August 26, 2008

Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence**

** Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B J Lossing, 1848

The last time I visited my mother, I skimmed the shelves of my dad's books to see if there was anything interesting. I grabbed this book. The format is good for bedside reading, since there are 3 to 5 page biographical sketches of the 56 men who signed the D of I. Very informative.

However, the book is a riot of Capitalization, Commas, and Rhetoric. Here are some samples.

He took a prominent part in the debates respecting the independence of the Colonies, and voted for, and signed that glorious Declaration of American disenthralment. Soon after this act was consummated, he returned home and was immediately appointed by governor Trumbull and the Council of Safety, to the command of a detachment of Connecticut militia.

His clear perception saw the end from the beginning, and those delusive hopes which the repeal of obnoxious acts held forth, had no power over Lewis Morris. Neither could they influence his patriotism, for he was a stranger to a vacillating, temporizing spirit. He refused office under the Colonial government, for his domestic ease and comfort were paramount to the ephemeral enjoyment of place.

In many places it reads like a cross between an object lesson and a letter of recommendation. Here's a representative sample:

The life of Mr. Hopkins exhibits a fine example of the rewards of honest, persevering industry. Although his early education was limited, yet he became a distinguished mathematician, and filled almost every public station in the gift of the people, with singular ability. He was a sincere and consistent Christian, and the impress of this profession was upon all his deeds.

Overall, it's slow going. On the other hand, what's the hurry?

August 19, 2008

The Year of Living Biblically ***

*** The Year of Living Biblically, A. J. Jacobs, 2007

I heard about this from The Other Son when the book-geek gang was planning the itinerary for the 2007 Texas Book Festival. We planned to go, but the session was at 7 pm and after a day of traipsing around and listening to authors, it was down to me and The SpyMan, who wanted to ditch and get sushi instead. So we did.

Fast forward six months and I get an email from a dedicated fan of the FredBooks telling me I was quoted in the book. I got a copy and sure enough, she was right. However, the quote is from an essay I published on Teh Interwebs in the mid ninties under a pen name. (A free autographed copy of the FredBook of your choice to the first non-Kelly person to identify the quote and the page number it is on. Those who I've already told about it are disqualified, of course.)

This is a very clever book and worth the read. Here's the story behind the book. It's broken up into short sections numbered by the days of the year, which makes it the perfect bedside book because you can read as much or as little as you like and always find a stopping point when you get tired or someone says, "Are you going to keep that light on all night?" (The proper answer to that is, "Yes, actually.)

August 12, 2008

The Mists of Avalon **

** The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1982

Two stars for the general populace. For Arthurian lore fans, three stars. I've read several books, or series, based on Arthur and Camelot. My favortie is Mary Stewart's Merlin series, starting with The Crystal Cave. I also enjoyed Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Nights, Lawhead's Pendragon cycle, and amazingly enough for someone with a confirmed antipathy toward poetry, Tennyson's Idylls of the King, which is in the top 10 books I've read. You really should give it a shot.

Anyway, I found Mists in a library sale. It had been a while since I'd read any Arthurian stuff. I stuck it in The Stack and it followed me around from Texas to South Carolina to Arizona to Colorado to Hawaii and back to Texas.

It's a big book. I rank books by the size of animal they can kill if you throw it. At 900+ pages, it's in the rat-killing class and a little daunting to pick up and read, especially when you're on the go a lot. You should get credit for 2 or 3 books if you read this one! But one day I realized that the size meant it would stay open by itself, which made it the perfect book to read while working out.

It passed The Elliptical Test, but it could have been edited down by 200-300 pages without losing much except weight. What makes this story interesting is that it is told from the perspective of the women involved in the legend. There is also lots of exploration of Christianity vs the pagan religion or no religion, which is interesting for the first 400 pages or so, but begins to wear after a while.

As Lincoln said, "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." I liked it.

August 5, 2008

Demon: A Memoir ***

*** Demon: A Memoir, Tosca Lee, 2007

I heard some good stuff about this one, and it was a Christy finalist, so I picked it as my plane reading on my trip back from Orlando. Good choice.

Tosca can write, boy howdy. Funny thing is, I was about halfway through when I realized that this is what The Shack could have been if Young was actually a good writer. If he had bothered to actually create a real story instead of flimsy cardboard props to hang his polemic on.

The story resonated with me the same way that many of the favorite books of my youth did. There are two stories developing along side each other, both fascinating. At first the story of the demon was interesting, but as the book progressed I became more involved in the story of the narrator.

Tosca's powers of description are formidable and compelling. I felt like I was there when the earth was created and Lucifer made his appearance, and when it was re-created after the rebellion. Powerful stuff, Maynard.

Highly recommended. Check http://www.toscamoonlee.com/ for more info on the book and what Tosca is up to now.