Sunday, June 01, 2008

Booking it

I read such a weird mix of stuff. (The nice word is "eclectic," but honestly, I know it's weird.)

Recently I read "The Cardinal," by Henry Morton Robinson. It's out-of-print, but you can buy it for mere pennies from Amazon. It's the story of a young priest who moves up from parish to parish and eventually becomes a cardinal (uh, spoiler alert? or did the title already give that away?). It was written in 1950 about even earlier times, so there's a super-creepy plotline where his pregnant and single sister is delivering her baby, and she's too small or the baby's too big, and her brother tells the doctor to let her die, essentially, since to do otherwise would kill the baby and he can't do that. Which...yeah, horrible choice there, but who lets their sister die? Anyway, "The Cardinal" was made into a movie directed by Otto Preminger. I Netflixed it, it's not as good as the book, but it's not bad...and it does have an only slightly watered-down version of the creepy sister-death scene. (There's also a scene where the priest is whipped by southern white racists for supporting racial equality which is really odd. I mean, I know the KKK did go after whites who supported blacks, but here it feels like the author is just trying to think of how saintly he can make his main character.)

Because I liked "The Cardinal," I moved on to Morton Robinson's "Water of Life," a supposed sprawling novel about a whiskey-making family, Hoo boy. Again, it only cost pennies because it's out of print, and it had a wonderfully juicy pulp-fiction cover, but the book was just...boring. It started promisingly, and there was one creepy scene that stuck in my head (involving a wild hog on a farm), but most of it was the big yawn.

However, don't miss Henry Morton Robinson's Wikipedia biography, which describes one of the weirdest deaths I've ever heard. It says "On December 23, 1960, he fell asleep in a hot bath after taking a sedative. Three weeks later, on January 13, 1961, he died of complications from the resulting second- and third-degree burns." THIRD-DEGREE BURNS? How hot was he accustomed to running his bath water, and how strong was that sedative that he could essentially fall asleep in a soup pot and not wake up?

I still like to read books that were popular years ago, so I moved on to "The African," by Harold Courlander. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Courlander or his reps sued Alex Haley when it became apparent that Haley's Africa/slave ship scenes in "Roots" were heavily dependent on the fact that he had read "The African." This book has not disappointed so far. It's not as in-depth as the African village scenes in "Roots" were, but it's got an elegance to the writing, a formality that Haley's did not. (Probably why Haley's book did better...the formality can come off a bit stuffy. Alex Haley was many things, but he was never stuffy...I heard him speak and I can assure you of that.)

If you like to read best-sellers from many decades ago, Bev's Book Bag is a fun blog you should bookmark (try to say that 10 times fast). But my favorite way to find old best-seller descriptions is this book (again, out of print, but you can buy used copies): "The Number One New York Times Best-Seller." It goes through the years and discusses what books were on the top of the list and why. A neat literary picture of our past, and super-easy to use as a book-buying (or library-using) reference.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am in love with this site: it's like Netflix but with books.