Book reviews

My Reading Life


To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, first published July 11, 1960
My rating: ★★★★✫ 4/5.

I have listened to a book and read one from the Back to the Classics 2016, and I decided to make a combined review of my latest reads.

I have wanted for ages to read To Kill a Mockingbird, and when I found it available in audio through my library, I had to listen to it. I knew the story because growing up in Madrid, I have watched the movie dubbed several times. But since last time was years ago, I still forgot how it unveiled and how it ended.

Movies complement books. It doesn’t have to be an “either” “or” situation. We may enjoy both as a different genre. However, with movies, one may, in time, forget details and the end. Or maybe it’s because I’m not one who watches the same movie over and over or who memorizes movie dialogue! But now, after listening to the book, I’d never forget some memorable sayings nor the whole story.

The same week I finished this piercing story of the South, Anne White linked to this interesting article. Indeed, compassion needs imagination. Lindsey Brigham, the article writer, talks about Scout lacking imagination. (Scout is the young girl protagonist of the book). It may be seen as a lack of imagination, but I kept thinking this was to me a common trait of young children. They are more raw, and their honesty is borderline rude, since they have not figured out yet one doesn’t have to say all that crosses her mind at any given time. Children are notorious about saying truths without any trace of kindness, they make unkind and in your face remarks about all they find strange, different, or worth noticing.

“You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus Finch. To Kill A Mockinbird

Paradise Lost, John Milton, first published in 1667My rating: ★★★★✫ 4/5.
I read Paradise Lost. I won’t lie, I feel accomplished. It’s such an icon, an intimidating read. Most of us are not ready to read such books because we have not been eased into literature. We come to the books ready to judge them. We feel (I do) great discomfort when we are not “on top” of the book. We usually give up whenever there’s a book we don’t understand. I don’t say you have to force yourself to read classics just because. After all, reading, -whether literature or poetry-, should be enjoyed. But there’s much to be found in classics that other type of reading cannot give you.
When we read classics, we are reading the best of a time, the simmered down and the best, only that which has survived taste, fades and fashion, something that only that time birthed, and that cannot be replicated. We have the best of our times now, and we read that too, but only after our century is gone, those in the future will be able to read that which we now enjoy with ease. Our best contemporary books will be difficult for those two or three centuries ahead of us, but they will provide them with the spirit of our era. Likewise, we read a book like Paradise Lost, and we experience a use of language, a choice of topic and genre without compare.
I was able to read Paradise Lost thanks to friends at the Ambleside Online Forum Bookclub who help me get started and go to half of it. The main tip for me was to not mind when for many sections I felt quite lost in the story. One can before hand read a synopsis of the chapters (called books in this case). Paradise Lost has 12 books (or chapters). I also listened to the first 3 books read aloud through YouTube (which is the same as Librivox) while following with the book. Towards a bit after the middle, (books 7 and 8), I felt drowning a bit. There’s only so much Milton one can read at once. I read a few pages and left it. I picked it often and read bits. Then, from book 9 till the end, it’s like the book got easier. Then book 12, the last one, it’s a wonderful treat, easy to understand, lovely imagery and the golden brooch to an epic and sublime book.
I’d like to add that Milton is not rewriting the Bible. He has his own theology (which may or may not correspond to ours). I did not read it to find the Truth, but I found truths in it, and beauty, and things that made me upset, and others that prompted me to think, or to pray, or to give thanks. It was an effort worth undertaking. It ended up paying tenfold.
You don’t have to pick Paradise Lost, but there’s a classic for you, waiting to stretch the frontiers of your mind and to fill you with beauty, ideas, and an unforgettable experience.


Shanghai Girls, Lisa See, 2009,
2 and a half stars out of 5.
Two And A Half Black Star Clip Art

For my local book club, I’m reading a bit ahead, and finished Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See. I had read another of her titles, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I like Lisa See’s writing. She is a good character writer. In both books we read mainly from one of the character’s point of view, and towards the end, the story becomes more rounded through the addition of other character’s secrets or information hidden to the reader and the main character’s point of view.

The story had a point when the sisters are retained at Angel Island for immigration reasons, and that lasts months. This reminded me of the book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, and how they are too retained but at Ellis Island. Without giving away the story, this is about two sisters growing up in Shanghai, spoiled in different ways by their parents, and how their life changes drastically with the misfortune of their father, the war with Japan, and their immigration to China Town in San Francisco.

Once I finished reading Shanghai Girls and Paradise Lost, I started this Japanese classic, The Makioka Sisters. This book grabbed me from page one. As I also finished To Kill a Mockingbird’s audio and started Emma as an audio too, I kept thinking how much The Makioka Sisters is a cross between Jane Austen and Anna Karenina’s Tolstoy, with, of course, a Japanese twist. Once more the book is strangely familiar. It’s possible I’ve seen the movie. This is a trailer. I intend to get the movie after I finish the book.
Not everybody is a Jane Austen super fan. It’s not as if I dislike her either. I’m listening to Emma much ahead, because in my book club we have Emma for November and Emma, A Modern Retelling for December, a book by Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve always seen his first book, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but I’ve been reading some reviews of this one and his other books, and a sample, and now I’m intrigued. I may give them a try. I like to know her books are there, and I’m glad that this year I’m reading my second, after reading her most famous Pride and Prejudice twice.

And last but not least, we are listening to the third book in the Flavia DeLuce’s series by Allan Bradley. The girls and I became fans after we read the first one, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

and the one we are currently on is A Red Herring Without Mustard.
Flavia is a precocious 11 year old girl with a love for mysteries, chemistry and poisons, who is perpetually fighting with her two oldest sisters and riding her bike, Gladys, through town.


4 thoughts on “My Reading Life”

  1. I borrowed The Makioka Sisters from the library but had to return it before I got a chance to read it. Sounds like a book I should buy. I haven't heard of Allan Bradley before so will see if I can find any of his at the library. I like your reviews, Silvia.


  2. And thanks, Carol, I always read your reviews too, and like them a lot.

    I think Allan Brandley's books must be at your library. They are bibliophile favorites (all his references to other books, and music, art), and he is a Brit, and it happens in the 1950's, in the English country. What's not to love? ha ha ha.


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