Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Year with Chesterton is a Great Idea, But the Execution is Mediocre

A Year with G. K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and WonderA Year with G. K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder by Kevin Belmonte
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a fantastic idea in theory; in fact, I'd like to see a series done, with a book for each of my favorite authors. It's a little like a page-a-day calendar in book form. The entries for each day average a page or less, so five minutes before bed is sufficient to read that day's passages.

The passages each start with a brief Bible verse, usually three lines or less, that relates loosely to the topic of the Chesterton excerpt that follows.

My biggest beef, and it's a big one,
Like, THIS big. 
is that there is ZERO information about these excerpts.  Frustratingly, the reader isn't told where the excerpts are from (a diary? a letter? a book -- which book?) or in what year Chesterton wrote them.  Chesterton was a gifted writer with big thoughts, and these excerpts (usually a short paragraph) offer only a tiny snippet of the ideas he was writing about.  Anyone interested enough in Chesterton to buy this book is also likely to want to look up some of these snippets in their larger context.  I reread the preface and acknowledgements three times because I could not believe this information was wholly nonexistent.

Bizarrely, following the daily unattributed paragraph excerpt, some days contain bonus passages from Chesterton that are attributed.

For example, on August 4, the entry reads like this:
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much. --Luke 16:10 NKJV

To love anything is to see it at once under lowering skies of danger. Loyalty implies loyalty in misfortune.

A Passage from Orthodoxy (1908): Had Christianity felt what I felt, but could not (and cannot) express -- this need for a first loyalty to things, and for a ruinous reform of things? Then I remembered that it was actually the charge against Christianity that it combined these two things which I was wildly trying to combine. Christianity was accused, at one and the same time, of being too optimistic about the universe and of being too pessimistic about the world. The coincidence made me suddenly stand still.
That's it.  I might wonder where "loyalty implies loyalty in misfortune" (a nice phrase, by the way) came from, but the text gives me no clue.  I might assume that it is also from Orthodoxy, but the entry for August 5 contains no attributed supplement at all, so that doesn't seem like the right answer.  I just can't imagine why the editor wouldn't have insisted on the quotations being attributed -- it's not only sloppy, but it undermines any claim the book has to being a tool for increasing interest in Chesterton's work.

However, I did enjoy that the book noted on which days something interesting happened in Chesterton's life, such as the date one of his works was published.  On February 8, the book notes that in 1930, Chesterton wrote a letter to the president of the University of Notre Dame [insert mandatory celebration of #1-ranked football team here] containing a dedicatory poem for the university mentioning a golden dome. I loved learning that little factoid.
What though the odds be great or small, old Notre Dame will win over all
On the whole, I am glad I received this book and I hope it leads people to explore Chesterton a little bit.  But withholding the tools that would make it easier for people to go further in their reading is, in my opinion, utterly inexcusable.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


For serious bibliophiles, a free book is a special pleasure -- especially when it's one you already know you want to read.

To celebrate (a) the fact that this morning I achieved my goal of reading 100 books in 2012, and (b) the 1000th pageview of Brave New Bookshelves, I'm giving away my copy of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  In hardcover.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
This copy has been read exactly once, by me.  It's in very good, although not perfect, shape.  I don't underline or highlight or dog-ear pages.  If you ask nicely, I'll even sign it for you.  
HOW TO ENTER: It's simple, read my review of the book and then leave a comment telling me why you're excited to read this book, or what you liked/didn't like about the review. Comments must be at least five words to count. Yes, that's an actual rule. Also, US residents only, please.
ADDITIONAL ENTRIES: Help me test this nifty giveaway gadget, and gain additional entries. a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2012

For Book Nerds, the Comfort Food of Books

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, for me, was like someone read all the same books as I have in the past few years, then sat down and wrote a novel combining elements from all my favorites.  There's a pinch of library adventure in the style of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler.  Then there's a touch of The Da Vinci Code (don't hate; it was fun to read), but without gruesome murders or the casting of disturbing aspersions on a major religion.  Face it, secret societies generally make for good times, and secret societies organized around methodical study of old books make for even better times.  There are joyful bits of Ready Player One gamer nostalgia and of The Magicians childhood fantasy novel nostalgia.  There's even a dash of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts-style font geekcitement.  Yes, I made up that word, and yes, I know none of you read Just My Type -- but that just underscores my point, that Robin and I are clearly kindred spirits.  And yes, since you [didn't] ask, I've decided I'm on a first-name basis with the author.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2) Ready Player One
 The Magicians (The Magicians, #1) Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

What tipped this from four to five stars for me was the deft handling of the inevitable confrontation between centuries-old books and the modern-day repository of all knowledge (also known as The Google).  I won't spoil it for you, but I got quite a kick out of it.

Pick this up when you need a fun and easy read that doesn't make you feel like you've picked up a disposable or trashy "beach read."  It's serious in setting but not in style; like mac and cheese made with pure├ęd cauliflower, it goes down easy but you don't have to feel guilty about it.

Delicious yet not entirely devoid of nutrients:  in other words, practically magic.