The 17th Five of 2008


I think maybe I'll start introducing these posts as they tend to be long and then you won't have to scroll down if you're not so inclined.

This time I'm reviewing a book about the Fighting Parson and his wife and how they reopened the road to upstate New York for Mormons everywhere, Garry Wills's parsing of Jesus's message (unlike me, he leaves off the s on s-terminating names), a crappy comic, a classic (and excellent Mormon novel) and one of the few scary books for children that actually gots the stuff.


085) A Lion and a Lamb> by Rand H. Packer, finished September 20
    This book has a lot of typos, some amateurish touches, is obviously written by a family member, forgets some of its original theses as it goes along.

    Lion/LambBut this book is also about a fascinating story from Church history, a pair of wonderful characters, and is charming and delightful in the way I praised Added Upon for.

    In 1915, Willard and Rebecca Bean were called to leave their Utah home and move to New York, to live in the home Joseph Smith grew up in and make some friends. Which was tough. The people of Palmyra hated the Mormons and weren't shy to show it.

    Lucky Willard was a champion boxer.

    But, in pure Almaic fashion, his weekly preaching won over way more people than a couple knocked noggins ever did. By the end of their quarter century in New York, they were among the most respected and beloved citizens of their town and the Church was well on its way to the Hill Cumorah Pageant and a Palymra Temple.

    The tale is a lovely and kind look at a lovely and kind couple. (And don't pay the $90 dollars you'll be asked to at Amazon. The publisher has a much better offer.)

    Thanks, Mom and Dad. Good Coast Guard Day present.

    just over a month

084) What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills, finished September 20
    Loved this book. And since Willis has written a couple sequels (What the Gospels Meant, What Paul Meant), you might guess I'll head there next. But that's because you don't know Garry Wills like I know Garry Wills.

    My first Garry Wills book, Certain Trumpets, I received from a professor for getting the highest score on a test. (All professors should do this.) Certain Trumpets is a book about types of leadership and it looks at a leader type, someone who exemplifies that type of leadership, and someone who is quite the opposite. For instance, King David was a charismatic leader (someone who comes to power by force of personality) and his son, Solomon, was the opposite --- his kingship was merely inherited and he ran the ship like a dull bureaucrat. Other examples of leadership included JFK and MLK and people known neither by their initials nor in the Bible. It was a great book. I loved it and have been meaning to go back to it since I first read it, about a decade ago.

    Wills, at that time, was best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg. I'm a huge Lincolnphile so that book's been high on my list ever since.

    But I saw What Jesus Meant on remainder and picked it up (foreward title: "Christ Not a Christian) and loved it immediately.

    Garry Wills courtesy NYTHe starts by laughing at WWJD? because, let's face it, do you want your kid, at twelve years old, disappearing in the big city? Destroy someone's herd of pigs? Hang out with beggars and prostitutes? Allow himself to be killed only to raise himself from the dead (even if your kid could do that)? Obviously, being a Christian doesn't boil down to doing exactly What Jesus Did --- so what does it mean?

    Intriguing start. Cheap price. I bought the book.

    As a Mormon aside, yes, there are doctrinal points I disagree with Wills about, but in fact these are very few. Mostly I found his book enlightening, inspiring and instructive. I learned things. Plus its short and fun and a good read. I recommend it to anyone.

    So which Wills book do I want to read next? Why I Am a Catholic. Because I had no idea devout Catholics could be so incredibly antipapist. And I got to know how he reconciles that.

    Buy your own copy. (It's cheap.)

    And then as you read, ask yourself: How Christian am I? Jesus gave with no expectation of return. When was the last time I had someone over for dinner that could never possibly feed me back? There's a Christian goal I could obtain. So why does it seem so hard?

    The books posits many opportunities for reflection, self examination, and worship. Because, when you and Garry Wills are gathered in his name, he will be there. I suspect. I might be pushing it, but probably not.

    I'll stop talking now.....

    just under a month

083) The Lost Ones by Steve Niles et al, finished September 18
    So Mr Niles writes the script and different artists draw different portions of the story in different styles. Intriguing idea.

    Too bad it sucked.

    I mean: really really sucked.

    a day

082) Dorian by Nephi Anderson, finished September 17
    I think I just had a Jane Austen experience.

    You know how Jane Austen fans just swoon over her antiquated but perfect prose and clever characters and still-real situations?

    So before I get too slobbery, I'm going to talk about what I didn't like about this book.

    Like Added Upon, Dorian could get a bit preachy. Usually this was done via the longwinded but much beloved Uncle Zed. There were moments it went on a little long, but it was never as bad as in Added Upon or, say, Victor Hugo's rhapsodies about the Parisian sewer system.

    I hate hate HATE the word "drugged." The book would have been vastly better without it. Thank goodness it only appeared once in the entire volume.

    I could write a paper about the three deaths (four, really, or five --- depends how you count --- if you include the ones that occur offscreen, but I wasn't too enthralled with the final one. I can say much positive about it as a storytelling choice, but in the end it may have been just too easy.

    And that's about it for dislikes. There are other elements I might not be able to stand in a modern novel, but it's like listening to foreign pop music: Clichés I would detest in American music become delightful if sung in French or Javanese. (Have you noticed this?) Dorian dates to 1921. It's charming.

    Some things not directly related to my liking the book but that were fascinating all the same:
      how the Sabbath was observed by Mormons in 1921
      rural attitudes to education in 1921
      vestigial class structure in 1921 Mormon society
      et cetera
    Anyway, Dorian.

    The title character is a big country boy who lives with his widowed mother and has a penchant for books. If you were ever sent to town to buy some decent shoes and came home with David Copperfield instead, this book is for you.

    Nephi AndersonYou could, I suppose, reduce this book to "Dorian's Adventures in Love", but that does such disservice to the beauty of this book. I can understand why other people are angry Added Upon's fame has led to Mormons forgetting Anderson's other books.

    The first death shocked me. Horrified me! In fact, I was shocked and horrified many times. But these shocks and horrors felt so true, so honest, so lifelike that I only felt more deeply for the characters. I love these characters. Dorian and I don't have an awful lot in common, but I think highly of him as a person and would love to meet him. And he's so well drawn it feels more like "Too bad he must be dead by now" than "Too bad he never actually existed."

    I don't have easy access to other Anderson books, but I'll be keeping my eyes open.

    And, in the meantime, I'm returning Dorian to the Berkeley Ward Library. It'll be waiting for you.

    about a month

081) If You Want to Scare Yourself by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, translated by Rene Vera Cafiero, with illustrations by Helga Spiess; finished September 12
    I don't know who's to blame for this volume's remarkably ugly cover (beyond all people in children's publishing back in 1989), but I really thought this book would be a waste of time. I picked it up off a sidewalk because I was about to see a kid I though might like it, but he rejected it straight out. So it's been in the Lapper since then. Until this afternoon, rather, when the Big O and I got in it to move it to the driveway. He saw it and wanted it and I said, okay, sure, whatever, and we started reading it; I read, holding the book with one hand while batting or pitching with the other hand.

    And what a wonderful surprise awaited within! First of all, the interior illustrations were pretty darn great--actually creepy, which was a surprise. In fact, the text itself was creepy, which never happens in collections of "scary" stories for kids. (Maybe because this is a German book?) There were moments of genuine eeriness even for me.

    illustration by Helga Spiess

    The werewolf story in particular really grabbed the Big O.

    He's been interested in scary stories for a while, but this is the first one that really worked for him. I hope that doesn't mean he'll end up in our bed tonight....

    So! Recommended! And available for practically free plus shipping!

    (Incidentally, this is the first "long" book the O and I have finished in quite a while. In part because even though he likes it, he's not that thrilled about Mr. Popper's Penguins (???) and so we've been working on it for almost a year. Lady Steed just started on Charlotte's Web with him however, and that does seem to be going better.)

    about three hours


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