From now on I'm going to record the books I read each month (not including the Great Books - I'll deal with them in separate posts). I'll give my brief thoughts on each book... not really a review; just whatever's going through my mind. Here are the books I read in August.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities are some of my favourite stories ever, so I had high hopes going into Oliver Twist, but I finished it feeling underwhelmed. Sure I appreciated Dickens' uncompromising portrayal of society's underbelly and Dickens' writing was wonderful as usual, full of humour and feeling, but the story itself felt less momentous compared to the other two. I thought the title character was a boring character and, while my favourite character Nancy made up for Oliver's flatness, I didn't find myself caring as much as I thought I should. It's a good book, but I'd say it's over-rated. Read A Tale of Two Cities instead. It has everything Oliver Twist has and much more.
From Barbarism to Chivalry (A Portrait of Europe 300-1300) by Mary R. Price
This was a fantastic history of Europe from the year 300 to 1300. The medieval period has fascinated me since I was a child and I think this might be the best, most concise history I have read of the period, granted it doesn't cover the 15th and 16th centuries. Everything is covered from Charlemagne to knights to monastic orders to medieval art and scholarship and on. Price does a very good job at helping the reader to understand medieval attitudes and ways of life. By the time I was done, despite the book's relatively short length, I felt like I had read and learned a lot.
Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis (re-read)
In my opinion this is Lewis's most under-rated book. Lewis gives a variety of thoughts and reflections on the Psalter. Lewis informs the reader that he writes as a non-professional which in a sense is true as he is no theologian or Hebrew scholar, but his background in philosophy and literature gives him a really unique voice. This book helped to influence the way I interpreted the Bible, moving away from a belief in inerrancy while still accepting the Bible as God's Word.
The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay
The final book in "The Fionavar Tapestry". Despite obvious similarities to Tolkiens Lord of the Rings I thought Kay's trilogy stood on its own two feet better than a lot of other modern fantasy. I also noticed influence from Joseph Campbell and Plato. Also, despite the surplus of "chosen one" characters and plot threads in Kay's trilogy, I thought The Darkest Road wrapped things with surprising neatness. I still think the first book The Summer Tree is the strongest in the trilogy, but the final book comes in a close second.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (re-read)
This is one of those stories that can make me weep like a little girl. I lost my best friend when I was eight years old, so this story holds a special if painfully poignant place in my heart. Paterson writes about childhood loss in the only way that it can be written: as a thing without explanation. These events are inexplicable, especially to children and Paterson never condescends, but tells it like it is. Although there is a hopeful ending implying new life and love, I'd be lying if I said there was a happy ending to this fairy tale. I usually try to avoid using emoticons on this blog, but... :'(
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
And this was another book I could relate to all too well. It seems many my age can relate to the troubled hero of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield. Holden is trapped between childhood and adulthood and he wants nothing more than to preserve the innocence in others that he has lost. The plotline is pretty basic, just a depressed kid wandering around New York, but it was a book I couldn't put down and was on my mind for days afterward. As I kept thinking about this book and read other people's opinions on it, I kept discovering more and more layers. This is definitely a book that rewards re-readers, but I think I'll hold off this re-read for a few years to see how Holden's world looks when I'm older and how my own outlook has changed if/when I exit the full teenage angst mode I'm currently in.