Literary Lapses by Stephen B. Leacock, 3/5
A collection of humorous essays that have stood up quite well to the passage of over 100 years’ time.
Why I read it: I’ve had a free version of this bookmarked on Wikisource for so long that I can’t remember how I first heard of it. While tidying up my bookmarks, I decided to just buy a cheap copy of the book, since I hate reading ebooks.
The Ultimate Gift
The Ultimate Gift: A Novel by Jim Stovall, 1/5
Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. Preachy, predictable, and poorly written, this novel is pretty much rock bottom in terms of literary quality.
Why I read it: trying to stay open-minded and this was passed along in a box of random books from a friend.
Irma Voth: A Novel by Miriam Toews, 5/5
This is the third Toews novel I have read and I continue to be baffled by her genius. I simply don’t understand how it’s possible to write something so beautiful, unexpected, unconventional, funny and touching, on any subject, much less the story of how an independent film crew provides the catalyst for an excommunicated Mennonite girl in Mexico to find her own path to freedom and meaning.
Why I read it: Trying to see if Miriam Toews can write anything I don’t like. So far, the answer is an emphatic “no.”
Descent Into Hell
Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams, 2/5
I’m not going to lie: I had absolutely no idea what the heck was going on for large portions of this novel and ran immediately to Google after finishing it to see what overarching themes I was too oblivious to comprehend. I guess it says something that the most helpful-looking analyses were hidden behind academic paywalls…
Undoubtedly, Williams had a more coherent vision than what he communicates through the overlapping stories of a saintly poet, an orphan haunted by her doppelgänger, the ghost of a past suicide, and a historian who creates a succubus from pure ego, among others. In retrospect, it is surprising that a novel with so many interesting characters could have so little plot and so many tedious passages of incomprehensible spiritual imagery. There are several places in which Williams purposefully disintegrates the English language in what I can only guess is an approximation of what having a stroke would feel like.
All in all, not my favorite reading experience, though with themes like art, sacrificial love, death, and the sin of self-absorption, I can understand how it might resonate better with other people or at another time.
Why I read it: the last of Williams’ seven “novels of the supernatural” I had left, since starting with All Hallows’ Eve.
Shadows of Ecstasy
Shadows of Ecstasy by Charles Williams, 3/5
Brimming with Williams’ trademark brand of semi-plausible bizarreness, this story depicts the “Second Evolution of Man,” a physical and spiritual take-over of Western civilization, centered in Africa and led by the charismatic Nigel Considine. The author (not very convincingly) pits Christianity, spirituality and agnosticism against a cult of super-humanity which, having re-focused the most powerful human emotions to unlock the secret of perpetual fulfillment and eternal life, is on the cusp of mastering the act of self-resurrection as well.
The plot moves along well and Williams refrains from too many of the tiresome and esoteric flights of spirituality that characterize many of his other works. However, I felt ambivalent about the main characters and a bit exhausted trying to distinguish any potential racism amongst the 1930s vocabulary.
Why I read it: the fifth in Williams’ set of supernatural thrillers.
Fight Night: A Novel by Miriam Toews, 3/5
Since I like my dialogue to be punctuated, do not generally enjoy the coming-of-age genre, and think “girl power” is a bit cringeworthy, I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book. However, consistent with the theme of her novel, Toews infuses her writing with so much love and humor that I was challenged to look past my preconceptions and appreciate the power of love to make messy situations, damaged people, embarrassment, mistakes, death, and loss into something beautiful.
Why I read it: I was going through my old reviews to make a book shopping list when I saw Toews’ transcendent novel, All My Puny Sorrows,and realized I’d never gotten around to reading more of her work.
The Greater Trumps
The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams, 3/5
This story of a young couple’s quest to unlock the power of the original tarot deck features beautifully crafted dialogue, fantastical imagery, interesting characters and, unfortunately, some Romani stereotypes that have not aged well.
Why I read it: it’s the fourth book in Charles Williams’ set of supernatural thrillers.
The Place of the Lion
The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams, 2/5
This is the fourth of Williams’ supernatural thrillers that I have read, and by far my least favorite, since it consists mostly of hallucinatory spiritual ramblings and very little plot. This is all the more disappointing because what little story exists is very interesting: philosophical Ideas (Strength, Beauty, Subtlety, Wisdom, etc.) from the angelic realm emerge into the sleepy English countryside via their representative animals, consuming people with varying effect depending on each person’s tendencies.
Why I read it: I’m working my way through Williams’ novels.
Many Dimensions by Charles Williams, 4/5
This spellbinding book must not be judged by this later edition’s psychedelic cover art or by a mere summary of its bizarre plot, in which an infinitely divisible holy relic empowers its keepers to travel through time and space. The story is, in fact, much more sophisticated than you might expect–peopled with interesting characters and exploring (often humorously) the political, social, and ethical ramifications of such an object’s existence. I felt the plot was a little weak towards the end, or it would have been a 5/5 for me.
Why I read it: I am working my way through Charles Williams’ seven supernatural novels.
War in Heaven
War in Heaven by Charles Williams, 3/5
I’m not going to pretend that I understood the more esoteric implications of this bizarre spiritual thriller, but I certainly did enjoy its zany plot, humor, and original take on the ever-popular search for the Holy Grail. It’s not a particularly well-crafted novel, but it’s hard to fault a story that opens thusly:
The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.
Why I read it: After my introduction to Charles Williams via All Hallows’ Eve, I wanted to read some of his other “novels of the supernatural,” of which War in Heaven is the first.