Thomas Cromwell, Another Henning Mankell, and GLBT teens

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (4 out of 5 stars)

I was predisposed not to like this book, because it centered on Thomas Cromwell.  Being ¾ Irish, the Cromwell’s treatment of the Irish (although Oliver Cromwell was worse) bugged me. I had, however, being reading tons of excellent reviews from bloggers and newspapers, and decided to give it a go.   I was surprised to find out that I enjoyed this book a great deal.  It took me awhile to get into the flow every “session” with this book, because of the book’s large number of characters.  Once I got into it though, it went relatively fast and I didn’t mind having to flip back every so often to figure out the relationships of the various people in the book.   It’s kind of like reading an epic fantasy novel.

Cromwell is portrayed as an extremely shrewd politician who works his way up from humble beginnings to become chief advisor to King Henry VIII of England.  He does this in part by “solving” the King’s martial problems (namely how to get a divorce from his first wife Katherine in order to marry Anne Bolyen and increase (or so the king thinks) his odds of getting a male heir. This dilemma and Cromwell’s solution is (in part) what leads to the formation of the Church of English…So we went from (in simplistic terms) the Church controlling government(s) to a government controlled Church…Neither of these of course being the optimal course of action.  I’m actually curious about how the Reformation is taught in Catholic high-schools. Does anyone know?  There’s also lots of other stuff going on in book about Luther, the Reformation, and various “heretical” priests.   Given my obsession with Mary Queen of Scots in high school and my reading of Wolf , I definitely want to get around sometime this year to reading The Reformation by Diarmaid Macculloch. It’s been languishing on my TBR shelves for far too long.   It’s about 800 pages long though…

Finally, Wolf Hall portrays Thomas Cromwell, as a kind man who takes in his sister’s children as well as other windows and orphan children and gives them food and education.

I enjoyed this book and also went well with seeing Hamlet at the Folger Shakespeare Theater here in D.C. last night.  They’re doing Henry VIII in the fall, and Hilary Mantel is speaking on September 17th.

The Man From Beijing: A Novel by Henning Mankell (4 out of 5 stars)

This is the second book by Henning Mankell that I’ve read. For my review of the other one go to  Unlike that one, this one was a stand-alone book that doesn’t feature his famous detective Kurt Wallander.  Like that one though, Mankell does a skillful job of combining smooth characterization, a good mystery, and discussion historical and political issues.   I didn’t like this one quite as well as The Pyramid and Other Stories, since (1) I really like Wallander, and (2) Mankell is not quite as good at characterizing the history and politics of other societies (China and the Western U.S. during the 1800s) as he is at discussing Swedish history and politics.  These two points, however, are minor complaints in comparison to how much I enjoyed the novel overall.  The story had a couple nice “twists” in it near the end to top off the 367 pages read which I finish in about 4 hours over the course of 2 days.  I was completely enthralled with this work, and the book jacket is right to call it “an electrifying stand-alone global thriller.”  For a plot summary of the book you can go to <>.

How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity: Edited by Michael Cart (3 out of 5 stars)

This was my third read for the GLBT reading challenge (the first being The Geography Club by Brett Hartinger and the second being Orlando by Virginia Woolf) reading challenge.  I didn’t realize it was a YA book when I picked it out.  If I had realized it was a YA book I probably wouldn’t have picked it out.  I have nothing against YA books, it’s just been about 10-15years since I was in the target demographics for a YA book about searching for identity…Given that there were a few of short stories in the book that I really enjoyed.

“A Word From the Nearly Distant Past” by David Levithan has a narrator who hops back and forth exploring the current and past lives of a group of gay teenagers.   The narrator turns out to be a member of the older generation of gay men (and the implication is that he has died from AIDS)  He implores the youth to remember the lessons of the past and make wises decisions about their lives.  It’s a story about the importance of remembering, and about choices and journeys.

“We saw our friends die.  But we also see our friends live. So many of them live, and we often toast their long and full lives.  They carry us on.  There is the sudden.           There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living. We do not start as dust.     We do not end as dust. We make more than dust.  That’s all we ask of you. Make        more than dust.”

“Trev” by Jacqueline Woodson (Quoted From the book’s intro by Michael Cart), “takes us inside the mind and heart of Trev, a young girl who knows what the rest of the world can’t—that she’s really a boy—and then show us how he struggles heroically—event superheroically to come to terms with his true self.” Short and sad and sweet and happy all mixed into one.

“Dyke March” by Ariel Schrag is a hilarious short cartoon about San Francisco’s Dyke March.  It was a nice break from the serious and poignant stories that make up the rest of the book, and I read 2/4 (I think) of Schrag’s series of graphic novels chronicling her high school years when I was in high school. I really should get my hands on the 3 I don’t own.

The final piece I really enjoyed was a sad one, “Dear Lang” by Emma Donoghue. A mother (nick name Ya-Ya0 writes to a daughter on the occasion of the daughter’s 16th birthday. She hasn’t seen her daughter in 14 and half…Gradually it is revealed that in 1993, she and her female partner (Cheryl) at the time decide to have a baby…Given that the law isn’t quite as evolved as it currently is, only one of their names goes on the birth certificate (Cheryl’s the biological mother).  When the couple splits when the baby is 1 and half, the only one with rights to the baby is Cheryl.  Cheryl soon re-marries (to a man) and cuts Ya-Ya out of the baby’s life.  Ya-Ya writes to Lang, not knowing if Cheryl will give her the letter…This one made me cry…And while law is certainly better now than in 1993, situations like this still happen.

So even though, I’m not the target demographic for this book, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a teen, queer or straight.

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