28 July 2015


Book Bingo

Having finished my annual Philippine Literature Challenge, which doubles as your Philippine Literature Giveaway (Congratulations again, Sheila!), I can get back to the 2015 TBR Challenge. Unlike my previous "Three-legged List," which featured titles I picked for myself and just put off reading, this one has three books that I never asked for, but that others thought I'd enjoy. So how did they fare?

Well, in general, none of them gave me that "right book at the right time" feeling--though a couple of them convinced me that "the right time" isn't always a recurring planetary aspect you can always run into again . . . even if it takes centuries . . . but sometimes a period of personal history that a window can slam shut on forever. In which case rewarding reading requires a time machine.

3 Books for My TBR Challenge
I Needed A Couple of Nudges to Read

Father Elijah by Michael D. O'Brien

Before Melanie chose this for me last month, Sheila was already recommending it--and long before it became part of my 2015 TBR Challenge, Stilwell sent it to me as a gift. (Thanks again, Stilwell!) Some time in between, I mentioned it to Christopher, who had some very definite opinions on Michael O'Brien's fiction to share. So much for "the right time": it looks as if I'm late to the Father Elijah party! And not even fashionably late. =P

For those who didn't even receive an invitation, this novel is about a Carmelite monk who used to be a rising star in Israeli politics and who continues to be torn between spiritual power and temporal power, as well as spiritual love and romantic love, at a time when the events predicted in Revelation seem to be unfolding. And it has got one of the best mystical descriptions of that book of the New Testament ("a series of visions that were given to Saint John in a multidimensional form . . . restricted to . . . a two-dimensional form--a string of letters on a page") that I have ever read. An exciting premise and some beautiful passages. But not quite great literature.

Reading Father Elijah two months ago reminded me of being part of the Catholic blogosphere six years ago. If I had received this copy before I left that life, I would have enjoyed it more. Not that it isn't okay now and okay in general; it's also just obviously aimed at a certain demographic. A very narrow one. And they will know exactly what I mean when I say my stance on the culture wars has changed from "Rasczack's Roughneck" to "Southerner who joined the Confederate Army only after Union troops burned his house and fields." But making the shift has also given me a better view of what tactics work and what don't, and I see it as a mark against this novel that it wants to contribute nothing to pop culture, which is the most significant front. Even The Da Vinci Code and Left Behind were more ambitious than that: and for all their flaws, they had a better sense of "small-c catholic" than Father Elijah does and have already sowed more seeds in the world than it ever will.

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

After Christopher picked this one Twitter, I told my offline friend "CCL," whose shadow has fallen over this blog a whopping one fleeting time: "Guess what! I've finally started that book you gave me . . ." And she miraculously managed not to sigh when she said, "Enbrethiliel, you mean the book I lent you." I honestly hadn't remembered that part, but it's still embarrassing to know that I've kept a borrowed book for almost five years! =S

On the other hand, 2015 happens to be the year I got really interested in perfumes--notes, blends, sillage, and all. (Anyone else love Flower by Kenzo?) And I know that I wouldn't have enjoyed all the details of the perfume design process that Robbins works in, had I read it before I started caring. (Then again, perhaps there's a parallel universe in which reading this triggered my interest in perfumes . . .)

What I could have appreciated much earlier is Robbins reworking of the Greek myth of Pan that gives a plausible answer to the mystery of what happened after the sailor Thanos received that famous announcement of his "death." Why, yes, I do see how Pan would get tangled up with a minor eighth-century king who wants to be immortal, a free-thinking Indian widow happy to elude death with him for centuries, and a motley accord of perfumiers (My own collective noun! Like it?) who keep getting beets delivered to their doors. It's so believable, in fact, that I actually looked up a perfume formula used in the plot, in the hopes of getting a "dupe" for myself and smelling like this story. And I was truly sad to learn that that blend doesn't exist in real life.

You may have already figured out that Jitterbug Perfume inspired one of my Eurovision posts; and it may yet give me a "Top 5 Pan Cameos in Modern Literature" for the future. This pick also showed me that despite all the lip service I pay to variety in reading, I tend to stay within several comfort zones anyway. Jitterbug Perfume is not something I would have chosen on my own. It's more like something I would have, had I browsed into it in a bookstore, put back on the shelf and promptly forgotten about--thus missing out on some of the most effortlessly hilarious prose I've ever read! If only it weren't also so effortlessly pornographic in parts. (Sigh!) Well, I guess there has to be one drawback.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.D. Wodehouse

As soon as Sheila picked this novel for me on Facebook, I contacted the friend who has been pushing P.D. Wodehouse on me for years and asked to borrow her copy of "Jeeves and Wooster #1". After all, the only reason I've put off reading Carry On, Jeeves for years is that it is "Jeeves and Wooster #2", and I don't want to read series out of order, even if, as she promised, there is no continuity to worry about. (For the record, she was wrong: there are a couple of events in #1 that are alluded to or built upon in #2.) But let's set all excuses aside and admit that I could have called her long ago, if I had really wanted to.

Having finally made the acquaintance of young Bertie Wooster and his invaluable valet Jeeves, I have two reactions: pure mirth . . . and a bit of regret. For I can tell that these stories are something really special; they just don't feel like anything special to me.

I really think I missed the window on Wodehouse. You need to read these stories when your inner Bertie's voice is louder than your inner Aunt Agatha's voice, if you take my meaning. As much as I like what Bertie does with English and love how game he is as a friend, I ultimately wish he weren't so shallow. Our "hero" lives in some La La Land where all he has to worry about is his allowance and his outfits--and while I get that it's necessary to the charm of these stories, it does wear a little thin. And as historically off as this may be, I wish he'd just get a job (or a wife!) and stop sponging off a rich relation whom he doesn't even respect. By the end of Carry On, Jeeves, in which nearly every story sees him helping others to keep sponging off their own rich relations, I found myself wishing WWII would start and that they'd all get conscripted already.

Thanks to the last story, one of the few ever narrated by Jeeves, I believe, I'm also nursing a "fan theory" that Jeeves is a villain along the lines of a Morality Play devil. But I think I'll let that percolate some more.

* * * * *

It seems that I average a book a month on my TBR Challenge. That's a pretty decent rate, but surely I can do better than that! If you'd like to help me out, be the first person to name another title from my TBR Challenge post in the combox!

Image Sources: a) Father Elijah by Michael D. O'Brien, b) Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, c) Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse


Belfry Bat said...

Goodness, that's a theory of Jeeves-the-character I've never encountered before, though it also casts a disturbing eye-level spotlight on the live-action portrayal by S. Fry...

Not quite sure how, but I'd gathered that Bertie, somehow, has his own fortune to siphon, and the principal route to blackmail upon him involves... well... hm. Now, I don't want to spoiler anything...

Enbrethiliel said...


Do you know in which book in the series that is revealed? If it is not too far down the list, I might ask my Wodehouse-loving friend to loan me a few more.

Belfry Bat said...

See, that's the difficulty with "not quite sure how" — I don't precisely recollect which book it was from. (Also, I definitely read them out-of-order, and incidentally haven't felt cheated by this at all). But I shall try... There was that incident with Gussie and creamer, that definitely includes bold proclamations in connection to "the Wooster millions", together with which, note that Bertie is also "the last of the Woosters" — not that this has much meaning, but it does get said. Anyways, the incident with Gussie and the creamer is in the third novel published, "The Code of the Woosters". There may be earlier indications of Bertie's financial independence, but no mention of its substance or foundation that I can remember.

Itinérante said...

I could not find any O'Brien's book here and this is sad because a friend lent me his copy of Island of the world and I started it then he went back to France before I was able to finish it =/

MrsDarwin said...

I have read little enough Michael O'Brien, but what I have seems to bear out your contention that a weakness of his is his tendency to play to a very small demographic without having much to say to the culture at large.

I think that Bertie Wooster is best taken in small doses. Not all that long ago, I listened to a set of Jeeves stories straight through, and I had Wodehouse fatigue by the end. (I will say that the same thing happened when I read the Fr. Brown stories in a big anthology. Story anthologies are not, perhaps, designed to be read in one sitting, or even several closely spaced sittings. Unlike a novel, there isn't an overarching, changing plot that guides you to the end, and so the result can be like eating a box of chocolates all at once.) Still, as a bit of a palate cleanser, Bertie is a nice drink of sparkling water -- bubbly and low-cal.

I do love Hugh Laurie as Bertie, but I wish that someone had cast him as Lord Peter just once.

Also, this is me signing in with the name/URL feature, and thanking you.

Terry Nelson said...

Eh. I should do more reading. I haven't read Fr. Elijah - people always tell me I should - but you just gave me another reason not to. I never read that former Jesuit gut either - and people always tell me I should. Windswept House and all of that.

Now I wish I had sent you that painting. Now that I regret.

Terry Nelson said...

Jesuit guy - Malachi Martin. I didn't mean gut.

Enbrethiliel said...


Itinerante -- Oh, that's too bad! I hope you can find a way to read it.

While at a party, I started reading one of the host's books. (It's not as rude as it sounds. It was a family reunion that had gone on for hours and my cousins and I had already retreated to one of the back bedrooms to watch some TV.) It was the tautly written Thriller The Naked Face by Sidney Sheldon--and boy, was it a page-turner. It nearly killed me that I had to leave before I was done! But here's the funny thing: that was years ago, and I still don't know the ending. Since Sheldon remains a very popular writer, I could have easily got my own copy of that novel . . . I just never did because I think of my relatives' copy as "my" copy, too. And there's something perversely romantic about the ending getting to remain a mystery buried in time. =P So if you know who the killer is, no spoilers, please!

Mrs. Darwin -- I'll try Bertie and Jeeves in smaller doses next time . . . but chances are high that there won't be a next time! LOL! We'll see what my Wodehouse-loving friend has to say about that, though!

Terry -- Incidentally, one of Father Martin's books, The Jesuits, is in my TBR pile! And since no one has been bold enough to pick my next read, I'm going to let you be the one. (Believe it or not, I'm a great fan of Father Martin's--but although I cite his radio interviews with Art Bell a lot, I don't really encourage others to read him or to listen to the interviews themselves. To me, he's like "the priest next door": I'll mention him often, but won't necessarily think I need to bring people over to his presbytery for tea.)

Please don't feel bad about the painting! I still think of it with joy. Just keep praying for me, please!

Banshee said...

Bertie likes to hang out with various relatives and acquaintances, particularly if the cooking is good, but he's definitely depicted as being independently wealthy in all the stories except for maybe the first few. Many of his friends are not financially well off, but generally they decline to ask him for money for various reasons. Bertie frequently travels back and forth to New York and on one occasion goes on a world tour without much worry about anything but the travel time. It's pretty clear in some of the stories that Bertie's money does make him an acceptable marriage target for people's daughters, even to fathers who personally despise him.

OTOH, if you want to read about Wodehouse heroes who work, there are quite a few. Psmith has a somewhat adversarial relationship to the working world, while others work quite hard. Wodehouse was a very steady working writer himself, which is part of why he was so prolific.

Enbrethiliel said...


I see I didn't remember that detail about Bertie's life accurately. So it's really Bingo Little, et al whom I despise. =P I wouldn't mind reading further if Aunt Agatha's character were developed.