In March I read two books from the Girl Canon, a list of “books not necessarily for girls but which investigate, address, or represent the female experience in some essential way.” I’ve read a few of the books on that list already, but I found it a useful guide to add even more to my ever-growing “to read” list. It’s almost like there are too many books! I also, sad to say, have my first negative review this month. It’s more fun to recommend good and great books, but it is useful to know which books to steer away from.
- Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh is a classic in children’s lit (it says so on the back cover!), but I managed to never read it. I’m glad I did, though. Even before we started having kids, I liked to pick up YA lit or kids’ classics that I missed growing up every once in a while. Some of it is nostalgia, I’m sure, but some of it is a curiosity to know what kids are reading these days or what my own kids will someday read. And I just like good stories, so I’m not bothered if they happen to come in packages meant for a younger crowd. If it was the only thing in my reading diet, that might be a problem. But usually it’s once or twice a year as a change of pace. Anyway, enough about me, what about Harriet? I enjoyed most the aspect of her spying/observing the world. She spends much of her time each day observing her classmates or the people in her neighborhood, jotting down questions, stray thoughts, and sharp barbs. Some of it is simplistic (she is in sixth grade, after all), but much of it is her learning about people and how they relate to the world. It’s not explicitly said, but she is learning about social stratification and class structure and her place in that structure. She’s practicing to be a writer someday, and she is learning the empathy necessary to write about all kinds of people. There are lots of misadventures along the way (it is a kids’ book after all), but she learns to be a better person herself, too.
- The Forgers by Bradford Morrow is a disappointing thriller about books and forgery. I had high hopes when I picked up the book on the NEW shelf at the library on a whim. I’m a sucker for books about the love of books (I’ve got a future post percolating on the subject), but they sometimes disappoint, and when they do it’s a big letdown. The Forgers isn’t bad, but it starts with more promise than it delivers. It starts with the blurbs. I picked up the book based on the gushing from respectable writers like Michael Cunningham and Joyce Carol Oates. I figured if they liked a book labeled a thriller, it must be pretty good. But I suspect they liked it for its meditations on fakery and deception, both literary and personal. The beginning also hooked me in with the description of a grisly murder of a man in the rare book world (possibly a forger) who has had his hands chopped off. I was compelled by the mystery for the majority of the book, but I expected more of a payoff at the end. It seemed that the action dragged in the final third as if the reader was expected to get more out of the contemplation of duplicity and double-ness of forgery. I guess I expected more thriller from my literary thriller. Though it has its moments, I’m sad to say I don’t think I’d recommend this book.
- Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright is a helpful book on a difficult topic. Part of my difficulty was my confusion on what exactly “the authority of scripture” means. Wright contends that the authority of scripture only makes sense as shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.” The Bible is not a rule book or a book of doctrines, or at least not primarily so. Rather, “most of its constituent parts, and all of it when put together […] can best be described as story.” And this story is one that is ongoing. In Wright’s formulation, we are currently in the last act of a five-act play: “creation, ‘fall,’ Israel, Jesus, and the church.” The culmination of the story is the salvation of all of creation, not merely individual souls. I liked all of these ideas, but it still remained mostly on a theoretical level, so I was glad that he presented some examples at the end of the book. The first example of how to understand the Sabbath for today was particularly enlightening for me. I liked the discussion about how Sabbath is sacred time (analogous to the Temple as sacred space) and the related theme of Jubilee. Jubilee occurred every seventh year with the forgiveness of debts and then a great Jubilee on the fiftieth year (after seven seven year periods) with the restoration of land and the freedom of slaves. It is the picture of the restoration of creation that Jesus inaugurated but that is not yet complete. He closes the book with his second example of monogamy, which is more troublesome. He contends that one man/one woman is the intended order of creation and the polygamy of the Old Testament was a sign of the disordered-ness of humanity after the first act of the play. While it fits with his overall system and understanding of scripture, it doesn’t take into account LGBTQ individuals. Despite my hesitation at the end of the book, I would still recommend it for anyone interested in the Bible and how to understand it.
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is delightfully macabre story of two sisters ostracized by their community. When we first meet the narrator Mary Catherine Blackwood (affectionately called Merricat by her sister), she is shopping in the village. She goes into town twice a week to get groceries and other necessities. Their large house is outside of the small village, secluded from prying eyes. They live apart, and that suits them and the villagers both fine. Merricat lives with her sister Constance and their uncle Julian, who is an invalid. The rest of the family, we soon learn, all died under mysterious circumstances years ago. The Blackwoods are the object of morbid curiosity by the villagers, leading to confrontations as the sisters would rather live cloistered away from view. Jackson gives us a wonderful narrator in Merricat, a woman we sympathize with and root for even as she does strange things like burying trinkets and money on their property or saying secret words to ward off impending danger. The book is satisfying but not overlong, and still I wished I could spend more time with these delightfully eccentric sisters. I’d recommend this novel to anyone who likes a slightly twisted and dark story. As a side note, the edition I read had an introduction by Jonathan Lethem that gave some of Jackson’s bio and explicated the story, revealing most of the key plot points. I skipped the intro initially and read it only after I had finished the book. I wish books that had this kind of introduction would move it to the back of the book so that readers who don’t want to read spoilers could more easily avoid them.