In March I indulged my love of Books-About-Books and Gothic stories.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
What sucked me in wasn’t the fact that this book won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction in 2012, nor was it the intriguing philosophy or even the author’s theory that the modern world finds its roots in a two thousand year old poem called De Rerum Natura –On The Nature of Things, by Lucretius. What gripped me was the book’s description of early Renaissance book-hunters. These guys set out on epic journeys to track down the last remaining copies of ancient texts, often squirreled away in remote, monastic cloisters. Greenblatt’s book overflowed with cool insights into the history of books. We’re talking papyri and codices–two words that give me heart palpitations. Pompeii, another heart-racer for me, plays a part in the hunt and discovery of manuscripts. Imagine finding charred remains of books (scrolls) in an archeological dig! And get this: Atoms, it turns out, are not a product of modern scientific theory. Lucretius and his fellow Epicurean philosophers thought them up two thousand years ago! * 3 Stars **
(I was interested to find that the title of the American book was The Swerve: How the World Became Modern while in Australia it was The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began. I would LOVE to know why…Please comment if you know–or have a compelling guess!)
Mr Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall has a full review here. ** 4 Stars **
The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen
Another from my book-about-books shelf, this one had some intriguing elements. The mystery was promising, the premise interesting, and the settings great (New Orleans, after all, is pretty hard to beat). The gothic elements, however, were a little forced. “I see dead women writers” is a bit of a stretch for me, no matter how traumatised an English Lit major might be. My GoodReads review says, “I always wondered what one might do with a degree in women’s studies and gender issues. Now I know.”
How’s that for a gorgeous cover design?
* 3 Stars + and extra half star for the cover **
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (and The Lottery) by Shirley Jackson
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is downright gush-worthy. And that cover seriously rocks! Shirley Jackson creates a compelling cast of characters, and the stand-out is Merricat. She is unreliable narrator par excellence. Jackson has a way of taking average, everyday people and drawing out their inner weird. What makes this a Gothic story in my estimation is the combination of ingenue + rampant madness + sprawling house of narrative significance + fire. For me, the house is the major facet of a Gothic book, and this one was superbly creepy. ** 5 Stars ***
In The Lottery, Jackson again turns everyday people into seriously suss characters. This one leaves the reader with an unsettled feeling about the people round about. Apparently, this title is frequently prescribed for high school students in the US. Somehow I missed it when growing up. *3.5 Stars **
Middle Grade Fiction
Skellig by David Almond
This imaginative marvel won the Whitbread Award and the Carnegie Medal–not a bad result for a first novel. The pathos that drives the story–the protagonist’s baby sister who’s failing to thrive–is real and heart-rending. The boy’s discovery of a vagrant in the family’s ramshackle garage is simultaneously creepy and touching. I truly loved this book. It’s one I wish I’d read years ago. ** 5 Stars ***
The Word Hunters by Nick Earl
Twins find a “Curious Dictionary” that propels them back through time on a quest to understand the roots of common words. Full of word-nerdery, this book is a historical, etymological, time-bending romp. On their time travelling adventure, the twins find some clues about their family too. Who would have guessed? * 3.5 Stars **`
What about you?
Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my thoughts? Please leave a comment!