Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading Update

I'm getting ready to compile my list of everything I read this year, but there are several on my list that I've never blogged about.

Book #40 was The Nine Rights of Every Writer, by Vicki Spandel. I had read this one before and I think it is a wonderfully encouraging book for anyone who is using the Writer's Workshop method of teaching writing. Spandel reminds me why I do what I do.
"Our goal as teachers should not be to fill the world with perfect text, or even acceptable text. Our goal should be to take students to such a place of comfort with writing that they will persist through three pages of random thought to an emerging clarity on page four because they have not one shred of doubt they will get there. After all, only nonwriters fear failure. Writers know clutter and roadblocks and random thinking are all part of the process."
This is the kind of book I want to read every year, as long as I'm teaching.

Book #41 was Edwidge Danticat's Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. This is a series of essays about reading and writing as a Haitian. This is another book that needs to be read many times. Here's a piece that stuck with me particularly. Danticat is talking about where she gets material - like any artist, from her life. In this passage she's having a conversation with her aunt about a family scandal.
"'People talk,' Tante Zi went on. 'They say that everything they say to you ends up written down somewhere.'

Because she was my elder, my beloved aunt, I bowed my head in shame, wishing I could apologize for that, but the immigrant artist, like all other artists, is a leech and I needed to latch on. I wanted to quote the French poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé and tell her that everything in the world exists to end up in a book. I wanted to ask her forgiveness for the essay that in my mind I was already writing. The most I could do, however, was to promise her not to use her real name or Marius's."

One of the things Danticat does in Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work is to write about Haitian literature and how it has affected her. One of her recommendations is the three books contained in one volume called Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet. Book #42 was the first of the trilogy, Love. I found it way too intense, and while I intend to go back and read the other two books, I need a break first. This scene from the first few pages of the book gives an idea of the kind of fevered atmosphere that pervades it:
"Jean Luze held my chin and looked into my eyes. I'm afraid he'll hear the disordered beating of my heart. He is tall and I barely reach his shoulder. I would like him to lean and take me in his arms to carry me very far away. Such is the incurable romantic that slumbers in all old maids!

We offer some cake to Augustine, the maid. The house is festive.

'Put on a record, Jean,' Annette proposes. 'The screaming just ruins everything.'

The screams waft from the jail. Horrible, unsexed droning.

'Calédu is having a bit of fun,' M. Long exclaims with a jowl-shaking chortle. (His accent adds a childish note to his cruel remark.)

'A peculiar way to have fun, don't you think?' Jean Luze asks him with a strange, almost hostile, smile.

'Oh, you know, I say to each his own. And anyway, you would have to be insane to try to change anything around here.'"
I will blog more about this trilogy after I finish reading the second and third books.

Book #43 was Rob Bell's controversial Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I really like Bell's preaching but liked the book less. The warm, discursive way he speaks doesn't work as well in print, especially when he's trying to build an argument. I read this book with a friend, whom I shall call Reading Buddy (hereinafter, RB). We wanted to see if we agreed with what we were reading, that Bell was a heretic, in relation to traditional, orthodox (small o) Christianity. RB did use the H word more than once as we read. It turns out that I have a higher tolerance for heresy than RB does. I read lots of this aloud and there was much lively discussion, which is probably the way the book is best experienced. I found a great deal to love in the book, and RB, less so. I loved the poetic way Bell approaches scripture; RB didn't love the enormous leaps of logic and snorted frequently as I read certain passages. I read on my Kindle, but RB's paper copy was full of highlighting, large flocks of exclamation marks and question marks. Conclusion: I am not willing to call Bell a heretic. He's asking questions which many Christians have asked through the ages. RB is also not willing to call him a heretic, but feels that some of his statements border on heresy. And both of us liked the last chapter. Here's how it ends:
"Love is why I've written this book, and love is what I want to leave you with.

May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins."
Amen. Love really does win. Rob and I, and RB and I, might not agree on all the details, but love wins. Praise God for that.

1 comment:

Janet said...

I've avoided Rob Bell's book and would probably be in the large flocks of exclamation marks camp. But I appreciated your thoughts on it -- the first positive words I've heard!