4.24.2006

The Last Cato, by Mathilde Asensi, Part I

I don't ordinarily pick up religious thriller novels because they tend to be, with few exceptions, crap. Either they're poory written, or poorly plotted and/or just plain stupid and I can't make myself read them.

The Last Cato, however, was actually rather good. Barring a few translation problems (Alexy, a Russian Orthodox patriarch, becomes Alejo after a couple of pages) and some typos, this book has fewer typographical oddities and typos than some of the books I've read lately. (I have no idea why, but there seem to be a lot more of these in the last five years than there used to be. Editors and proofreaders, please pay attention and read carefully. We all learned in school that, if you make those kind of errors after a while, it makes you look like a moron.)

I really enjoyed the plot. It delves into religious history without trying to tear down one side or another. Both sides have points for and against them and this book does not bill itself as an expose, which is a nice change from most of the religious thrillers out there. This book was written before The Da Vinci Code came out--so it can't be read as a knock-off of that book.

This book is really original. I've seen Dante used before in fiction, but those always use the Inferno rather than either of the other two thirds of The Divine Comedy. I also really enjoyed the fact that the Knights Templar only made a brief appearance and that there were no Masons, either.

I think that the only thing that I didn't like was the short detour into science fiction that occurred near the end. The way the Staurofilakes (the "bad guys") were portrayed at the end was just a little too far out there into yeah right land. Other than that, this was a really good read.

4.23.2006

Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blog

This may be the wittiest and most original parody I've seen on the internet since the Angry Alien web site. A co-worker told me about this one last Thursday, and I've been reading Geoffrey Chaucer's blog since then trying to get caught up. I am so impressed by the modern Geoffrey's ability to sound just like the first one and still be readable to someone who hasn't looked at Middle English in about two years.

When I checked out Chaucer's Rotulus bloggorum, I was surprised to discover that there is apparently a whole community of people who are blogging away in resurrected Middle English.

(Sorry about my vocabulary. I've been having a Pride & Prejudice weekend. I've watched the newest one three times now, and watched the first half of the A&E miniseries last night after it cae from Netflix. If you've watched the newest one at all, doesn't it seem like one of the writers screwed up and channeled a Brontë while writing the script? Honestly, with all that brooding and walking around in the rain all the time, I was surprised that no one caught pneumonia and that Heathcliff didn't show up.)

The Misanthrope, by Moliere

Considering what I've been reading lately, I don't think you would have espected to see Molière here. But I decided to read him for two reasons. 1) I've heard that he's a witty social commentator, and 2) I wanted to see if I still had the brain cells to understand four hundred year old literature.

Turns out, I do. :)

I really enjoyed reading The Misanthrope. Even though I don't know much about seventeenth century court life in France, I think that I understood the social behaviors that Molière was skewering here. The play begins with the main character, Alcestes, explaining to a friend his reasons for giving up the social game of flattery, double-dealing, and outright lying. (These very behaviors get played out later in the play to great effect). Even though this play was about the sort of social actions that make me feel misanthropic, I didn't have any trouble staying interested. Bonus.

I was impressed by some of the modern touches in Molière's dialogue. He has characters interrupting (to great comic effect) and running over one another's words. I can only imagine how funny this would be on stage. Some portions of the script, however, drag. After a while, I don't care how important or amusing or illustrative what one character is saying after they've run on for four or more paragraphs. For me, it's a bit like a musical--very unnatural. I only know one person how speaks in paragraphs and that's because he's been in academia since, I think, infancy.

But I think what I really liked was the ending. I think the standard happy ending--with multiple weddings and a moral or two--would have ruined what Molière was up to throughout the play.

I think I'm going to go on and read Tartuffe as long as I have this collection of Molière I checked out from my library. But I am also reading The Last Cato and, even though I am only a few chapters in, I find that I have a lot to say about it already.

4.16.2006

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

I always seem to end up rereading this book around Easter. This is about the third time I've read the book, and the magic of it never seems to go away. Personally, I think it's the best thing that Moore has ever written.

I've mentioned Moore before. He's one of the few authors I read who can always make me laugh out loud at the madcap weirdness of their books, and who I can reread forever without ever getting bored.

In Lamb, Moore takes on the missing years of Christ's life. Our narrator is Biff, a smartass who takes care of Jesus, or Joshua as he is known here, because Joshua is much to trusting and naive to take care of himself. This book is histerial from beginning to almost the end. The end, I think, is what makes this book really special. At the end of this book, Moore writes such a moving account of the Passion and death of Joshua that I felt deeply touched by this book for weeks after I finished reading it the first time. Even now, after I've read it three times, the ending still moves me.

There's a lot to think about in this book, and the more you read it, the more you realize this. The jokes are still funny, but you really start to see how philosophical this book is. So you get jokes about trying to circumsize Greek statues, but you also get some meditations on the role of sacrifice in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

I adore this book, and it's one of the few books I evangelize for ('scuze the pun). Pick it up if you're ready for an off-the-wall account of Christ's life.

4.01.2006

A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller

I'm still trying to catch up with all the books I've read over the last few weeks. So here's a quick note about a book I finished last week, A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller.

Normally, I don't read nuclear holocaust books, but this one had a really interesting take on the idea. Normally, I read plague books. I don't know why I find that more interesting than the Dr. Strangelove end of the world, but I do. (An unrelated funny about Dr. Strangelove.)

Basically, multiple nuclear detonations wipe out most of life on Earth and humanity starts rebuilding itself. The new civilization is basically a rerun of our own medieval period--with monks preserving history, barbarian hordes, warlords carving out empires, and so on. There's even a Renaissance-like period.

I especially liked watching how Catholicism survived. There was a lot of Latin, which threw me for a bit, until I remembered that, at the time this book was written, Vatican II hadn't happened yet, and priests weren't using the vernacular in services yet.

I don't want to ruin the ending by saying what happened, but I really enjoyed the irony of what happened.