7 Reviews for the Bookies in my Audience

 Grandpa Blakeslee marries a younger woman three weeks (!) after his wife’s death.  This charming story is told from his grandson Will Tweedy’s perspective.  In the same tone as To Kill a Mockingbird, this modern day classic offers sweet warmth without a trace of saccharine, laugh out loud lines followed by poignant pauses, and glimpses of early twentieth century Georgia.  Burns writes with wit, honesty and compassion. I highly recommend Cold Sassy Tree.

 When you’ve turned the final page of Cold Sassy Tree, you will want more of this quaint and quirky family.  Leaving Cold Sassy, the unfinished sequel, draws Will’s adult years with darker shades.  If Will Tweedy’s story is your motivation, prepare for disappointment.  If Olive Anne Burns’ personal story intrigues you–a late bloomer whose one published book was a sensation, a writer who worked in between cancer treatments– the reminiscence of her life is reason enough to read this book.

The Illumined Heart got on my nightstand because several friends have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and Frederica Mathewes-Green is perhaps the most accessible writer on things Orthodox.  She uses  Anna and Theodore, fictional sixth century Christians, to contrast the ancient and modern mindsets in worship and faith.  Mathewes-Green sticks with the basics: repentance, the Jesus Prayer, fasting.  Many concepts are foreign to Western thought, but this book is a good beginning for understanding the Orthodox faith.

I loved the DVD Sweet Land so much I had to read A Gravestone Made of Wheat , the short story behind the film. All the stories are midwestern stories highlighting small towns, agrarian life, cows, doctors and cars.  Will Weaver is part Garrison Keillor, part Wendell Berry and part Leif Enger.  But what’s missing in most stories is redemption; there is the pain and agony of a farm auction, the ribald story of a bread-truck driver (a modern jolly tinker), the conflict between a trapper and an animal lover, the tug-of-war between a mom who takes her son to church camp and the unbelieving father who cautions his son to keep his feet on the ground.

As we cast our minnows into the shortening light, the shrinking depth of field, with each swing of our arms we threw off some thin layer of our bodies until an hour later only our voices were left in the dark.  After that we fished by the faint, reflected starlight, by the habits of our hands.  p. 134   

Susan Vreeland’s novel based on a painting was a sensation in the blog world two summers back.  While I enjoyed parts of Luncheon of the Boating Party , overall I was disappointed.  The art history was engaging and obviously well-researched.  Those bits kept me slogging through the romantic drama between the women vying for Auguste’s (Renoir) attention.  This book is among several I’ve read in the last year that bring the 1880s into clear view.  I’m willing to give Vreeland another go.

Pat Conroy lands a teaching job on Yamacraw Island, across from South Carolina.  The Water Is Wide is a study of island culture, race relations during the Civil Rights movement, and the troubles and triumphs of a first-year teacher in a unique educational setting.  His year culminates with a field trip to Washington D.C. and the introduction of the wide world across the waters.

 Head Over Heels in the Dales, the third in a series of books by the James Herriot of education is easily my favorite.  The narrative begins and ends with unsettling questions by curious children: “Could you tell me how to spell “sex” please?” (she’s trying to spell insects) and “Do you know how to mek babies, then?” (knock the ‘y’ off and add ‘ies’).   Phinn, a school inspector in Yorkshire, England, describes the worst and the best teachers. 

I had heard the story of the crucifixion a thousand times but, on this occasion, when that awesome silence fell on the class, I felt my heart begin to thump in my chest and tears pricking my eyes.  I glanced across at Dean.  He sat, mouth open like a netted fish, with real tears above the tattooed tears, totally captivated and moved by the saddest story of all time.  …  ~  ‘They took a crown of thorns-a crown of thorns-and they rammed it, yes, they rammed in on His head.’  In the deathly silence which greeted this, Dean turned to me and said with a curl of the top lip, ‘The bastards!’

All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

I am going to begin this post with a confession.  I Just Don’t Get the title: All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes. And I feel like I should get it.  This has secretly bugged me for over a decade.  Will someone please tell me, what are the Blue Suede Shoes about?  Does it come from a song?

With that off my chest, let’s start at the beginning.  Cindy followed up some discussion about popular culture (and dismal Christian imitations) with the suggestion that we read through this book.  Cindy, was my husband’s hero when she shut down her blog.  (My husband lives a very rewarding life without appliances that plug in.)  To our delight (and Curt’s dismay) Cindy started blogging again, and here we are talking about Blue Suede Shoes.   

My format (this week, at least) will be to post a quote and respond to it. 

Popular culture, on the other hand, specializes in instant gratification.  […] It is possible to develop a taste for instant everything.

Nurturing appetites is one of my hobby-horses.  Our palate for what is true, beautiful and good has to be developed.  My father urged me to sit down (!) and listen to music; he explained the word play in a poem.  I keep within me an afternoon in Seattle when my son gave me a tour of his adopted city, pointing out architectural and structural wonders which would otherwise have gone right past me.  We have to be taught appreciation. 

The thin Christian veneer in such projects [a Christian soap opera] very quickly wears away, and what is underneath determines the response of consumers of such products.  Such a strategy is a sad reminder that most of the Christian criticism of popular culture has focused on content while ignoring form.   

I’ve been mulling over this content/form question lately in regard to magazines.  I’m not going to say all magazines are evil, but I think the form of most popular magazines (quick resolutions to problems, three page articles, pleasing visuals) end up producing discontent.  It’s an undeveloped thought, but there it is. Back when I listened to Christian radio, I ended up despising the call-in programs asking for advice.  Someone has a lifetime of tangled knots and the smooth voice on the other end is supposed to untie each one in three minutes so they could take their (non-commerical) break. 

Its [pop culture’s] challenges and temptations do not confront us like the proverbial harlot whose seductions are clearly to sin, straightforward and simple.  It has many dimensions and contours and hidden agendas that require some historical and experiential perspective before we can evaluate it fairly and, having understood it, conduct ourselves in its presence with wisdom.

If it were only about television, I would foist some pat answers on you.  Turn it off. Pick up a book. End of discussion.  For our family, it is that simple.  After two seasons of American Idol my husband put the kibosh on laughing at the hopelessly untalented; we became enamored with House until we decided there was too much junk in between the brilliant moments.  

But the internet.  The internet has gobbled and digested massive chunks of my interest, investment, and time, completely altering my life with little noticing on my part (more noticing on my husband’s part).  My first counter-response is “but it has enriched my life in so many ways.”  It’s true.  Dimensions and contours, indeed! 

Have you noticed what has happened when a group of people gather together informally?  We huddle around a screen and take turns showing favorite YouTube videos to one another.  Laugh hysterically, gulp, scream, respond.  I do it. You do it. There is incredible stuff out there.  Ya gotta see this!

But all that looking has precluded the kind of talking, discussing and debating–communing–which was the stuff of our college years.  We’ve traded active interactions for passive consumption.