Saturday, May 30, 2015

5 favorite reads in May [from the book pile: 2015]

This book didn't make the list only because I skimmed it rather than read it, but it's a favorite for sure!

5 favorite reads in May

-- 1 --

11  Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure by Nancy J. Nordenson (Kalos Press, 2014.)

Reading challenge category*:  a book by a female author

I wanted this book to tell me -- artfully -- what to do when I grow up.  I am in a floundering season and this title looked promising.  Instead Nancy Nordenson validated -- artfully -- the pain of not quite knowing one's own vocation.  And, if suspecting, trudging up hill to make one's livelihood from that vocation.  Each chapter works together, but can also stand alone as an essay, tying together seemingly mundane daily observations into themes of desire, doubt and calling.  Woven throughout are the threads of Nordenson's own story with her husband, a painful struggle with unemployment and underemployment and goodhearted faithfulness.  As a writer who makes a living writing medical reports (her BA is in biology) while simultaneously pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing, Nordenson's prose manages to be both pragmatic and poetic, a tone which I thoroughly enjoyed.  If you prefer linear storytelling or bullet lists of tips, this book is not for you.

I want to write more about this book.  Hold me to it, please?

A couple of excerpts:
" 'And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.' I know this is the bottom line, the question worth the most points on the final vocational exam, yet the corollary questions remain: how, when, and where? The acting and loving and walking can't be in the abstract, but must be anchored in time and place -- moving arms and legs, fingertips and brain. And hopefully a paycheck is earned in the process."   
"I have been collecting images, lifting layers, switching between depths of field to catch glimpses of what's really going on here. How does work become more than what it is, and how do we become ourselves in the process? How do we find livelihood even as we are making it? How can an individual body of work contribute to a corporate body of work to participate in a universal, eternal, world-without-end body of work?"   
"Years ago I copied out words from a Lenten book into my journal, 'Pray to remember that upon you rest both the favor of God and the power of the Spirit.' This is how I think of God's grace coming to us. And these words, 'dedicate with faith your personal lifelong pilgrimage -- regardless of how insignificant it may seem to you -- as an important part of God's liberation of the world!' ...I have felt bread on the tongue and water on the flesh, but I crave signs of grace outside the cloister of the sanctuary and so am drawn to a teacher's recent suggestion to try living all of life as a sacrament, as a physical participation in the flow of grace from God to people and among people and back again. ...The surface view of grace isn't synonymous with the good life; history bears that out. Sometimes the favor and power of God, the share in God's liberation of the world looks like sweaty hard work, failed work even. I have to wonder about my willingness to live sacramentally, my willingness to have headaches and high blood pressure, frustration and exhaustion be visible signs of invisible grace as God works in me and through me."  
"I returned to work begin again. Breath and blood, flesh and brain, heart and bones. The weeks are holy."  

-- 2 --

12  A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion

Reading challenge category*:  a book with a love triangle

Full disclosure: I did not really enjoy this book at all.  The murky existential crisis of the wealthy, agnostic and hedonistic characters drove me a bit mad. It's the same reason I quit watching Mad Men.  I only read the book because it included this sort of writing:

"Three or four things I do know about Charlotte.

As a child of comfortable family in the temperate zone she had been as a matter of course provided with clean sheets, orthodontia, lamb chops, living grandparents, attentive godparents, one brother named Dickie, ballet lessons, and casual timely information about menstruation and the care of flat silver, as well as with a small wooden angel, carved in Austria, to sit on her bed table and listen to her prayers. ... "

-- 3 --

13  The Exact Place: A Memoir by Margie L. Haack (Kalos Press, 2012. 223 pages.)

Reading challenge category*:  a book you can finish in a day

What are the chances I read two books from Kalos Press -- a press I've never noticed before -- in the same month?  And in that same month, discover a blogging, Anglican, Binghamton acquaintance is writing a book for the same press?  Just interesting, don't you think?

I've had Margie Haack's memoir on my to-read list since it was first published.  I kept thinking it would be at my library and it never was.  Last week I received a serendipitous Amazon gift card and spent it immediately on this book.  (The other book I purchased was My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman which I read last fall and wanted desperately to mark up the library's copy with a highlighter and pen.  Now I can!)

The Exact Place was easy to read in one day, not because it was a "page-turner" in the normal sense of that description but because it was so warm and interesting and loveable.  Ms. Haack manages to tell gently and truthfully the story of her childhood both validating pain and embracing sweetness. Also, the setting of northern Minnesota is clear and winsome. The authentic view of farm life made me want to wave the book in front of Wendell Berry's face and say "See!  This is why rural kids leave home!"  Not because I grew up on a farm, but the Mad Farmer makes me feel a bit contrarian.  As I've mentioned before.

-- 4 --

14 An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler (Scribner, NY 2011. 238 pages includes an appendix of recipes)

Reading challenge category*: a book written by an author with your same initials (or, in this case, same first name)

Oh, this book!  I carried it together with my recipe card box around the house with me for weeks. I copied recipes in their traditional form:  
1/4 cup finely chopped onion 
1/8 cup finely chopped carrot 
1 stalk celery, finely chopped and so forth
but also conversational sorts of recipes:
Cook scallions in a very hot, well-oiled pan. Once the bulbs are sweet and tender and their green tops charred, curl them under poached eggs.   
This method of cooking is so foreign to me.  The kind where you look through your cupboard and your fridge and just know what sorts of left-over drizzles and dabs will go together just so to make mouth-watering, clean, comfort food.  As I was reading, I recognized friends and family who have this skill that I do not yet possess, but gosh-darn it plan to figure out before I'm stooped over with a spoon in one hand and cane in the other.

The beauty of this book is the warm prose that combines all my favorite things:  lovely writing, simple instructions, and an expectation for thrift.  Adler tells a story about food preparation that I can imagine myself maybe, just maybe, able to imitate.  

The first chapter is titled "How to Boil Water" and that's all I needed to feel welcome to this table.
"The pot was invented 10,000 years ago, and a simmering one has been a symbol of a well-tended hearth ever since. I don't mean to suggest that now that you have been reminded of the age and gooness of a ot of water, you start boiling everything in you kitchen -- but that instead of trying to figure out what to do about dinner, you put a big pot of water on thes tove, light the burner under it, and only when it's on its way to getting good and hot start looking for things to put in it.
In that act, you will have plopped yourself smack in the middle of cooking a meal. And there you'll be, having retrieved a pot, filled it, and lit a burner, jostled by your own will a few steps farther down the path toward dinner."

-- 5 --

15  Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the MIssion of the Church by N.T. Wright (Harper One, 2008. 295 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book you started or never finished (more specifically, read but did not read deeply)

This title will end up on my "Life-Changing Books" list, next to The Challenge of Easter.  For some strange reason, in 2009 when I first purchased the book, I got stuck in it for about two years and ended up just browsing through it.  This time around, two of my sisters and my mom and I decided to read together and talk together once a week about what we were learning, wondering and feeling about what -- in some regards -- is a pretty radical re-framing of what we'd come to believe about Heaven and what it means to follow the Resurrected Christ in the here and now.

Our conversations started out a bit jittery as we got to know the former Bishop of Durham's voice, which is occasionally a bit off-putting to the newcomer. 

It takes a lot of courage to reexamine long-held, passionately-held beliefs.  I'm so encouraged by my mom and sisters for their willingness to ask questions whose answers will be mostly wrapped in mystery until the Glorious Day when we are reunited with Christ and living in a new earth where all things have been judged and made right.

Many of our conversations included variations on the question "Since we can't know for sure what it will look like for Jesus to return and what heaven will look like or where our deceased friends and family are right now, does it matter to our everyday lives?"  And with a variety of responses we decided that yes, it does matter.  Not that we can know for sure, but that we can be diligent in understanding and study so that our lives reflect well the hope found in the real-life resurrection power of Christ.  That power that is even now fueling our lives, and through our lives fueling acts of love, hope and justice around us.  To be able to hold onto hope in the tension between fact and mystery is an act of worship.  

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Some helpful resources for walking through this book:

  • Surprised by Hope section summaries from N.T. Wright on YouTube  (We broke up our reading into 6 sessions based on the video and workbook sections.)
  • Since I'm a playlist junkie, I collected songs on Spotify that reminded me of all our reading and conversation:  Surprised by Hope

*This year, I'm using a fun challenge checklist with a Facebook group of friends (and sisters!).  You can find the checklist here:  Take Our Ultimate Reading Challenge  If you'd like to join our Reading Challenge 2015 group on Facebook, let me know and I'll send you an invite! *

Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2014 and previous years.

What are you reading right now?

*Linking up with Rachel today

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