Book Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

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Winner of 2014 Pulitzer Prize, The Goldfinch tells the life story of Theo Decker. A New York resident with a beautiful mother and an absent father, Theo is just 13 when his mother dies in a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art during an exhibition of Dutch masterpieces, including Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. In the confusion surrounding the attack, an elderly man implores Theo to take a family-heirloom ring and gives him an urgent message to deliver to his partner. Believing the old man was also pointing at The Goldfinch, Theo takes the painting as well. These three events: losing his mother, gaining the ring, and his theft of the painting, will influence the trajectory of his life.
Theo, narrating in the first-person over a period of about 15 years, takes the reader on his journey in the aftermath of that day. Many of his experiences seem to be directed by fate or left to chance. From being taken in by a school friend’s wealthy family, to falling in love with a mysterious red-headed girl who also survived the attack, to chance meetings with people who will become life-long friends and lovers, to welcoming his deadbeat dad back into his life only to have his heart broken again, a cycle of addiction and recovery, moving to Las Vegas, and his slow descent into international antique and art forgery and theft.

Without spoiling too much, every aspect of Theo’s life comes full circle in startlingly different ways. Theo finally reflects on his life, wondering how much of his experiences were unavoidable due to fate or due to his choices and character.

Donna Tartt is a master storyteller and took over a decade to write The Goldfinch. The book is long, with a few critics saying the book would have better been split into a trilogy but it is an epic, exciting, stay-up-all-night-reading book full of richly developed characters that also manages to reflect on sadness and survival, chance and fate, and the role of art in life. Tartt is a master at conveying emotion and describing experiences and telling a story where everything, no matter how small, is connected. Recommended for art lovers, anybody who has ever wondered about how much choice or chance shapes our lives, observers of human nature, and all lovers of literary fiction.

I also highly recommend Tartt’s previous two novels: The Secret History, an inverted mystery, and The Little Friend which is technically a mystery but also an incredible study of good vs evil. Both books are available through Summit.

- Christina Nofziger

Book Review: Traffic

traffic

Recently, Travis Phelps of the Washington State Department of Transportation suggested that traffic would move more efficiently at merge points if people waited and merged late instead of lining up as soon as they saw the “merge ahead” signs.

I used to be resistant to the late merge, thinking like most critics that it is rude. However, after reading Tom Vanderbilt’s book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What it Says About Us when it came out in 2008, I made some observations and tried it myself. I was converted to late merging!

Also in Vanderbilt’s well-researched book, among many interesting driving facts, we learn about the traffic choreography that occurs during the Oscars and how we can improve our lives through better parking habits. One important conclusion the author draws is that we would all be better drivers if there was some way for us to receive regular praise on what we do well instead of only receiving negative feedback through road rage and traffic tickets.

– Liz Gruchala-Gilbert

Special Collections: Luther Bibles

img_2023Special Collections Exhibit 2014:

Bibles and Bible commentary:

Endter Luther Bible no. 1 (Monroe)

SPU possess three of the Luther Bibles published by Wolfgang Endter and descendants between 1629 to 1788.  The Luther Bibles published by the Endter clan came in three basic forms:  the octavo-sized Saubert (from 1726 the Mörl) Bible (1629-1822), and the small and large folio-sized Weimar (1641-1768) and Dilherr (1656-1788) Bibles.  All three of the copies owned by SPU lack a firm date of publication, and the first two, an opening title page.  For this reason I refer to them by the donor-names Monroe, Marston, and Frost.  Monroe, the one featured here, is clearly the earliest.  Though it bears internal (and copperplate-based) title pages dated 1643 (not to mention a faint penciled inscription to that effect on a blank—and detached—opening page), this information may not be trustworthy, if only because all three of the copies owned by SPU may be Dilherr (1656-1788) rather than Weimar (1641-1768) Bibles.  They appear to be Dilherr Bibles because each meets the three Dilherr criteria specified by Oertel:

1) They are all folio-sized, and they all contain both 2) Johann Dilherr’s “Vorrede an den gottseligen Leser” (only partially still there in Monroe); and 3) Salomon Glassius’ notes (or Nutzen, embedded in the text in Monroe, but marginalized in Marston and Frost).  For these reasons (and because the first of the many editions of the Dilherr Bible appeared in 1656), I am inclined to wonder whether those three internal title pages (located at the onset of the Historical books, the New Testament, and the Epistles), though clearly authentic, would match the title page proper, did we have it.  (Indeed an excessively suspicious person might suspect that there are signs that the former may have been tipped in.  Yet it should also be noted that (and here I contradict myself), the second edition of the Weimar bore 1644 “auf dem gedruckten Haupttitel” (“on its printed main title [page]”), but 1643 “Auf dem in Kupfer gestochenen Titel” (“on the title [page] engraved on copper”) (Panzer, Geschichte (1778), 197).)  A further clue may be the fact that, except for the copperplate-based title pages, 4) Monroe is dominated (as an early Dilherr would be) by woodcuts.  (Were there two-column woodcuts in the early Weimar editions?)

But there are also reasons to think that, if a Dilherr, it may not post-date 1679:  the fact that, possessing only a Register of Sunday Gospel and Epistle readings, 5) it lacks the traditional four Registers transferred over from the Weimar Bible from 1720, the fact that 6) it sports no engraving of Luther and his family, and the fact that 7) it appears to lack a feature characteristic of Weimar Bibles and also many Dilherr Bibles from 1679, namely the copperplate engravings of the eleven Saxon Herzöge.

So though it is entirely possible that Monroe could date from 1643, or even be a second (i.e. 1644) edition of the Weimar rather than a Dilherr, I would place it for the time being tentatively somewhere between 1656 and 1674 (which is the date of the last Dilherr edition before the one dated 1679) inclusive.

Nonetheless, because a lot has been published on these Bibles, a great deal of additional progress could, given time, be made.  (So for my latest thoughts on this, see the exhibit notes themselves.)

This Endter Dilherr (?) Luther Bible was a gift of SPU Instructor of Nursing Heidi Monroe, who says that it would have come over from Germany with her paternal great grandfather Hermann Robert Baum, who was a druggist and the proprietor of the former Baum’s Pharmacy in San Francisco.

Possible fuller title:  [Biblia, das ist, die gantze heilige Schrifft dess alten und neuen Testaments.  Wie solche von Hernn Doctor Martin Luther Seel. im Jahr Christi 1522 in unsere Teutsche Mutter-Sprach zu übersetzen angefangen anno 1554 zu End gebracht. . . .]

- Steve Perisho

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Book Review: When We Were Orphans

When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro

When We Were Orphans

“The past may be set in stone, but our memories of it are not.” Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro is famous for writing stories that contain this truth. The shifting nature of memory certainly sits at the center of his feverish mystery novel “When We Were Orphans.”

Narrated by (the fictional) Christopher Banks, a famous detective in Britain between the two World Wars, as journal entries dated from 1930-1958. His parents mysterious disappearance when he was nine leaves Christopher was orphaned in Shanghai. His father was a businessman within the colonial opium industry, and his mother was a society crusader committed to ending that very industry.

Christopher leads us to believe that his parents’ disappearance resulted from their stand against powerful interests within the opium trade. But his accounts of his childhood reveal both self-doubt and over-confidence about the facts of his past. I began to mistrust his reliability as a narrator as more inconsistencies emerge. His active imagination and proclivity for creating elaborate detective roleplaying games as a child also help to create doubt in the mind of the reader.

After Christopher is sent to England to live under the guardianship of his Aunt, his games turn into the real ambition of becoming a detective. Upon graduating from Cambridge he steadily gains influence in London society, becomes part of a fashionable “set”, and solves many high profile cases. Nevertheless, he is haunted by a desire to uncover what happened to his parents. Part of Christopher remains lost in his childhood remembrances and fantasies, and he determines that he must return to Shanghai—he must scour the city as well as his own memories.

On his arrival, Shanghai is teetering on the edge of chaos and absurdity, and serves as an analog for Christopher’s confused state of mind in the latter half of the book. Ishiguro depicts the city as it was during July 1937, just as the Second Sino-Japanese war is breaking out in the streets. The very space of Christopher’s childhood trauma collapses around him as he aimlessly attempts to sleuth out clues. In vivid passages describing rubble-strewn streets, Christopher is a man wandering inside a constantly shifting labyrinth. And no detective work can be done when no leads can be followed.

“When We Were Orphans” is almost self-revelatory at times—I found myself wondering about the nature of my own past, while reading about Christopher trying to recreate his. Such thoughts are somewhat uncomfortable, but also provoking and satisfying. By the time I reached the end of this unconventional mystery novel, I felt as though I’d travelled far with Christopher and personally.

The call number for this book is PR6059.S5 W47 2001, and it lives on the third floor.

- Zach McNay, Access Services Specialist

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Growing up, Jacob Portman thought his Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating person he knew. He had fought in wars, crossed oceans and deserts, joined the circus, and spoke at least half a dozen languages. The stories Jacob loved the most were the stories about Grandpa’s life in a Welsh children’s home. Grandpa claimed it was an enchanted place, on an island where the sun always shined and nobody ever got sick or died. The island was designed to keep him and his friends safe from the monsters who were after them for their mysterious and magical abilities. Jacob never doubted his grandpa’s colorful stories, after all, he had spooky photographs and crumbling, hand-written letters to their truth.

As he grew older, Jacob began to doubt the existence of children who could fly, or turn invisible, or lift boulders. He believed the stories were a coping mechanism for Grandpa to deal the tragedies of World War II. He asked for stories less and less, until Grandpa no longer told them. However, after a tragic family event, his grandfather’s cryptic last words, and a mysterious letter from a Miss Peregrine, Jacob decides to search for his grandfather’s childhood home and the truth. His journey leads him to an island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers a crumbling orphanage. As he explores the decrepit island and dilapidated halls, discovering more haunting photographs and dusty letters, he learns the children who once resided there were much more than peculiar: they may have been unsafe, banished to the island for a reason, and they are, impossibly, still alive.

Written around found vintage photographs that are interspersed throughout the text along with handwritten letters, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is filled with beautiful, haunting, richly detailed imagery and prose. The photographs and text together build a suspenseful story that alternates between fantasy and reality, past and present. Part coming-of-age story, part time-traveling fantasy, part mystery, part art project, but wonderfully strange and fully unique. Fantasy and thriller fans will enjoy this novel. Fans of David Lynch, Lemony Snickett, and Tim Burton will find this appealing as well.

Tim Burton will be directing the film adaptation, set for release in 2015. The sequel to the book, Hollow City, will be published in January 2014.

The call number for this book is PS 3618 .I3985 M57 2011 in the Juvenile section.

                               – Christina Nofziger, Access Services Specialist