A month with three new, and now beloved, authors with one already beloved writer.
ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman
My first introduction to Neil Gaiman was in The Sandman comics. I enjoyed those a lot and they birthed a wonder at what his prose would be like. I finally picked up a used copy of this book and was immediately hooked. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve suspected Douglas Adams wrote this book. The style, humor, plot situations and characters all reminded me of the fun I had reading his novels. They’re both English authors so perhaps that’s the connection, although I do believe Gaiman was a huge fan of Adams. Anyway this book is about Fat Charlie and the brother he never knew he had, Spider. Oh yeah, and their dead father who is a god, Anansi. After connecting with his brother in the wake of his father’s death, Fat Charlie finds out he was better off without ever knowing he had a brother. Nothing but trouble has occurred since they’ve met and their relationship, mainly Spider’s devious ways, leads them into an interconnected story that’s as intertwined as a spiderweb. If you love to laugh, love oddities and silliness with a sense of gravity, you’ll love this book. I highly recommend it.
Stories are like spiders, with all they long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another, each to each. (pg. 45)
"Does that change things?" asked the old man. "Maybe Anansi's just some guy from a story, made up back in Africa in the dawn days of the world by some boy with blackfly on his leg, pushing his crutch in the dirt, making up some goofy story about a man made of tar. Does that change anything? People respond to the stories. They tell them themselves. The stories spread, and as people tell them, the stories change the tellers. Because now the folk who never had any thought in their head but how to run from lions and keep far enough away from rivers that the crocodiles don't get an easy meal, now they're starting to dream about a whole new place to live. The world may be the same, but the wallpaper's changed. Yes? People still have the same story, the one where they get born and they do stuff and they die, but now the story means something different to what it meant before." (pg. 291)
HEALTH, MONEY, AND LOVE AND WHY DON'T ENJOY THEM by Robert Farrar Capon
By now I can trust that Capon will always provide something for me to be enthralled by. He has such a playful way of writing that lets you be swept away in his thoughts and use of imagery. There are of course the times where I have trouble following his metaphor or keeping track of all his images but I love them nonetheless (plus, there's rereadability [is that a word?] in there). In this specific book, Capon addressed the topics of money love and health in a manner that would be expected of him by those that know him: gracefully. With the distinction of religion, Capon dissects how each topic finds itself religionized (I think I'm making up words) by us as we try to control and bend the will of the world (or God) toward ourselves. In reality, the world runs on God's luck of the dice. In the end you get a great reminder from Capon that everything might just be alright after all and you can enjoy yourself a good chuckle. At this point I know i’m entirely drawn in by Capon's view of scripture and theology.
"Because except for occasional miraculous interventions on God's part, he seems content to run the world very much as a casino owner would run an honest gambling palace. He lets the (unloaded) dice roll the way they want. He lets the cards in the blackjack shoe lie in any (unstacked) order the shuffle determines. He lets the roulette wheel turn at its own (not his) pleasure. And then--precisely and only because he is a master of the odds--he gets the exact result he wants (his profit) without once interring with the freedom of anything. (pg. 20)
Think of the question, "Where is God?" And think of how much breath has been wasted on it as a result of accepting the bromide that the universe is a hulking great expanse. People reverently locate God far outside the limits of its vast materiality--and then they have the temerity to wonder why the God they have postulated as "beyond it all" or "above it all" seems so remote and indifferent. But if you turn the image around, the question itself gets turned around. It becomes not, "Where is God?" but, "Where is the universe?" And the answer become not, "Far away, beyond all connection" but, "Right there in the Bed of the Trinity, between the thumb and forefinger of the Beloved as she places it in the palm of her Lover." (pg. 54)
THE LOST SHTETL by Max Gross
This is the most unique book I’ve read a in a really long time. I only came across it by perusing covers and was stunned by the powerful green littered with little black trees and a felt type font for the title. Then reading about the plot I was intrigued to see it was a story of a lost forgotten Jewish community in Poland. This small community, due to numerous events, has remained hidden and unknown to the rest of the world for numerous decades. So removed from society were they that WWII/the Holocaust was an event in history they were oblivious of. Since there was no record of the town, Hitler had no knowledge of their existence and thus they became the last standing Jewish community in Poland, one of the last in all of Europe. The book, in it’s unique way, doesn’t exactly tell a linear story and at times feels like separate stories are occurring but really it is the story of what happens when a sheltered town and people come into contact with the real, modern world. Cars, electricity, cell phones, new currency and most importantly the immoral ways of the gentiles. There’s a riveting story of a couple individuals who venture out into Poland and experience the modern world, and then one story unfolding within the town of Kreskol as their existence is revealed. The community divides and splits over how to incorporate the ways of the world or if they even should. It was unique read in the sense that the Jewish culture and ways are prevalent in the book, the author even has footnotes and a glossary to help with Yiddish vocabulary and Jewish terms. But it’s also written in such an easily understandable way that anyone can pick it up and step into another culture. The style is written in took some time to get used to and eventually it grew on me. There’s a lot of heart and conviction in some of these people and it’s revealing to see the impact the ways of the world can have on a community who’s been shielded from it for so long. There’s also a love story which in itself was very unique and intriguing. It was an all around great experience for me and gave me a feeling of reading something entirely new to me for the first time. I even looked into the publishing house and found numerous books with stunning covers that have been since added to my wishlist. The pubilsher focuses on telling international and other culture’s stories, there is surely much to learn from writers around the world especially when they weave their culture into a great novel with engaging characters. There’s a lot be said about this book but it’s better if you experience it yourself. The rest of the year already has strong competition against this one. Grab it!
As for the gentile women, Yankel's courage faltered there, as well. He was too shy and embarrassed to ask for help. But as he stared at them--ripe women whose shoulders were uncovered in the sunshine, and whose breasts clung to white cotton halter tops--he thought for the first time since he had left Kreskol that perhaps Rabbi Katznelson was more right than he imagined. Maybe he was lucky to go on this mission, after all. (pg. 57)
No longer did the people of Kreskol think with envy back on their brothers and cousins who had had the money to abandon the town for America. Instead, we began remembering them with sadness; as if they were poor besotted creatures who had never made it all the way across the ocean, but whose ships had sunk halfway and now lay in a watery grave. (pg. 175)
DON'T LOOK NOW by Daphne Du Maurier
I originally bought this book for my wife as a Christmas gift. It's an author she's grown to love and one whose written numerous classic novels and short stories that have shaped the horror genre to this day. Once I saw this cover I knew I had to get it for my wife. Once it arrived, I knew I had to read it myself. Especially after her recommendation. So, agreeing to read a recommended book from each other once every six months, she chose this one for me. But really, I was already interested. And it fulfilled my interest. This collection of short stories is fantastic. It even has the original story The Birds which I didn't know was written by her. There's a story which takes place in Venice, naturally. And one about a secretive mountain which women seem to be disappearing into. There's a wide variety of stories included in this collection, most of them are great. There is the occasional dud but the majority are fairly enthralling. My favorite story might be Kiss Me Again, Stranger. It's about a young man who falls in love but perhaps with the wrong woman...I don't want to say too much and give anything away. The Birds is a close second. This is a great introduction to Daphne and has now peaked my interest into picking up a full length novel of hers. I can't wait and I'm sure my wife can't wait for me either.
Thank you for checking out the reads this month! I found some new authors to explore!