Monday, June 30, 2008

just kidding about that giving up thing: a Fourth of July special bonus jackpot of exciting book reviews, new music loves and fabulous blog links

Before you read another word go here and listen to the streaming audio. I'll come back to it later in the post. Just wanted to set the mood!

I kid about quitting everything to devote all my time to playing Word Challenge on Facebook. Really I have been catching up on a lot of reading lately. During the insane moving days of April and May I kind of fell behind on the pile. I'm happy to be back to a (sort of) normal routine which includes as much reading as I can fit into my little brain. (I really write these quaint little summaries for my own benefit. Also, I love the thought that perhaps, just perhaps, my thoughts will influence your thoughts into a possible book conversation or two)

And, what the heck, I'll list the titles in order of enjoyment -- from great big yawn all the way up to I think I've died and gone to heaven!

great big yawn (or, put another way, not compelling enough to keep me awake at night which is usually when I find time to read)

Anthony De Mello

I did my due diligence and read my 63 pages (100 - my age = number of pages to read before deciding to continue in any given book). Just couldn't keep going -- it's not my kind of reading.
If you like compact, punchy sentences that are written in what I call "motivational conference speaker" style, you'll like this book. Since Brennan Manning had referenced this author several times, I thought I might like it. Nope.
Don't get me wrong. There's truisms packed into every page of this little book. Example:"Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas."
So, there you have it.

worth a few laughs

Garrison Keillor
I love Garrison Keillor. I really do.
I faithfully listen to two of his podcasts - A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac. I love his dry wit and his warm delivery of everyday for the everyman (especially the sort that live in the northern midwest). But, possibly most of all, I love his voice. If you haven't heard it you'll need to listen for yourself. Unique and loveable with a touch of rascally arrogance.
It's my guess that while I could hear Keillor's voice as I read his words in this quintessential tale in Lake Wobegon (the town Keillor claims as his "hometown out on the edge of the prairie" on every recording), I really would have rather heard Keillor tell me the story than read it for myself. I'm guessing this is the case because after reading this book I find myself downloading his podcasts more faithfully and refraining from purchasing any more of his books. (unfortunately for Mr. Keillor this adds nothing to his royalties)

Even so, only Garrison Keillor could write a paragraph like this one in the last chapter:  "She was exhilerated. Most memorial services she'd ever attended were quiet sodden affairs and Mother's was nothing but gangbusters. Pastor Ingqvist was hauling these foreign men out of the water slopping and dripping and muttering things in their singsong guttural tongue and Duane waded to shore pulling his speedboat behind him saying that he wished people would watch where they were going and the Swanson twins climbed out of the giant duck decoys and explained that Debbie paid them $25 apiece to do it and what were they supposed to do with these ducks now? And the man in the white sailor suit towed his basket and burner up on the rocks and said that whoever had planned this wedding had done a pretty lousy job of it and he regretted ever having agreeing to be in it. "

Also, this last little freebie from pages 108 and 109:
"Lloyd's religion was meekness. He could outmeek anyone."
"Blessed are the meek for they shall stay out of trouble. "

stepping out of my comfort zone

Jeffrey Overstreet

It's safe to say this is the first novel of the 'fantasy' category that I've ever attempted. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. I figured that someone who loves the entire LOTR trilogy should be able to enjoy 333 pages by this first-time novelist Overstreet whom David Taylor refers to as a "blogging machine" He certainly has won my loyalty at his site, The Looking Closer Journal, and now perhaps with his fiction writing, too.
Perhaps I was more motivated by loyalty than interest in fantasy writing, but the risk paid off. And, perhaps, I will read Auralia's sequel, Cyndere's Midnight, being released this fall out of loyalty, too. But, perhaps, I am also drawn by the call to beauty and mystery woven in the narrative of this story. It is appropriately subtle, but it got under my skin.

In sentences like this: "What does it mean then? That thing you've made." The imposter crumpled his patch, which suddenly seemes so flimsy and plain. "What is it for?"
Auralia squinted into the colors and shrugged. "Can't say what it means. It's not a riddle. Its's not somethin' you solve. It's more like a window. Look through it for awhile."

And this-
"Her mouth moved, searching to name that creature, that force of water, wind, or fire the presence so clearly resembled. But after a timeless moment, she knew -- it reminded her of everything. Or maybe, as she looked at the forest and the sky, everything reminded her of the Keeper. All things in the landscape seemed to yearn, leaning toward the creature the way flowers lean toward the sun. Through the Keeper, all things seemed to draw color and vigor. And for the Keeper, waves splashed, trees swayed, stones protected knowledge, and wind waited for orders. In its scales, she saw millions of colors, and she felt deeply ashamed for how few of them she recognized.

"You don't come from here," she whispered. And then, half-surprised at herself, "I don't think I do either."

If you enjoy fantasy writing I don't think you'll be disappointed -- there are mystical creatures and languages and worlds aplenty. (at least that's what I think fantasy readers are hoping for)I'm just content to be drawn in by the truth and beauty I found in between the lines.

so refreshing!

Michael Perry

My friend and co-worker Margaret handed this to me one day and recommended it as a fun read. Nothing too heavy. That sounded really good since I tend to lean toward the heavy side in my reading choices. But, for some reason, I didn't have very high expectations for this title. Perhaps it was the subtitle reference to volunteer firefighting. Or perhaps it was the cow crossing sign pictured on the cover. (I seem to be using the word perhaps an awful lot in this post!) Neither of these things rate very high on my list of things I'd like to spend more time thinking about.

What a fun surprise though to meet this author Michael Perry. I enjoyed his writing "voice" -- poignant without taking himself too seriously. Intellectualism dressed in overalls and hanging out with small-town, Dew-Drop-Inn folk.

The book is a series of stories cast on the backdrop Perry's role as a volunteer fireman and aspiring author in the tiny town of New Auburn, WI (ummm....population: 485...duh). Once I got reading I found the combination of small-town yokels (i.e., the one-eyed firefighter named The Beagle) and weighty matters such as love and death and yearning for something more to make perfect narrative companions. When Brian is done reading, I'll give the book back to Margaret. You all might want to get on the waiting list!

One of my favorite paragraphs: (while we in the Triple Cities far exceed 485 people, this paragraph somehow seemed strangely familiar...)"When you come from rural stock, there is this tendency to overplay the rube. To swipe your toe in the dirt and reckon, well, shoot-fire, I don't know nbothin' 'bout birthin' no babies. Or shake your head in wonderment at the fripperies of city life. It's a knee-jerk thing. I catch myself doing it all the time. It's also a cop-out. Goodness knows, the worlds of politics, art, and intellect provide targets so obese you can nail 'em in the ass with aspersions cast from clear back here in the Chippewa Valley, but any behavior that excuses us from acknowledging the complexity of human experience resides one slim remove from smug disdain. ... Part of the blame lies with intellectuals who are unable or unwilling to convey their ideas in terms that will play down to the cafe. But anyone who sits in that cafe and dismisses complexity by reveling in their own simplicity is no less pretentious. Civilization depends on complication. As a dyed-in-the-slop farm boy, I find I have an almost atavistic urge to poor-mouth anything more theoretical than a bag of feed. I have come to realize this is not always attractive.It's tempting to wear backwardness like a chrome-plated crown of thorns....[after this realization] I fixed my internal hick with a severe glare and dispatched a memo reminding him that smelt is essentially deep-fried bait, and he should cut it out with the disingenuous yokelism...."

a familiar joy

Brennan Manning

I think I've said plenty about my admiration for Mr. Manning and his writing. I'll just add a (small!) sample of the amazing words he wrote in this book.

"As we come to grips with our own selfishness and stupidity, we make friends with the imposter and accept that we are impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God. The art of gentleness toward ourselves leads to being gentle with others -- and is a natural prerequisite for our presence to God in prayer."

"The ordinary self is the extraordinary self -- the inconspicuous nobody who shivers in the cold of winter and sweats in the heat of summer, who wakes up unreconciled to the new day, who sits before a stack of pancakes, weaves through traffic, bangs around in the basement, shops in the supermarket, pulls weeds and rakes up the leaves, makes love and snowballs, flies kites and listens to the sound of rain on the roof. "

"While the imposter draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life."

“The lives of those fully engaged in the human struggle will be riddled with bullet holes. Whatever happened in the life of Jesus is in some way going to happen to us. Wounds are necessary. The soul has to be wounded as well as the body. To think that the natural and proper state is to be without wounds is an illusion. Those who wear bulletproof vests protecting themselves from failure, shipwreck, and heartbreak will never know what love is. The unwounded life bears no resemblance to the Rabbi.”

this book has changed my life

Church History In Plain Languge
Bruce L. Shelley

No kidding.
Look for more specifics coming soon in a post titled, "How I Made the Decision to Not Hate the Church".

It's not a glamorous read and it will take commitment to complet all 544 pages. But true to it's word, it's written in plain language. Easy to understand. If you go to church, and especially if you happen to be one of those people that enjoys reading lots of books about the church culture, it's my opinion you should put all those books down and plow through this one first.
In this case, I think context is everything.

i thought i'd died and gone to heaven! (sigh)

Have you ever eaten a meal that tasted just about perfect? Like all the seasoning and flavor perfectly balanced in the perfect temperature at the perfect time in the perfect surroundings to create the perfect meal? Then have you tried to describe that meal to someone else and found yourself frustrated in the communication of that experience? I find myself in that dilemma with this novel. Everything about the taking in experience of this story felt perfect, but I am frustrated in knowing how to communicate that to you, my friends.

I could try telling you the background of the ingredients: Leif Enger has written two novels, Peace Like A River and now So Brave, Young and Handsome. I first heard about this author at a Willow Arts Conference in 2004. I bought the book then and read it that summer. It was a perfect experience and a new one for me in that I had not read nearly enough modern novels and certainly very few written in this almost western genre that Enger writes. Not necessarily western as in good cowboys and bad outlaws, but western in the sense of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and leisurely campfire storytelling .

I could try to telling you about the ambiance: My friend and co-worker Michelle popped into my office last week. I don't mean that as a euphemism, either. She literally burst through the office door her library copy of So Brave... like a bouquet of flowers or a piping how sheet pizza. "Have you seen this??" Squeals from me who was not aware that Enger's long awaited second novel was now at the public library. "Let me just read you a couple of sentences!" (this request is so endearing from someone who wishes that every conversation I ever had with anyone would include favorite sentences and paragraphs from favorite books.) I had my library put me on a waiting list immediately and when the book finally came in it was from Michelle's library. I have a feeling I got the same copy she was waving around in my office a couple of weeks ago. Somehow that made the reading of it that much more enjoyable.

I could tell try telling you about some of the flavors:
  • character descriptions are some of Enger's sweetest elements - like these descriptions of his son, Redstart, and the new family friend, Glendon "Glendon began taking supper with us once or twice a week. He kept an orderly greenplot and never arrived minus chard or kale or chives in wet burlap. At first he was a quiet and somewhat formal visitor, yet the whole house lightened with him there. I admired his plain language and courtesy and the way he found everything interesting but himself. Redstart of course was polite as a pry bar." (now picture me waving the book in Michelle's office saying "polite as a pry bar! don't you just LOVE that?!?")
  • and since rivers are basically another character in this story, how about this for spot-on sweetness : "You are no failure, on a river. The water moves regardless -- for all it cares, you might be a minnow or a tadpole, a turtle on a beavered log. You might be nothing at all."
  • and this sweet-but-tangy description of his wife, Susannah: "You should know this about my wife: colors are as strong spirits to her. Yellow makes her insouciant, reckless, caustic. The brighter tints of orange render her nearly dangerous. If it's quiet, confiding talk you're after, by all means wait until her palette is stocked with cooler, more seafaring shades."
  • Enger gracfully and subtlely weaves descriptions of grace and redemption throughout his story (and, thankfully, he is never, ever preachy!) Take a bite of this juicy conversation between the story's main character, Monte Becket, and his newfround vagabond friend, Glendon Hale: "He said, 'You'd best know I am unreliable, that I am a poor friend.''A poor friend is better than none,' I replied. It is strange to realize you have no friends outside your own family - in fact I hadn't realized it until that moment.'I have not always obeyed the law,' Glendon stated.'Nor I my conscience.'He considered me. 'I have seen the inside of more than one jail cell. It is nothing I am proud of nor would mention except you have a fine family. Also, I take a drink of whiskey now and again.'I said, 'I am fraud and imposter and for at least two years have lied regularly to many people, including my wife. Very soon now I will be found out and lose what small reputation I have managed to acquire.' "
  • As for Enger's tasty descriptions of taste, draw a long, cool sip of this: " 'Sit and rest,' he said. He opened the icbox and got down on one knee and selected a clay pitcher of water and two ripened limes. Slowly and at some cost he stood and retrieved three crystal glasses from an open shelf; he wiped them with flour sacking, sliced the ends off the limes and with startling vigor in his purple hands squeezed the limes over the pitcher until their juice slid into the cold water. The clay sweated and ticked. Claudio wiped his hands on the sacking and filled the glasses and set them before us."
Oh, there's SO MUCH MORE! It's too difficult to put into this feeble format the spicy and sweet and salty and saucy words and phrases that abound in Enger's perfect tale. I can only set the table and hand out the menus, you'll have to pull up a seat and taste for yourself. (but please let me know when you do; I want to hear all about it!)

and, P.S., if you want to know the portion that Michelle read to Margaret and me in our office, it's on page 184. "The thing is, Milk Toast, I am reasonably handy" Don't you just love that sentence?!?"

while you're clicking away at Amazon, click here too:

GrantDeb Photography: This newly launched photography business is so much fun to check out for the beautiful and sassy and sweet pics posted on a regular basis. I doubt a commute to Hampton Road, VA would be affordable to actually do business with these two (who happen to be my cousin and his wife, Grand and Deb Perry), but the digital visits are worth the trip!

Have you heard about author/speaker Donald Miller's bike trip across the country for Blood:Water Mission? His site for the Ride:Well tour is full of pics and road-trip quips. He inspired me in his books Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What and now he inspires me by putting feet to his words (literally!)

And, just a fun find from Jeffrey Overstreet's blogroll, The Pile I'm Standing In. This blogger is full of vulnerable, witty, and creative commentaries on her journey as a woman, mom and daughter of God. It also marks yet one more west coaster on my own blogroll. I wonder what that's all about? While you're there click on her mix tape link...some good stuff there, too.

and, speaking of mix tapes...
I'm out of space and energy to add anymore to this ridiculously long post. (besides the fact that I've wasted so much time I could have been playing Word Challenge!) So just take my word for it, OK? Coldplay's new album Viva La Vida is amazing. Buy it. Listen to it. Absorb it. I waited this long to admit I'm a fan so don't leave me hanging.

While you're at it, get your browser off Facebook and leave me some comments, too. Thanks!
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