Monday, March 17, 2008

The Queen's Fool

This is by the same author as The Other Boleyn Girl, which should tell you a lot. It's about a young girl who fled the Inquistion in Spain because her mother was burned at the stake for being a Jew. She and her father end up in London, and because the girl has visions she ends up in the courts of King Edward and Queen Mary as an Innocent Fool.

It was the perfect mindless book to keep me entertained during my four-hour layover at JFK and during the seven-hours I spent on the plane from JFK to Austin.

I think, though, that this officially ends my period of historical fiction set in Tudor and Elizabethan times. I've had it with heaving bodices and beheadings.

The Innocent Traitor

It was a great airplane book, that's about all I can say. The book is about Lady Jane Gray, the girl who sat on the throne of England for 9 days before Queen Mary and her supporter re-took the country. After much dithering, Queen Mary ordered Jane and her husband Guilford Dudley be executed as traitors.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Brideshead Revisited

I love this book. I've read it six times, at least. I wrote a paper on it in graduate school and actually got an A from my toughest professor. I pulled it off the shelf last week for two reasons.

First, I saw somewhere that a movie is being made of it, which is just pointless. The BBC miniseries with Jeremy Irons, Diana Quick, Anthony Andrews, Laurence Olivier and John Geilgud is perfect. The miniseries follows the book, almost verbatim, and really captures the spirit and the mood of it. There is no reason to make a two hour movie to replace a 14-hour miniseries. I don't know how you'd even condense the story to fit without losing critical pieces.

Second, because of my grandmother, who died on Friday. My mom told me that when Nona had been asked about being given last rights, she said yes. None of us have ever known my grandmother to be a church-goer, so it was a bit surprising that she had a priest in at the end. There's a line in Brideshead, which is quoted from something else, about God calling someone back with a "twitch upon the thread." Mom quoted that line when telling me about Nona.

I decided that two references to the book in one week was a sign that I should read it, and I'm glad I did. In a strange way, it was a comfort to me during this difficult week.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Roman Fever"

My former boss just joined the 21st Century and bought herself an iPod. To get her started, I sent her a gift of a Selected Shorts program of Edith Wharton short stories recorded at The Mount, which was Wharton's home.

When my boss sent me an e-mail thanking me for the gift, she mentioned that "Roman Fever," which is in the collection of stories I sent, is her favorite short story ever. I've read it before, but I felt the need to read it again, because it really is such a grand piece of fiction.

It's about two wealthy widows from New York City spending time in Rome while their young daughters are gadding about with their suitors. The women knew each other when they were young women, visiting Rome together. It turns out that they were both in love with the same man at the time. I can't really say anything more without giving away too much. But this story has the best closing line in any book or short story I've ever read - ever.

Wedding of the Waters

The subtitle of the book, by Peter L. Bernstein, is The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation. That should have been a small clue about the true subject of the book.

My mother bought it for my father for Christmas thinking it was about the actual construction of the Canal. She had it shipped here to await their arrival, and I sneaked a peek a few times, then asked my dad if I could borrow it when he was finished. My mom brought it to me when she was here for Lily's birthday, and I dove right in.

Most of the book is about the politics that went on around the building of the canal - those who supported it, those who were against it - and the elections on state and national levels that were affected by the canal. The author also spends a great deal of time on the financial impact the canal had on New York State and the country. The canal spurred a great deal of industrial growth in New York. Towns sprang up along the canal path, along with manufacturing plants. Farmers were able to grow more crops because they could sell them to more people thanks to being able to ship them down to Albany and then on to New York City. People took tourist excursions on the packet boats that travelled the canals, leading to a need for inns and restaurants.

While all the information on the politics and industry was interesting, I would have loved the book to include more about the building of the canal itself. The men building the canal had to learn as they went - there were no structural engineers in the country at the start of the canal's building - and they had the most primitive of tools and explosives available to them. That they accomplished so much with so little is a true testament to what mankind can do when it puts its mind to it. I also would have liked more maps and pictures. I want authors to show me the things they're describing. Plus, I just love maps.