Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reading Update

We're back from a few days at the beach in time to celebrate the end of this year and the beginning of the next. Here are the last five books of 2014. If I finish another one today, I'll add it to 2015's tally.

Book #59 was The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann.  I've been reading these sermons all year, and finding them nourishing to my soul.  Highly recommended.

Book #60 was another Anthony Trollope book, the last one in the Barchester series, The Last Chronicle of Barset.  This wraps up some of the story lines we've been following through the whole series.  These books are satisfying to read, and I have many more still, even though this first series is done!

Book #61 was He's Gone, by Deb Caletti.  This was a fascinating examination of a marriage, undertaken by a woman whose husband has disappeared mysteriously.

Book #62 was The Secret Country, by Pamela Dean.  I read this at my daughter's recommendation, and I didn't like it as much as she did.

Book #63 was Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter, by Annie F. Downs.   There's lots of good, encouraging stuff here aimed at teenage girls.

Here are my other Reading Updates of the year:

Books #1 & 2
Books #3-19
Books #20-35
Books #36-49
Books #50-52
Books #53-58

I linked this post to Semicolon's annual post where people can share their reading lists from the year about to end.  Go and see what other people have read this year here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Poetry Friday: Grief

I can't stop thinking about those parents in Pakistan who are burying their children this week.  And of the parents from Newtown, whose terrible anniversary rolled around last week.  And of parents around the world who are grieving the loss of a child, including some whom I know.  Kay Warren, whose son committed suicide last year, published an article this month about how the cards and letters so many people send this time of year, with photos of their perfect families, cause extra pain. 

Shakespeare, who himself lost an eleven year old son, writes about loss in the play King John.  This speech comes from Constance:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!

I read a news story in which one of the women in Peshawar spoke of her son getting up and getting ready to go to school to take his exams - and then not coming home.  She mentioned that her husband had already died.  And now her "widow-comfort," taken too. 

It is no comfort that this pain crosses boundaries of time, nation, religion - but how is it that we never learn, and that losses that we human beings could prevent continue to happen?  They happen, and then all we can do is try to give "better comfort."

Buffy, who is hosting this week's roundup, is focusing on light in darkness.  I'm afraid I've added more to the darkness than to the light with this week's contribution, but go and read what other people have shared, and I'm sure you will find something more festive!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reading Update

The year is winding down, and it's almost time for the end-of-year reading lists.  I don't know how many more books I'll finish, but here's the latest:

Book #53 of the year was Lay It on My Heart, by Angela Pneuman.  I was in college with Angela and was pretty excited to see her new book favorably reviewed in O Magazine.  I found it riveting, disturbing, and unforgettable.  The book skewers the evangelical world in a way that is both uncomfortable and compelling.  The last scene, especially, will stay with me.

Book #54 was a reread, Mystical Paths, by Susan Howatch.  I wrote a bit about the series in this post.

Book #55 was Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg.  This is largely a tribute to Ortberg's friend and mentor, Dallas Willard, who died recently.  It is a quick but deep read, worth going back to.

Book #56 was another reread, Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen.  The link is to the audio version I listened to while exercising.  It is read by Maureen O'Brien and is wonderful. 

Book #57 was Rob Bell's new book on marriage, written with his wife, Kristen.  It's called The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage.  I read it aloud to my husband, and while it may not be "a new way of understanding marriage," which is rather a large claim, the zimzum idea is interesting and cool.  We enjoyed thinking and talking about it.  The zimzum could be used to talk about the space between people in any relationship, really, but the Bells focus on marriage in their definition of it as responsive, dynamic, exclusive, and sacred.  I liked the conversational way the book was written, with Rob and Kristen both contributing.  The examples from their relationship were fun.  Probably most of my readers already know what they think of Bell.  Some wouldn't pick up anything he writes.  (Full disclosure: I love to hear him preach.  He's a poet and a master communicator.)  But if you're seeking evidence for his defection from your average evangelical party line, look no further than the first chapter, where we are told: "Marriage has the uniquely powerful capacity to transform you both into more loving and generous and courageous and compassionate people.  Marriage - gay and straight - is a gift to the world because the world needs more - not less - love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice."  That is the last time the g-word is mentioned, and the pronoun use throughout is exquisitely careful.  Other than that one line, I really don't think there's much here that any evangelical would quibble at.  The book doesn't go into gender roles at all, and given how dreadfully other marriage books have done at that one, I say, hooray!  It doesn't go much into the gospel, either, though there's a reference to John 3:16, concluding: "Divine love is the kind of love that does something."  Next we're going to read aloud Tim Keller's marriage book that he wrote with his wife (that's a thing right now, apparently, writing a marriage book with your wife - maybe my husband and I will try it!).  I'll let you know how that one goes.

Book #58 is the eighth - yes, eighth! - in a serious of massive books.  And the series isn't over yet!  I borrowed Written in My Own Heart's Blood, by Diana Gabaldon, from a library in the States (I've recently figured out how to do this on my Kindle), but I found the two weeks allotted to read it were not sufficient during a busy time of the school year, and I ended up buying it so I could finish it.  At the time I purchased it, there was a deep discount on it.  I remarked when I read the seventh book (post here) that I kind of had to force myself to finish it, feeling that I'd invested so much of my life in these characters that I was obligated not to give up now.  I didn't feel the same about this one.  It was enjoyable, and I hope it doesn't take five years for the next one to be published!

There are a couple more I'm working on that I might finish before the end of the year.  We'll see!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Poetry Friday: Mark Doty

I shared this poem back in 2011, and I thought it was time for an encore.  I love the way Doty juxtaposes the sublime music and the very ordinary, familiar performers in this local production of The Messiah. 

Messiah (Christmas Portions)

By Mark Doty
A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
   torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

   over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
   (colors of tarnish on copper)

   against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
   the Choral Society

   prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
   Not steep, really,

   but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
   that neighbor who

   fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
   from the post office

   —tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
   from the T-shirt shop:

   today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
   of distance and formality. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Poetry Friday: Grading

I can't really think about poetry today, except that written by my middle schoolers, which I shall now be reading (along with their prose), in bulk, for the next several days.  This poem is appropriate, except that my creative, funny, original kids have chosen their own topics, and their writing will therefore be much more entertaining reading than what George Bilgere is avoiding. 

Robert Frost

by George Bilgere

Over there on the dining room table
are just twenty-five of the thousands of essays
on the poetry of Robert Frost
produced this week alone in the USA,
the world leader in essays on Robert Frost.

The essays are about ambiguity
in The Road Not Taken, and also ambiguity
in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Every year the English majors of America
must read these poems and analyze their ambiguity
or compare and contrast their ambiguity
in five double-spaced pages.

Here's the rest, at the Writer's Almanac.

And here's today's roundup.