Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Susan Isaacs and Some Other Books

It's been a while.

I've been reading, of course, but have been lacking the emotional stamina to write.  Yeah, it's been a little rough the last couple of years. I'm not getting a divorce and my kids are still all doing fine, and oh, yeah, I haven't been thrown out of my house, but I've had some devastating news from my parents that I won't go into here, but needless to say, it has thrown me into a tailspin and I have had to re-evaluate just about every thing I was taught about what it means to be a good person.

It was around the time when my parents turned eighty and I turned forty that I finally hit adolescence.  It had been a long time coming.   They say that the older we get the more we reflect on what went wrong in our lives, and I have a long list I could dwell on if I liked dwelling on that sort of thing, but I don't and I didn't want to be miserable for very long.  It sort of was a bummer.

I have been trying to do as much as I can to get happy and grateful.

So, I did what came most naturally and (along with some good wise guidance and a totally awesome husband) I picked up a few books.  Maybe you have got lots figured out and don't need a lick of help, but in case you do, I would recommend Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud to just about any one, and I have.  I also got a lot of solace from two of Anne Lamott's books:  Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son and Help, Thanks, Wow.  Both were good lifter uppers as far as books go.   I recently heard Ms. Lamott say at a conference I attended in San Diego that we are each of us uniquely ruined.  This is good to remember because it is so much less lonely knowing this fact.  Finally, I fell in love all over again with Pat Conroy when I listened to My Reading Life on an audiobook I borrowed from the library.  I would stand in my kitchen making dinner for the famished troops that live around here and cry big tears of relief and agony over his reflections on the power people and books had in his life to have rescued him from the reality of his own dad.

But, my favorite book so far has been Angry Conversations with God, by Susan Isaacs.  Susan tells the story of her life via a clever vehicle:  She engages in a "marital counseling" session with God in which they attempt to work out their differences.  Susan is funny and she is poignant.  She was a good Lutheran girl that grew up with the deep sense that in order to please God she would have to deny herself so many things--mostly things that might have brought her happiness and success.  For all her attempts--in which she takes ownership that she wasn't a perfect partner either--she was single, broke and felt her dreams slipping away.

She acknowledges, "I know worse things have happened to better people.  Mine are just middle-class white girl's tragedies.  But I'm a middle-class white girl, and they're my tragedies."  Wars, famine, genocide; Susan doesn't pretend her life was really that bad...but she still had some sorting out to do with God.  She is direct and deals with her feelings toward God in a way that had me right there with her on the couch.  Ultimately, she uncovers some pretty stark truths about what has gone wrong in their relationship and not surprisingly, God isn't such a bad guy after all.

But, she had to discover this by pushing past bad advice, bad churches, bad experiences, and totally human and uniquely ruined parents.  Her story spoke to me because she was willing to be honest and she was willing to be wrong about what she had accepted as truth--"truths" she had told to herself and received from others.

She adeptly explores disappointment with God.  She told God she thought he was sort of a jerk, felt some relief in the acknowledging and lived to tell about it, no lightening bolts from the sky.

There is something so rejuvenating, so freeing about honesty.  There is also something so brave.  I hope you read this book, I hope you let me know what you thought.




Sunday, November 20, 2011

Expanding Glory (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand)

I feel like everyone has read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, but I still will write about it, just in case someone hasn't.  Run and get it from your neighbor, they probably just put it down.

Last spring break, my family went to Florida for a little warm break from the bitter cold.  We stayed one night in Ft. Meyers at a hotel before we headed to our final destination.  Because we were totally sun-deprived, itchy from our winter-induced dry skin, and nearly blind from our long hiatus indoors all winter (not really true, we do get out once in a while in short spurts) we ran, not walked, to the tiny, tiny little pool at the hotel and took it over from the one poor septegenarian who was calmly floating in what she thought was her little oasis.  We couldn't help ourselves.  We were outside!  Out doors!  It was Florida, our skin felt somewhat softer!  There was a pool!  Strangely, the dear woman exited the pool, maybe it was the full tsunami that hit her when four giddy girls jumped in...who knows, I only can guess.

I digress. Back to the book...wasn't that what i was talking about?  I met a boarding school economics teacher from Massachusetts, who was reading the paper and was friendly and didn't seem to mind our chaos.  We started up a conversation, and it turned out that I was reading a book about Pat Tillman (I think I already wrote about that) and that this boarding school teacher happened to LOVE military history.  He told me that I ought to read Unbroken.  After we came home from our trip, I ordered the book.

Of course, the story is an amazing one.  I learned a new respect for the men who fought in WWII, for the sacrifices they made, for the dangerous things they encountered, for their willingness to give it all to fight off what seemed truly wrong in this world and for the broken men they came home as.   Then, there was Louis Zamperini's story.  It is breathtaking.  Laura Hillenbrand's (who also wrote Seabiscuit--which I haven't read yet) ability to capture the width and breadth of this man's life is fantastic.  I have heard that she has a condition that keeps her in her home and that all of her research on the book was done via letters, email and phone conversations.  I don't know if this is true, even if it isn't she has done a remarkable job transcribing one man's astounding journey.

There are so many aspects of the book that I could write about.  Louis Zamperini the Olympic athlete whose career was cut short, or the military prisoner or the military hero.  He lived his life fully, whether it was by choice or as it was thrust on him.  Early in the book (page 34 of the hardcover edition), is the statement that defines all of what is to come.

[Louie] found himself thinking of Pete, and of something
he said as they had sat on their bed years earlier:
A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.

One might argue that Louie didn't have just a moment of pain or that he hasn't had a lifetime of glory.  I think he did.  I think he now has the perfect vantage from which to speak about true glory and the boundaries of pain.  I was supposed to go to a lecture given by Louis Zamperini two weekends ago with a friend.  He wasn't able to make it because he was ill.  I was hoping to hear more about his experiences of course, but mostly I was hoping to get a read on the bounty of goodness that has come out of such a well of pain.  Perspective and hope.  I know his story has affected lots and lots of people, I hope stories like his always get told, they are what is right with this world.  So glad I read his story.  


Saturday, November 19, 2011

On When to Read

When I was a little girl, on Sundays at our house it was quiet. And if I wasnt' staring up at the ceiling looking for patterns in the popcorn or running around the neighborhood building forts with the other kids, I was reading. I read for pleasure.

I still read to escape the busy world and find new thoughts, new friends, new contemplations in a book. People always ask me when I read. I don't know, I just fit it in. If a book is good, it finds its own way into my day. I would rather read a good book than watch tv, see updates on Facebook, surf the net, or any other thing we all so often fill up our time with.

I remember when I was in 10th grade we had an exchange student living with us from Germany. And I vividly recall sitting in her room one night and telling her all about this boy I had read about in A Separate Peace by John Knowles. His name was Finny. I described him in great detail to Karen, she listened carefully as I went on and on about his characteristics, his demeanor, and his good looks. Karen stopped me and said..."You sound like you are in love." Finny, the character, had inhabited my thoughts so much I was infactuated with him so that I couldn't help running back to the story just to exist in that world and know this boy some more. I feel sometimes as if the people I read about inhabit my thoughts, they certainly haunt my daily life and go along with me as I go along.

As I write this, I think I sound a little nuts! OK, I know it might sound loco, but I don't think I am alone. I think that is the draw of well written stories. They dwell with the reader and open up new avenues of thought and experience in the best sort of way.

The way to fit reading into a life is to find satisfaction in the story. There are good ones out there, just waiting to be discovered.



Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Seasons of the Robin



We have a playhouse in the backyard, built by my brother-in-law and husband one summer week years ago. We built it two stories tall, the ground floor is our shed and the second floor has a balcony that all the kids like to stand on and look over the world from. It also has a swing attached to one edge of the balcony's base and while possibly a danger (of swinging into the corner of the playhouse and losing a limb), it is my girls' favorite place to fight over all year round. Nearly every day in the summer and many times during the school year my youngest two run in the house from school and lace up their Nike'sand the race is on out to the swing. I am not proud to say that I usually try to pretend I have no idea what is going on because I SAID YOU ALL HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO SHARE!

Anyway, the fighting over the swing came to a screeching halt a few weeks ago when a male robin began making swooping menacing dives at whoever was on the swing. The dive bombing was particularly effective in ridding the swing of its little girl. An unfortunate side effect though, was that now my children think robins are scary predators. Instead of the welcomed harbinger of spring, they run and screech when they see the flash of orange. The male robin was just protecting the nest of bright blue eggs that he and his wife robin had built under one of the beams of the balcony.

I had a friend from kindergarten (33 years ago!) whose house I saw the inside of more often than my own for quite
a few summers growing up. Her dad wrote for a living. And at age 8, I only had a vague notion that it was something about birds. Last Christmas, when I saw her, she mentioned that her dad had recently written a book, The Seasons of the Robin by Don Grussing (it can be ordered on Amazon). I had picked it up and have been reading it off and on this spring (as a nice diversion from a big project I am working on). I have had the lovely opportunity to read about the world from a robin's point of view. Looking for the male and female robin as they go about their day with a nest that is now full of hungry growing birds, I have come to appreciate their territory and their yearly goal of raising a new set of robins to fill the morning and evening with song. This world is really full of amazing things big and small. Often, I am stunned at how little I notice yet how much beauty is just waiting to be had.

I feel especially proud to know the man who wrote this book.

Of course, I would love to have you read it, too.

Why not open your eyes a little more to the little things flitting around you?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reading List

Here is the list of books I have read recently that I would recommend. I may write more about them later, but let's be honest, probably not. But, then again, maybe I will.

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. This is a fun mystery about a 12 year old sleuth and her harrowing experiences trying to figure out who killed the man they found in their garden and why her dad is so secretive. Good beach read.

Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer. Gripping and eye opening true story of Pat Tillman's tragic death in the mountains of Afghanistan. Well written, shocking, and a book you will wish you could find someone else to talk about with.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. I was in Savannah, Georgia with a dear friend last August and every store was selling this book. Was this made into a movie?? Not sure, but I LOVED this book. It is a true crime novel with twists and turns, voodoo, zany characters, good intentions and a gripping story. Read it!

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Hmmmm. This is essentially the story of long (super long) distance running in America, a tribe in Mexico who run 100 mile races for fun, and of the history of long distance running around the world. It also is an attempt to take down the $200 running shoe industry and make you, to your own shock and amazement, surprisingly consider running barefoot. Need I say more?

Bossypants by Tina Fey. I was intrigued to read this book because of the media blitz that has recently surrounded Tina. I saw her on David Letterman, heard a podcast with her on NPR and saw the book everywhere. The book is a collection of essays, poorly written, but somewhat interesting. I saw some reviews that said the book was hilarious. I didn't find it to be hilarious, that would be a stretch, but I did think it revealed a character in Tina Fey that is just as conflicted as the rest of us, that second guesses herself, tries to justify her role in this world and is just a regular human being. For all of that, I really liked the book.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Having recently spent some time in Paris, I was curious about this book as I walked by it one day at Target. Then, a friend also recommended it to me when I was desperately looking for a good book to read. Based on the true story of the Jewish relocation and their eventual annihilation that occured in Paris (which is not a history Paris would like to remember), it is a fictional account of one modern day journalist and one little girl's victimized family. Her story is soul stirring and agonizing. The writing bounces between the journalist's modern day investigation and the unfolding of Sarah's story. I found the modern part of the story awkward and a little boring, but Sarah's story was riveting. This would be a great book club book.

That's all for now.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Why

"Some censuring readers will scornfully say, why hath this lady writ her own life? Since none cares to know whose daugther she was or whose wife she is, or how she was bred, or what fortunes she had, or how she lived, or what humor or disposition she was of? I answer that it is true, that 'tis to no purpose to the readers, but it is to the authoress, because I write it for my own sake, not theirs."

Margaret Cavendish, 1655

Friday, February 18, 2011

Some Catch-up, please

Wow, how time has flown. This blog is for me, really, more than anything, and I can't seem to be committed to even writing once a month. Part of the reason is the lack of books I've really wanted to write about, but really, it is mostly that I just haven't spent the time to sit down and write.

I just want to highlight two books that I read a couple of months ago that I think are worth reading.

The first is: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I read a review of the book last fall that intrigued me and I couldn't resist. The story is first of all, interesting and true but more intruiging than the story itself is the ethical questions the story raises. One woman, Henrietta Lacks, made one of the biggest contributions to medical science known today without either her or her family's knowledge. And while her family's life has been hardscrabble, the effect of Henrietta's contribution has been enormous on lives around the world. The question the book ultimately raises is: Are our cells our own once they have been removed surgically from our bodies? I don't know about you, but this is one question that I have never ever asked myself. And frankly, I probably won't ever, because I am fortunate enough to have great health insurance. But, for the Lacks', the question of not benefitting from their mother's inadvertant contribution has been a constant source of pain for them. While medical science has advanced due to the use Henrietta's harvested cells, her family has languished without consistent medical care. The book doesn't answer difficult questions so much as pose them while telling a pretty fascinating story about a family who have certainly been on the short end of the stick.

Secondly, a friend sent me a book for my birthday called Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman. This is also non-fiction and was another book I couldn't put down. The title pretty much sums up the story. Again, this book raises more questions than it answers. It would be an awesome read for a book club; you could talk about it all night. The author is a white, upper middle class girl with a good education and loving family. Piper, in her young and less discerning days, made some pretty bad decisions about drug trafficking. Woah, that sounds more horrible than it really was. But, in some ways, her actions, were horrible. She reflects on how her actions not only got her into prison but how her choices trickled into greater society and contributed to the downfall of some of her fellow inmates. On the other hand, the Kerman's story also raises a huge question about the efficacy of our prison system. While telling about her survival in jail, she brings attention to a system that in many ways seems broken. Both prisoners and prison administrators are stuck, and inadvertently become their own worst enemy. I certainly don't know how to fix a problem so large as repeat offenders, abuses of power by administration, and the inhumanity overall of the entire prison system. But, there are absolutely questions we need to be asking, and really need to try to determine some kind of solutions. Those are the larger questions that the book raises, but on a personal level, Piper's story is a true one of regret, and one that challenges the notion that our youth is meant to be spent making stupid mistakes. Some mistakes are just not worth it. I don't know if Piper Kerman knows what she should have done differently, or what might have given her a better ability to make good decisions as a student fresh out of college, but it certainly was a reminder that no matter our age, we are responsible to make the right decision, or it just might catch up with us in an awful way.

Now I am searching for some more good books to read. Any ideas?