Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Reading Update

Book #56 of 2017 was Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor.  I seem to be drawn to these mother/daughter travel narratives, perhaps because I like traveling with my kids.  This one gives some background to Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Secret Life of Bees, since the trips took place while she was writing it.  I could definitely relate to some of the concerns of a woman about to turn fifty hanging out with her daughter in her early twenties, and I love spiritual journeys and Greek mythology, but I can't go all the way with these ladies in their explorations of the sacred feminine.

Book #57 was Where She Went, by Gayle Forman.  This is the sequel to If I Stay, which I reviewed in this post.  This one is from the point of view of Adam, the rock musician boyfriend we met in the first book.  Since the end of that one, Adam's life has pretty much fallen apart (not surprisingly).  I don't want to say much more than that in order to avoid spoilers.

Book #58 was Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain.  I read and enjoyed her book, The Paris Wife, back at the end of 2015 (but didn't review it).  This is the story of Beryl Markham, well-known for her flying and her book West with the Night.  These two things were all I knew about her before I read Circling the Sun.  Like me, Markham grew up in Kenya, but she lived from 1902 to 1986.  Her life was full of difficult loss, and, not coincidentally, also great scandal.  The settler community in the early years of Kenya is famous for its cheerful spouse-swapping, and Markham participated in this behavior, though you can see from her story that this kind of stuff doesn't make for happiness.  She was friendly with many of the people whose names I have heard all my life, including the people I met in the movie (and later the book) Out of Africa.  The movie was made while I was living in Kenya, and I even applied to be an extra in it (and didn't get to).  It's always been one of my favorites because of the scenery and the story.  Yes, it's about infidelity (and I think I've shocked some people by liking it so much), and yes, it's a prime example of the White People in Africa genre, but it's also about how much we can (and mostly, can't) own or control the people we love, how far we can and should sacrifice who we are for those people, and how we can live well in a country that isn't our own (characters do this with varying levels of success).  I've watched it at several important points in my life and seen it differently each time.  I think maybe Felicity in the movie is based at least a bit on Beryl.  I found this book fascinating, and was glad to learn more about Beryl.  Like Karen Blixen (who wrote Out of Africa under the name Isak Dinesen), Beryl Markham is a White Person in Africa, and in spite of her lifelong friendship with the boy Kibii who becomes the moran (warrior) Ruta, Beryl is way more interested in herself and her own problems than she is in the development of the country she is living in.  This may annoy you.  

Book #59 was the third edition of In the Middle, by Nancie Atwell.  This is the third summer I have set out to read this book, and the first time I actually completed it.  That shouldn't be taken to mean that it isn't a good book - it is a fantastic book.  I've read the first two editions, also, and I would say that of all the books I've read on teaching, Nancie Atwell's are the most influential on the way I do things.  It's just that professional reading in the summer sometimes takes a back seat to other things.  I got through all six hundred plus pages this time, though, and I have a page full of notes of things I plan to change this coming semester as a result.  I've reviewed lots of Atwell's other writing on this blog in the past.  If you teach middle schoolers, I highly recommend her work.  

Book #60 was Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford.  My daughter wanted me to read this, and she checked out a copy from her college library to bring me during her visit.  Spufford is English, foul-mouthed, and an amazing writer.  He begins with a preface written for the U.S. edition, explaining the way Christianity in England is different from the way it is in the United States.  Then he proceeds to explain how Christianity makes sense, given that in England he can't assume anything about how much people know or understand about it.  (He says the main emotion experienced by the British with regard to religion is embarrassment.) The biggest problem faced by people is, he tells us, "the HPtFtU," or the "human propensity to f--- things up."  He goes on to explain how Christianity offers a response to the HPtFtU.  I kept trying to pick out a little section to quote to give you an idea of how he writes, and the problem is finding a place to stop.  Here's a little taste:

"Unlimited love having once entered into limited us, it's here for good, apparent to us or invisible depending on the light, depending on our willingness to see.  Humanity glimmers with God's presence.

And he is most specifically of all here, we believe, when we follow the instructions he gave at dinner the night before he died.  Every Sunday morning, in all the church's human niches, from downtown Isfahan to downtown Manhattan, in places of great wealth and comfort and in cities under bombardment, on every continent including Antarctica and once I believe on the moon, we hold again a stylized version of the original Passover meal in Jerusalem.  There is bread, there is wine.  We bless them using one of the Passover prayers.  We break the bread, we pour the wine into a cup.  We repeat Jesus's words from the story.  This is my body.  This is my blood.  And then for us the bread, made unmysteriously from wheat, and the wine, made unmysteriously from grapes, are different.  There has been a change in their meaning.  For some of us, the material bread and material wine have altered (on a tiny domestic scale, with crumbs and dregs and washing-up) in the same way that the material world was altered by having its creator within it.  Right there on the table, the set of the world once more contains itself as a member; once more, a peculiar knot has been tied in the fabric of existence.  For others of us, the change of meaning is made by the material world aligning itself to form a sign of what began happening once in Jerusalem long ago, and (the sign reminds us) is still happening now.  Either way, the change puts the same strange burden on our imagination and our understanding when we do what we do next, and eat the bread and drink the wine.  ...

We're celebrating the love-feast.  Our hearts are in our eyes as we look at each other.  We are engaged in the impossible experiment of trying to see each other the way God sees us.  That is, as if we were all precious beyond price, for reasons quite independent of any of the usual cues for attraction we apes jump to recognize: status, charisma, beauty, confidence, wealth, wisdom, authority."

I left out loads of great stuff from that, and there are many other sections I'd like to quote, but what will really stick with me from this book is the repeated phrase, "Far more can be mended than you know."  The last lines of the book are Spufford's paraphrase of what he says God says to us: "Don't be careful.  Don't be surprised by any human cruelty.  But don't be afraid.  Far more can be mended than you know."   

This post is linked to the August Quick Lit post at Modern Mrs. Darcy.  


SW said...

Thanks so much for posting. Would you like to watch Out of Africa with me again. I'd like that.

Elena Alice said...

I was wanting to read Traveling With Pomegranites but your review makes me wonder if I would have an issue with some if it too, specifically the sacred feminine part. Is that a large majority of the book or can it be skipped over?

Ruth said...

I'd say it is a major theme of the book, like it was in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.