Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reading Update

Book #21 of this year was All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, by Brennan Manning. I haven't read much of Manning's work, but I know that he has written extensively on being a ragamuffin, a sinner saved by grace and not by any of his own merit. In this book he is painfully open about the flaws and sins of his life, including his alcoholic binges during a time when God was using him enormously in ministry. My favorite part of this book was the letters from his friends included at the end, where they testified to the difference his friendship made in their lives. Here's a quote from the book:
"My life is a witness to vulgar grace - a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck towards the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief's request - 'Please, remember me' - and assures him, 'You bet!' A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father's side not for heaven's sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It's not cheap. It's free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough."

Book #22 was Unfinished Desires, by Gail Godwin. I've read all or most of Godwin's other books but hadn't seen this one, which came out in 2010, yet. It's very much like her others, filled with a deep spiritual sensibility and an awareness of the imperfections of human beings. I appreciated the character development and the focus on the inward drama of seeking God.

Book #23 was Anne Lamott's latest book, Some Assembly Required. I enjoyed Lamott's memoir of her son's first year, Operating Instructions. In that book, Lamott chronicles her life as a single mom to baby Sam. In Some Assembly Required, Sam is all grown up and now a father himself, at 19. Lamott is learning to be a grandmother, and trying not to interfere too much in the life of baby Jax, whom she adores, but whose parent she is not. Lamott bugs me (and herself) sometimes, but I like her authenticity. A couple of observations: first, in Lamott's writing, seventh grade is always the objective correlative for misery. Here she is on her baby grandson:
"For Jax, at nearly a month, nothing is wrecked. His skin is so ethereal and smooth, and he is not required to do anything or make decisions, so he doesn't have a history of screwing up yet, and all of his needs and desires are fulfilled, almost immediately : wet to dry, empty to full, edgy to relaxed, rocked asleep and then awake. You'd almost want to be Jax, if you didn't know what he was in store for - namely, a fully flawed human life. Stubbed toes, seventh grade, acne, broken hearts."
And later she writes, "I said to Karen that you're instantly in a bind once you arrive here on earth, of need, of self-will, a body and a separate personality, even before the crippling self-consciousness kicks in, even before seventh grade." Second, it was a strange experience to read about Lamott's reaction to the earthquake in Haiti, since that passage threw me into my own memory and sent me to the exact day she was talking about. I had just arrived in the US on January 18th, 2010, having just been evacuated from Haiti. Lamott, on the other hand, was getting ready for a trip to India.
"January 18. I got cold feet at the airport. It was only days after the earthquake in Haiti. I was reeling with the global unimaginable tragedy of that one, and I knew I was about to fly into the heart of another. So I called Bonnie. 'Where is God in Haiti? Where will God be in the slums of Delhi?'

She said that in Haiti, as a result of the devastation, we've seen the care with which people treat people in trouble, with which we attend to our families and others, in chaos or sorrow. And I would get to see that in India."
I have to admit that I don't know what to think about "our earthquake" being co-opted to teach a lesson, even though the lesson she learned is one that I learned too. Of course I don't expect her "reeling" to be as extensive as my own, and certainly her reflections are just the sort of thing I often do myself in response to something I'm following in the news. It was just strange to read. I'll leave it at that.

Book #24 was The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman. I enjoyed the characters and relationships (and the bookstore and cookbook details) in this book and would read more by Goodman. The September 11th connection, which I saw coming from the very beginning of the book, had a similar effect to the Haiti earthquake connection in Lamott's book. An event like September 11th, which everyone remembers clearly, is tricky to handle in a novel. It's still so close to us.

Book #25 was recommended to me by my daughter, who sobbed her way through it. I read it in the car on our most recent roadtrip, and sobbed a lot too. The book, The Fault in Our Stars, is written by John Green, one of my daughter's favorite people. He and his brother are The Vlog Brothers, founders of the Nerdfighters. (That is, not fighting against nerds, but an army of nerds fighting "worldsuck" and increasing awesomeness.) Given how goofy all of this sounds (and believe me, I have heard a lot about this whole Nerdfighter thing from my Nerdfighter daughter), this book was not at all what I expected. It's about kids with cancer, and Hazel and Augustus are incredibly real, incredibly affecting characters. There's not a single ounce of sentimentality in the book. These kids are tough, brilliant, and compassionate, and there's a lot more to them than that they have cancer. The blurb on the cover says, "John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love." I can't do better than that.

Books #26 and #27 were Brian Selznick titles. I recently saw the movie Hugo, which I loved. I hadn't yet read the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, on which the movie is based. The book is told in words and pictures, so although it is 550 pages long, it's a quick read. The pictures are amazing, full of loving details which the movie replicates. Selznick got the Caldecott medal for this in 2008. I'm glad I finally read it. After I put it down I immediately picked up Selznick's next book, Wonderstruck. I didn't love that one quite as much as Hugo's story, but it was another amazing book. Again, the pictures are very important, but in this book, there are two separate stories, one told in words and one in pictures. The two collide by the end.

Somewhere in the middle of all these, I started reading Middlemarch, by George Eliot. This is a chunk of a book, but I'm not sure how long it is, since I'm reading it on my Kindle (the lack of pagination is one of the things I don't like about e-reading). All I know is that I read and read and read and the percentage at the bottom of my screen doesn't change! The only Eliot I've read before is Silas Marner, and I'm enjoying this one so far. It may take me a while to finish it, though, since I keep reading other things between chapters.

I wanted to read at least 52 books this year, and I don't know if I'm going to make it. But I have been enjoying my summer reading!


Jessica Stock said...

Ruth, I am always glad to read your book lists and get ideas. I think it was Anne Lamott (???) who described Middlemarch as one of her favorite books ever, and I just found a copy at a garage sale this weekend so I am about to start reading it . ..

Anonymous said...

Ha...I almost made the exact same comment as Jess...I love your book reviews, and I've been thinking about reading Annie Lamott's book. :)

Tricia said...

My eldest is a big John Green fan as well (a Nerdfighter indeed). So we have The Fault in our Stars but I haven't read it yet.