Thursday, March 27, 2008

Barrett Wendell & His Letters - Winner, Biography, 1925

Barrett Wendell & His Letters
By: M. A. Dewolfe Howe
Atlantic Monthly Press, 1924

Barrett Wendell is probably not someone that most have heard of. He was an author and Harvard professor. He travelled the world lecturing on the writings of Shakespeare and other important literary figures. He was well known in his time, especially in the New England area.

The importance of Barrett Wendell & His Letters, to me, is not necessarily the record of Wendell's life revealed through his vast amounts of written correspondence. More importantly we see the development of intellectualism in the years prior to and even during World War I. We also see the political struggles of the time - especially the great debate over neutrality in the years prior to World War I.

This book became a bit tedious towards the end, especially because the most personal of his letters were omitted. I was thrilled, though, in the last chapter to find references to two different Pulitzer prize winning authors who were writing their prize-winning books at the time - including Albert J. Beveridge (The Life of John Marshall) and Booth Tarkington (The Magnificent Ambersons). I am noticing that the books written at least in the first half of the twentieth century quite often make reference to prominent people and events of the time - assuming that the reader knows what they are talking about. More often than not I do not know what they are referring to - I might recognize a name but not know it's significance. It feels good every once in a while to know exactly what they are talking about!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gilead - Winner, Fiction, 2005

by: Marilynne Robinson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004

As you can tell, I have skipped ahead quite a few years. My husband and I had a long road trip this past weekend and I thought there would be no better time to get an entire book knocked out. We found Gilead on CD and it was the perfect length for our trip.

Gilead is a kind of letter/journal "written" by Rev. John Ames, a pastor in his late seventies, to his 7-year old son. Ames knows that he will not be around to watch his son grow up or to instruct him in the ways of life. So, he writes this letter to his son - full of family history and tips on life. Ames tells the stories of his grandfather, a pastor heavily involved in the raids of abolitionist John Brown; his father, a pastor also, who deals bitterly with the family's violent past and associations; and, finally, himself and his dealings with his best friend's son who is like his own. Ames also comments on his son's daily activities and shares life lessons.

I would not necessarily recommend listening to this book in an audio format. I haven't looked at an actual copy of the book, but I think it might do a better job of cutting the book up into journal entries. The book is also not chronological, so I would often find that if I zoned out even for a minute I didn't know if he was talking about his father, grandfather, son, godson, or himself. It is interesting, though, because it reads like any journal a person would write recording their memories. Memories don't always come in chronological order. Sometimes a memory leads Ames to remember an important lesson he learned from that event and he proceeds to expound on it.

Coming from the family of a pastor, Gilead had special significance for me. To hear the thoughts and struggles of a pastor reminded me much of what my own father has had to deal with over the years. It is a touching story of how the generations that come before shape what we become, but also how we can learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. I feel that Gilead might be a book I would purchase to have on my bookshelf and reread in the future.