This year has started off well in the reading department, as I've found some interesting and thought-provoking books.
Book #1 of 2013 was a novel, which I read most of in the waiting room at the US Embassy during a passport-renewal visit. It was Sirena, by Donna Jo Napoli. Sirena is a mermaid, and her story is a retelling of one of the tales from the Trojan War myth (I won't tell you which one, as it's not instantly obvious). She's also one of the Sirens described in the Odyssey. While this was absorbing and fit the waiting-room bill, it was also a bit forgettable.
Book #2 was a lot more serious. I downloaded it for free onto my Kindle in a special offer, and I was glad that I had. The book was Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with his Father's Questions about Christianity. As the title suggests, this is a series of letters between Greg Boyd and his father in which many questions about the plausibility of Christianity and the Bible are asked and answered. Boyd has a very simple, readable style, with an underpinning of complex philosophy and theology. I thoroughly enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Christianity, either for someone examining it from outside or for a Christian looking for clearer understanding of its issues.
Book #3 was Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim. I was interested in this book because of reading this article, part of a series on NPR where people tell about their favorite book. Originally published in 1898, the book is a bit hard to categorize. Elizabeth rhapsodizes about her garden and her introverted pleasure in hanging out there with a book, tells cute stories about her children, complains about having guests, and pokes fun at her husband, whom she calls "The Man of Wrath." I couldn't always tell when she was being satirical and when she was serious, but I did find her story interesting and entertaining.
Book #4 was a Ken Follett novel, Lie Down with Lions, part of a pile of books passed on by someone who was leaving the country. The story, which is about Afghanistan, kept my attention, and I enjoyed reading about childbirth as Jane delivered her baby with an Afghan midwife and then breastfeeding as she rushed about the country with the baby nursing the whole way. I always enjoy books where breastfeeding is portrayed naturally, but I did get a little impatient with Follett's male fantasies about it. And I feel I have to warn my readers about a way too long, way too detailed sex scene midway through the book. TMI, Mr. Follett!
Book #5 was Kent Annan's book about the Haitian earthquake, After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World is Shaken. Although I bought a couple of copies of this book in 2011, one for my husband and one for a friend, it was only now that I felt ready to read it, and I'm very glad I did. Many books are coming out now about the earthquake, after three years of reflection, but this one was written in the heat of the moment, and it has a raw, honest quality that spoke to me deeply. There were plenty of passages that I felt I myself could have written. I related so much to Annan's struggles to understand what happened on January 12th 2010 and in the aftermath, and I appreciated his refusal to tie it all up in a neat little package. He writes about the way crisis does kill our faith, and then a new version is resurrected, informed and refined by what we have experienced, and full of a new awareness of God's love. I have written here before about listening to Kent Annan on the radio when I was in the United States after the earthquake (here and here). I so much appreciated the way he spoke about Haitians then, not as helpless victims, but as courageous people who stepped in and helped one another. His observations then resonated with my own experiences with Haitians; he was saying things I wasn't hearing from others at that time. I will be looking for more of his books.
Book #6 is one that many of my blog friends have been reading. The book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Bridget read it and Janet read it, and then I bought it for my daughter and read it myself. I just finished it yesterday and am still thinking through the implications, but this was an important book for me, and helped me understand my own temperament and the way I function in the world. I liked Cain's focus on how people of different personality types can work together and complement one another, and also the way she discussed how knowing yourself can help you to design your life in a way that helps you be most productive and happy. I liked this book much more than I expected to, and found it full of rich ideas.
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