Sunday, January 1, 2017

First lines: December 2016 edition

In December I finished seven books, mostly short works of fiction, including two for children. God bless the book club, which picked children’s lit to read in December.  

I tried and failed to read a lot of non-fiction, including a book by Soren Kierkegaard.   I was hoping reading some philosophy would soothe me but I just couldn’t concentrate.

Here are the first lines of those seven books.

Book #1
“I wonder when in the world you’re going to do anything, Rudolf?” said my brother’s wife.
            “My dear Rose,” I answered, laying down my eggspoon, “why in the world should I do anything?  My position is a comfortable one. I have an income nearly sufficient for my wants (no one’s income is ever quite sufficient, you know).  I enjoy and enviable social position: I am brother to Lord Burlesdon, and brother-in-law to that most charming lady his countess.  Behold, it is enough!”

Book #2
When the war came to Monterey and to Cannery Row everybody fought it more or less, in one way or another.  When hostilities ceased everyone had his wounds.
            The canneries themselves fought the war by getting the limit taken off fish and catching them all.  It was done for patriotic reasons, but that didn’t bring the fish back.  As with the oysters in Alice, “They’d eaten every one.”

Book #3
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

Book #4
The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.  They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.

Book #5
Precious Ramotswe, creator and owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, friend of those who needed help with the problems in their lives, and wife of that great garagiste Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, felt that there were, broadly speaking, two sorts of days. There were days on which nothing of any consequence took place—these were in a clear majority—and then there were those on which rather too much happened.

Book #6
Isabel Dalhousie saw the young man fall from the edge of the upper circle, from the gods. His flight was so sudden and short, and it was for less than a second that she saw him, hair tousled, upside down, his shirt and jacket up around his chest so that his midriff was exposed.

Book #7
In my basement, behind some bikes and suitcases and boxes, sits a Velvet Elvis. A genuine, bought-by-the-side-of-the-road Velvet Elvis. And to say that this painting captures The King in all his glory would be an understatement.

And here are the book titles.

Book #1
The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope.  
Written in the same era as Mark Twain wrote, but completely different from Twain’s work.  A rollicking adventure (in the sense that adventures written in 1894 would be rollicking) taking place in the fictitious European kingdom of Ruritania. 

Book #2
Sweet Thursday, by John Steinbeck.  
The sequel to Cannery Row.  Very enjoyable to see these characters again.  There is an awful lot of alcoholism, though.

Book #3
 A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas (for book club).  
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It’s very short.  You should read it, especially if you can read it out loud to any and all elementary-school aged children. 
My favorite parts are Jim’s aunt, the Useless Presents, and The Uncles.  “There are always Uncles at Christmas.”  Sadly, my uncles have passed on, but the role of uncles at our Christmas gathering is expertly filled by my younger brother and my (Jewish!) husband.  My other brother is so very avuncular he does not attend our Christmas gatherings.

Book #4
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson (for book club).  
Also a children’s book.

Book #5
The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith (Mma Ramotswe).  
McCall Smith’s characters are so thoughtful about life and the world.  A few thoughts to keep in mind:

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni knew that most of us are not quite as brave as we would like to be—although sometimes we can surprise ourselves in that regard.

The world was not perfect—it never had been and never would be; it was full of pitfalls and problems, of fear, of regrets and of bitter tears. Here and there, though, there were tiny points of light, hard to see at times, but there nonetheless, like the welcoming lights of home in the darkness. The flames that made these lights were hard to ignite, but occasionally, very occasionally, we found that we had in our hands the match that could be struck to
start one of these little fires.

Book #6
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.  Another quote from a thoughtful character:
It sometimes seemed to Isabel as if her education had brought her doubt and uncertainty, while Grace had been confirmed in the values of traditional Edinburgh. There was no room for doubt there; which had made Isabel wonder, Who is happier, those who are aware, and doubt, or those who are sure of what they believe in, and have never doubted or questioned it? The answer, she had concluded, was that this had nothing to do with happiness, which came upon you like the weather, determined by your personality.

Book #7
Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell
This is not a book about Elvis. In fact, I can’t for the life of me remember what Elvis has to do with the themes, which are God and Jesus and the Bible and stuff. I liked this book.  It’s an easy read – Rob Bell’s style is the opposite of Dickensian.  Here are a few quotes.

… The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don’t is the ultimate in arrogance. To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into it and come out with a “pure” or “exact” meaning is not only untrue, but it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy.

… For Jesus, the question wasn’t, “How do I get into heaven?” but “How do I bring heaven here?” The question wasn’t, “How do I get in there?” but “How do I get there here?”    As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering—they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies. Jesus told us to.

My library book stack from mid-November.
I only read two of these books.  I also had a few non-fiction
books on my kindle, which I failed to get interested in.

(For my favorites of the books I read during 2016, click here.)


Jenny Hart Boren said...

I'm currently reading my way through the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series (for the second time) while I wait for his 15th [I think], 'Precious and Grace', to be available used. (I've found and read them all, in order.) They are absolutely my FAVORITE books, after anything by Betty MacDonald. That said, I've read several of Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series and don't care for them nearly as much. Thanks for the lovely list!

Patience_Crabstick said...

I always read these posts wondering if I'll recognize any first lines. My mom was always trying to get me to read Prisoner of Zenda. I ought to give it a try!

The Crislers said...

I think A Child's Christmas in Wales is going to have to be my next book to read. Ironically (but not so surprisingly), working at the library has left me with less time to read. I live in terror of Brain Rot (a term that just came to me and that I am choosing not to google to see if it's real), so something short but good is just what I need right now.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I want to read Velvet Elvis! Just to say the title over and over again...

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Velvet Elvis is now on my to-read list, thanks to you.
I always love you lists.

Apparently I am more than AN ENTIRE MONTH behind in reading your blog. Yikes! January was my super-busy month at work.