  When you read the book yourself, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Megan Marshall’s The Peabody Sisters does not devolve upon a specific event as the other two books do.  Instead it follows the American Romantic movement.  It mirrors The Devil, however, in its successful attempt at portraying several powerful personalities as they are influenced by, and influence, that historical context.  The ties that bind these people are both familial and philosophical.  The marriage of history and biography in this book works in part because of the marriages of the sisters.  The relationships are close and Marshall uses them in much the same way Larson would later in The Devil, to bring out each individuals’ unique characteristics by virtue of those relationships.  Again, it has been several years since I read The Peabody Sisters, so no in-depth review.  I did love the book.  I enjoy this particular period, and Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of my favorite authors.  And if you want to know what he has to do with this, read the book.


Have you read any of these books recently?  I would love to hear your perspective.  If you have favorite history/biographies heavy on story and balanced in presentation, I welcome your suggestions.