If Only THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT WERE as Interesting as the Title and Cover

Dear Reader,

I found THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT dull. I understand it deals with loss experienced by almost all characters, but the loss became boring, heavier than the elephant, yet hollow. Maybe it’s because there are too many characters to cover in too few pages. Maybe it’s because philosophical concepts are dealt with almost in a childlike level, but without childlike wonder.

 

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CORALINE: “… after all, it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see”

Dear Reader,

I finally read CORALINE because I’d heard lots of people say they loved it. I did not love it. I did not much like it either. It didn’t scare me. And I don’t know if it would have scared me when I was a kid. It’s hard to say. I think now, as then, I need more depth of story, more than the premise of a bright girl being ignored/neglected then scooted to a new reality, where she realizes “there’s no place like home” and Mom.

The best line of the book is the title of this review: “… after all, it is always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see.” I absolutely believe this.

Note: Kindness Does Not Win Over Genocide

 

 

Dear Reader,

(This review is based on 1993 edition, Macmillan Publishing)

For the most part, I thought treating others with compassion is the only way to treat others, that is, until I read Premo Levi’s almost how-to memoir. Survival in Auschwitz. If while in Auschwitz Levi had helped those in need around him, shared his rations, carried the fallen, given up his blanket, he would have surely died. He surrounded by less than enough, so to give up any of what he had would have been suicide. Read the book to find out what I mean.

Faye

Elie Wiesel’s DAWN, my Tears, and a Baby’s Smile

Dear Reader,

The words of the novel Dawn, by Elie Wiesel, affected me as much, or more, than its content. As in Night, Wiesel writes with pointed prose, much the way a poet does. There are no superfluous words. There is only repetition with purpose. His sentences are taut but not tight. His poetry invites me to participate in his narrator’s disgust, struggle, fear, and forced numbness. He asked that I sob with his victim’s good humor even though he has no idea why he is supposed to die.

I did what he asked.  And tears fell on the baby in my arms, my 3-month old granddaughter.  She looked into my eyes and smiled.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I EXPECT TO GET OUT OF A NONFICTION BOOK?

Dear Readers,

I recently finished reading Colin Fletcher’s The Man Who Walked Through Time (1968) and Caroline Bancroft’s Silver Queen: The Fabulous Story of Baby Doe Tabor (1955). I didn’t plan to read either book; they just appeared while I was sorting books for Westminster Public Library’s used book sale.

I decided to read The Man Who Walked Through Time because it deals with the author’s two-month walking trip, under the Rim, from from one end of Grand Canyon National Park to the other. I plan to write a story about my experience of being stranded just west of the park, so I thought I would study how he describes the canyon then borrow some of his geological vocabulary, as I have few words of my own.

I read Baby Doe Tabor because I’d kept hearing her name in conjunction with off-kilter legendary Colorado figures, plus I’d been wondering why anyone would be called Baby Doe. Was she tiny with childlike features, doe-like eyes? Was she considered a great beauty because of this?

As it turned out, Baby Doe Tabor’s family in Oshkosh, WI gave her the pet name Baby when she was a child, and somehow Central City, CO silver miners got wind of this and decided to call her Baby too. And Doe? No exciting explanation. It was her first husband’s last name.

But I learned other things too, like who the heck was Horace Tabor, the guy responsible for building opera houses in the late 1800s (and whose name is attached to a Colorado bill that has hog tied the state government).

And The Man Who Walked? Fletcher painstakingly, even boringly sometimes, recounts setting up and breaking camp as well as his decision making processes. Yet his in-depth descriptions of canyons, ledges, eddies, vegetation, and wildlife reflected his intense appreciation of this land and gave me clues for how to describe it in my story.

Have I answered the question How much should I expect to get out of a nonfiction book? Maybe.

I should expect as much as I can find.

Should I or Shouldn’t I Recommend THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG?

Dear Reader,

I’m stumped by how to review Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog. For the most part, I found it boring, but my sister-n-law recommended it, so I forced myself to read the whole thing. Nothing much happens besides a middle-aged well read concierge and a bright twelve-year-old girl’s toughts while they narrate their own chapters. (Some reviewers said the narrators were pretentious. Which is what people who don’t understand people like these two would naturally say.)  I often thought what they said could have been condensed; but, at the same time, they seemed to be journal entries, which are prone to long windedness and frequent sections of little point. It’s clear the novel wasn’t plot driven; but then it wasn’t so much character driven either.

For the lesser part–or is it the greater?–Barbery wrote several things that I just had to record so I could savor them later. For example:

  • “Art is life, playing to other rhythms.”
  • “As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone.”
  • “… the capacity to do harm is often and item of family capital.”
  • “Apparently, now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is. They complain without understanding and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around, suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don’t want to go. The most intelligent among them turn their malaise into a religion…” 

But do a few memorable lines negate a lot of unmemorable ones? Or the other way around? I don’t know. Do I have to give this book a grade, a # of stars?

What do you think?

Sincerely,

Faye

Why I Like Jon Krakauer’s Writing Style

Dear Reader,

I like Jon Krakauer’s writing style in UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: A STORY OF VIOLENT FAITH, just as I did in his books INTO THIN AIR and INTO THE WILD. He starts with a single event, in this case a murder, diverges, diverges some more, then returns to the murder and asks the reader to look at it through a variety of lenses (defined by me): insanity, fanaticism, passion, stupidy, belief, and more. He explores the history of Mormonism, but he could just as well have focused on Christianity or Islam–with a great deal more difficulty, of course, as they are centuries old, compared with Mormonism, which is still in its infancy–and how easily people hijack religion to further their non-spiritual agendas. Krakauer’s style leaves room for readers to develop their own questions and draw their own conclusions, which is much better than putting up with a didactic author. I picked up this book because the title intrigued me, and because I wanted to learn a bit about the history of the Mormon faith and, thereby, something about the religion as it is practiced today. I learned enough about the history to know there’s a lot more to learn, and very little about the practice of Mormonism, which is really okay, by me; that would require serious study. (It’s interesting that as I reread the subtitle of the book I realized I’d repeatedly thought it said “A Story of ‘A’ Violent Faith,” which states that Mormanism is violent. Take out “A” and it refers to any faith, as an act.)