“The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (Post 2/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2

Part IV: Uncle Pio

[43] Reference:

“That’s what one gets by hanging around a theatre and hearing nothing but the conversation of Calderon.”



Pedro Calderon de la Barca (1600 – 1681) was a dramatist, poet and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. During certain periods of his life he was also a soldier and a Roman Catholic priest. His themes tended to be complex and philosophical, and express complicated states of mind in a manner that few playwrights have been able to manage.

[44] Reference:

Lima celebrated its feast days by hearing a Mass of Tomas Luis da Victoria in the morning.


See Post 1, note [35] where Victoria was referred to as Vittoria (which he’ll be referred to as again in the next note).

[45] References:

The news finally spread abroad that he had returned with tomes of masses and motets by Palestrina, Morales and Vittoria, as well as thirty-five plays by Tirso de Molina and Ruiz de Alarcon and Moreto.



Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (~1525 – 1594) was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music.

Tirso de Molina (1579 – 1648) was a Spanish Baroque dramatist, poet and Roman Catholic monk. He is primarily known for writing The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, the play from which the popular character of Don Juan originates.

Juan Ruiz de Alarcon (~1581 – 1639) was a Novohispanic writer of the Golden Age who cultivated different variants of dramaturgy. His works include the comedy La verdad sospechosa, which is considered a masterpiece of Latin American Baroque theater.

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Top 10 Books Read in 2016

Today, we’ll look at the good stuff:





Stephen King (1980)

King keeps the sentimentality low and increases dark Bachman touches for a”child-with-powers” story that is much more than Carrie 2.0.





“Take it easy, kiddo. Everything’s fine.”

But as it turned out, nothing was fine. Nothing.


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Bottom 10 Books Read in 2016

(Bad news first; I’ll give you the good tomorrow.)

Let’s count down to the least-liked:




Fyodor Dostoevsky (1871; translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 1995)

There’s a good book contained in Demons, but you’d have to remove at least 400 of its 700 pages. It reads more like a satire of Dostoevsky’s style and themes than a cohesive narrative. The scenes that are effective aren’t worth the slog. And, unlike Dostoevsky’s other works, there’s no likable character to hold onto for the duration.

(To be clear: Pevear and Volokhonsky are incredible translators; they did their absolute best.)

In my cruelty, I tried to obtain a full confession from him, though, by the way. I did allow that to confess certain things might prove embarrassing. He, too, understood me thoroughly; that is, he clearly saw that I understood him thoroughly; and that I was even angry with him, and was himself angry with me for being angry with him, and for understanding him thoroughly.


Recommended instead: Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation of The Brothers Karamazov.

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“The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (Post 1/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/2

Thornton Wilder’s second novel, published in 1927, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Five people die in a Peruvian bridge collapse. Brother Juniper, a witness to the event, believes the existence of God can be proved by examining what brought each of the five to the bridge at the fateful moment. Juniper uses his findings to write a book. This is not that book.

This post is going to be a love-fest. I was taken in by The Bridge of San Luis Rey, beginning to end. I worried that the writing would be dated, stilted, and self-important but (closing in on its 90th anniversary) this book reads as incredibly modern, with heart and humor and universal understanding. Wilder creates an overlapping, intertwined, incredibly dense world in under 150 pages.

Part I: Perhaps an Accident

[1] Opening lines and Wilder’s already got me:

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


[2] Vocabulary:

It had been woven of osier by the Incas.



noun – 1. a small Eurasian willow that grows mostly in wet habitats and is a major source of the long flexible shoots (withies) used in basketwork.

2. any of several North American dogwoods.


The bridge seemed to be among the things that last forever; it was unthinkable that it should break. The moment a Peruvian heard of the accident he signed himself and made a mental calculation as to how recently he had crossed by it and how soon he had intended crossing by it again.


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“Son of Rosemary” (Post 2/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2



Andy sat in a back corner of the room on one of the plastic stack chairs, his legs out and crossed at the ankles, his arms folded, his head lowered. Joe, next to him, beamed at Rosemary, giving her two thumbs up and Andy an elbow.


[18] Several Irving Berlin songs are referenced in this book (the only acknowledgments on the copyright page are for Berlin songs: “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, “Change Partners”, “Blue Skies”, “Isn’t This a Lovely Day”, and “Cheek to Cheek”).

[Joe put] a tape in the deck.

They rolled, in a slow tide of taller traffic, across Thirty-third Street and up Tenth Avenue, while Ella Fitzgerald sang the Irving Berlin Songbook. (…)

“Get the news,” Rosemary said.

“I like this.” [Andy said.]

“Me too,” Joe said, looking in the mirror.


Is there significance/irony for the Devil and his son to love the music of Irving Berlin?

Irving Berlin (1888 – 1989) was an American composer and lyricist. Born in Imperial Russia (birth name Israel Isidore Baline), he arrived in the United States at the age of five.

His second marriage was to a young heiress, Ellin Mackay. He was Jewish, she was Catholic; her father opposed the marriage and tried to drive them apart, but they married and remained married for sixty-three years, until her death in 1988.

The idea of a religiously opposed marriage being a true love story seems a good guess for the aspect of Berlin that Levin is playing with. Continue reading

“Son of Rosemary” (Post 1/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Ira Levin’s 1997 sequel to his 1967 classic, Rosemary’s Baby. I read a first edition borrowed from the library.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Nearly thirty years after entering a mysterious coma, Rosemary Reilly wakes up in a nursing home. She reconnects with her adult son, Andy, now a beloved public figure. Andy and his organization are planning a worldwide celebration on December 31, 1999. And though Andy is the son of the devil, he claims that his human side is dominant and there is nothing sinister in his plans.

I find it hard to believe that Levin truly wrote this. His precise, effective, subtly humorous style is absent, making Son of Rosemary read like a subpar knockoff. We are forced to watch Rosemary repeat her mistakes from the first book, as though she learned nothing. New, bland characters are introduced and we get no resolution for previous interesting characters (Guy, Roman, and Minnie Castavet are missing or dead and that’s it).

Son of Rosemary suffers tremendously from being written before the year it takes place. Levin carefully plotted the events of Rosemary’s Baby around real events in 1965 and 1966. Son of Rosemary, taking place at the end of 1999 (but published in 1997) has to assume future events, which forces Levin to be vague and incorrect (a King of England in 1999?).

I understand the significance of Andy’s plan unfolding at the end of the millennium but I don’t understand why Levin couldn’t or wouldn’t wait another couple of years to write this.

I had heard this wasn’t very good, but had to give it a try. Basically, I’m doing this so you don’t have to. Continue reading

“The Monkey’s Wedding” (Post 2/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2

“Octopi in the Sky”

[40] Vocabulary:

[They] drew up before a white Spanish-style home all embowered in trees.



verb – (literary) – surround or shelter (a place or person), especially with trees or climbing plants.

[41] References:

Denis took out The Ring of the Nibelung from the library and dutifully ploughed through it. Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde, the silvery Rhinemaidens, began to float and dart through his imagination.



Der Ring des Niebelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas composed by Richard Wagner. The works are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. It is often referred to as the Ring Cycle, Wagner’s Ring, or simply The Ring. Wagner wrote the libretto and music over the course of about twenty-six years, from 1848 to 1874.

Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde are Rhinemaidens (water-nymphs). They are generally treated as a single entity and they act together accordingly. Of the 34 characters in the Ring cycle, they are the only ones who did not originate in the Old Norse Eddas. Wanger created his Rhinemaidens from other legends and myths, most notably the Nibelungenlied.

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“The Monkey’s Wedding” (Post 1/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/2


Published in 2011 by Small Beer Press (publishers of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet), containing 19 stories spanning much of Joan Aiken’s career. I borrowed a copy from the library. (Digression: My local library is glorious and the employees are amazing and I encourage you to form a bond with a library if you haven’t already.)

3 out of 5 stars.

I’m late to the Joan Aiken party. First impression: Aiken is a very strong writer on a technical level. She was known primarily for supernatural and children’s fiction but I would characterize The Monkey’s Wedding as magical realism and earth-bound fantasy more than the horror-tinged supernatural I had expected. (This misunderstanding is very much my fault, not hers.)

These stories are very short (ranging from 4 to 16 pages), making The Money’s Wedding a breeze to read. Ultimately, though, very little made an impression and I had trouble connecting with the stories.

I often felt like I was entering an established story; that I was supposed to know these locations and characters. Imagine flipping to the middle of Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat or Cannery Row and trying to catch up without knowledge of the first half. I would get there eventually if Aiken spent enough time in the story for me to get my footing. But she jumps in and out, remaining a very detached narrator (which only increased my feeling of distance).

Another problem – the major one – is summed up by Aiken in her introduction:

“Most of my short stories have some connection with a dream.”


Dreams are highly personal; things that make emotional sense or hold deep significance to the dreamer are often impossible to explain. The associations don’t translate on their own – other elements need to be incorporated to make a satisfying narrative to the reader and I think the weakness in this collection is keeping too many dream elements and not adding narrative substance.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some gems in here but the gems felt out of step from the rest.

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