Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro

I feel really behind the times, only just now reading this book. It's not like one of those hundred-year-old classics where any time in your life is acceptable for reading it (as long as you finally do); this is a classic of my own lifetime. Why didn't I read it sooner?

Once again I was amazed--though by this time I'm no longer surprised--by the exquisite precision of Ishiguro's writing. Not a word out of place, every phrase turned perfectly. Well, hang on, that's not entirely true. I did see two or three things (which I didn't note down, so of course I've forgotten the specifics by now) that I would have considered minor grammatical errors, but I was able to forgive them with the thoughts that 1) maybe a relatively uneducated butler, despite his pride in speech and usage, was making an honest mistake, or 2) maybe it's correct in English, just not in American. But my overall opinion still stands--Kazuo Ishiguro writes with excellence.

One of the many impressive things about this book: How is Ishiguro able to completely inhabit the mind of an English butler of the mid-20th century? Mr Stevens seems the epitome and embodiment of his kind. He thinks in a way that most people don't. Of course my next thought is to realize it's entirely possible that no butler was ever like this, with the stiffest-of-all-stiff-upper-lips--after all, this is a fictional character, and Ishiguro could have been using great exaggeration. But if so, it's only a further testament to his skill that he could do this and make it so believable.

Now I really want to see the movie. (Because, in keeping with my aforementioned behind-the-timesness, I haven't done that before, either.)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"The House on the Strand" by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier writes books I can get lost in. I mean that in an entirely good way, of course, unlike with some books. (Ahem, Ulysses? I still haven't fought my way out of that one. But I still earnestly intend to do so. Someday.)

The House on the Strand is kind of a sinister time-traveling mystery. That ought to be enough to grab you right there, but I'll give you a little bit more: Englishman Richard Young allows his lifelong friend Magnus Lane to use him as a guinea pig. Professor Lane has been concocting a drug that allows the user to temporarily experience life as it was hundreds of years ago. Young takes several trips to Cornwall of the fourteenth century, where he is able to observe (though not interact with) the lives of a handful of the county's former residents. With each visit he becomes further invested. But surely such an amazing drug can't be without side effects . . .

It's funny that I previously mentioned my lack of faith in DdM's ability to pull off a convincing ending. This book grabbed me until its very last, perfect sentence.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

"Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape" by Jenna Miscavige Hill

This is SO not the sort of book I usually choose to read (non-fiction, co-written) but the weirdness of Scientology is something I've always been curious about, like Nostradamus or the Bermuda Triangle or roadkill. While I probably would not have intentionally or directly sought out such a book, it was lying around in close proximity over the past few weeks and I just couldn't help but wonder what it said. So I found out.

This is the story of a girl who grew up in Scientology because her parents were members of the Sea Org (which, as the book's glossary explains, is "the inner core of the Scientology parish"). She spent most of her childhood separated from her parents, and her experience with the "church" was one of control freaks restricting her at every turn. Her life was in some ways improved--but in most ways made worse--by the fact that she is the niece of the head of the church (who is the control-freakiest freak of them all).

This book does not explain to me what I am most curious about (which is this: how does a normal human adult hear about Scientology and actually end up joining the church instead of laughing--or shuddering--and walking away?) because this, of course, was not Jenna's experience. But it did fill in enough blanks in my knowledge about Scientology (which was next to nothing prior to reading this book, and is still sketchy now) that I don't need to hear any more about it.

I couldn't help but wonder how pervasive Scientology is in Hollywood. I mean, everyone knows that Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley and John Travolta are Scientologists, and I did find an online list of others, but it actually wasn't as long as I'd expected--my assumption at this point, though, is that the list wasn't that long because whoever made it doesn't know about all of the Hollywood Scientologists who are private about it. Maybe I'm wrong? Maybe I'm formulating a paranoid conspiracy theory? But I get the feeling that more California actor-types are Scientologists than are not. Because Scientology sounds like the modern equivalent of selling your soul to the devil for fame and success (but since your soul isn't valuable enough, you also have to pay lots of money for the privilege).