I recently finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, our January book for book club (I had received this book as a gift, so I am the one who suggested it for book club – why not?), which you may have noticed from recent quotes. It’s a very pleasant read, though not quite the “summer reading” we had all expected (some of the girls at bookclub commented that never had a book made them feel so stupid). It is rather philosophical and esoteric in places (even while it sneers at intellectually elitism) and liberally scattered with large words. Then two of the main characters heap various amounts of cynicism and scorn throughout on the way other characters in the book live their lives, which I read with some misgivings (one is a teenager venting about her family, which is quite the teenager thing to do), but what is satisfying about the book is that in the end you discover the underlying reasons for their animosity towards certain others, and there are moments of psychological insight and a kind of forgiveness. There are also some marvellous passages on beauty and art, and some very amusing passages on the use of grammar. When Renee the concierge goes on a spiel about the erroneous use of commas, I was shaking in my chair. I saw the film some time back and need to see it again, as it’s quite different to the book and I am not sure I understood the characters in the same way.
I have also just started The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I like Keller’s books, and while it may seem somewhat incongruous for me to read this particular Keller book, he is pastor of a church that is actually three-quarters full of single people, and the introduction includes a section “A Book for Unmarried People”. Plus it contains a chapter on Singleness, so I thought I could venture forth. Truth is, I think I have the grand view of marriage as God designed it, mostly, have always been open to it, and I don’t much appreciate that slap that keeps coming mainly from southern America to stop chasing my career, squandering my disposable income on shoes, being selfish and take some responsibility. But I am not expecting as much from Keller, and that said, I’m sure I have things to learn. The books tells me it will “help single people stop destructively over-desiring marriage or destructively dismissing marriage altogether” – interesting. And the substance of the book is based mostly on Ephesians 5, which I like.
I also started to read The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande. I was given this as a birthday present last year too. Truth is, I don’t find myself in many outright conflicts with people, but perhaps the reason for that is I am too much down the conflict-avoiding end, and I try to work around things without taking them head on, even though I am often well aware of that proverbial elephant in the room (I actually think I am more a “conflict-absorber” than avoider – I stay in relationship, because I know better than to avoid people, but I just soak up the conflict, try to walk on like it never happened, all the while knowing it did). And perhaps I need to learn better how to actually enter into conflict and work it through well, and equip myself to be braver with people, without leaving things till I am so worked up over them that there is some kind of surprising eruption, or fearing terrible consequences.
The Romantic Movement, by Alain de Botton. I’ve also quoted this one previously and have now finished it. Very entertaining. It is essentially a novel about a relationship, and a fascinating analysis of one and the people concerned (even with its asides about the deleterious effects of over-analysis and introspection). And while there are certainly many philosophical allusions to what I presume is the Romantic Movement along the way, if you asked me to give you some sort of synopsis of what that was, I’d be at something of a loss.