Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Book Review: Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved CountryCry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is one that will stay with me.

It defies the descriptors - beautiful, yes, but spare; evocative, yes, but universal; finely wrought, yes, but poured out in one extended cry for justice.

Paton weaves together parallel lives; an odyssey or two (physical and spiritual); lost sheep and prodigals to teach us of place and identity and cultures in a way that haunts and convicts and leads us to do more.

Paton explores ideas of justice, politics, economics, religion, and culture. Sometimes, they seem like expositional asides - mines, stock market, etc -, but always they tie back into the story and the choices the characters make.

Paton's structure was perfectly executed. From following Kumalo in Book I and Jarvis in Book II; their own paths to discovery how best to serve their beloved South Africa and their people. Book III the drawing them together. Yes. When Kumalo's and Jarvis' paths cross in Johannesburg, yet not in their common home region, the reader feels the weight of the separation of communities. Separation and non-interaction is the problem. The two strands are woven.

It isn't a long book, each chapter is easy to approach, but it is a feeling book. I ended with 50 pages to go and tears streaming down my face. There are ends and there is hope. There is despair and there is a sun.

This is a book that leaves one aching for reconciliation and believing that it is possible.

5000 stars.



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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Review: Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary OliverDevotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver


I finished this today.

I understand that these are Oliver's personal selections for anthology from a lifetime of writing poetry. Presented in reverse chronological order (newer poems first), I definitely preferred the newer, beginning poems to the older ones at the end. In fact, my favorite was the very first in the book. I've returned to it a number of times over the last year.

I'm sure there's a great deal here that a re-read would improve, but I think I'll save that for another time. I just read a poem or four for most of the last year (there were days, even weeks that I did skip). I'd like to get more in the habit of reading one poem a day and this was a good way to ease into the practice. Very approachable in general.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

Fighting Gravity

 We don't actually have a lot of real hills in Central Ohio.  I took an hour long walk in the neighborhood this morning and Strava tells me I had a 39 foot elevation gain.

The local state park where we do most of our hiking has slightly more varied terrain. It's around a reservoir and there are ravines and water inlets where we have to walk down and then up, but still an hour and twenty minute hike on Saturday had only a 323 foot gain.

That isn't to say that I look forward to the uphills, slight though they may be. I don't.

I've found that going uphill, fighting gravity, the best thing I can do is focus on my feet and the steps right in front of them, looking down and power through. I've learned that momentum will carry me uphill and to the top, but if I stop I have to rebuild the momentum and willpower to carry on.  At the top, I can look back to see what I missed, but stopping mid climb is always a bad idea for me. My legs will hurt, my breathing will be heavier, but still there's an accomplishment to making it up the hill.

I was "uphill" here, Promise.


What surprises me is that I have to fight gravity going downhill too. In some ways walking downhill is more treacherous than climbing the hill. I don't want to put my head down and lean into it, I want to lean back and that requires different muscles and a different kind of footing to make sure I don't gain momentum and end up barreling downhill in an uncontrolled manner. My legs will still hurt, my concern will be foot placement, but I can see the context a little better going downhill.

A hard book often works like going uphill.  Sometimes you need to just watch the step ahead of you and power through. Sometimes you need to let the momentum carry you through the sentence, paragraph, section, or chapter. Sometimes even through the book. Sometimes you need to just get one idea from the first read of a challenging book. The surrounding context, the allusions, the figuring out of each sentence and nuance will bog you down so you stop and can't move forward. 

That has happened to me more times than I can count. I think of The Abolition of Man and how it took me 4 readings of the first essay to understand it. The first time, all I heard was irrigating deserts - which is, admittedly, a worthwhile idea to ponder.  This past winter, I read Paradise Lost for the first time. That said, I read along while I listened to Steven Vance read it via Audible. The narration kept me moving and not looking up all the details constantly, but the book before my eyes kept the narration from becoming an ignorable drone in my ears.  When we read Plutarch, we sometimes go sentence by sentence, but other times we have more success reading a paragraph or section in Anne White's guides and getting the "bigger picture" sense of that part of the story.  Momentum and follow through help when the book is a challenge.

And, just like the hills, every time we practice, we gain more stamina for the next big hill book. We can fight the gravity because we have success and practice behind us.

The same is true of those runaway downhill books. Where the ideas are coming fast and furious and easily and my mind becomes a jumble and there I go cartwheeling through and have no idea what I've read at the end. 

If I would take my time to plant my feet and take in the ideas carefully as they come. When I take a moment to think about the context and allusions, to interact with the ideas, those books can take on a whole new sort of meaning in my life. I can exercise less used muscles to practice skill and not allow myself to be just run ragged. Here, too, I fight the gravity that is more harmful to my thought life than I might first believe.

I've read a lot of Madeleine L'Engle in the past two years and she often talks about similar ideas in different ways. Those well worn paths are becoming a bit more and more downhill with each book.  I have to be careful to not think to myself, "there she goes again" and to really make sure I understand all that she is saying each time she revisits identity or naming or ontology or ... 

Brandy recommends having different kinds of books going at the same time. Her recommendation, based on a Parent's Review article, is to have a stiff book and a moderately easy book and a novel going at once so you can always pick up what is appropriate for the current time. This is because even a moderately easy book - whatever that is for you - has something to say and is worth reading. Just don't let yourself run downhill so quickly with it that you have no idea what you just finished reading.

Fight Gravity. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Book Review: S*x and the City of God by Carolyn Weber


Sex and the City of God: A Memoir of Love and LongingSex and the City of God: A Memoir of Love and Longing by Carolyn Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The course of true love never did run smooth."

Nothing I can articulate about this book is as witty or well considered as Weber's own words. Her ability to look at life and - whether in the moment or at a later date - consider it in light of what others have written before is awe-inspiring to me. Weber's wide-reaching reading and knowledge and thought and references always pierce me with wonder. To see ideas, to take ideas, to make connections and then to apply them seamlessly into the narrative ... I'm certain was painstaking and challenging work, and yet so beautiful to me, a reader.

A good memoir will cause the reader to consider her own life and choices. Whether similar lives or dissimilar, a conversation begins and a friendship is created as we share our tales together - even if the author never hears our side. We feel when the going gets tough, a massive windstorm and a stormy marriage, no electricity or connection adds to the cutting off. If it weren't a memoir, one would wonder if it wasn't all metaphor - but we feel it in the marrow. We feel the joy of the first kiss, the first mention of TDH's name (in two books!), the frustration of the welcoming neighbors to the honeymoon condo, and the struggles in the wind.

Evocative is an overused book review word, but Weber evokes for us emotion, thought, and memory - sharing hers, we consider our own. She challenges us to know our own lives as Christians - married or singular - with Christ. She made me want to talk more with my teenagers about what it is to love, to marry, to be co-workers in the kingdom, why and how s*x is important at many stages. Connection, remembrance, joy, love.

I have less to say to sum up. I'm thankful that I was given a chance to read this ahead of release in exchange for an honest review. The ideas are Weber's with my own take explained. I rarely accept assigned reading opportunities because I'm bad at doing what someone else tells me to do, but I jumped at this one because I couldn't stop reading her Surprised by Oxford or Holy is the Day ... and I suspected I wouldn't be able to stop reading this either. I wasn't wrong. Check the dates.

There were a few places where I thought the editing could be tighter and where I suspect sections were moved around - with an explanation in a section in pages following the first introduction of the idea, and there were a few places with explanatory asides that I thought unnecessary, a few sentences that took an extra read to get the flow, but this slight (slight!) criticism doesn't detract from my overall edification, enjoyment, or high star rating.

Holding this one for when my teens are nearly out of my home (which will be sooner than I'd like, I think). I've never wanted to read City of God before (intimidating much?), but I think my friend Caro just put Augustine on my TBR.

I received an advanced pdf copy of this book from Intervarsity Press in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Reversing Course for New Perspective



Most of the trails we follow are "in and out." We walk in, there may be a loop, but then we follow the initial trail back out. It isn't unusual that we follow the trail in and then turn around and follow the same back out. 

Have you ever read a book that was ... a bit of a slog, but as you glanced back you kept finding gems? 

In and out trails can be like that.

A number of years ago I read The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I really struggled with it, I found it a challenging, to say the least, read and never truly enjoyed actively reading it. I was thrilled to finish it, and, I think, glad to have read it.  What I found I was constantly flipping back in the book to recapture an idea or a thought, and, there, I found the gems.  It was never on the first time that they really struck me, but when I had context from further on and turned back to them that I really saw what was there.

Walking an in and out trail is like that. The perspective switch opens our eyes to seeing better even things we noticed before.  On Saturday - and I wish I had taken pictures, now - We saw some mushrooms in a median type section. One side was super muddy so another way around was forged and the area between remained wild.  Jason saw the mushrooms on our way in and pointed to them, but they were significantly more clearly seen going in the other direction. It wasn't just that I knew they were there, rather they were clearer and more obvious.

But, it also opens our eyes to see things we didn't see at all before.  Either they were hidden behind a tree or rock or some barrier and now are revealed by going the other direction, or the familiarity of the obvious can be seen past to more hidden glories. 

Sometimes going forward is aided, strengthened, better enjoyed by reversing course and gaining new perspective.  


Friday, July 31, 2020

Review: I'd Rather Be Reading


I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading LifeI'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly this is a 3.5-3.75 star. I did enjoy this read. I laughed often, I felt a kinship often. Anne talks of the idea of the reader and how the reader lives her life; how we live books. It's light and easy and short, quick essays but for some reason I always felt like I would rather be reading ... but maybe something else. A bit of a guilty pleasure, a bit of candied apple - enjoyable, some substance, a lot of sugar.

View all my reviews You know it's a good day when you finish 2 books and get 16000 steps.

Book Review: When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh


When in Rome (Roderick Alleyn, #26)When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two years and six days later, after at least 2 restarts, I've finished.

It isn't that I didn't want to read it, or that I wasn't enjoying it, rather it wasn't a priority and I wasn't entirely engaged. It would fall down below other books and then I'd realize it had been months since I read any of it. Even this final re-start which began on June 30, or thereabout, took a while to get going and I read the final two chapters this afternoon.

To some extent, the jargon is dated and some of the implied conversations that made sense in context in the 1970s did so less sense today. This made reading it more effort than I generally put to a mystery. I had to carefully read each word and do some deciphering to carry on with the story and the plot. But then, I read most of the end in a sitting because I had to know. It took a while for the plot to develop to that state.

This is an improbable cast of characters thrown together on a tour of Rome. Why they registered for this tour is a question that matters to the outcome of the plot. Some have motive - some have none - for a crime against a fellow.

(view spoiler)

Perhaps not the best entree into reading Marsh, but the one I had at hand. I wouldn't discount another if it fell into my lap.

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