Wednesday, September 30, 2015

what I read in August & September [from the book pile: 2015]

what I read in August & September

-- 1 --

23  A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America On the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (Anchor, 2006. 397 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book with nonhuman characters (particularly, a large, impassive moose)

I've learned that a lot of people love Bill Bryson, but somehow I'd never heard of him before.  My mother -- who kindly and perpetually keeps me stocked with good reads -- gave me this book when I visited in New York this summer.  Delightful, easy, occasionally suspenseful reading.  I especially appreciated how Bryson included humor, history and relational warmth in the story of his attempts at trekking the Appalachian Trail.

Did anyone see the movie with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte?

-- 2 --

24  Animal Dreams: a novel  by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper-Collins, NY, 1990.  352 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book set in high school (the main character takes a job as a high school teacher to be close to her ailing father)

Don't tell anyone, but this is my first Barbara Kingsolver read. I've been meaning to for ages but it took my office friend to bring in her own copy to loan me before I finally dove in.  I thoroughly enjoyed every page.  I loved the main character, Codi Noline, and hoped for her to find the memories of love and family she'd lost to time and neglect.  I also appreciated Kingsolver's telling of the Native American communities settled deep into the old geology of Arizona.  I feel like this is the best, most winsome invitation into the contemporary Native American culture that I've ever read.  The subcontexts of environmental crisis in the mining town and the beautiful, intergenerational friendships of women put this book toward the top of my favorites this year. 
"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I'm living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides." 

-- 3 --

25  Good Poems for Hard Times selected by Garrison Keillor (Penguin Books, 2006. 368 pages.)

Reading challenge category*:  a book that made you cry

My daughter bought me this book at a library book sale while she was with my mother in New York this summer.  She chose a used book that suited the personality of each person in her family.   For me she chose this book of poetry.  She handed it to me as I was headed for the airport, and it was the perfect book for my trip (and for several sleepless nights). 

Poets included in the anthology are from my all-time favorites: Wendell Berry, Elizabeth Bishop, Billy Collins, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Robert Frost, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman and more.  That's just a fraction of the list!

Here's one of my favorites (and the one that made me cry): 
Ice Storm
Jane Kenyon

For the hemlocks and broad-leafed evergreens

a beautiful and precarious state of being. . . .
Here in the suburbs of New Haven
nature, unrestrained, lops the weaker limbs
of shrubs and trees with a sense of aesthetics
that is practical and sinister. . . .

I am the guest in this house.

On the bedside table Good Housekeeping, and
A Nietzsche Reader. . . . The others are still asleep.
The most painful longing comes over me.
A longing not of the body. . . .

It could be for beauty-

I mean what Keats was panting after,
for which I love and honor him;
it could be for the promises of God,
or for oblivion, nada; or some condition even more
extreme, which I intuit, but can't quite name.

-- 4 --

26  As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir by Kay Bruner. (self-published, 2014. 228 pages.)

Reading challenge category*: a book set in a different country

I was provoked by Kay Bruner's story of life with her husband Andy and their four children on a remote island in the South Pacific, and by their dedication to translating the Christian Scriptures for the Arosi people in New Guinea.  The story of the dogged determination challenged me, both in their courage and also in their realization that much of their energy was fueled by performance-driven fear.  I think all ministry leaders need a good reminder of the sort of burn out that can happen, and the sort of wilted and loveless relationships that can result.

In the Bruner's case, their marriage became a sort of ground zero for the implosion of drivenness.  Kay discovers porn on Andy's computer which leads, eventually, to his confession to her and to their supporters of his addiction to porn. A subtext to their story is the way ministry leaders provide and request accountability and give care for those caught up in sinful patterns.  Unfortunately for the Bruners, the organization sending them did a horrible job, bordering on (in my opinion, engaging in) spiritual abuse.

What made me the most frustrated with the Bruner's courageous storytelling was the slim focus the book actually makes on the fall-out of pornography. I suspect (although I don't actually know) that this part of their story is still unfolding and, perhaps, was a bit too fresh to receive a full treatment in the memoir.  

I wrote a bit more about my frustration with the Bruner's conclusions about God and themselves in this post:  Anyone want to hear stories about staying married (I'm asking for a friend)

Even so, the Bruner's display a beautiful fortitude in their commitment to each other, to their family, to their marriage vows and to their mission community.  I was glad to know their story.

-- 5 --

27  The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Vintage Books, NY 2005. 227 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book that scares you

Didion tells in her iconic way the details surrounding her husband's sudden (and, yet, in hindsight, predicted) death from cardiac arrest.  

"Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.
Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file ("Notes on change.doc") reads "May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.," but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact.
For a long time I wrote nothing else.
Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant."
I'd first read the account of her husband's "sit down to dinner" death in a NY Times essay, but didn't realize that The Year of Magical Thinking was about the same story.  I picked up the book in a stack of wonderful titles I found at an estate sale.  Only after I started reading did I realize the two were the same.

The "magical thinking" Ms. Didion includes in the title is the surreal experience of the death of an intimate loved one,  the sort of thinking that makes you think they might come back at any moment.  She turns to the grieving C.S. Lewis for empathy:
"I could not count count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response, I read something in the paper that I would normally have read to him. I notice some change in the neighborhood that would interest him: [...] I recall coming in from Central Park one morning in mid-August with urgent news to report: the deep summer green has faded overnight from the trees, the season is already changing. We need to make a plan for the fall, I remember thinking. We need to decide where we want to be at Thanksgiving, Christmas, the end of the year. 
I am dropping my keys on the table inside the door before I fully remember. There is no one to hear this news, nowhere to go with the unmade plan, the uncompleted thought. There is no one to agree, disagree, talk back. "I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense," C.S. Lewis wrote after the death of his wife. "It comes from the frustration of so many impulses that had become habitual. Thought after thought, feeling after feeling, action after action had H. for their object. Now their target is gone. I keep on through habit fitting an arrow to the string, then I remember and have to lay the bow down. So many roads lead thought to H. I set out on one of them. But now there's an impassable frontierpost across it. So many roads once; now so many cul de sacs."
I wish that Ms. Didion had been able to draw on a more substantive grasp of the reality of resurrection hope in some of her conclusions.  The sort of deep magic that grounds us all -- doomed for the sitting down to death in an ordinary instant -- to the most real thinking of all.

-- 6 --

28  The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene H. Peterson (Harper One, 2011. 316 pages.)

Reading challenge category*: a book based on a true story

Re-reading this personally life-changing and wonderful memoir that manages to both comfort and motivate us.  Here's the particular reason I felt the need to re-read right now:  Waiting for our next step.

Here's a recent review at that I enjoyed.  

*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 2015 and previous years.

What are you reading right now?

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