Reading Roundup: August 2009

David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Gregory Prince and W. Robert Wright

I liked this book quite a lot more than I thought I would; it is long and has extensive footnotes, but the writing is very readable and most of the chapters were very interesting. The book is organized by themes rather than chronologically, so it was occasionally confusing, but other than that it seemed well-written and carefully researched. I learned a lot more about President McKay and the history of the Church during the mid-twentieth century than I had known before, and many issues and ideas that come up now make a lot more sense to me after reading some of the historical precedents for them. I also realized that I am much more interested in recent Church history than in early history; I must be a modernist after all.

Gone for Good by Harlan Coben

This was another quick, fun read that definitely sucked me in until I finished it. I didn't like it as much as the last Coben book I read (Tell No One), but it was still good and enjoyable.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I struggled a bit with this book. I think it is partially due to the fact that Yates is writing from a particular time and place that I'm not familiar with. Actually, I'm more familiar with our contemporary versions of 1950s New England, and this was different. Plus the main characters are not very likable. They are not meant to be, and the book itself is meant to be an uncomfortable read, and so it was not necessarily 'fun', but still a good piece of fiction.

Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States by Hector Tobar

Tobar is a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, and so the book is very fun to read and discusses a wide variety of people and situations. He is mostly optimistic about the state of race relations and the position of Spanish-speakers in the United States, and so it was somewhat refreshing to read a more upbeat story about 'the other America' that is growing up around us. He does occasionally touch on the darker issues that come up in a multi-lingual society, but most of the book is composed of positive anecdotes. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about Spanish-speaking immigrants and the world they live in, since that world is largely invisible to the rest of us.

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

This was a fun, fluffy read recommended to me by a friend a while ago. I had a great time reading it, alternately cringing and laughing out loud at everything that happened.

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

I heard about this book on NPR a while ago and put it on my list to read, then promptly forgot about it. Then I remembered it a few weeks ago and checked it from the library. I was initially disappointed because it was hard to get into; I had to really push myself through the first hundred pages or so. It's long, it was written quickly by a man who was dying from chronic alcohol and drug use, and it's full of very unpleasant things. And yet at the same time it's an incredibly compelling book and I think the story behind the novel is every bit as important as the story within the novel. It takes a lot of work to read this book, but it is work that is well worth it in the end.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I had heard so many good things about this book that I worried it would not live up to the hype. I liked it quite a lot more than I thought I would and literally could not put it down. It is an unusual book in many ways, but the writing is quietly beautiful and truly a work of art.

The Tree House by Douglas Thayer

One of the first pieces of Mormon literature that I read was Thayer's short story collection Under the Cottonwoods. I was really moved by many of the stories in it; the imagery was perfect, the writing clear and understated, and it asked hard questions about faith in a world of disappointment, violence, and tragedy. I've read more by Thayer since then, but always come away disappointed. Until I read this book the other week and I was blown away again. There are a few flaws in it; some of the action is too heavily foreshadowed and some of it is repetitive. But the story of a boy becoming a man while struggling with loss and disillusionment is powerful. It is set during the time between the ending years of World War Two and the Korean War, a time ripe for questions about God and his role in our lives on Earth. Thayer comes back to the Book of Mormon often as a work about violence and faith, and I thought this was interesting because it seems that now we tend to de-emphasize the war chapters in favor of other ones. I could probably write an entire post about this book, but I will refrain and instead invite you to consider reading it (be warned, it is a bit graphic in parts).


Movies

Los lunes al sol (Mondays in the Sun)

The main problem with this movie is the lack of a clear plot structure or resolution; it's about a group of men who are left jobless when their factory closes down, and so the movie seems to wander with them. It's a good movie and the acting is great, but definitely not an action film.

Silencio roto (Broken Silence)

As Mr. Fob pointed out, this movie is basically Pan's Labyrinth without all the freaky stuff. It's a pretty straight-forward movie as far as cinematography and plot go, but still enjoyable. The acting is great and the scenery is gorgeous. It's also a subtle film about complicated issues without many obvious heroes or villains. If you like foreign, historic films you'd probably like this one.

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