Since I’m new to this whole blogging thing, there are several books I’ve read recently (in the last six months or so) that I want to blog about, but they’re not fresh enough in my mind for me to write full reviews….so, here are mini-reviews of some of my recent reads, in no particular order.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: 5 out of 5. I just read this last month, and I couldn’t put it down. This is a gothic novel in the tradition of Jane Eyre, complete with the requisite madwoman hidden in the house. When writer and bookseller Margaret Lea receives a letter from England’s most celebrated and mysterious author, Vida Winter, in which Ms. Winter requests that Margaret write her biography, Margaret cannot pass up the opportunity. She travels to the country to live in Ms. Winter’s home, where the two conduct daily interviews as they unravel the secrets of the author’s heretofore unspoken of past. In the process, Margaret discovers and deals with her own family secrets and finds that she has more in common with Vida Winter than she originally thought.
Diane Setterfield’s first novel is gripping and mysterious, and her descriptions of Ms. Winter and her home and surroundings create a setting the reader wants to stay in and explore. This book also has the added bonus of several wonderful passages about what it means to love and cherish books that will resonate with any serious reader. Fans of The Shadow of the Wind will love The Thirteenth Tale.
In Trespassers Will Be Baptized: The Unauthorized Memoir of a Preacher’s Daughter, Harvard graduate and former Miss Massachusetts Elizabeth Emerson Hancock recounts her childhood as the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher in Kentucky. Set as a series of vignettes rather than a linear narrative, Trespassers reads like a David Sedaris book for the Christian set. Some passages are laugh-out-loud funny–including my favorite, in which her little sister uses a piece of poop to express her dislike for her father’s lunch companions as they sit across the table from her–while others are more touching and introspective. Hancock gets bonus points for not sugarcoating the details or pretending that life as PK was all rainbows and daffodils, and her presentation of her father’s struggle to balance his duties to the church with his desire to be a real family man is honest and rings true. Her gentle critiques of some of the “characters” of church life demonstrate an a willingness to recognize that even those of us with the best intentions have weaknesses, and she provides room for the reader to recognize and identify with these characters–and to grow from these recognitions– without feeling bad about it. 4 out of 5
Readers need not be Southern or Christian to enjoy this book, though those who share Hancock’s background will surely appreciate and relate to her stories on a deeper level. In my opinion, Trespassers Will Be Baptized (what a great title!) belongs on the biography shelves with other humorous memoirs and should not be hidden away in the “Inspiration” section with the likes of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. Click here to visit the author’s website and learn more.
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks. 4.5 out of 5. From the acclaimed neurologist and author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, and Awakenings, comes a fascinating collection of essays about the complex relationship between music and the brain. Sacks explains that humans’ appreciation for music is scientifically mysterious because it serves no real evolutionary or biological purpose, yet it clearly has important effects on our functioning, our thoughts, and our emotions. Included are essays about an individual who, after being struck by lightning, develops a sudden and intense interest in music and ability to hear and compose music in his head; an individual who loses his ability to “see” music; and a woman who can no longer hear music because she is plagued by a loud and constant ringing in her ears. Sacks explains the neurological phenomena behind his patients’ symptoms and invites readers to examine their relationships with music and consider what would happen if that relationship underwent a sudden change.
I found Musicophilia interesting on many levels because music has played a profound role in my life and because my background in psychology allowed me to understand most of what Sacks writes about. A working knowledge of basic neurology would be useful but is not necessary to appreciate and enjoy this book. One could potentially skip over the scientific portions and focus on the patients’ emotional experiences and still get the “flavor” of what this book is all about, but instead, I’d recommend keeping a dictionary/intro neurology text/website close at hand…why not learn something new?
What have you been reading lately?