Friday, November 25, 2016


My daughter had to give a presentation at school about her family’s holiday traditions. She chose to talk about Advent. When she had finished speaking, a boy in her class raised his hand and asked, “Do you still celebrate Christmas?”

Actually, this year we may be just celebrating Christmas since, in the move, I’ve managed to misplace our Advent wreath, children’s nativity set, and Advent calendar, a book called The Storyof Christmas. 

Those objects are replaceable of course, but one of the nice things about traditions is unpacking the ones you have used year after year. The corners may be dog eared, the wreath may be splattered with pink and purple wax, and the donkey may be missing a tail, but that is part of what makes them yours.

Whether you are starting a new tradition or supplementing an old, perhaps one of these books will add to your Advent season:

A Gift for the ChristChild: A Christmas Folktale by Anne Wilson and Linda Schlafer

Manger edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson and David Ritz

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hon no mushi

Ironically, it was after I traveled to Japan that I began reading Japanese writers. My husband introduced me to Murakami, and I discovered the short stories of Hisaye Yamamoto in one of the anthologies I was assigned to teach.

Upon arriving in the Northwest I reconnected with another teacher I had met while participating in the JET Program in Japan. She immediately got me to join the Pacific Northwest JET Alumni Association, and I immediately signed up for their book club. Be sure to click on the link for a great list of Japanese authors and titles.

This month’s book, published by Seattle’s Chin Music Press, is Why Ghost’s Appear  written by Todd Shimoda and art by LJC Shimoda.

Mizuno Ren, an entomological illustration specialist, has disappeared. His mother hires a private investigator to find him. The search leads him to spurious fortune tellers, government clerks, travel agents specializing in sex tours, and, yes, a doppelganger.  Throughout the search, the detective feels his own soul splitting apart as he speculates on another case he investigated 20 years before.

Returning again and again to Mizuno’s mother, the detective finds her a much more complex personality than he had first thought. He observes “most people, nearly all I should say, are quite simple. They’ve developed a routine in life, they exist by four or five rules, have four or five experiences on which they’ve defined their lives.”

I kept waiting for the narrator to reveal himself, ala The Sixth Sense, to be an obake, but that never happens. I think. Like a lot of Japanese fiction, this novel is mystical and sometimes mysterious. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Act Your Age

You would think reading a book under 100 pages would be easy. Well, the reading was easy, but the finding was harder. I finally turned to the NYPL blog for suggestions. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button comes in at 52 pages. 

Mr. Button realizes something might be amiss with his newborn when he encounters one horrified look after the other as he makes his way to the nursery.  When he sets eyes on his firstborn, he discovers not a squalling infant but a puzzled old man of 70. They bring Benjamin home and find instead of weaning him from bottles, they must wean him from cigars. As Benjamin grows older, his visage grows younger. At 20, as he appears to be a distinguished man of 50. He begins working for his father’s hardware company and marries a young woman. However, as his wife Hildegarde ages, Benjamin himself grows younger and soon finds her wrinkles displeasing. Hildegarde moves away, leaving their son to look after his father. Soon Benjamin is young enough to be playmates with his own grandchild. And as he passes into infancy, he remembers nothing of his life, but only perceives the comforting presence of his nurse.

Fitzgerald pokes fun at the social mores of the day. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m curious whether the tongue-in-cheek tone of the book was captured on screen. First Benjamin is discriminated against for looking too old for college, and then he looks too young for the military service.  As he grows younger and more energetic, he finds fault with his wife for acting her age. She, in turn, accuses him of being stubborn and not wanting to “be like any one else.” His son also finds fault in his father’s “refusing to look sixty.” They seem to think age is merely a state of mind. However in Benjamin’s case, it is only a state of body.   

Friday, November 4, 2016

Faith and Politics

“Read a book about politics in your country” seemed appropriate for this week’s challenge.

I first came across Sojourners when I became a Jesuit Volunteer. Every house had a subscription to the magazine that included articles on faith and justice. The founder, Jim Wallis, has written several books, so I turned to him for week’s challenge.

The Great Awakening explores the idea that some of our country’s largest reforms such as the civil rights movement have come out of religious faith. His book is both field guide (chapters include How to Change the World, and Why: Rules of Engagement) and call to action on the day’s issues (poverty, hunger, environmental collapse, race, family, war). Admittedly when faced with chapter after chapter of issue after issue it can all become a little overwhelming. That’s his point, I think. Being a person of faith shouldn’t be comfortable.

He ends the book with a chapter on hope and the passion of the kids he meets who want to solve specific problems. “When the really big offences are finally corrected, finally changed, it is usually because something has happened to change our perception of the moral issues at stake…the moral contradiction we have long lived with is no longer acceptable to us.”

So as I look to my eight-year-old who was disappointed when Bernie dropped out of the race and asked me if Hillary’s husband was once president. And I look to my eleven-year-old who indeed finds the idea that some kids don’t get to go to school or have to walk miles for fresh water unacceptable.

And others, as Wallis mentions, who are “bright, gifted and committed.”