Saturday, October 20, 2007


A while back Fauna recommended to me A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It is a memoir Vanauken writes about his idyllic courtship and marriage, his conversion to Christianity, and his grief after the death of his young wife. Washington Post says, "No brief review can do justice to the human depth of this book. It invites us to explore a beautiful dollhouse of love and to witness the destruction of a relation too exquisite to last." I agree with the first sentence--a brief review could never do justice to this book, nor could anything I post about it. It is one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. However, I don't know what the Post means by "destruction of a relation to exquisite to last." I didn't see that.

Vanauken and his wife were "pagans," as he describes them, when they met, fell in love, and decided to create a "shining barrier" to protect their love, "making it invulnerable, we believed, to the destroyers of love." They marry and eventually end up at Oxford for three years. There they meet intellectuals like themselves, but these intellectuals are Christians. Contrary to what the Vanaukens have always thought, they are forced to accept the fact, as evidenced by these friends, that being Christian does not preclude intelligent thought. They think they would like to "investigate" Christianity. They meet C.S. Lewis and begin to correspond with him through letters about their investigation.

There is a lot to this book. As the Los Angeles Times says, it raises "questions that can't easily be ignored." It's one of those books you'd better not read before bed because you'll never get to sleep. Another blurb on the back flap calls it "A gem of a book ... a study in conversion, in human love, in grief, that delivers an extraordinary impact on the reader." I can attest to that. As soon as I finished this book I went right back to page one and started reading it again. J wanted to read it but I'm not ready to give it up. I hope I get the chance to post more about it later.

I also finished the second in Joan Aiken's adventure series that takes place in northwestern Spain. The first was Go Saddle the Sea, about 12-yr-old boy and his adventures in 19th century Spain. I really liked the characters in the book, the unexpected plot twists, and more than anything, the setting. I liked the second, Bridle the Wind, even more. I liked the characters better. I enjoyed the setting more because this time it was in Basque Country. Even the plot twists were more exciting! These books should be more popular. I look forward to the third and last of the series, Teeth of the Gale.

I am not yet half way through Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo Rising. Has anyone read these? Supposedly Dunnett is (was, she died in 2003) one of the foremost historical fiction writers of our time. Some say she's the best. The Christian Science Monitor says, "Mrs. Dunnett's gift lies in her ability to take history's bare bones and invest them with life. She does this by creating ... characters whose humor and pathos reach across centuries." About Niccolo Rising: "The time is the 15th century , when intrepid merchants become the new knighthood of Europe. Among them, none is bolder or more cunning than Nicholas vander Poele of Bruges, the good-natured dyer's apprentice who schemes and swashbuckles his way to the helm of a mercantile empire." The principal characters are fictional, but real people from history, like the Medici, figure prominently. I have liked the book so far, though I am still adapting to Dunnett's style. Sometimes I don't know what's going on and I think I've been stupid and missed something. But then everything is explained a few pages (in some cases, chapters) later.

Also reading Raising a Reader: Make Your Child a Reader for Life by Paul Kropp. I've read a little of it and don't like it much so I may not continue. The book lists are uninspired and it's not telling me anything new. I liked The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease better.

Also reading Raising Lifelong Learners, A Parent's Guide by Lucy Calkins. I've only read the first chapter. So far so good.

Another one I picked up at the library: The Illustrated History of Scotland by Chris Tabraham. Looks like a good kitchen read (as long as I don't spatter or spill on it).


Karen ~ said...

You have intrigued me ... I just reserved A Severe Mercy from the library. Will let you know when I get it read!

Cocoa said...

I'm going to see if our library has A Severe Mercy and the Joan Aiken series. I'm looking for more good books to read.

ave said...

I have tried to read one of D. Dunnett's series, and thought it was way too wordy. By wordy I mean she is so detailed in all of the historical discription, that I loose focus on the characters.