Books and Reviews at Greenberry House

Like most booksellers, reading is a large part of my life here at Greenberry House. I have a special old chair, so worn that it sags, where I love to curl up with a good book. Old favorites, exciting new writers, spiritual or challenging, fiction or fact; all pass through my hands and many are worthy of comment. I plan an occasional mention here of a recent book I've read, either to recommend or to warn!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, St. Martin's Griffin, 1998.

This book, a discovery by my aunt in Connecticut, is such a charming work that I can't understand why I never read it before. The story is quite simple with shades of Jane Austen; two poor girls with no prospects live with their eccentric parents in a rundown ruin of an English castle; then the rich neighbors move in and life is changed forever. But this little story, written from the point of view of the younger sister by way of her journal, captures more than just the castle as young Cassandra discovers life and love and the wide world beyond genteel poverty.

Although Smith's story is not meant to be challenging, I like a small section where Cassandra talks to the local vicar about religion. The vicar is more of a friend than pastor to the family; he is well-educated and one of the few people that the girls or their father know in the small village. Cassandra has realized that she is in love with her sister's fiance, and, although she doesn't know it, the vicar understands she is troubled. He tells her to "sit in an empty church. Sit, not kneel. And listen, not pray. Prayer's a very tricky business." Earlier he explained that God is "merely shorthand for where we come from, where we're going, and what it's all about."

Cassandra wrestles with a few hours of determining to "get religion" and do good works, but then she realizes that some people might use religion as a means of avoiding "life" and she knows she doesn't want to bypass the good and bad of living. The story goes on, often funny, with a gentle tragedy for young Cassandra that somehow seems it will work out right in the end. It's hard for a seventeen year old to give up on life, even with a broken heart, when she has so much interest in people and writing.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 01, 2007

Surpassing Wonder

Surpassing Wonder by Donald Harman Akenson, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1998

I'm not a Biblical scholar or professional historian, so I'm not sure that I'm a good judge of the worth of a book like this, which is somewhat geared toward the "educated amateur" but deals with historical methods and a tremendous quantity of literature. The subject of the book is the processes that led up to the creation of the main texts of Christianity and Judaism, from the Hebrew Bible up to the Talmuds.

One interesting point that he makes is that the thought and writings of Judaism have had a much stronger impact on the development of Western Civilization than is normally credited. Since I've always been taught that classical Greece was the major influence on the development of modern thought, this is a viewpoint that I hadn't considered, but shall in further reading. Much of Akenson's work urges further research on the part of the reader as well as critical analysis of current scholarship, even his own work!

The writer is deeply respectful of his subject, occasionally witty without being sarcastic and mindful of the fact that there are more questions than answers about some historical periods that he is writing about. Much of his theme revolves around the destruction of the Temple and how that event was a major factor in the development of the Scriptures and commentary.

Return to Greenberry House

Labels: ,