What I’ve Been Reading

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
Grade: F

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a 19th-century engineer from Connecticut gets clobbered on the noggin and wakes up in 6th-century England. I’m not sure exactly what happens, because I could not make myself finish reading it, but I gather he tries to take over the place using his superior technology and lands afoul of the Catholic Church.

I once said that Twain’s worst writing is better than most authors’ best. A Connecticut Yankee makes me doubt the truth of that statement. At the end of the book was an afterword by T.E.D. Klein. I skimmed through it, and it convinced me that I had made the right decision in abandoning the book. He wrote, “[A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court] bears the stamp of [Twain’s] troubled genius on every page; and that is perhaps the greatest strength of this complex, flawed, fascinating book.” If I were studying Twain’s life, then I could see how the book might prove fascinating, but I was just looking for a good read, and this wasn’t it.

The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares
Grade: F

I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare, but I was hoping for something like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. All I can say is ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Grade: B+

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland goes to Bath to enjoy the social scene. Then one of Catherine’s new acquaintances invites her to Northanger Abbey (the acquaintance’s home). It sounds to Catherine like such a romantic place, and with romance in mind she happily goes, yet her welcome there may not last.

Northanger Abbey felt a little contrived and uneven, but it wasn’t bad. Little enough is known of Austen’s life that it must surely be worth the effort to read all of her books and try to understand her as best as that allows. I have now read all of her novels except Mansfield Park. I think I will have to borrow it from the library soon.

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
Grade: A-

In A Room With a View, girl meets boy. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with someone else. And then…well, it’s the usual thing. I thought it was extremely well written but somehow just not that satisfying.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Grade: A

Two magicians try to resuscitate the practice of magic in an alternative-history England during the Napoleonic Wars. The two men, one old and one young, have different ideas of how to do that, and consequently they clash. The practice of magic is not without perils, and soon they, their family and friends, and others in their proximity find themselves in danger from the powers that have been unleashed.

Somewhat overlong and unsure what kind of book it means to be, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is nonetheless a great read. You can compare Clarke’s writing favorably to other famous authors (Austen being the one the jumps to mind), but the story itself is the least derivative that I’ve seen in a long time. It is unlike anything I’ve read before, and kudos to Clarke for making fairies scary again.

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2 Responses to What I’ve Been Reading

  1. sprite says:

    Ooh! Mansfield Park is the only of the completed Austen novels I haven’t read either. I bet that if we decided to read it together I could do a better job than I did with our failed experiment with On Walden Pond.

    It’s too bad you didn’t like the Twain. That’s the one book that I have accidentally bought multiple times (used, from library book sales, for cheap) intending to read. Doesn’t bode well for me.

  2. chick says:

    I would love to read Mansfield Park with you. Just let me know when 🙂

    We like a lot of the same books, but we disagree from time to time, so maybe you could like the Twain. I hope you do, but I won’t be surprised if you don’t!

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