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Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis

I am reposting this 2014 review because today only (Sunday Feb 12), Till We Have Faces is on sale for $2.95 on audiobook.
Takeaway: A story of regret and complaint, joy and pain. Much like the story of many of us.

As regular readers of this blog well know, I have been intentionally reading a lot of CS Lewis for about 18 months. Lewis is an icon of Christian literature. And there are few that can compete with the breadth of his work, from apologetics, to memoir, to children’s literature, to serious adult fiction, to serious academic work, to contemporary essays.

I first read Till We Have Faces nearly three years ago before this most recent reading. I liked it much more this time. I think I both understand Lewis and have more context than the previous reading and I think I probably read the book better.

Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche from the perspective of one of Psyche’s sisters. I didn’t really know the story of Cupid and Psyche before, and so I intentionally read several things about it before I re-read this to make sure I have the basics of the story in my head.

Books and Cuture had a good review by John McWhorter of a book on the history of jazz. The thing that has really stuck with me is McWhorter’s comments about a 1957 Looney Tune cartoon that riffed off of the three little pigs story with jazz musicians.

What McWhorter notes is that in order to understand the ‘Three Little Bops’ cartoon, the audience had to understand the original story of the three little pigs. And similarly, when jazz was popular music, the jazz solo was riffing off of a known melody and song. But as jazz has become a more ‘classical form’ it has taken more work to understand the original musical stories that are currently being riffed off of.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

I am reposting this 2013 review. Let Your Life Speak, as well as A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life and The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life are all on sale for $3.99 on Kindle. I think this is a one day sale today.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Over the past several months I have started meeting with a spiritual director.  This is a result of reading the Church of England series and several books on spiritual direction.  Since I clearly process through reading and writing about what I read, my spiritual director suggested I read something by Parker Palmer in part because I have such problem integrating the formalized Benedictine spirituality that I keep trying to move toward.  (If you can’t do it, try the opposite Quaker spiritual thought.)

So I started by listening to the audiobook of Palmer’s classic Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Palmer’s idea that we do not always consciously know what we unconsciously speak of or our body unconsciously does follows the findings of behavior economics quite well.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Summary: Beautiful, tragic story of a temporary utopia that can never last.

Just over a year ago I listened to a short audiobook by Ann Patchett about marriage.  Since then I have wanted to read one of her longer fiction books.

But the descriptions of the books kept putting me off.  Her first book, the Patron Saint of Liars is about a home for unwed mothers.  Run is about a father trying to keep his children safe, The Magician’s Assistant is about widow who finds her former husband had a secret life.  All of her books seem to be about tragic subjects.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Summary: A series of essays that shows why short form writing is still worth reading.

I am a sucker for a free book. A couple years ago, Audible gave away a the title essay of this book as a Christmas present to its members. That was the first time I had read anything by Ann Patchett. You can read that original review on Bookwi.se. Since then I have been interested in Patchett’s writing. I loved Bel Canto and I have been wanting to pick this complete volume up for a while.

Like most of my recent reading, I listened to the audiobook, with Patchett narrating.

Patchett starts the book with an introduction about how as a young novelist, she had to make a living. She tried a variety of jobs, which left her too tired to write, and a then teaching, which left her creatively drained. So she became a freelance essayist for a variety of magazines, starting with 17 and working her way up to the New York Times.

The introduction and several very good essays about advice for writers or her writing life, or the state of books that lead to her becoming co-owner of an independent bookstore were probably my favorite, in spite of the fact that I have never considered myself a writer nor do I aspire to become one in the future. But I am interested in the creative process and Patchett is unabashed in her advice and not afraid to talk about the areas that she thinks she has done well or done poorly.

The Second Coming: A Novel by Walker Percy

Reposting the review because Second Coming is on sale for $1.99 on kindle right now. Also his book Love in the Ruins is on sale for $2.81

The Second Coming by Walker PercyTakeaway: Evidently I am old enough to understand and appreciate mid-life crisis books.

Recently I have decided that I need to read more 20th century literary fiction. My eduction missed out on that entire century. And I also have been interested in the Catholic writers that were so popular in the mid to late 20th century.

Walker Percy has been republished by Open Road and has books easily available on Kindle (and from Lendle.me).

I didn’t realize when I started (and I don’t think it makes much of a difference) but The Second Coming is follow-up to The Last Gentleman. (I will get back and read that at some point.)

Will Barrett is middle aged, retired early, wealthy, and recently, a widower. This is a classic mid-life crisis book, one that I don’t think I would have appreciated as much as I do now even five years ago.

Allison is a young woman that has recently escaped from a mental hospital. She is schizophrenic, daughter of an old flame of Will’s, fabulously talented, but unable to cope with much of normal life.

Most of the book centers around Will Barrett’s internal drama. He is focused on the meaning of life, whether there is a God (and how God can be proved) and Barrett’s own history. Barrett’s (like Percy) father committed suicide when Will was a teen. Coupled with Barrett’s health problems, which are slowly revealed throughout the book, his thoughts take over his life.

Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver – Favorites of 2012

Reposting because the kindle book is on sale for $1.99.
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(Comments were part of the 2012 best book series) I definitely have a trend in my favorite fiction books of the year of reading multiple books by the same author fairly close together.  I read Poisonwood Bible in November, Flight Behavior in December and I am almost finished with Prodigal Summer.

I read a good interview with Kingsolver a couple days ago. She summarizes her advice to younger authors that I think is why I love her writing. “I think that when people read fiction, they’re really reading for wisdom. I am. That’s what most of us really love. If we read a novel that rocks our world, it’s because there’s something in it that we didn’t know already. Not just information but really wisdom—sort of what to do with our information. And wisdom comes from experience, so…” (She gets around to saying quit smoking so you will live longer and become wise.)

Flight Behavior: A NovelSummary: An incredible novel of an Appalachian woman that comes to see the world as it is instead of the world that she thought she knew.

Earlier this year I finally got around to reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. I was admittedly reluctant. Kingsolver writes Literary Fiction.  Her books are serious, often heavy works of fiction that, while really beautiful prose and rich lyrical stories, also have a point. It is like being told to eat your vegetables because they are good for you.

So while I really did look forward to reading this, it took me a little while to actually get started.  Recently I have looked forward to happy, funny books that make me feel good. Maybe it is the fact that I am getting older or more resistant to easy fix world that too many embrace.

Kingsolver does not embrace the quick fix. She embraces a full look at the hard world that is around us.  But as amazing as it is to me, her writing does not feel like propaganda. It feels like a beautiful piece of art. Yes there is meaning there, but the meaning is not crude, it does not hit you over the head like a club. Instead you can see the beauty of the art and somehow that beauty is made greater because it is has a serious subject.

Flight Behavior is narrated by a young woman from the eastern Tennessee Appalachian mountains. She is the definition of poor. Both her parents died when she was in high school, she got pregnant and quickly married and moved into her in-laws home. Her husband is a good, but uninspiring man. Her children 5 and 18 months (the first pregnancy ended in a late term still birth) are the joy of her life.  She still lives on the edge of her in-laws property. They have almost no income, very little opportunity and an absence of hope.

One day, Dellarobia Turnbow (the protagonist) decides to throw away her marriage and meet a man to have an affair, she comes upon an amazing sight. It appears that the entire mountain valley above her house is on fire, but not consumed (she connects it to Moses’ burning bush). She comes to her senses and goes home before meeting the man and without understanding what she has seen.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

My first introduction to Cormac McCarthy was the movie version of No Country for Old Men. My sister-in-law had read the book before the movie and told me the movie was very faithful to the book. So I did not have a pressing desire to read the book.

I found No Country for Old Men at my library on audiobook so I decided to pick it up anyway.

It is wonderful.  Yes, the movie is very close to the story.  But I love the language.  I am sure I am influenced by the fact that I listened to this as an audiobook. The narrator, Tom Stechschulte, was among the best that I have ever heard. Some narrators just seem to match the book, and Tom Stechschulte was perfect for the voices No Country For Old Men.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Reposting this 2014 review because an omnibus Kindle Edition of the series is on sale for $1.99. This works out to $0.50 a story. This series is four different styles of science fiction that all fit together in a broad scope. You might want to read all four reviews before picking up the book. This is the lowest price the omnibus edition has ever been.
Summary: Two long lived people interact, love and fight over generations.

Wild Seed is now the fourth book and the start of the second series I have read by Octavia Butler. She is a good writer and creates interesting (and wildly different) settings and characters.

But Butler is also hard to read at times. Not particularly unusually among fantasy and science fiction authors, she uses her settings to create alternative social structures and explore issues of ethics and morality.

Butler is known for her feminist writing. While not all men are evil, all of the books I have read from her so far have explored the ideas of male oppression of women.

Wild Seed is about two long lived people. Doro has the power to move from one body to another, living forever, but needing to ‘feed’ on those around him both to stay alive and because of an innate need. Because of his long life (he has been alive for over 4000 years), he has created breeding programs to breed special powers into his ‘children’. These settlements, first in Africa and then later in the Americas, are scattered, but allow him to live as a God. Worshiped by his children, who will willingly give up their bodies for their God.

While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry with Denise George

Summary: It is important to remember that it was normal every day people, not just civil rights heroes that participated in the Civil Rights movement.

A few weeks ago, my pastor, while talking about the historicity of the gospel accounts of Jesus, mentioned that in seminary in the 1980s one of his professors suggested that within 20 to 30 years, once the survivors of the Holocaust started to die off, people would increasingly question whether the Holocaust actually happened.  And now about 30 years after that professor’s aside we can see that Holocaust deniers are increasing around the world.  My fear is that we will start having a similar denial of Civil Rights horrors.

It is one reason that I think that While the World Watched is an important book.  Carolyn Maull McKinstry was a good friend to and the same age as the four girls that died in the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.  She had left the bathroom where the girls died only a minute or so before the bomb went off.

Over the first several chapters, McKinstry slowly tells the story of that morning in short snippits while giving background to her life and community before that day.  I think the method isn’t a bad one, because the reader is picking up the book because of that day.  But in order to really understand the day, we need to have context to understand what was really happening.  So the first four chapters are a little slow in unfolding the overall story.

But once that central story of the book is told, if anything the book becomes even more important.  Carolyn Maull McKinstry was just an average 14 year old.  She was born into an educated family (both of her parents and both of her mother’s parents had college degrees). Both of her parents worked with good jobs. But this is a story of an average girl. She did not have a special seat at the Civil Rights movement’s table.

Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber (Read Again Review)

I am reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99. I really love this book.
Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

Takeaway: The love story, whether between man and woman or God and human is one that brings joy to those that have experienced it.

I have said it before.  But one of the things I most love about blogging is that I have grown to ‘know’ so many authors. It is a distant knowing.  I have yet to meet any of them in person. But Matt Anderson, John Dyer, Rhett Smith, Tyler Braun, Karen Swallow Prior and Carolyn Weber (and others) I have interacted with beyond their books. It is not merely using one another for page views and book sales. With social media and some longer conversations I feel like I can actually enter into their lives, at least in a small part.

Carolyn had a baby boy this past year and we exchange the occasionally pleasantries. Carolyn has on several occasions thanked me for a blog post or review, and there are very few things that make my day more than an author I love (especially Carolyn) making appreciative comments on my writing.  The internet is such an odd world.

So on this second reading of Surprised by Oxford I am not coming at the book fresh.  The first time I picked it up because of good reviews and a free review copy. The second time I had more invested  I had purchased a couple copies for friends. Some had liked it and some had not. I now knew what was going to happen. These were people that I had some understanding about, both the characters from the memoir and the real people that inhabit the current world because these are people that I potentially could meet.

My last reading, I was most struck by the beauty of the words. Carolyn Weber writes beautiful, evocative prose. That is no less true this time. But most of what stuck me was the story. It was not new, but for some reason I wanted to savor the poems that the characters were sharing. (And I am not a poetry guy, the fact that I found myself re-reading poems should speak very highly of this book.) I was more invested in Caro and TDH (Tall, Dark and Handsome)’s occasional romance.