Monday, 28 November, 2005

Recent Readings

Debra and I inherited a huge number of books a few years ago when her friend Dee passed away.  Dee apparently was a big subscriber to Time Life series.  We have literally hundreds of books from those series.  I've recently been perusing the collections for reading material.

Roughing It (from the "Classics of the Old West" series) is Mark Twain's narrative of his early adventures in the West.  In it, he describes their trip across the plains from Hannibal, MO to Virginia City in the Nevada territory, his adventures in the silver mining camps, San Francisco, and Hawaii.  It's a good read:  full of interesting insights into the Old West and quite a few funny stories covering a wide range of topics.  Well worth the read.

Pierre Boulle's The Bridge over the River Kwai jumped out at me last week.  I recall seeing the movie as a child, but about all I remembered of it was the British building a bridge for the Japanese, and that infectious song (Malcolm Arnold's march arrangement of the Coronel Bogey) that they'd whistle while marching to the work site.  (Or was it while working?)   In any event, I recognized the author as the person who wrote The Planet of the Apes, a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I was a little disappointed by Kwai, though.

Perhaps it's better in the original French, but in the English translation I'm missing the British colonel's motivation for cooperating to build this great bridge.  If Colonel Nicholson really was, as the book tries to portray him, the model of a British officer, he would not have been so helpful.  I understood his motivation for seeming to cooperate, but I kept waiting for him to collaborate with his officers to build some fatal flaw into the bridge.  The author didn't give me sufficient cause to believe that the colonel would work so hard to help the enemy, nor did I understand why his officers would go right along with him in doing it.  Only the medical officer seemed to understand the ramifications of finishing the bridge and his protests amounted to little more than a few sarcastic remarks.

Nonetheless I enjoyed the book although I thought the ending was a bit weak.  Maybe it's a flaw in my character, but I like to have all the loose ends tied up at the end.  It seemed to me as thought the author just ran out of words without completing the story.

I don't know what made me pick up Thorton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey.  Maybe I was on a bridge binge, having just completed Kwai.  This book is hard to characterize, and certainly not the kind of thing that I typically read.  But the story was so well written that I couldn't put it down.  Wilder sucked me in with the first sentence:

On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.

The book goes on to describe the lives of three of the people (the other two were just slightly involved with the principals), and tells how a Franciscan priest (monk?) who saw the bridge collapse tried to make some sense of the tragedy.  I thought that the book was beautifully written, but I didn't really see the point of it beyond "The Lord works in mysterious ways."  Perhaps that's all I was supposed to get out of it.  Or maybe I'm just a dullard.