Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Power and the Glory

June 5, 2012
Book of the Day: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Grade: A+
First published: 1940
1-word review: Oppression
8-word review: Man is either broken or he breaks himself.

In the southern Mexico of the early twentieth century, priests have become all but extinct due to the zealous efforts of an anti-clerical, authoritarian government (in this case, personified in a nameless police lieutenant), who have forced them to either renounce the faith and marry, or be put to death. In the midst of this hell, one unnamed priest holds out and does his best to evade the authorities and, despite himself, continue in his duties. But this man is wracked by guilt and far from holy. He drinks, earning him the appellation of "whisky priest," and he has fathered a child. He seems to believe that he is damned no matter what he does, but, ironically, he struggles throughout the story to find some sort of redemption. It is up to the reader to pass judgment as to the ultimate worth of this man's soul.

In a heartbreaking side story, Padre Jose, a priest defrocked and forced to marry, is ridiculed by his former parishioners and subjugated by his wife. Children gather around his porch at night to mimic his wife's calls for him to come to bed. He loathes himself, but he fears the state too much to defy it, to show courage.

Greene was inspired to write this novel after a visit to Mexico in the late '30's. In the state of Tabasco, its governor had established a paramilitary force called the "Red Shirts" to harass Catholics and terrorize the clergy. Religion was effectively banned in the state.

Tomas Garrido Canabal, the anti-clerical governor of Tabasco
Don't be fooled by his silly outfit. He wasn't very nice.

I am in awe of this novel. It has remained my favorite since I first read it almost six years ago. Greene's mastery of words is always noteworthy, but his language is remarkable here, with nary a word too many or too few. Greene was a prolific author, and many of his other novels rank among my favorites (e.g, The Quiet American, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, The Comedians). Read him.

Graham Greene (1904-1991)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Grand Re-Opening

I am restarting this blog. Originally, it was for a project of mine where I read a book every day for the month of December 2009. It will continue to follow a similar format, but I will not be reading a book every day, and my posts could be about any book I have read, whether recently or a long time ago. I may even write occasional pieces that are more generally about reading, instead of focusing on specific books. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Month in Books (December 2009)

I'm sure you as my massive reading audience greatly enjoyed my month in books (not that I'm suggesting that you, dear reader, are personally massive). This will be my last post until my next Book-a-Day month, at a yet to be determined point in the future. Here are my December awards:
  • Book of the Month Award - Arabian Nights and Days, by Naguib Mahfouz
  • Honorable Mentions - Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell; The Atom Station, by Halldor Laxness; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John le CarrĂ©
  • Worst Book Award - The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense, by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Dishonorable Mention - Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

And here are some of the things I learned over the month of December:
  1. If you choose to read a book a day, pick a month other than December to do it, even though you'll be out of school. The holidays really screw with the reading time.
  2. Avoid trying to read a short story collection in a single day.
  3. Write in your blog immediately after finishing each book, or you'll keep putting it off.
  4. Blogging is actually a pretty good way to deal with writer's block.
  5. Tiger loves him the ladies.
  6. I'm pretty much invincible at fantasy football.
  7. It really isn't the thought that counts.
  8. Idaho is a bottomless well of endless amusement.
  9. Reese loves you!

Homage to Catalonia

December 31, 2009
Book of the Day: Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
Grade: A
First published: 1938
1-word review: Civility
8-word review: It's preferable not to be shot at all.

George Orwell goes to Spain in 1936 to report on its civil war. He ends up joining a militia, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unity (POUM), and becoming an active fighter in the struggle against Franco. Despite joining a group with communist sympathies, Orwell finds much to criticize in the practical application of communism as a political philosophy, although he finds POUM's anti-Stalinist stance more palatable than some of the other Marxist groups active in the Spanish Civil War. He ends up leaving for England after surviving being shot in the neck.

Spain spent decades under fascism before becoming the relatively liberal democracy it is today. Learn from this, Idaho! Shrug of the propagandists of the right and aim for the light of freedom! What have you gained from blindly following a single party? I mean really, you're basically a third-world state! Imagine that the potatoes were all gone. Just suppose we had a Great Idaho Potato Famine. Then where would you be? Lentils can only carry you so far. I guess there's always the white supremacist tourist trade.

This is your future, Idaho!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Theory of the Leisure Class

December 30, 2009
Book of the Day: The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen
Grade: A-
First published: 1899
1-word review: Conspicuous
7-word review: It's all pecuniary conspicuity, you materialistic bastard.

This is an interesting, sometimes funny, frequently profound, take on our consumer culture. There's a certain desire to achieve material success just to show others that we have achieved material success. Furthermore, our motivation comes from seeing the success of others. These factors lead to what Veblen calls "conspicuous consumption." We like other people to notice our stuff.

Then there are those who try to try to wow you with their stuff when their stuff isn't all that impressive. Veblen refers to these people as "Boise State fans."

Just a little love tap.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

His Excellency: George Washington

December 29, 2009
Book of the Day: His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph J. Ellis
Grade: B-
First published: 2004
1-word review: Undeification
7-word review: Washington actually had some character to him.

George Washington has always been a mystery to me. Despite knowing many facts about his life, I'd always felt like I knew nothing about him personally. Frankly, I thought he was quite boring. Ellis does a decent job of shedding some light on Washington's character. I enjoyed this biography much more than Ellis's over-hyped Founding Brothers.

Washington quite literally commanded respect. If a person judged his character in a way that differed in the slightest from his image of himself, that person was cut off. He was constantly accusing people with which he did business of cheating him, fairly or not. He was a shameless self-promoter, and he capitalized monetarily from his name. He was one of the few prominent founding fathers to die wealthy.

Despite all this, he deserves the credit he receives, for holding the fragile early republic together. He was greatly admired by his peers and recognized for his charisma and strength. He was the easy choice to lead the Continental Army, and he was the first Electoral College's unanimous choice to be President.

If Washington had known about the eventual creation of Idaho, would he have called the Revolution off?

A Moveable Feast

December 28, 2009
Book of the Day: A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
Grade: B-
First published: 1964
1-word review: Gossipy
8-word review: Hemingway dishes on some famous people, including himself.

Hemingway's experiences in Paris as a young man had an enormous influence on his writing. Here, in a book published posthumously, he writes about that time, the city, the booze, the culture 0f expats, the famous writers he knew (Stein, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Pound), his first wife, etc. It gets a little too detailed and voyeuristic at times, but it's still an interesting read.

Hemingway committed suicide in Idaho. What does this tell us about Idaho?