Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Top 5 Authors I’ve Never Read Before

The first installment in my “Top 5” series is inspired by my recent review of Dorothy Sayers’ novel The Five Red Herrings. I had always heard that Sayers was a good author and this was the first book I read by her. As you can tell by my review, I did not like the book but I’ve heard too many good things about her to quit now and many other people have written that Herrings is her worst book. Below is a list of other authors whom I have never read.

5. Madeleine L’Engle

I have always enjoyed so-called “young adult” fantasy and science-fiction books such as The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter books. But somehow, despite their popularity, I never got around to reading A Wrinkle in Time, the classic award winning novel by Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve heard different things about whether or not the books reflect a Christian worldview, but I won’t know for sure until I read it myself.

4. G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton was a Christian writer famous for both non-fiction works like Orthodoxy as well as novels like The Man who was Thursday. He seems to get quoted a lot and C.S. Lewis loved his works.

3. Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer is another Christian writer who gets quoted a lot. I’ve read that he wrote passionately about the relationship between Christianity and the arts, which definitely makes me curious. Some of his books include The God Who is There and How then Should We Live?

2. Virgil

I recently read a great article about the necessity of reading the classics, by which the author meant the ancient Greek and Roman works including Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid. I may know parts of the plot of The Iliad and The Odyssey but I’m not so sure when it comes to The Aeneid. Luckily, a recent translation by Robert Fagles has been getting outstanding reviews so maybe this is my big chance to finally read a genuine classic.

1. Fyodor Dostoevsky

There are two types of people in this world, those who love long Russian novels and those who have never finished one. OK, I’m sure that there are some people who have read Crime and Punishment or War and Peace and just didn’t like them. Usually, people avoid long novels just because of the length. I’m sure that changed a little bit after Oprah picked Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as one of her book club selections. Anyway, I read that Dostoevsky’s novels are of particular interest to Christians so I’m determined to read one. I’ve already bought a copy of The Brothers Karamazov and hopefully will start it sometime this year.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Book review: The Five Red Herrings

The Five Red Herrings

By Dorothy Sayers

Since I enjoy both mystery novels and works by modern Christian authors, I was curious about the fiction of Dorothy Sayers. She is well-known for her novels featuring the detective Lord Peter Wimsey. She also wrote Christian essays and plays as well as a translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. I picked up The Five Red Herrings at random, not knowing with which Sayers novel to begin. Depending on your point of view, I either made the wrong choice or a very good one. I made a wrong choice since I did not like the novel and found it extremely frustrating and difficult to read. But on the other hand, if this is her worst novel, things can only improve.

The plot involves a murder that takes place in a small town in Scotland in which many artists live and work. One of them, a man named Campbell, is not well liked and quickly turns up dead. Peter Wimsey happens to be staying in the area and comes to the conclusion that Campbell was murdered. Based on the evidence at the scene, one of the local artists committed the murder. Naturally, all of the suspects have a motive as well as an alibi so it’s up to Wimsey to discover the truth.

The biggest problem I had with the novel is Sayers’ choice of phonetically spelling out the heavy Scottish accents of many of the characters. This results in lots of apostrophes and makes reading the dialogue tiresome and difficult. Since the entire novel takes place in Scotland, nearly every chapter is filled with hard to read accents. Robert Louis Stevenson did something similar in Kidnapped, but that novel was a picnic to read compared to Herrings.

Another problem is the use of train timetables as a plot device. There are endless discussions of when this train leaves this town and arrives at the next and which character could have taken which train and how long it would take to get there. It’s all ridiculously confusing. The various stories told by the suspects are lengthy and confusing. Even the real story of how the murder was committed is long and too reliant on a very specific timetable of events thus making it implausible.

Finally, I don’t know how he is portrayed in the other novels, but Wmsey comes across as an arrogant, disagreeable know-it-all. I realize that many of the great fictional detectives, like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are arrogant, but at least I like them. I’m not sure about Wimsey yet.

I read a few reviews on and noted that I’m not the only one who found the accents and timetables frustrating. Apparently, Sayers wrote better mysteries than this one and I won’t let my dislike of The Five Red Herrings discourage me from reading other Sayers’ works.

Book review: Reaper Man

Reaper Man

By Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett takes on the concept of what would happen if Death took a holiday and stopped taking dead people to wherever it is they go when they die. Since this is a Discworld novel, Death is personified as a robed, skeletal figure WHO ALWAYS SPEAKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS. The plot follows Windle Poons, an extremely old wizard who is ready to die and get on with the afterlife. When his appointed time comes (and every wizard knows exactly when he’s going to die) Death doesn’t show up and Windle discovers that in addition to still being dead, his mind is now more alert than ever and his body is stronger than it has been in decades. Still, it’s no picnic being dead and still hanging around so Windle decides to find out what has happened. Meanwhile, Death decides to see what it’s like being a human and takes on a job as a farmhand for a widow. (He’s very handy with a scythe during harvest time.) In addition, the wizards at Unseen University must deal with some very strange occurrences as a living city (more on that later) tries to take over the town of Ankh-Morpork.

Reaper Man contains the usual assortment of wacky characters, puns, and jokes one would expect in a Discworld novel. I liked the self-help group of the recently Undead and the wizards were funny too. Unfortunately, the book isn’t as hilarious as the last two Discworld novels I read, Guards Guards and Wyrd Sisters. The plot of a strange threat about to take over the Disc is too similar. Also, the explanation for why a city is somehow evolving and taking the form of snow globes and shopping carts is convoluted and murky. Similarly, the philosophical reasons behind how Death works and the idea of “life force” are too abstract to make much sense.

Overall, this is an average Pratchett novel. If you’ve never read one of his books, I recommend starting with Guards Guards. Reaper Man is best saved for later when you’re trying to complete your collection.


Hello. My name is John and this is my blog about books. Or at least it's about books until I decide to write about my other hobbies which include movies, TV shows, classical music and film scores. But for now, it's about the books that I have read and would like to read.