Okay for Now

okay for now

I enjoy persuading adult readers to read well-written young adult books. Gary Schmidt’s  book is one I recommend, perhaps even more for older readers than for a middle schooler. It made me snort with laughter and it turned me into a sobbing, sniffing mess.

Doug Swieteck has a lying, blustering, bullying, abusive father. His mom tries to compensate, neutralizing her husband’s venom to the best of her ability within the strictures of 1960’s mores. Doug’s older brothers are plain mean.

I tried to talk to my father about it. But it was a wrong day. Most days are wrong days.

So convincing is Doug’s voice that I could hear it. “Terrific.” “I hate stupid Marysville.” “You know how that felt?” and Doug’s trademark phrase, “I’m not lying.”

Perhaps we’ve all grown up with someone like Doug, a mixture of bravado and vulnerable. Someone outside the family takes an interest and tries to pull that kid up above his/her circumstances. Doug had his share of tormentors, but also four mentors who invested in him.

There are some things in this world that we cannot fix, and they happen, and it is not our fault, though we still might have to deal with them. There are other things that happen in this world that we can fix. And that is what good teachers like me are for.  — Miss Cowper, English teacher

A few things seduced me. One brother is only identified as “my jerk brother.” He is changed by a horrific situation — converted (not religious) — and Doug begins calling him by his name. It is a subtle but significant clue. The smile motif captured me. Pay attention to the smiles.

I listened to the audio version (5 stars for Lincoln Hoppe’s narration–except he mispronounced  Cowper— it’s Cooper), but was compelled to read the words.

And see the pictures. Doug Swieteck’s doorway to a better life comes through John James Audubon’s bird pictures. (The hefty Birds of America was the first gift I gave my husband after we married.) Each chapter is named after an Audubon bird; the audio experienced is diminished without seeing the prints.

There is a broad ranged of interests represented in this book: Audubon, Apollo 11, the Vietnam War, Jane Eyre, Periodic Table, baseball, and Aaron Copland. There is drama, devastation, and unexpected grace. I loved the book. Would a young teen love it?

Chronological 2015 Reading List

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It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. — C.S. Lewis

The rewards of deep reading (reading several books on the same subject or by the same author) are plentiful: synthesis, comprehension, analysis. Or just the possibility of remembering the main point. Reading widely pays well, too. The stab of joy, the searing beauty of synchronicity! When I read Book G and it revisits something I read in Book B with no obvious connection between the two? Oh, man. It gets my voice in the high treble range and sets my fingers aflutter.

I thought it would be fun to classify my reading list for 2015 chronologically by publication date. I like old books, yes. But I also have been guilty of reverse-snobbery, where I lift my nose a few centimeters and declare that I’m not all that interested in modern writing. Blech! (autocorrect wanted to change that to belch; that works, too!) As you can see, I’ve overcome that weakness, haha!

2011-2015 (30 books)

Reclaiming Conversation     Sherry Turkle
Come Rain or Come Shine     Jan Karon
Bread and Wine     Shauna Niequist
Earthen Vessels     Matthew Lee Anderson
Being Mortal     Atul Gawande
Fierce Convictions     Karen Swallow Prior
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust     Alan Bradley
Landfalls     Naomi Williams
The Wright Brothers     David McCullough
All the Light We Cannot See     Anthony Doerr
Gutenberg’s Apprentice   Alix Christie
Nigellissima     Nigella Lawson
Among the Janeites     Deborah Yaffe
Wheat Belly     William Davis
Every Good Endeavor     Timothy Keller
Coolidge    Amity Shlaes
The Book of Strange New Things     Michel Faber
The Green Ember     S.D. Smith
Food: A Love Story     Jim Gaffigan
Dad Is Fat     Jim Gaffigan
God Made All of Me    Justin Holcomb
No Higher Honour     Condoleezza Rice
The Forgotten Founding Father     Joshua Kendall
Delancey     Molly Wizenberg
Lit! The Christian Guide to Reading Books     Tony Reinke
The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse     Alan Bradley
The Every-Other-Day-Diet     Krista Varady
Tsura     Heather Anastasiu
House of Stone     Heather Anastasiu
One Good Dish     David Tanis

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. — C.S. Lewis

2000-2010 (24 books)

In the Midst of Life     Jennifer Worth
The Midwife     Jennifer Worth
Waiting for Snow in Havana     Carlos Eire
The River of Doubt     Candice Millard
Mudhouse Sabbath     Lauren Winner
Complications     Atul Gawande
Unless It Moves the Human Heart     Roger Rosenblatt
The Importance of Being Seven     Alexander McCall Smith
The Best Day, The Worst Day     Donald Hall
A Personal Odyssey     Thomas Sowell
The Shoebox Bible     Alan Bradley
Sonata for Miriam     Linda Olsson
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance     Atul Gawande
Shadows of the Workhouse     Jennifer Worth
Inkheart     Cornelia Funke
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones     Alexander McCall Smith
Old Filth     Jane Gardam
The Man in the Wooden Hat     Jane Gardam
How to Read Shakespeare     Nicholas Royle
In Thy Dark Streets Shineth       David McCullough
The House at Riverton     Kate Morton
Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs     Larry Smith
Widow of the South     Robert Hicks
A Separate Country     Robert Hicks

1990-1999 (7 books)

A Pianist’s Landscape     Carol Montparker
Down the Common     Ann Baer
Poems New and Collected     Wistawa Szymborska
Melodious Accord     Alice Parker
One Year Off     David Elliot Cohen
Girl in Hyacinth Blue     Susan Vreeland
Jeremy: The Tale of An Honest Bunny     Jan Karon

1980-1988 (2 books)

Godric     Frederick Buechner
To School Through the Fields     Alice Taylor

1970-1979  (1 book)

The Brendan Voyage    Tim Severin

1950-1969 (4 books)

A Grief Observed     C.S. Lewis
How Does a Poem Mean?     John Ciardi
On the Beach     Nevil Shute
The Schoolmasters     Leonard Everett Fisher

1900-1949 (7 books)

Orthodoxy     G.K. Chesterton
The Adventures of Sally     P.G. Wodehouse
Pied Piper   Nevil Shute
Anna and the King of Siam     Margaret Landon
I Capture the Castle     Dodie Smith
Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres     Henry Adams
Jimmy at Gettysburg     Margaret Bigham Beitler

The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. — C.S. Lewis

1800-1899 (4 books)

Doctor Wortle’s School     Anthony Trollope
Sir Henry Hotspur     Anthony Trollope
Henry Heathcote of Gangoil     Anthony Trollope
Luck of the Roaring Camp     Bret Harte

1500-1599 (2 books)

Henry IV, Part I     William Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part 2     William Shakespeare

0- 500 AD (2 books)

On the Incarnation    Athanasius
Marcus Aurelius and his Times     Marcus Aurelius

Photograph is my granddaughter, reading Goodnight Moon to me.

Come Rain or Come Shine, The Book

I once prayed, Lord, please let Jan Karon live long enough to get Dooley and Lace married. The answer to that prayer was a whelming flood; I started crying on page 32 and sniffed and sobbed my way—punctuated by laughs—to the final page. Redemption, benediction, healing, holy amazement, connection. Reading this brings the satisfaction of resolution, the “two bits” after the “shave and a haircut”.

Weddings are my thing. Joyful solemnity, giving, sharing, joining, celebrating, laughing, crying, hugging, singing, dancing, rejoicing, thanksgiving. I love a good wedding and I’ve been to a few profoundly remarkable ones.

There was joy in the air; you could sniff it as plain as new-cut hay.

The focus of Come Rain or Come Shineis on the month before and the day of The Big Knot. Dooley and Lace want a small, intimate ceremony at Meadowgate Farm. Karon enjoys poking fun at the myth of a ‘simple country wedding.’  There are obstacles and annoyances. There are secrets and surprises. There is the unrelenting pressure of diminishing time to get the place wedding-ready.

DSC_0964The main character is Lace Harper. Her journals reveal her heart, her hopes, her fears, her loves. She wants to find a wedding dress for under $100; she is thankful for the callouses which document her hard work. She wants to get it—this whole starting a new family—right. I appreciated the ways Dooley and Lace honor the memory of Sadie Baxter (benefactor) and Russell Jacks (Dooley’s grandpa) in their wedding. Fun stuff: there is a Pinterest page for Lace Harper’s wedding!

Jan Karon and Wendell Berry are both skilled at portraying a community where giving, helping, and reciprocating are the norm. In their novels they don’t cover up the hurts, the anger, the tensions, the troubles. Weddings can be awkward with family drama. Karon handles the presence of Dooley’s birth mom, Pauline Leeper, in the same room as his siblings with utmost care. There is no easy resolution, no instant reconciliation, just baby steps, tiny beginnings towards the on-ramp to healing.

I connected with this book in many ways. This summer we went to a small, simple country wedding (see picture above) in a pasture. My son and daughter-in-law have a wind storm and fallen trees in their wedding story, too. I know what it is to be gob-smacked by blessings, reduced to silent tears of joy. Live music is the best for dancing the night away. I love the song in the title.

‘Why can’t life always be lived under the stars,’ she said, ‘with great music and family and friends?’

♪♫♪ Come Rain or Come Shine ♪♫♪ is a standard (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics Johnny Mercer) that has been covered by scores of recording artists. I used it ten years ago when I made a PowerPoint slideshow for Curt’s folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the course of my work, I listened to B.B. King and Eric Clapton on endless repetition. And I can honestly say, I never tired of it. But there are so many recordings of this song, that I put my listening of them in this post.

This book.

I finished it last night. I started it again this morning.

And Some More Bookish Questions

DSC_0245Sherry at Semicolon posted this fun meme this morning. Here are my answers (today).

1. What propelled your love affair with books — any particular title or a moment?
I grew up in a book-saturated home: books in every room, books in front of every face; never a day without books. Books were not allowed at the dinner table, but most of us tried at one time to hold a compelling book in our lap, under the table, and keep reading. It was inconceivable to grew up a Harper and not love books.

2. Which fictional character would you like to be friends with and why?
Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first fixation and she remains with me, especially at this time of the year. Yesterday, I was making a year’s supply of fire starters (dryer lint stuffed into egg cartons with melted wax poured over it) and thought of Pa and Ma’s preparations for winter. (OK, I missed the word fictional…give me a pass, please?)

DSC_65453. Do you write your name on your books or use bookplates?
All but the best books I read are on a rotation: in the house, read, out of the house. When I write my name I always write it in pencil. I’ve found that the book I love today and think I’ll keep forever might get the boot in ten years.

4. What was your favourite book read this year?
Carol Montparker’s memoir, A Pianist’s Landscape. Here’s a sample. I think an essential mark of an artist is how he or she recovers from a mishap.

5. If you could read in another language, which language would you choose?
Not just one. I’m starting to twitch from the demands of decisions. I’d love to read my father’s Greek New Testament with the cranberry cover. I’d love to read the Latin books on my shelf. I’d swoon if I could read a French book aloud with exquisite pronunciation. And why not Russian? Or Arabic? Or Portuguese?

6. Name a book that made you both laugh and cry.
Jan Karon’s return to Mitford produced loud guffaw-laughs, ugly cries, and everything in between.

7. Share with us your favourite poem.
That f word is making me crazy, even with the charming British spelling. Gerard Manley Hopkins Pied Beauty. Billy Collins The Lanyard . To snort with laughter at his Litany….And you are certainly not the pine-scented air. There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air. There is Wendell Berry’s Manifesto with those last two words: Practice resurrection.

But in this moment, my mind goes to Michelangelo’s LXXIII.

Well-nigh the voyage now is overpast,
And my frail bark, through troubled seas and rude,
Draws near that common haven where at last
Of every action, be it evil or good,
Must due account be rendered. Well I know
How vain will then appear that favoured art,
Sole Idol long and Monarch of my heart,
For all is vain that man desires below.
And now remorseful thoughts the past upbraid,
And fear of twofold death my soul alarms,
That which must come, and that beyond the grave:
Picture and Sculpture lose their feeble charms,
And to that Love Divine I turn for aid,
Who from the Cross extends his arms to save.

I love that old translation, but I have a newer one tucked into the page. Which one do you prefer?

Unburdened by the body’s fierce demands,
And now at last released from my frail boat,
Dear God, I put myself into your hands;

Smooth the rough waves on which my ship must float.

The thorns, the nails, the wounds in both your palms,
The gentleness, the pity on your face—
For great repentance, these have promised grace.
My soul will find salvation in your arms.

And let not justice only fill your eyes,
But mercy too. Oh temper your severe
Judgment with tenderness, relieve my burden.

Let your own blood remove my faults and clear
My guilt, and let your grace so strongly rise
That I am granted an entire pardon.

Please join me and link to your answers (or just write them there) in the comments. If your time is limited, take just one question.

Marcus, Lucian, Justin

DSC_4613Nothing motivates me to read a book more than deciding to give/sell/swap it and someone else wanting it. The mailing deadline puts me into a panic and the book that has been sitting, unread, on my shelf for decades suddenly must. be. read. Stat!

Such is the story of Marcus Aurelius and His Times. I remember the moment it came into my life. I was at the annual book sale at the local university and my friend/former boss — a skeptic who loved to spar with me over existential stuff, until we had to limit those rambling discussions to Thursday, because we did Theology on Thursday — walked up to me and put this book in my hand. Bakker, he said, you need to read this. And since he had very high literary standards, I clicked my heels and bought the book. That was in the vicinity of 1993.

This book excerpts three authors: Marcus Aurelius, 161-180 AD, Stoic   //   Lucian of Samosata, Skeptic   //   Justin Martyr, Christian

As is universally the case, I am astonished at how easy it is to read words from so far back in history. Words that make me giggle aloud:

“Are you irritated with one whose armpits smell? Are you angry with one whose mouth has a foul odor? What good will your anger do you? He has this mouth, he has these armpits. Such emanations must come from these things.”
— M. Aurelius V. 28.

Aurelius advocates a humble approach to life, laced with thanksgiving. I see myself, alas, in the second man of this meditation:

“One man, when he has done a service to another, is ready to set it down on his account as a favor conferred. Another is not apt to do this, but still in his own mind he thinks of the other man as his debtor, and knows what he has done. A third hardly knows what he has done, but is like a vine which has produced grapes, and asks nothing more once it has produced its proper fruit.

As a horse when it has run its race, a dog when it has tracked its game, a bee when it has made its honey, so a man when he has done a good act does not call out for others to come and see, but goes on to another act, as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in season.”
— M. Aurelius, V.6.

I skimmed the Lucian section but stopped long enough to be enraptured by the phrase “travelers must bedew it [the path] with sweat.”

I was most eager to read Justin Martyr. I’ve read a few early Church Fathers and I declare I find Justin the most accessible. His description of the cross as fundamental to life on earth surprised and delighted me.

The final bonus excerpt from Walter Pater’s ‘Marius the Epicurean’ gave me the most satisfying quote:

“Those august hymns, he thought, must thereafter ever remain by him as among the well-tested powers in things to soothe and fortify the soul. One could never grow tired of them!”

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Public_transport_in_Gaborone(Public transportation in Gaborone, Botswana – photo Wikimedia Commons)

Alexander McCall Smith did a good thing when he crafted the character of Mma Precious Ramotswe. In each book, she is consistently the kind, traditional, perceptive, tender-hearted, contented woman I’ve come to regard as my friend.

And yet, he doesn’t filter out all the unsavory aspects of Botswana life. In this 12th book of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series, we see a young mother who treats her children with utter indifference, cattle killed, a menacing man and a cowed woman.

I recently finished The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, the twelfth book. I’m reading them out of order, according to library availability.

The title of the first chapter is The Memory of Lost Things; could it be an allusion to Proust?

As with every book in this series, I care about Mma Ramotswe’s culture ten times more than whatever mystery needs to be solved. There’s a dig at mobile phones, complainers, fathers who don’t take responsibility for their children. On the plus side is Mma’s abiding love for her late father and for her ‘late’ tiny white van, her compassion for those who suffer, the poetry of night sounds, her gratitude for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, her encouragement to an undeserving recipient, and the joy of an abundant wedding feast.

There is a tender moment between two bereaved women. I have a late baby, Mma. It is a long time ago. ~ I have a late child too, Mma. McCall Smith understands the permanence of grief. Almost every book has a small reference to the baby Mma Ramotswe lost.

In the end Grace Makutsi marries Phuti Radiphuti, which means she will never have to ride in public transportation again, and she can indulge her love of loud shoes. The wedding doesn’t have the prominence that the title gives it, but that’s OK.

Here is a quote to whet your appetite.

Nowadays, people are always thinking of getting somewhere—they travelled around far more, rushing from here to there and then back again. She would never let her life go that way; she would always take the time to drink tea, to look at the sky, and to talk. What else was there to do? Make money? Why? Did money bring any greater happiness than that furnished by a well-made cup of red bush tea and a moment or two with a good friend? She thought not. 230