Miss DW (goldenmoonrose) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Miss DW

Books 16-20: Bill Bryson, Peculiar Children, Christopher Moore, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

"The way I see it, there are [two] reasons never to be unhappy. First, you were born. This in itself is a remarkable achievement…Second, you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist. For endless eons you did not. Soon you will cease to be once more."
"What a joy it is to arrive after dark at a snug-looking house, its windows filled with welcoming light, and know that it is yours and that inside is your family."

16. Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson (324 pages)
An early work of Bryson's is a travel log of his farewell tour of the United Kingdom. Though there are glimpses of Bryson's characteristic wit and engaging ability to tell history, science, and other intellectually-stimulating yarns, the book is mostly just a log of his complaining about the architecture of British cities while eating at pubs. He does well to capture the unique culture of the British, but this is definitely one of his weaker works. I much more prefer his Short History of Nearly Everything, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, and Shakespeare: All the World's a Stage, to his travel writings. Still, Bryson is always a good read, especially when he so perfectly illustrates the very meaning of Anglophilemania. Grade: B

17. Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (352 pages)
When Jacob's fairy tale-spinning grandfather dies in a gruesome attack, Jacob ventures to England to unravel his dying words. Following a trail of hauntingly bizarre "trick" photography, Jacob finds himself in 1940 and the house of a magical headmistress and her collection of super-powered children, who are under attack by invisible monsters. The plot is nothing original (Harry Potter, X-men, Percy Jackson, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum), and the haunting photography, while clever and beautiful in and of itself, isn't quite used to its full creative potential nor integrated seamlessly into the story. For instance, the crowned girl levitating on the cover is just a little girl who can fly. Her picture is in a box that Jacob inherits, nothing more. Characters stay sadly flat; the plot predictable and unoriginal. Refreshingly, though, the book is written at a high-reading level. Though not with the artistic or emotional or suspenseful skill of Harry Potter or the charming humor of Percy Jackson, the language is well crafted, particularly when it blurs the edges between psychology, history, personal history, and fantasy (particularly concerning the horrors of World War II and the play with time travel). The first book in a series, one can hope that, like Philosopher's Stone, it being so jam packed with exposition, it's potential will be allowed to soar in a sequel. And, man, who can resist those hypnotic pictures? Grade: B+

"There are but two types of men who desire war: those who haven't the slightest intention of fighting it themselves, and those who haven't the slightest idea what it is."
"Again I wondered why a Creator who had dreamt such beauty would have slandered it with such evil."
"So long as this country is cursed with slavery, so too will it be cursed with vampires."
"It had become intolerable to be a vampire in Europe. They wanted freedom. Freedom from persecution. From fear. And where could such freedoms be found?" "In America." "In America, Lincoln! America was a paradise where vampires could exist…"

18. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahme-Smith (336 pages)
Grahme-Smith, author of the clever and hilarious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, pens an action-packed, gory tale of vampirism in American history, with the bad-ass epic hero, Abraham Lincoln, at its center. Though Grahme-Smith is once again heavy on the action, light on the plot, his hilarious mash-up is insanely clever on so many levels. Perhaps it's just my luck that the man who so brilliantly played with my favorite author Jane Austen now turns his attention to my favorite time period of American history and one of my favorite historical figures, and does so with a brilliant play of folklore-turned-symbolism (another favorite of mine). (And, man, I do love a great juxtaposition of surreal and ridiculous proportions!) Vampirism, naturally, takes on the symbol of the draining aristocracy that transferred into the Americas, preying on the lower classes, particularly African-Americans, in the form of systemic racism (slavery, Jim Crow, and oppression). Grahme-Smith, though not flawless in his writing, perfectly captures the melodramatic, flowery prose of the Victorian age (similar to Poe or other macabre and gothic writing), woven flawlessly in biographical/historical nonfiction form, melded together to blend the horrors of vampire fantasy with the very real horrors of history (both the battlefields of the Civil War and the disturbing nature of slavery itself). It is not a far jump for the mind to see that the buying and selling of people, is as horrific as harvesting them for food; is just as horrifically parasitic. Furthermore, to have Abraham Lincoln, a man who has been elevated to folk hero status, a man that dances on the border of history and mythology, to play the action hero, I mean, that's just bitching. Best. Action. Hero. Ever. Grahme-Smith has even managed to make a commentary on history itself, and our human ability (perhaps, need) to turn history into folklore, to see the past in terms of story, to turn men into heroes and monsters. How else could we possibly understand that a country would go to war to protect so evil an institution as slavery, without turning such human beings into monsters? How could a mortal man who faces such adversity and tragedy keep a country together and free an entire race-- without being superhuman? Through placing two things so seemingly at odds-Abraham Lincoln and vampire folklore--Grahme-Smith has made a profound, clever, entertaining tale of American history, and one that comments perfectly on the promises made during the Revolution, and kept by Lincoln during the Civil War. Grade: A

"This is a story about the color blue…How do you know, when you think blue--when you say blue--that you are talking about the same blue as anyone else? …Blue is beauty, not truth…Blue is glory and power, a wave, a particle, a vibration, a resonance, a spirit, a passion, a memory, a vanity, a metaphor, a dream. Blue is a simile. Blue, she is like a woman."

"Imagination is a burden to a painter. Painters are craftsmen, not storytellers. Paint what you see."

"How did you know I was a painter then?" "…You're looking at the paint, not the picture."

"He doesn't know what it is to laugh with a fat girl, but we do, don't we? …Love them all… That is the secret, young man. Love them all… Then, even if your paintings are shit, you will have loved them all."

"They always think we are trying to say something with the paint; they don't know the paint itself speaks to us."

"To be a woman at all, in these times, was to be treated like an object, of either scorn or desire, or both."

"It was for art, you know? I'm not a monster."

"I am a creature of awesome power and divine aspect. I am the spark of invention, the light of man's imagination. I raise you drooling monkeys from rubbing your own pathetic shit on the rocks to bringing beauty and art to your world. I am a force, the fearsome muse of creation. I am a fucking goddess!"

"Sometimes, it turned out, art was what you had to say, not how you said it."

"Yes. Write, write, write, Oscar, it's what men do when they can't make real art."

"They are not telling a story, they are invoking the gods."

"That's the secret, Henri. I am nothing without materials, skill, imagination, emotions, which you bring…You obtain beauty. I am nothing but spirit, nothing without the artist."

"She had found, through the millennia, that being the inspiration, passion, and abject lesson in suffering for so many imaginative, whining narcissists made for long periods of suffering a neglect visited back upon her. She loved all of her artists, but after a time, after she'd endured enough sulking, paranoia, withdrawal of affection, moody self-aggrandizement, berating, violence disguised as sex, and beatings, the only way to clear her head was to occasionally murder some sons-a-bitches."

"He made painting his only muse, his only mistress, his sole and sufficient passion… He looked upon woman as an object of art, delightful and made to excite the mind, but an unruly and disturbing object if we allow her to cross the threshold of our hearths, devouring greedily our time and strength."

"For instance, if you know that it is dangerous for you to have colors near you, why don't you clear them away for a time, and make drawings? I think that at such moments you would do better not to work with colors." --Theo van Gogh to his brother, Vincent

19. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (416 pages)
I love when I read a book and it ends up full of post-it notes, and, upon completion, I have to have a violent battle with myself as to whether it is my new favorite of a favorite author's. Better than Lamb or Fool? Bah! I can't decide. No question, though, Sacre Bleu is Moore once again at his brilliant best.

Well, come on. Christopher Moore's comedic and imaginative genius. Plus the Impressionists. Plus color symbolism. Even better, anthropomorphized color symbolism! META anthropomorphized color symbolism!! Seriously, I almost died of literary ecstasy. Moore weaves a beautiful, hilarious, fascinating art-history fairy tale about the romance between the painter and the paint, the artist and the muse, about the very nature of inspiration, where it exists in the medium, the model, and the man. The madness of love, life, and art. All are a big cycle and ball of self-feeding power, of creation and destruction, dancing the border realms of reality and art. Moore layers art with history with fantasy with a brilliant meta-commentary on art itself. And, of course, I loved every single page. Grade: A+

20. English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (296 pages)
I always include a healthy dose of fairy tales in my reading diet. They are the first stories, the universal dreams, the psychological consciousness of humanity. And, they're fun. The adventure, the cleverness, the romance, the horrors, the imaginative elements. This collection (just an old book I picked up at a yard sale) contains the English versions of many classic tales, and quite a few odd ones I'd never read before. I found quite a few to add to my storytelling repertoire. Grade: A

2012 Page Total: 8091

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