Friday, November 10, 2017

"Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory"

In honor of Veterans Day, I’ve compiled a list featuring books about - or written by - those who have served in the military.

Duke by Kirby Larson

Grunt by Mary Roach

Redeployment by Phil Klay

Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel

Friday, November 3, 2017

"time to collect one's thoughts"

I hesitate to recommend Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller. Bad things happen. But… it also made me laugh. Out loud. It made me think. And ultimately, it made me want to tell everyone else to read it.     

Widower Sheldon Horowitz lives in Oslo with his American granddaughter and her Norwegian husband Lars. One morning when Sheldon is home alone, a woman and young boy wearing blue Wellingtons show up on his doorstep. Sheldon manages to hide in the closet with the young boy, but the young woman is attacked and killed by the boy’s father.

Sometime later, Sheldon and the boy, which he names Paul, escape and try to make their way to Lars’ cabin in the country. Along the way, Sheldon seeks counsel from his dead friend Bill, relives a traumatic scene from his own experience in the Korea, and grieves for his son Saul who died in Vietnam: “He was such a beautiful boy. Can you remember? He glowed with the eternal. And you didn’t touch him. And you can’t get the feeling of it out of your hands.”

Tense with dark moments, the novel is more than a thriller. It is not the chase that will have you on the edge of your seat, but the characters when they ruminate on humanity, revenge, and death. And the writing? It brings it all to life: “He expresses himself not in a torrent of words and ideas and disruptions, revelations and setbacks, but through an ever-expanding capacity to face what comes next. To see it clearly. To say what needs to be said and then stop.”

Friday, October 27, 2017

Jezebel's Spooky Spot

Just in time for a Halloween, a repost from 2009.

When Jezebel’s Papa leaves for the war, she runs away to the forest. Despite the “googery-boogery creepy-crawly catchy” feeling in that spooky place, she claims it for her own.

As the seasons pass, the lonely feeling of missing her Papa doesn’t. Again and again she seeks out her spot even though she’s up against spiders, swamp ghosts, and pixie lights libel to steal her soul.

The book is Jezebel’s Spooky Spot by Alice Ross and Kent Ross and illustrated by Ted Rand. Like Jezebel’s Little Brother, your listener will be hanging on to every word. And you won’t mind reading it again because how often do you get to say “lawse a mercy”?

Friday, October 13, 2017

"The aliens we hoped to meet"

Prime Space is ready to initiate their MarsNOW mission. They’ve chosen three astronauts to complete a seventeen-month simulation. Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei have been selected for being “among other things, the three people least likely to kill one another under these conditions.”

Each member of the team has a support person who is responsible for sending frequent communication.

For Helen, it’s her daughter Mireille, an aspiring actress who has dealt with her mother’s fame and frequent absence since she was a child. She begins a flirtation with Luke, one of the crew members assigned to track the psychological well-being of the team.

Yoshi’s primary support is his wife. Madoka is a high-level executive that frequently travels. Her company designs robots who serve as home-health aides and companions. Confronted by her own robot prototype, she begins questioning what is her true self.

Sergei’s sons Dmitri and Ilya are adjusting to their new life in America with their mother’s new husband. Dmitri begins exploring his sexuality and worries about being discovered.
Meanwhile, in the simulator, each person of the “dream team” struggles to hide any weakness or perceived shortcoming that will make them ineligible for the real mission.

In The Wanderers, Meg Howrey couldn’t have chosen better characters to explore the psychological and physical limits of humankind. Luke, one of the observers, remarks on the standards they have set and the hope they represent: “Wise, creative, benevolent, possessed with an understanding about the fundamental nature of reality…We could be the aliens we hoped to meet.”

Friday, October 6, 2017

Our Deepest Fear

I’m three weeks into my graduate program in pastoral studies.

The Director of Worship and Liturgy shared this with us during orientation. My yoga teacher happens to be a fan of Williamson, so I had heard the first part of this quote from her many times. I kinda like the second part, too.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The words above can be found here:
A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson

My TBR list is growing by the week. Did I mention it was only the third week?

Creation Versus Chaos: The Reinterpretation of Mythical Symbolism in the Bible by Bernhard Anderson

Diary of St. Faustina by St. Maria Faustina Kowalska

I and Thou by Martin Buber

Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Love and Responsibility by Karol Woktyla

Method in Theology by Bernard Lonergan

Pacem in Terris by John XXII

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth Johnson

The Origin and Goal of History by Karl Jaspers 

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong

Friday, September 29, 2017

Banned Books Week

Celebrating the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, I picked up Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter. According to the American Library Association, this one was “challenged” in a Wisconsin school district because it “contains an Islamic prayer.”

Based on a true story, Winter tells the story with the voice of a grandmother living in Afghanistan. When the woman’s son and daughter-in-law disappear, she tries to find ways for her granddaughter Nasreen to cope. Discovering a secret school for girls, she enrolls Nasreen. Months go by. Nasreen never smiles. Finally, after the winter recess, a classmate reaches out to Nasreen, and she smiles for the first time since her parents’ disappearance.

With books, “Nasreen no longer feels alone…Now she can see blue sky beyond those dark clouds.”

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Animators

Think of The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker as a grittier Fangirl (by Rainbow Rowell). Or perhaps a more sharply focused take on The Interestings (by Meg Wolitzer).

While I was reading it, I kept picturing a cartoon sequence from the (amazing) Amazon series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.

In Episode 7 (season 201), bongo drums start playing a 70s beat as one of the main characters, Ranger, ruminates on puberty. “If nature puts you at the back of the pack, you do anything you can to get to the front.” He adds, “First you get the hair, then you get the power, then you get the respect.”

In Whitaker’s work, Mel and Sharon meet in a college arts program. Discovering a mutual affinity for drawing and a love of obscure comics, they begin collaborating. When their film of Mel’s coming-of-age story becomes a word-of-mouth sensation, they begin pondering their next project. An unexpected stroke forces them to pause. 

During her recovery, Sharon opens up about a traumatic event she experienced as a child. When she is well enough, the two make a trip to Kentucky to introduce Mel to her family and the surroundings that shaped her. The two begin animating Sharon’s story. However, in some ways, the project will prove to be even more damaging than her stroke.

Through Mel and Sharon's stories, Whitaker examines the intersection of memoir, truth, and fiction. Does the storyteller, regardless of medium, have the right to reveal the lives of others central to the story? She also looks at the healing process. When our identity is tied to what we do, what happens when our abilities are changed in some way?

Read an excerpt here.