Recently I asked Kranz about what he was reading. His reply:
MiddlemarchVisit Jonathan David Kranz's website.
At close to 800 pages and with its imposing Masterpiece Theater air, George Eliot’s Middlemarch has long been a novel from which I’d successfully kept my distance. But all the talk around Rebecca Mead’s book, My Life in Middlemarch, caught my ear and piqued my curiosity.
I’m glad it did. Middlemarch has so many virtues (many of which Mead avidly articulates in her study), but what stands out for me is that Eliot takes seriousness seriously. Her principal characters, Dorothea Brooke and Dr. Tertius Lydgate, hunger for significant work, hers in a vague calling to greater social good and his in medicine. In the thickets of Middlemarch convention, their ambitions stick out like exotic flowers, and there is no shortage of naysayers eager to heap ridicule on our heroes’ failings.
Fail, they do. But while Dorothea and Lydgate make foolish choices, Eliot is careful never to paint them as fools. Our respect for them grows even as their worlds, and their ambitions, contract. Virginia Woolf famously applauded Middlemarch as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” and I suspect it’s because the novel doesn’t merely accept ambivalence, but celebrates it, offering a vision that distinguishes the achievement of a meaningful life from the clutching at a significant one.
Diana Renn’s YA novel Tokyo Heist has a mystery, has a romance (or two), and has an angst-ridden teen, much as we expect from a YA novel. But it also has a protagonist, Violet, who falls in love with a culture, the art and traditions of Japan. In too many stories, location is merely a backdrop to the action, a scrim that can be dropped or lifted at will to lend verisimilitude to the action. But in Tokyo Heist, Japan serves as a key character, perhaps even the leading agent of change, that helps Violet gain confidence and take her first steps toward claiming her talents as an artist. For my money, too many YA stories focus exclusively on sexual and/or emotional awakening; Tokyo Heist makes intellectual awakening exciting, and gives it a rightful place in the journey toward adulthood.
All the Light We Cannot See
When others zig, I like to zag--contrariness is a big part of my vanity. When a book is widely applauded, I’m prepared to put it down. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See has been praised from many quarters but for once, I’m joining the chorus.
You might think that there can’t possibly be anything more to say about World War II. But Doerr reminds us that the deep reflection, the one that invites intimacy with history—a way to touch, see, smell, feel and hear a traumatic event—is always fresh, that it always reveals something new.
In the novel, a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, cannot see the destruction she senses around her. The orphan German boy, Werner Pfennig, uses radio to hear an alternative to violent Nazi propaganda. In this novel of convergence, the story moves back and forth in time to eventually connect on the island of Saint-Malo, where allied forces are bombing one of the last German strongholds on the Atlantic coast.
Much of the story hinges on the fate of a priceless diamond that may or not be cursed. But when Marie-Laure and Werner finally cross paths, the enduring power of the diamond becomes insignificant, and the fleeting transience of their connection becomes the lasting thing of importance. Theirs is the story that stays with us.
The Page 69 Test: Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea.