Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Reading Update

Book #19 of the year was a non-fiction title, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century, by Kirk W. Johnson. This story introduced me to a world I had no idea even existed, of people who make fishing flies, and seek feathers from rare birds to do so. It's a story of true crime. You just couldn't make it up. I couldn't put the book down.

Book #20 was one I read because it was in the anthology I was using with my eighth graders. It was In Search of Honor, by Donnalynn Hess. The book is set in the French Revolution, and I learned a few things I didn't know about that time period. I liked it way more than the kids did. To be fair, that is sometimes the case when I read books with middle schoolers!

Book #21 was The Love of My Life, by Rosie Walsh. I really enjoyed this book, which should have the tagline, "Keep reading. It's not what you think!" The ending was just wonderful. 

Book #22 was Princess Academy: Palace of Stone and book #24 was Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters. Both of these were sequels to Princess Academy, which I read aloud to my seventh graders once back in 2007. I hadn't fully realized there were even sequels, but some kids in the library were asking about them, so I downloaded them from my US library to preview. I enjoyed these. They are firmly in the middle grade range, in spite of the subject matter which involves a bride being chosen for a prince. It could have gone in a very "The Bachelor" direction but never does. There's romance but it's extremely tame. What I did really appreciate about these was the social consciousness, something you don't find often in fairy tale type stories. There's a whole plot about the "shoeless" of the kingdom, the people who are neglected and living in poverty. I would definitely purchase these for a library.

Book #23 was Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix, by Ibi Zoboi. (I reviewed another book by Zoboi here.) Somehow, in spite of my radar being keenly attuned to YA books with Haitian themes, I had missed this when it came out in 2020. It's one of those few truly successful Jane Austen retellings. Zuri Benitez is a Haitian-Dominican girl living in Brooklyn with her parents and four sisters. When the Darcy family moves into the neighborhood, sparks ensue. It's a story of gentrification, life in New York, and cultural mixtures. Some of my readers might be surprised by the vodou/santería subplot. It's not a huge part of the story but definitely there. Check out the link earlier in this paragraph for evidence that that's something Zoboi has explored before. These things are part of the subculture she's writing about, but some won't like them. 

Book #25 was Passing, by Nella Larsen. This book, set in the 1920s, was first published in 1929. The "passing" of the title refers to the practice of light-skinned African-Americans living as white people. In some cases, even those closest to them didn't know the secret. This book is short but packs a huge punch.

Book #26 was Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, by Michelle Zauner. Zauner is the daughter of a Korean American mother and a white American father. This book is about her fraught relationship with her mother, and especially her mother's last illness and death. It's also about being mixed-race and, most of all, about Korean food. H Mart in the title is a Korean grocery chain in the United States. This is good, but heart-rending. Maybe not the best read in times of stress.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Poetry Friday: Ada Limón

Ada Limón has a new book of poetry coming out! I haven't read it, but I sure wanted to when I heard this podcast this week. That link will take you to the transcript of Tuesday's BirdNote, and you can also listen there. It includes a poem from the new book, The Hurting Kind. (Go ahead and listen - it's only 2 minutes long!)


Ada hosts a podcast too; she took over The Slowdown recently.

I miss you, Poetry Friday friends! I haven't been as faithful posting and reading in this season. I hope this week I'll at least get a chance to come read your posts! 

Here's today's roundup.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Abundance

This month's host, Susan, has asked us to reflect on the topic of Abundance. What a complicated word this is for me. I ask in advance for grace if you choose to read my thoughts -- it will soon become obvious that I have by no means figured this issue out! 


Jesus said that He had come to give us abundant life, and there's a wonderful spiritual abundance that provides for our days no matter what our circumstances. But as I look around the world and think of abundance, I feel so conflicted when I observe the deep poverty in which such a large proportion of human beings live, including many beloved to me. "Blessed are the poor," Jesus said. I think it's tempting for us to romanticize that blessedness by saying things like, "They're much happier than the rich." It's true that money doesn't buy happiness, but living a life without clean water, without health care, without security, without basic amenities of life, doesn't buy happiness either. Although I moved away from Haiti at the end of last year, I read the news from there daily, and I feel great pain to watch what is happening there, and how society is falling apart more each day.

On a far different scale (and I hesitate to even add this point because I am so well provided for), I am living in a season of paring down, having just moved and sold or given away so many of my possessions. I've been thinking a lot about what I truly need, how many dishes, how many books....  (See how the examples I give are of non-necessities, compared with people who carry their water on their heads from a common tap down the street, or people who have to leave their homes due to gang violence, and own only what they can hang somehow on their bodies? Even my scarcity would be enormous abundance to so many in this world.)

When I was thinking about abundance, I remembered a podcast from 2017, an interview that musician Sandra McCracken did with A Rocha founder Peter Harris. (A Rocha is a Christian environmentalist organization - check out their website for amazing resources!) I went back and listened to it again. I couldn't find a transcript, and I didn't have time to do a complete one myself, but here's a link to the thirty-one minute podcast, which is well worth the time, and below I'll include some quotes from it.

Harris talks a bit about liturgies, and how so much about living in and caring for the world is about repetition and faithfulness. He refers to a liturgy of turning on the faucet, if you are fortunate enough to live in a home with running water, getting into the habit of a moment of thankfulness when you experience that abundance. After he makes this comment, Sandra asks him if he has any thoughts on the words abundance and scarcity. In response, he talks about reading Ellen Davis. Referring to the children of Israel leaving Egypt, he says, "Egypt was the place of abundance. You knew exactly when the Nile would flood....The Promised Land was this place of scarcity...a semi-arid land between two deserts [ancient Hebrews saw the sea as a place of scarcity and chaos], dependent for rainfall on your relationship with God." In his organization, he says, "we've asked ourselves, does God want us in a place of [material] scarcity or abundance, and I don't think there's an easy answer...but I do think there's a creative scarcity, and a very destructive scarcity." He discusses the "thinning of nature," due to climate change and habitat loss, and how this leads to scarcity, "the scarcity of misery...soil impoverishment, water scarcity." In the middle of this litany of the opposite of abundance, he adds, "God occasionally takes us into outrageous moments of abundance." 

"You can't make sense of all of these things, can you, very easily? Gratitude is how we live, wherever we find ourselves, is what Paul says....I don't think our expectation should be for abundance. That's not the world we live in." He goes on to talk a bit about how physical abundance -- having riches, basically -- can put us in a position of temptation to rely on our own resources. 

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there's a difference between physical abundance and spiritual abundance. We're physical creatures, though, and the older I get, the more aware I become of how much our physical and spiritual selves are connected. It's not as simple as having less materially making us more spiritual. But there's definitely a sense in which physical abundance can lead to spiritual poverty. 

I am so curious to see Susan's roundup of what others have to say on this topic. I always gain much food for thought each month.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Reading Update

Book #11 of the year was Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, by Diana Gabaldon. This is the ninth book in the Outlander series. I have spent so much time with these characters, as each book is 800 plus pages. I didn't know until the last page whether there's going to be another one!


Book #12 was The Dakota Winters, by Tom Barbash. The Winters of the title are a family, and Dakota is an apartment building where they live in New York City. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I finished it.

Book #13 was a book of poetry, The Mail from Anywhere, by Brad Leithauser. (I wrote more about that here.)

Book #14 was Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far, by Amy Grant. I really like the person Amy Grant has turned out to be, and I loved reading this book, which I found in our library. It came out a long time ago, but I hadn't heard of it.

Book #15 was Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection, by Kate Bowler. I enjoy Bowler's writing. "God is our safe place, not after the worst is over or before the other shoe drops. But right in the midst of our pain and grief and loss."

Book #16 was a re-read, The News from Paraguay, by Lily Tuck. This time, now that I've spent a few weeks on streets named after the main characters in the historical drama, it meant more.

Book #17 was Shauna Niequist's new book, I Guess I Haven't Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working. In this 2013 review of Shauna's book Bread and Wine, I mused about similarities between our lives. In this book, she's moved to a new place (same) and is trying to figure out how to navigate all the newness (same). She says, "It's okay to let yourself change, to let an environment change you, a city change you, a season change you. You are who you are, and also it's okay to love one thing and then another." 

Book #18 was Can I Touch Your Hair: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters. I loved this collaboration between two grown-up poets remembering and imagining being fifth graders talking about race. It is so good, and so worth sharing with kids.