Archive for the ‘Oldies But Goodies’ Category

Things Fall Apart

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

By Chinua Achebe

The Short Take:

Now 60 years old, this book has lost none of its exceptional power. It’s the first in Achebe’s African Trilogy, and I will be reading the other two. The two interrelated stories of this novel center on Okonkwo, an Ibo leader who values strength above all else. No wonder this book is often a required read for school kids. However, I wonder if they have the life experience to fully understand what they are reading.


At barely 200 pages (in trade paper), this novel is a quick read but it is stuffed with important world themes: the relationship (or lack there of) between fathers and sons, the role of women in society, the rise and fall of power, the community versus the individual.

Of course the biggest theme of all is the impact of European colonialism on countries like Nigeria and how that destroyed native cultures. While most missionaries were well intentioned, the chaos they created has repercussions that are still felt more than a century later.

However, it’s the story, the characters, and the cultural details in Things Fall Apart that keep you turning the pages in eager anticipation (or dread). My bookclub doesn’t know it yet, but I’m picking this one when it’s my turn again.

A Little Plot:

Ibo is determined not to be like his lazy, ineffective father. He achieves the success he craves, but at a cost.

The second half of the book deals with the impact Christian missionaries have on Ibo, his family, and his community.

The late Chinua Achebe has no website but there is plenty of information about him and his work online.




P.D. James: Mistress of Mystery

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Of course she has been inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame! Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James has 20 books to her credit (including one science fiction outing and an autobiography). Beyond that, she writes some of the most intelligent mysteries around.

The poet-policemen, Adam Dalgliesh, who solves most of her mysteries, is unlike any other fictional crime hero. Instead of quirky behavior he brings intense focus to the crimes he solves, acting with British reserve. In addition, her books are beautifully researched — often drawing on her first-hand knowledge of  the police and criminal law from years of working in the British Home Office.

As she entered her 90s, James retired her Dalgliesh series, stating it would be unfair to leave an incomplete manuscript. Instead, she ventured where most would fear to tread: bringing murder and mayhem into the world created by Jane Austen. Death Comes to Pemberly is  joy for both Austen lovers and mystery fans, set six years after the marriage of Mr  Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

I’ve only read a dozen of James’ books so far but will absolutely read the rest. Will Pemberly be her last? I hate to think so, though her website has no hints about future books. James has always been about quality of writing over quantity of output. Her last book shows that when it comes to quality, she still stands head and shoulders above most others. Is she does publish again, I expect nothing but the best. Because that’s what a Hall of Famer delivers.

Memoirs of a Medieval Woman

Friday, January 28th, 2011

By Louise Collis

(This year I’m highlighting some books that really made an indelible impression on me — as well as continuing to review new books)

The Short Take:

This book is phenomenal! It’s the true story of a 15th century Englishwoman who goes on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem — and it’s largely drawn from her own autobiography. It’s a wild journey and an even wilder woman. You simply can’t make up stuff this good.


Just the fact that an English mother of 14 would set out on this massive journey through Europe and into the Holy Land is pretty astounding. The fact that she later dictated her experiences to a priest, creating what may be the first memoir written in English, is even more amazing. But the real show stopper here is Margery Kempe herself — a woman so opinionated, so over-the-top pious, and so vocal in all things that she even manages to alienate her fellow pilgrims.

MArgery Kempe is a character for the ages. And, Collis does a great job of not only presenting her but providing all the context you need to fully understand the scope of her travels and the times she lived in. This book includes both jaw-dropping incidents and scenes that are flat out hysterical. You seldom find all of that in a work of fiction — and this story is true!

A Little Plot:

Margery Kempe was a well-off woman, married with 14 children. She also believed she talked to God and various saints. And she wanted to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for some secret sin. Today her visions and conversations would probably get her committed – and there were those who thought she was pretty odd back then. However, Margery was also a woman of unbelievable drive, determination, and courage. She got what she wanted, no matter how much it discomfitted those around her.

This real story about a real woman also gives you a brilliant portrait of medieval times, not just in England but across Europe and in the Holy Land as well. But this is no stuffy history. It’s full of passion, outrageousness and daring. No wonder it’s still in print after more than 50 years!

It’s one of my all-time favorite reads — a book I’ll truly never forget. I simply had to tell you about it.


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