The Gift of Reading

Revived, I come alive reading about books I have read

A little notebook gifted to me imposed brief entries, a few sentences to describe the books I read at the time.

Today, I ran across that neglected diary of sorts, finding just enough to make me want to read some of these books again.

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Francis Bacon

Gift from the Sea © 1955, Anne Morrow Lindbergh––A perennial favorite, I try to read this book once a year. I have given away so many copies that have then become a favorite of my recipients. Contains treasured insights for various stages of life.

Max Perkins, Editor of Genius © 1978, A. Scot Berg––I loved this book! Inside the world of authors and publishers, Berg gives a revealing look at the relationship between editor and writers. A biography of Max Perkins, Berg also sheds light on the lives of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. Not one of these writers would have achieved what they did without Max Perkins. The editor makes a tremendous contribution to the finished book, as well as navigating writers through some of the hazards of the writing life. Reading this book led me to read Look Homeward Angel.

The Brothers Karamazov (pub. 1880), Feodor Dostoevsky––Whew! I read Crime and Punishment last summer and knew what to expect. Complicated and luminous, Russian authors offer depth to characters and insight into why characters make the choices they do. (Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is also in my Top 10, for sure). Beautiful descriptions, memorable characters, and scenes that opened for me subterranean grief, which led to healing. An indispensable classic.

The Age of Innocence (pub. 1920) Edith Wharton––Finished reading after our return from Paris, the last scene takes place at The Invalides, which I could picture as well as relate to since I came home sick and could only lie in bed and read.

They had crossed the Place des Invalides, and were walking down one of the thoroughfares flanking the building. It was a quiet quarter, after all, in spite of its splendour [sic] and its history; and the fact gave one an idea of the riches Paris had to draw on, since such scenes as this were left to the few and the indifferent.

This book helped me begin to understand why so much literary and artistic snobbery centers around Paris and New York City. Both cities serve as an historic badge of honor for those privileged to live there.

Soul Survivor © 2003, Philip Yancey––One of my professors thinks Yancey is “God’s best gift to Christianity just now.” (circa 2007) The people Yancey profiled represent a wide range of believers. Wonderful writing and storytelling as Yancey grapples with doubts that assault even the most faith-filled believers.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek © 1974, Annie Dillard––Powers of observation par excellence! Dillard describes the extravagance of nature, deriving spiritual and practical lessons for life. Read when solitude can take you where she goes.

To Kill a Mockingbird © 1960 , Harper Lee––Having read this book many times and collected several copies, I reread parts of this novel again and again. Always struck by the pace of life that let people notice details, like rocks at the bottom of a clear stream instead of the rush of a waterfall. Lee’s exquisite use of language to describe the characters conveys so much emotion. Amazed to learn she was Truman Capote’s best friend. Creative people stimulate creativity in others.

Confessions of a Beginning Theologian © 1998, Elouise Renich Fraser––Read this book my first year in seminary (Spring, 2005) and again a year later, finding myself able to identify with this writer even more. Makes me feel as if I have made some progress as a theologian, one who has found her own voice and wants to participate in the dialogue rather than parrot what other people think.

Look Homeward, Angel pub. 1929, Thomas Wolfe [not to be confused with Tom Wolfe]––I read this because of Max Perkins, Editor of Genius. I agree, Thomas Wolfe was a genius, perhaps even the genius Scot Berg had in mind. Brilliant, educated, analytical, Wolfe embeds this lengthy book with innumerable literary and biblical references. Thomas Wolfe’s protagonist Eugene Gant lived a tragic life, parallel to Wolfe’s, making the story autobiographical fiction. The phrase, “O Lost!” recurs throughout. When I finished reading, I wanted to counter his hopelessness with “O Found!”––somehow extending God’s message of hope to the world.

Kite Runner © 2003, Khaled Hosseini––Riveting story of the struggle to reconcile relationships distorted by secrets and lies. Set in Kabul Afghanistan, before and after the war, the main characters immigrate to San Francisco (which, incidentally is where the author has lived since 1981). This book portrays a human saga with raw evil in places.

Goldwyn, A Biography © 1989, A. Scot Berg–– Berg won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Lindbergh. (I read Lindbergh before I started this list. A stellar non-fiction masterpiece.) Berg also wrote Kate Remembered, Hepburn’s biography; as always, he does justice to his subject. I read anything Scot Berg has written. This book gives as much Hollywood history as well as personal life of Samuel Goldwyn. Offers a panorama of celebrity and the movies I grew up admiring.

Same Kind of Different As Me © 2006, Ron Hall and Denver Moore (with Lynn Vincent)––From page 104 “I knew after listening to his story that he’d carved out a life for himself. Though meager and pathetic from the perspective of the more fortunate, it was a life he knew how to live.” Story of life-changing relationships when people who are different connect as human beings.

Eat This Book–A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading © 2005 , Eugene Peterson––An important book written by a trusted guide who explains that the form of the Bible is formative. How we read the Bible, Peterson says, is a matter of great consequence. We should read to respond. We should see ourselves in the stories. We should not treat the Bible as a thing. Breathing in its atmosphere in everyday life, God changes us.

Deadline © 1994, Randy Alcorn––Driven by an agenda and preachy, the backstory about journalism is what interested me enough to read this novel. Questions raised: Why don’t Christians train to [infiltrate] liberal institutions, like the media, instead of [only] focusing on sending missionaries to Africa [this, meaning any and all countries where missionaries go]? Why do Christians write books and magazines that only “talk to each other”?

The No, 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series © 1998, Alexander McCall Smith––Delightful! Light reading that’s life-giving. Endearing characters and universal truths shine through ordinary everyday relational situations. Set in Botswana, the place itself serves as a time machine for once upon a time in 1950’s America. (As of 2017, 18 books in this series).

The Innocent Man––Murder and Injustice in a Small Town © 2006, John Grisham––Master storyteller Grisham pulls together the puzzle pieces for this non-fiction account of two men wrongly convicted of murder.

Of Faith and Fiction © 1997, W. Dale Brown––Sane voices among those who are Christian cry out for literary excellence that reflects God’s greatness. These writers resist the labels, the pigeon holes and pitfalls of commercial publishing. Too much of market-driven, copy-cat clones of previous commercial “successes” gets pandered to readers under the banner of Christian, leaving literature to languish.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 © 2011, J.K. Rowling––The much anticipated conclusion to the Harry Potter series once again succeeds in pulling readers into another world. More here to commend than to critique, both the storytelling and writing keep readers turning pages. This book provides a satisfying wrap-up, tying together many loose ends of a 7 book story that has captivated readers worldwide.

The End of the Affair © 1951 , Graham Green––Terrific writing and storytelling, Grahmam Greene advances the Christian faith (in this case, Catholic) through the resistance of unbelievers, showing how sin magnifies grace. Greene’s approach to apologetics serves as a model for fiction writers who seek to penetrate secular thinking with the gospel.

Brideshead Revisited © 1945, Evelyn Waugh––A friend recommended this book, and though it was hard to get into, the author’s writing style added layers of beauty to the saga of family collapse centered around an English countryside estate. The writer shows the underside of privilege, social hierarchy and wealth.

Read to nourish your own soul

What I appreciate about discovering this list I made in 2006–2007 is how diverse the titles and genre and authors and dates of publication or copyright.

As I have said countless times, A book is only as good as it is timely.

My little reading journal records this quote on the last page:

Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself . . . you bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.” ––Angela Carter

Let me know if anything on this list intrigues you.

Be a reader. Your heart and soul will thank you.

To Kill a Mockingbird Banned, Again

Multiple copies of To Kill a Mockingbird show how much I value this book.

Yet another school district has banned To Kill a Mockingbird. Because the book makes some people uncomfortable.

Id-E-ots!

The books is supposed to make readers uncomfortable.

The book strikes at racial prejudice and injustice toward Blacks, hitting a bull’s-eye only the mindless can miss.

Like Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird serves as a time capsule, capturing and exposing a period in American history when a majority of people in the South hid behind racial fear and bigotry.

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Dirty Dancing and Giant Revisited: Story Lines about Change

Dirty Dancing: A frame for story context, 1987

Saturday night I watched Dirty Dancing. Again.

ZAP! Hooked. In a time machine, I sat transported and transfixed.

From the vantage point of 30 years after Dirty Dancing opened in theaters, I see a lot to admire about this film.

In 1987, when Dirty Dancing made cultural shock waves, I did not watch. Or let my children see it either. Years later, I learned that my teenage daughter saw the video at a friend’s house.

Whatever.

While the movie does portray some dirty dancing, as well as admit some explicit consequences of sexual activity, dancing provides a frame for story context.

The story unfolding exposes prejudice, hypocrisy and bigotry.

The dictionary defines bigotry as the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

The movie is about how people can have one set of standards, values and professed ideals for themselves and yet apply another standard to those who are not like them.

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Game of Thrones: A Viewer’s Defense

Books and Film Adaptation

“A book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader. That’s why we go to the movies and say, ‘Oh, the book is better.'” Paul Coelho

If I had to explain, (er defend, to anyone, including myself) why I have watched every episode of Game of Thrones, I would say, “Read the Bible.”

Picture I took last year in a museum in Glasgow, Scotland, because these heads remind me of the “many-faced god” depicted in Game of Thrones.

Raw and ravenous, Game of Thrones amplifies story themes the Bible tells with sparing detail.

The “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” written in 1861 during America’s Civil War, the words describing God’s wrath could have derived from Revelation 14.

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

 

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Hungry for What?

So let’s talk about Hunger, a current best-selling memoir by a woman who argues that “the bigger you are, the less you are seen” (quote from the book jacket synopsis).

Who I Am vs. How I Look

Photo from Amazon site

In Hunger, A Memoir of (My) Body, author Roxane Gay exposes how something that happened to her as a young girl translated into reasons for burying herself under layers of fat. Referring to her body as a crime scene, at her heaviest Roxane weighed 577 pounds and now weighs about 150 less.

Along with reasons she shares for massive weight gain, she describes the pain of living in a body that people punish––judging by appearance the person who lives inside the body.

“I hate myself. Or society tells me I am supposed to hate myself; so I guess this, at least, is something I am doing right.

Or I should say, I hate my body. I hate my weakness at being unable to control my body. I hate how I feel in my body. I hate how people stare at my body, treat my body, comment on my body. I hate equating my self-worth with the state of my body . . . I hate how hard it is to accept my human frailties. I hate that I am letting down so many women when I cannot embrace my body at any size.

But I also like myself, my personality, my weirdness, my sense of humor, my wild and romantic streak, how I love, how I write, my kindness and my mean streak. It is only now, in my forties, that I am able to admit that I like myself, even though I am nagged by this suspicion that I shouldn’t . . .

I don’t want to change who I am. I want to change how I look. On my better days, when I feel up to the fight, I want to change how this world responds to how I look because, intellectually I know my body is not the real problem.

On bad days, though, I forget how to separate my personality, the heart of who I am, from my body. I forget how to shield myself from the cruelties of the world” (148–149).

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