Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coriolanus, by William Shakespeare

I didn't know about this play until I was in high school. My dad saw a line from it written somewhere and thought I'd like it, so he wrote it down for me: "When the sea was calm all boats alike showed mastership in floating."

Now, years later, I read the play itself, and I really liked it. Coriolanus is a man who does heroic deeds because they are the right things to do. He is brought down for his supposed pride by those who only do such deeds for the commendation they bring. The textual analysis essays at the back of the play are all about how Coriolanus is an anti-hero and deserves his downfall. I completely disagree; he shows how virtue is degraded by political interpretation. Aufidius says:

So our virtues Lie in th' interpretation of the time, And power, unto itself most commendable, Hath not a tomb so evident as a chair T' extol what it hath done. --Act 4, Scene 7, 52-56

Rating: seven out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Love Among the Chickens, by P.G. Wodehouse

I've plucked most of the low-hanging Wodehouse fruit. Now if I want to read every book he's written, I've got to start doing some detective work to find the less-known works from his early career. What's nice, though, is that they were all written before our modern era of "don't call it perpetual" perpetual copyright, which means they're in the public domain, and available on the Internet.

This was my first experience with reading a book on the Internet. If I were richer and/or more technologically savvy, I would have a digital reader, but reading a book on my laptop is the closest I've come to it so far. The Internet reading experience was more annoying than a book, and I don't think the negative points are things that will go away as I become more used to it. But the experience wasn't so horrible as to swear me off the practice; as I get to more public-domain Wodehouse books I need to read, I'll look them up on Google Books if my local library doesn't have them.

Plot-wise, I think I'd read something that said this book wasn't that good. I disagree. I liked it just fine. It was a good, typical Wodehouse novel, with a romance set in a comic atmosphere. Ukridge is one of the more-memorable of Wodehouse's larger-than-life characters. There was much to like, and little to dislike.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

How to Receive Discernible Answers to Your Prayers, by Jeffrey R. Young

The first time I read this book (late 2004 or early 2005), I thought it was full of wonderful insights. I was certain it was the type of book that would reward a closer follow-up reading. Now that I've read it again, though, I'm not so sure. Maybe once was enough.

Or maybe I just didn't as much attention this time. Either way, if I were going to rate this book solely on whether it produced the promised results (i.e.: discernible answers to my prayers), I'd give it, like, negative eight billionty inflatable monkeys. I don't think God got the "just telling people it'll be all right is not the same thing as helping them" memo. Maybe Jeffrey Young can write a book to take care of that little communication mix-up.

He's got some valuable points in this book; the kind of stuff you wish you heard in quorum meetings (instead of the speculation and self-congratulations you regularly hear). He uses a lot of examples from trying times in his own life to show how he dealt with the challenges.

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner

When my daughter is bored I recommend she read some books we own that she never looks through. About once a month I say, "Why don't you read Stone Fox?" She always ignores the suggestion, so I finally decided to read it aloud. My daughter doesn't do well with dramatic conflict, so the fact that Grandfather was near death for the entire book wasn't helpful. My son likes books about animals, but (spoiler alert) the dog dying at the end didn't go over too well with either of them. The story ended sort of abruptly; it's never a good sign when I have to announce that the book has just ended. I DID appreciate the anti-tax elements of the storyline. The only true villain of the book is the tax man, who is represented as a parasite. The simple story made it feel like it was for younger kids, but the weightier subject matter made it feel more appropriate for older kids. I still don't know which age group is ideal.

Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nicholas on Vacation, by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé

This is the third book in the Nicholas series, but the last one we read. It tells of two different summer vacations Nicholas takes from school. Because of this it doesn't really fit into the other stories for continuity purposes, so we had no storyline issues arise from reading it out of order. I liked this one better than books four and five, I think. There's only so much Nicholas can do with his gang at school, so getting him with a different group of kids in a different setting allowed for more breadth of adventure.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

I read this book the summer after my senior year in high school. I think my mother was freaked because she thought I was reading it for practical suicide advice. As mature as I'd like to think I was as a reader, I remembered almost none of it aside from Esther's uncontrolled bleeding when she loses her virginity. This time around I was surprised by how well Plath uses humor. As the book goes along and the narrator succumbs to a spell of depression, the outrageous events slowly shift from humorous to troublesome; you stop laughing at them because they start to become signs of Esther's problem. I thought that was skillfully done. This book wasn't published in America until long after Plath's death because it was supposedly hard on Plath's mother, but I didn't think it was too critical. The times that the narrator criticizes her mother are times when her perception is skewed by her depression. Did Plath's mother expect to come out of a book written by a woman with a mental illness smelling like roses?

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

Better than Looking for Alaska but not as good as Paper Towns, this book is about a child prodigy, Colin, who has to come to terms with the fact that his peers have caught up to him in some aspects. For some reason that's never fully explained he has only dated girls named Katherine. (I dated a Kathryn once, who very temporarily broke my heart. She was a good girl.) He comes up with this idea that a way to prove his usefulness as a former prodigy is to create a mathematical formula that can explain the relationship arcs of all his Katherine romances. I had a problem with the fact that his variables were not actually exogenous; Colin assigned each Katherine a rating of how likely she was to dump him AFTER he'd experienced how likely she was to dump him. Milton Friedman says a theory should be judged by its predictive power, and this theory doesn't have much. The story was enjoyable, though, but I don't know if it was worth the time it took (I'm a pretty slow reader, which means a book has to be better for me or else it has wasted more of my time).

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin

The first half of this book was incredibly interesting. The second half not so much. It was strange that, right when world events turned to the most dramatic circumstances of the 18th century, Franklin's account gets a little boring. He was a statesman and politician during the revolution, not a soldier. His account of his effort as a volunteer in the French and Indian War was more interesting than his treatment of the revolution. I'd say the book is still worth reading, though, because of how interesting a life Franklin lived. In terms of the interesting life story, this book was a lot like My Early Life by Winston Churchill.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Paper Towns, by John Green

I liked this book best of the three John Green books I read this spring. I think it was well-written and dealt with some of the same "life's so hard for teenagers, man" stuff that Looking for Alaska dealt with, without resorting to the hagiography that I felt the narrator in the other book showered on Alaska Young. The girl in this book, Margo, has flaws that aren't presented as tragically wonderful; they are serious and constricting. Whereas (spoiler alert) Alaska dies and so achieves a bit of retrospective perfectness, this girl is found alive and cannot measure up to the image of her the main character has created. I think it is a good story about idealism and its shortcomings in the real world. Even though a lot of it seemed like it was based on a high school senior's term paper on "Leaves of Grass," the book was readable and enjoyable.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

I went to the school library with the plan of reading about monetary disequilibria. Somehow it ended up being more enjoyable browsing the literature stacks. I saw this book and thought, "I've heard of it enough that I should probably have read it." I really liked it. It was one of those books that made me feel like I was missing a lot of the meaning, so afterwards I read the Cliffs Notes, which was sort of helpful. I spent a lot of the book unsure if Phineas was really as great as Gene thought he was, or if he was actually the antagonist, which might be a sign of good writing, since Gene was unsure, himself. I like this book a lot better as a "coming of age" story than The Catcher in the Rye, and wonder why it was never really discussed as a potential book to read in any of my high school English classes. When I blogged that I was reading this, lots of readers left comments about how much they like this book, too, so my wife has checked it out of the library and is now working on it herself.

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Terror in Tights, by Greg Trine

My kids enjoy listening to Melvin Beederman books, even if they are starting to get a little annoying to read aloud. I feel like the plots are getting weaker and weaker. For a kid that just likes the idea of the Melvin and Candice characters, it's not a big deal, but for me, I'm beginning to not look forward to reading them.

Rating: three and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.