The Name of the Rose

On August 16, 1968, I was handed a book written by a certain Abbé Vallet, Le Manuscrit de Dom Adson de Melk, traduit en français d’après I’édition de Dom J. Mabillon(Aux Presses de l’Abbaye de la Source, Paris, 1842).

I gave Umberto Eco a second chance; now I know that he isn’t my kind of author. This was like my Art History class all over again. Except with a few murderous monks added.

With some authors, you don’t want to know other people’s opinions. With some, you need their support. I heard ‘Give him time’, ‘have patience’ and a lot of variations on that. Also that you need to appreciate an eye for detail, but there’s only so many details I can appreciate. It’s dense, I lost the story before it started, thinking back I can only remember frustrations. Besides a mild sense of interest towards the library of the monastery, some of those books sounded very cool.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other history-themed books out there I can enjoy.

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Vintage Classics Random House 2004

Smoke

‘Thomas, Thomas! Wake up!’

Well, Dan Vyleta got the Victorian-feel of it down pat. Several times I paged back to the front to check the year of first publication.

This could be viewed as a compliment, but as I expected something else going in, it took me a long time to adapt. Smoke is as straight-edged as its characters, afraid of anything that could be viewed as sin or a wrong emotion, any form of entertainment that could ‘evoke’ something.

This element makes the novel dystopian, a strict society in which something or someone will give sooner than later. Not just that, but on top of the societal mystery, there’s a mysterious group that’s kind of powerful, but not powerful enough to have a clear enough message. Or maybe the smoke just got in between.

Even when adventure is added, the feeling doesn’t get very urgent. Power hungry people want to keep things the way they are, maybe some light sins aren’t that horrible, okay, okay. It could have been a short novel, a foundation for a television series, but as a hefty book there’s just not enough spark.

Smoke, Dan Vyleta, Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016

The Birth of the Pill

The old lady loved sex and had – for forty years – been looking for a way to enjoy it even more.

It’s clear to me that I’ve been reading so much more non-fiction: phrases I use start feeling repetitive. But yes, this book is a bit more on the novel side of writing, opposed to straight up history book. Mostly – I think – because the huge amount of personal lives added. How personal can you be before history turns into human interest? Or is there no line? Anyway, to The Birth of the Pill.

That pill, yes. The one that doesn’t need another name and never really got one. Margaret Sanger, Katherine McCormick, John Rock and Gregory Pincus are the people behind it. With different motivations (more independence for women, population control) it was work of years and years. Besides their stories, there’s the imagery of the USA in that time, society and (its lack of) women’s rights, and how health and medicine were viewed. It makes the book a large slice of life story, with enough facts to fill a pub quiz. One related to the sexual revolution.

The Birth of the Pill, Jonathan Eig, Carrera 2014

God Is Dead

Disguised as a young Dinka woman, God came at dusk to a refugee camp in the North Darfur region of Sudan.

I wonder what made people angrier about this book. The fact that God shows in a woman, an African woman, or him being without any real power. I’m sure there was many a pearl necklace clutched. But is the death of God in war-torn Africa a gimmick, or does the story bring something to the image of how the world looks at (Christian) religion?

First of all, God Is Dead is closer to a collection of stories, the death being what drives but the fall out definitely being the direction they are taken in. Except for one recurring character, all stories are independent. They are about losing not just religion but faith, a purpose, and how society is clambering for replacement.

Personally, I wondered a few times why other religions wouldn’t have carried on, or if there would be more new ones than the one mentioned. The stories are mostly based in the United States, while the experience in Hindu India might have been very interesting as well.

Still, the stories are half adventurous novel, half terrifying future. It’s a very bleak future, how humankind will look without anything to believe in, but for the small size of the novel, it is very doable.

God Is Dead, Ron Currie, Picador 2007

Days of Little Texas

There is this girl in my dream.

The life of a teenage missionary preacher turns horror in a questioning story about God, family, ghosts, souls and growing up.

Sixteen year old ‘Little Texas’ (real name: Ronald Earl) gives public healings but starts doubting the Holy Trinity and himself when he’s slowly growing up. Visions of a dead girl and stories about a possessed island don’t make the growing up part any easier.

Days of Little Texas gives the critic of religion plenty of excuses to roll their eyes, while at the same time it offers plenty of question pieces about “Is there more between heaven and earth”.

‘Little Texas’  faith and trust in his religion unravels quickly and bumpy and the entire situation (what even happened?) refuses to tie up neatly. It’s a book for both sinner and saint.

Days of Little Texas, R. A. Nelson, Knopf 2009

Sinners and the Sea

They say it is the mark of a demon.

Reading a book about a Christian figure, while being atheist. Most of my arguments against this book are probably based on that. So many frustrations about a cruel God and the disinterest and cruelty of Noah. And yet, I think I liked it.

Probably because from time to time the Christian parts are backstory instead of front and center. Noah’s wife is a sad girl growing into a sad woman, viewed as a demon because of the mark on her face. She expects little from life, is loving and passive and doesn’t understand all Noah’s fuss. Sinners are still human after all, are they not? The author manages to show that with some of the characters, while others are clearly considered lost. There is no grey in this world, only black and white. Besides that, Rebecca Kanner does a nice job of world-building. It is hot and sandy and the nearby city is a hell-hole full of sin.

If you’re okay with knowing how a story ends before finishing it, and if you can ignore the extremely outdated ideas about sin, a woman’s place and a man’s rights ..you might as well enjoy this story. If those things make you see red before even opening the book – let it be.

Sinners and the Sea: The untold story of Noah’s wife, Rebecca Kanner, Howard Books 2013

The Satanic Verses

‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die.’

The Satanic Verses was one of those books, for me. One of those you aren’t very eager to read, can easily not read for a couple of days but when you read, you stay around and take the story with you when you close the book.

The main plot is the story of Saladin and Gibreel. They survive a fall from an exploded plane, and that doesn’t leave them unchanged. Saladin seems to grow into hate and transforms into the classic image of the devil. Where’s evil, there is good and Gibreel becomes his name sake: the archangel Gabriel.
Next to their transformations there are different stories throughout the ages and continents. The start of the sharia, actor’s vanities, pilgrimage. Some are less interesting while others show Rushdie’s talent for richly detailed, colorful writing.

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, Picador 1988