Monday, April 14, 2014

What We’ve Been Reading

Reading a book is a profoundly personal, intimate thing. ‘Tis true that no two people read the same book, because each person brings to the story her own emotions, her fears, her experiences, her personality, her dreams and hopes. We each see the world through a different lens. A person may identify with a specific character—not necessarily the same character as the next reader.

And are we not different people ourselves at different points in our own lives? Have you read a book in one season and loved it, and hated it a decade later? Or vice versa?

This truth makes recommending a book a difficult, tentative sort of act.

A good friend of mine hated the character Jayber Crow. And she hated Peace Like a River. [gasp!] Another friend hated The Count of Monte Cristo. A few of my friends hated The Giver. I’m positive that more than a few of my friends and readers would dislike The Little French Girl (one of my favorites), but it is an obscure book that no one reads so I don’t have to hear about it. [chuckle]

I hated Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. With passion. And I almost didn’t make it through the first thirteen chapters of Jane Eyre.

A reader recommended The History of Love, and I decided to give it a try. I didn’t love it, but the story drew me in and it certainly fell in the realm of “witness”—after reading I felt as if I had been a witness to the lives of the narrators, alternately an older man and a young girl, which reminded me of the most delightful The Elegance of the Hedgehog. But rather than visiting a Parisian apartment, I witnessed a Polish Jew living through and past World War II and on to an elderly, forgotten life in New York.

Several magical passages caused me to stop and linger and savor. Humorous. Melancholy.

"As a child my mother and my aunts used to tell me that I would grow up to *become* handsome. It was clear to me that I wasn't anything to look at then, but I believed that some measure of beauty might come to me eventually. I don't know what I thought: that my ears, which stuck out at an undignified angle, would recede, that my head would somehow grow to fit them? That my hair, not unlike a toilet brush in texture, would, with time, unkink itself and reflect light? That my face, which held so little promise--eyelids as heavy as a frog's, lips on the thin side--would somehow transform itself into something not regrettable? For years I would wake up in the morning and go to the mirror, hoping...The year of my Bar Mitzvah I was visited by a plague of acne that stayed for four years. But still I continued to hope. As soon as the acne cleared my hairline began to recede, as if it wanted to disassociate itself from the embarrassment of my face. My ears, pleased with the new attention they now enjoyed, seemed to strain farther into the spotlight. My eyelids dropped--some muscle tension had to give to support the struggle of the ears--and my eyebrows took on a life of their own, for a brief period achieving all anyone could have hoped for them, and then surpassing those hopes and approaching Neanderthal."


“The War ended. Bit by bit, Litvinoff learned what had happened to his sister Miriam, and to his parents, and to four of his other siblings…He learned to live with the truth. Not to accept it, but to live with it. It was like living with an elephant. His room was tiny, and every morning he had to squeeze around the truth just to get to the bathroom. To reach the armoire to get a pair of underpants he had to crawl under the truth, praying it wouldn’t choose that moment to sit on his face. At night, when he closed his eyes, he felt it looming above him.”

Oh, but then I picked up Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World by N.D. Wilson. A whirlwind of powerful imagery from beginning to end. I’ve never had such a burning desire to seek a terrifying storm and stand, vulnerable and joy-filled, in the deluge. (Or at least watch Planet Earth—glorious, spectacular filming—with the kids…)

"This universe is a portrait in motion, a *compressed* portrait in motion, a miniature, inevitably stylized, for it is trying to capture the Infinite. The galaxies are each one fraction of a syllable in a haiku of the Ultimate. On the human level, art is all recompression, attempts at taking a sunset from the small frame of the horizon and putting it on a postcard; taking a blues riff, the rhythmic vibration of strings, and capturing a sense of loss; marble, chiseled and shaped until it shows nobility..."


“How many quarks are out there, splashing around in this storm? How many vowels are in a hurricane? This wet strength, so enormous beside our small arms, is itself only a tiny corner of the spoken world, a tiny corner of this poem. Bigger breakers swirl in Jupiter’s eye, but who sees them? Starts and worlds twist in solar storms. This storm is nothing, and I am less. But to an infinite artist, a Creator in love with His craft, there is no unimportant corner, there is no thrown-away image, no tattered thread in the novel left untied.

“This ocean, tiny in the universe, is here because it’s beautiful. This word, these words that keep surging and crashing and grinding against the contrast of cliffs, they are strong and guttural, like the taste of Anglo-Saxon. This is poetry, but it is not delicate and fragile, a placid ocean beneath a Bible verse on an inspirational poster.

“This poetry has testicles. It’s rougher than rodeo. Which is why the cliffs are crowded with spectators.”

And (story!)

“Step outside your front door and look at today’s stage. Speak. God will reply. He will speak to you. He gave you senses. Use them. He will parade His art. He will give you a scene, a setting for the day. He will give you conflict to overcome, opportunities for your character to grow or fail.

“But do not expect Him to speak in English. And do not expect Him to stay on whatever topic you might choose. His attention is everywhere and no story should be easy, as every reader knows…

“Listen to your dialogue. Look at your thoughts. Be horrified. Be grateful that God loves characters, and loves characters on journeys, characters honestly striving to grow. If someone else was delivering your lines, would you like them? If someone else was wearing your attitude, would you be impressed?”


"Here is my lady, my picture, my philosophical account of an olive. I look around at the stuff of the world and I ask myself what it is made of.

“Words. Magic words. Words spoken by the Infinite, words so potent, spoken by One so potent that they have weight and mass and flavor. They are real. They have taken on flesh and dwelt among us. They are us. In the Christian story, the material world came into existence at the point of speech, and that speech was ex nihilo, from nothing. God did not look around for some cosmic goo to sculpt, or another god to dice and recycle. He sang a song, composed a poem, began a novel so enormous that even the Russians are dwarfed by its heaped up pages.

“You are spoken. I am spoken. We stand on a spoken stage. The spinning kind. The round kind. The moist kind. The kind of stage with beetles and laughter and babies and dirt and snow and fresh-cut cedar."

My book is a flurry of pencil-marks.

This quote by C.S. Lewis crossed my path as I was knee-deep in Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:

"Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing....All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be.'"

A stab of joy. That sums it up.

In previous posts I’ve linked articles by N.D. Wilson and shared quotes. The boys have read all of his fiction books: the 100 Cupboards series, the Ashtown Burials series, and Leepike Ridge. Wilson’s Boys of Blur just came out this month, so I picked it up. It’s next on the stack for the boys.

Let’s see. What else have the boys been enjoying recently? (They fly through books much faster than I.)

Levi is working his way through The Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet. He also read through The Shakespeare Stealer trilogy.

After seeing this book list, I pre-read The City of Ember then handed it over to the boys. Luke immediately requested the movie (watched it) and the other books in the series (read them), and gave them most favorite status. Luke reads quite a bit, but I’ve never seen him enjoy a book quite like he did with these.

Also from the afore-mentioned list, I’ve added Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (and the prequel Starry River of the Sky) to the stack. Oh, and Inside Out and Back Again as well.

I can’t remember what list I saw it on, but The Wishing-Chair by Enid Blyton was recommended somewhere. We had other books by Blyton, but not that one. I picked up the six books in The Enid Blyton Faraway Tree & Wishing-Chair Collection. Levi and Luke sped through them, but Leif was a tough one to convince (he doesn’t like new things). His brothers tried to tell him how much they loved the books, but he didn’t budge. Finally I had to require a few chapters…and he was hooked, finishing them in no time.

I also had to twist Leif’s arm to get him to read Little Pear, but then he quickly followed it up with Little Pear and His Friends. They are great books for kids just starting on simple chapter books.

I need to spend more time reading to Lola. Or assign the boys as reading helpers. [grin] She has been enjoying I Spy: An Alphabet in Art and is very interested in letter sounds. It is crazy to think that Luke and Leif started reading about her age!


What books has your family been enjoying? Or hating? [ha!]


Danielle said...

You didn't like Rebecca??? Oh dear! :)

I'm interested in your thoughts on Notes from a Tilt a Whirl. It's in my to-read stack.

I'm listening to Harry Potter on audiobook and loving it. I'm on book 5. I must confess I was a bit of a snob, looking down on adults who embraced the Potter-craze, but now I understand why!

Recently read a fascinating novel based on the life of the amazing Sarah Grimke called "The Invention of Wings." Also reading Tsh's "Notes from a Blue Bike" and recently finished a new book called "When Others Shuddered." All great reads.

carrie said...

Girlish books :) 100 Dresses, Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, and the Betsy Tacy books.

Anonymous said...

My Luke's birthday is next week so I am grateful to you for some good new-to-us recommendations - thank you! : )


Laura said...

Just finished 'Unbroken' story of Louie Zamperini and his journey through WWII and his survival on the open Pacific AND POW survival. And his redemption story. I thought the latter portion of the book was abbreviated, but excellent over all. Well shared, as it is a brutal experience. I won't see the movie. Exausted of ruining the images in my head, and I'm afraid it will be gratuitous in nature... Anyhow. Just thought I'd share. :)