Wednesday, August 20, 2014

50BC14:#2 Clavell's Shogun & #3 Coelho's Manuscript Found in Accra

This year's 50 Book Challenge is actually going to be a 20 book challenge as I am starting in August.  I actually finished both of these books before the Solnit, but forgot to blog them.

Shōgun (Asian Saga, #3)Shōgun by James Clavell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Epic is as good a description as any to describe this novel--not just for its length, but for its scope. There are moments of real beauty in the scenic descriptions and the cultural tapestry woven by Clavell. It is an art to reveal culture and history through fiction with finesse, and Clavell excelled at this. Blackthorne is a most excellent figure in that the reader learns as he learns, and we realize that in some sense, we are Clavell's pawn much as Blackthorne is the pawn in a larger game. Some of the political strategy and inner-thinking can feel long-winded, and if you are looking for a book full of action and plot, this book may not give you wa.

 Manuscript Found in AccraManuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This has a lot of the same lessons as The Alchemist and many of his other books, but lacks the same beauty simply because of the format. There are some timeless aphorisms and beautiful nuggets of wisdom, but the poetry is missing. I felt the book was tedious in the final two lessons from "the Copt," save for the last two pages of the book. That's where the real wisdom is, and it is made all the more effective, actually, if the reader finds himself/herself mildly frustrated by the formulaic approach. Those last pages save the book.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

50BC14: #1 Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A Field Guide to Getting LostA Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is quite possibly one of the best books I have read in the last ten years. Rebecca Solnit weaves together threads in a tapestry of colors that may seem unrelated, but then you step back and realize what an amazing and beautiful work she has created. From Simone Weil to the Clash, Solnit takes you on a journey of getting lost, with the markers of her own experience to guide you. She engages in what she calls the "delicate work of awareness" and invites the reader to do the same, but without artifice, psycho-babble, or reaching too far out of reality.

As a historian, I found this passage particularly stunning and resonant:

A man once told me that much of my writing was about loss, that that was how I imagined the world, and I thought about that comment for a long time. In that sense of loss two streams mingled. One was the historian's yearning to hang onto everything, write everything down, to try to keep everything from slipping away, and the historian's joy in retrieving out of archives and interviews what was almost forgotten, almost out of reach forever. But the other stream is the common experience that too many things are vanishing without replacement in our time. At any given moment the sun is setting someplace on earth, and another day is slipping away largely undocumented as people slide into dreams that will seldom be remembered when they awaken. Only the continuation of abundance makes loss sustainable, make it natural. There are more sunrises coming, but even dreams could be emptied out.