Monday, August 31, 2009

Fifteen books ~ #2 ~ The Gnostic Gospels

Facebook has a meme going around encouraging folks to name "15 books that will always stick with you." This is the second one on my alphabetical list.

The Gnostic Gospels ~ by Elaine Pagels, 1979

I bought this book in hardback when it first came out in 1979 and read it avidly. It won awards (the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award) and has become a sort of landmark. I have seen it quoted in book after book. It was 1945 when a peasant turned up thirteen papyrus volumes in a place in Egypt called Nag Hamadi. These "books" that became known as gnostic gospels, from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. These manuscripts showed a radically different view of early Christianity than what I'd learned so far, and I was fascinated. Scholars are still arguing about the early Gnostic Christians, but I was first introduced to them by this book. I found out that early Christians dared to ask questions that orthodox Christians later suppressed. I learned that Gnostic Christians did not have a hierarchical system, but shared leadership, even among women. I learned from Pagels's study of the Nag Hamadi scrolls that different doesn't necessarily mean wrong. You might say this book's scholarship led me to return to school for another degree: I went to Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta for an MDiv, a Master of Divinity degree. This book, as you can see, opened up a whole new world for me that led to being ordained in the United Methodist Church.

This is another of those books I've mentioned on my blogs before, like in the five books that mean a lot to me. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels is rated 10 out of 10, a book I couldn't put down.

Tomato crop

Wow! Look at these tomatoes from my daughter's neighbor. The one in my hand (on my fingertips?) at bottom left is about the size of last year's picture-perfect tomato that I grew. These, however, are supposed to be this small. And these homegrown tomatoes taste great.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fifteen books ~ #1 ~ Agape Love

Facebook has a meme going around encouraging folks to name "15 books that will always stick with you." I was interested in seeing what books I would come up with that were meaningful to me. I had about twice this many on my list and narrowed it down by weighing how important each book had been in my reading life. I posted all 15 on my Facebook page, but here I'd rather share more about each book. Though I could have listed them in the order they came into my life, I listed them alphabetically.

Fifteen books ~ #1

Agape Love: A Tradition Found in Eight World Religions ~ by John Templeton, 1999

Altruistic love (agape) ties together all the major religions of the world. The first sentence in the book says:
"Agape love means feeling and expressing pure, unlimited love for every human being with no exception" (p. 1).
We could even ask, if a religion is without compassion, is it even a religion? When religious groups veer into hatred and violence against others, they have lost their focus.
"Perhaps without even being fully aware of it, religious leaders and their followers through the ages have defined religion largely in terms of love. ... any system of beliefs that teaches or tolerates hatred or even apathy toward others does not deserve to be considered a religion in the first place" (p. 2).
The eight religions Templeton lists in this book are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Native American Spirituality.
Islam: "The truly charitable person seeks out those in need who do not or cannot ask for help" (p. 39).

Hinduism: "Thus, agape can be viewed as a natural course of action for those operating at a high level of spirituality" (p. 49).

Confucianism: "Some people treat love as if it is a quanity that can be exhausted. They are careful not to use it up, not to love others for fear there will be none left for family and friends. But agape is unlimited. It cannot be 'used up.' in fact, to Confucius it was quite the opposite: the more we love, the more capable we become of loving" (p. 85).

Native American Spirituality: "One of the central characteristics of that Native American religion is its emphasis on caring for all creation ... Agape in the Native American context affirms that everything we see, hear, and touch is part of the web of life" (p. 95).
This book has been so meaningful to me that I've mentioned it over and over since I started blogging in January 2007:
March 2, 2007 ~ It's number 97 of a hundred books I had read, listed alphabetically by author.

May 2, 2007 ~ It's listed as my favorite book, in a list of 100 things about me. (See number 48.)

October 14, 2007 ~ It's on a list of five books that mean a lot to me, that actually numbered an even dozen.
I have used it in many classes I have taught, from Wednesday evening study groups at church to the college class on religions of the world. By now you have probably figured out that I rate this book: 10 of 10, couldn't put it down, even when reading it repeatedly.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Follow the Reader

Is this not the best idea for a children's program? This is the slogan for the 2009 summer reading program for children at the library in Fort St. James, British Columbia. Look at all the things that interest readers. I love the picture, but most of all the idea that the one to follow is a reader. Yes!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Forgive Me ~ by Amanda Eyre Ward, 2007

Although I haven't "officially" written a review of this book (until now), I have mentioned it several times on my blogs. During Dewey's 24-Hour Book-A-Thon in June 2008, we were challenged to write a limerick or haiku about one of the books read during the read-a-thon. Mine related to Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward. (Be gentle with your evaluation of this haiku, folks, and consider this ... I wrote it around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. after being in a marathon read for 15-16 hours ... with 8+ hours to go!)
children kill a son
his mother can't forgive it
other mother's grief
That gives you an idea of the book's plot. Another mini-challenge had us research the novel's setting. Forgive Me was set in Cape Town, South Africa, and I found some wonderful photos to help me visualize it:

The best way to grasp what it was like during the time of Truth and Reconciliation Committee meetings in South Africa is to read this book, which I highly recommend.

Here are five interesting facts about South Africa, gleaned from my research:
(1) Cape Town is home to Table Mountain. The highest point on Table Mountain is 1,086 metres (3,563 feet) above sea level. (Click to enlarge photo.)

(2) Cape Town is the second most populous city in South Africa; it was the largest city in South Africa until the growth of Johannesburg.

(3) According to the South African National Census, the population of Cape Town was 2,893,251 people in 2001.

(4) Wikipedia had this photo of Bo-Kaap, an area of Cape Town where part of the story is set.

(5) Read what Absolute Vanilla, a South African, wrote about the violence and lack of logic in her country.

Last year I posted what the author wrote about being a writer. A few months later my Bella Novella book club discussed Forgive Me.

I haven't read her other books, but this one is a very good book. Rated: 8/10.

Merle's Door ~ by Ted Kerasote, 2007

Even before I joined Kailana's Four-Legged Friends reading challenge, I had already agreed to review this book. A very happy conjunction, as it turned out. What I like best is the way the author shows how people and dogs communicate with each other. Merle was one smart dog, and Ted wasn't so bad himself. The book:

Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog ~ by Ted Kerasote, 2007, memoir.

While on a camping trip, Ted met a Labrador mix dog living in the wild. When they became attached to each other, Ted name the dog Merle and brought him home. When he realized Merle’s native intelligence would be diminished by living exclusively in the human world, Ted put a dog door in his house so Merle could live both outside and inside, thus "Merle's door." I recognized some of the issues that both animals and humans face when living together, but I was fascinated when the author showed how dogs might live if they were allowed to make more of their own decisions. This is a very touching story, and I very much wanted to know all about Merle.

Rated: 9/10, an excellent book.

One of Kailana's rules for the Four-Legged Friends challenge is to tell something about our pets in our introductory post. I have had a number of pets ... turtles, puppies, fish, kitties, salamander, and a hamster named Herman, for example ... but the ones I have bonded with have mostly been cats. The most memorable dog was named Pippa.


Pippa got her name from Robert Browning's famous poem "Pippa Passes," published in 1841. Perhaps the most famous passage is sung by a little Italian girl named Pippa:
The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!
Each of my three children memorized these lines and could recite them to me. (Okay, I bribed them to do it for a quarter apiece, which really was worth a little bit of something in the late 1960s.) Pippa was a regular-sized collie with a very sweet and loving personality. I have a photo of her romping with David when my son couldn't have been more than five or six years old. They were in the lower part of the yard, down near the stream that ran through our back yard, near my children's earliest treehouse which was built beside a large tree and had a sandbox under it.

That's one of the good memories, but the bad memory almost obliterate the good. On December 12, 1977, we arrived home after dark to discover Pippa lying dead in the upper part of the back yard. She had been shot and killed, we learned later, by someone who said to my daughter at school, "I know who killed your dog." It was apparently a boy she refused to date, a boy who must have come around the end of our house and shot Pippa with a 22-rifle as she stared toward the back road, away from the shooter. A beloved pet was killed by a boy who wanted my daughter to suffer because she wouldn't go out with him. And I am so glad she never did! I was fearful for the longest time, however, that the next time it would be one of my children.

Here are all my posts for this challenge, with a story about one of my pets with each book review.

1. Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog ~ by Ted Kerasote ~ dedicated the memory of Pippa, a most memorable dog.
2. The Fur Person ~ by May Sarton ~ dedicated to the memory of Jack, a gentleman cat.
3. Cat's Eyewitness ~ by Rita Mae Brown and her cat Sneaky Pie Brown ~ dedicated to Kiki, the lovingest cat I've ever had.
4. Goldie (The Puppy Place Series #1) ~ by Ellen Miles ~ dedicated to the memory of Herman, our hamster.
5. Sign-up for this challenge ~ dedicated to the memory of Duchess, the cat who found me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

To hell and back

"I read to explore ideas," I said. Today's ideas are about hell and universalism. Heavy stuff, you say? Okay, let's do it.

I picked up Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle on the same day that Gregory MacDonald's The Evangelical Universalist arrived in the mail. I think it's an interesting synchronicity that Picoult's novel is all about hell -- specifically, Dante's trip through hell -- and the first chapter of the book on religious beliefs is entitled "A Hell of a Problem" because, as MacDonald says in his introduction:
"The argument opens with an examination of the philosophical problems with traditional Christian teachings on hell. It was here that my own doubts about the tradition began, so it seems appropriate to take the reader along a route similar to my own. I argue that whether one believes that God predestines everything that happens or whether one believes that human freedom lies outside God's determining power, it is, or so I contend, well nigh impossible to understand why God would not save everybody. Reason seems to be in serious conflict with traditional theology; and this, I suggest, leads us to enquire whether we may actually have misunderstood the implications of biblical theology" (p. 7).
So let's look at each of these books. The novel is about the hell of dealing with rape, and the religious book argues that hell is NOT the ultimate penalty for sinners because everything we know about God's perfect love indicates that ALL people will be saved in the end. First, the novel.

The Tenth Circle ~ by Jodi Picoult, 2006

Picoult managed to get "hell" into this book in an amazing number of ways: rape was hell, school was hell for the teenager after she was raped, her father drew graphic novels and agonized over what a superhero would do, her mother taught "Dante's Inferno" to college students. I remember being surprised by Dante's idea of hell when I was in college. As Laura (the mother/professor) says in the book,
"God, according to Dante, was all about motion and energy, so the ultimate punishment for Lucifer is to not be able to move at all" (p. 16).
That's right, Lucifer was unable to take action because he was imprisoned in ice in the lowest level of hell. Have you ever heard the phrase "when hell freezes over"? In Dante's story, it does. The usual image of hell has been hell as a fiery inferno. Wait! "Dante's Inferno" is a frozen place? Yes, that's right. Frozen as in unable to move, stuck. Like some of the characters in this novel.

I understand how the graphic novel embedded in this story fits in, how it gives the reader an understanding of the father of the victimized girl, how his need of superhero powers takes him to hell and back as he thinks about his past, his wife's infidelity, and his daughter's rape. But it was more a distraction to me than anything else. This is a complex story, but it isn't Jodi Picoult's best, by far. Rated: 8 of 10, a good book.

The Evangelical Universalist ~ by Gregory MacDonald, 2006 and 2008

Fear-based Christianity says only some folks will be saved because God's gonna roast you in hell for all of eternity unless you repent of your sins before you die. My Uncle Jeff had obviously been drinking when he stopped to call me as he was going through my town. Upon hearing I was recently ordained, he told me to "preach hellfire and damnation!" I said no, I preferred to emphasize the love of God, and he said even more emphatically, "Give 'em hellfire and damnation!" The author of this book points out that...
"What Paul is keen to communicate in Rom. 5:12-21 is the overwhelming power of grace, which far exceeds the power of sin and death" (p. 84).
That's the whole point of this book. Actually, his argument can be summed up in four words, his own four words later in the book:
"Divine goodness requires universalism" (p. 160).
The author chose to write under the pseudonym Gregory MacDonald so the focus wouldn't be on him, but I wish he'd been a bit more succinct. Or a lot more succinct. Don't bother trying to read The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald unless you are a specialist in the field and are willing to wade through reams of material about . every . single . little . point . that anybody may EVER bring up on the subject. I got an advanced degree in theology, or else I would have tossed the book long before the end. Rated: "nah," don't waste your time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Obama's vacation reading list

John Adams ~ by David McCullough (biography of a former president)

Plainsong ~ by Kent Haruf (National Book Award nominee for Fiction)

The Way Home ~ by George Pelecanos (a crime novel)

Lush Life ~ by Richard Price (a literary novel)

Hot, Flat, and Crowded : Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America ~ by Thomas Friedman (environment)

I haven't read any of these books, so I can't comment on them. Which of them have you read? Tell me what you think of them. I found this list here.

I went to the library this afternoon and got the first book on the list above. Do you see John Adams by David McCullough under "Currently reading" on my sidebar? I didn't realize it would be 651 pages thick, with another 100 pages of end notes, bibliography, and index (751 pages in all).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Teaser Tuesday ~ The Faith Club

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

* Grab the book you are currently reading.
* Open to a random page.
* Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
(Don't give too much away and spoil the book for others.)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!
My teaser sentences:
Priscilla: "Truth be told, I was lost spiritually. I wasn't sure if I believed in God anymore. Yet here I was sucking it up and driving into the city to meet my new acquaintances, Suzanne and Ranya, to talk about God."

-- from page 27 of The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew -- Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner, 2006.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Open air and soggy books

Looking up ~ the shell of St. Elmo United Methodist Church with its melted windows.

Looking down ~ this pile of smoky, waterlogged, stuck-together books from the pastor's study.

See photos of the fire by clicking here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

St. Elmo Church is ablaze, right now

St. Elmo United Mehodist Church is ablaze, right now, with flames leaping from the roof. (Click to enlarge photos below.)

I live in the same block, but across the street from this church. My power was off for hours, shortly after I got the first photo posted here. Power is back on, I have added more photos, and unfortunately the church is gutted.

See the aftermath by clicking here.

Reading ruminations ~ what I've been reading

What I've been reading:

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously ~ by Julie Powell, 2005.

I've managed to get more than two-thirds of the way through the book (because my best friends liked it), but I'm slogging all the way. First, I don't know French and don't understand what she's about to cook. Second, I'm not all that fond of French food and can't get excited about what's she's making. Third, why would anybody keep struggling to make every recipe in Julia Child's 40-year-old cookbook when it causes her to curse her way through a year of her life? Dunno. After reading 216 pages, I have made only three notes. The first one shows the author's quirky style:
"But I did none of these things. Instead, I got married. I didn't mean to, exactly. It just kind of happened" (p. 18).

"If I wanted to learn to cook, I'd just cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (p. 20).

Her husband Eric: "You could start a blog. ... Julie. You do know what a blog is, don't you?" Of course I didn't know what a blog was. It was August of 2002. Nobody knew about blogs, except for a few guys like Eric..."
I'll come back and let you know, if I ever finish this sucker. Rating: "nah," which means I can't recommend it, even though it's now a movie.

How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science ~ by Michael Shermer, 2000.

All I've read so far is the preface about "The God Question," but here's what the book is about:
"My primary focus in addressing readers is not whether they believe or disbelieve, but how and why they have made their particular belief choice. Within the larger domain of how we believe, I am mainly interested in three things: (1) Why people believe in god; (2) the relationship of science and religion, reason and faith; and (3) how the search for the sacred came into being and how it can thrive in an age of science" (page xv).

The Power of Myth ~ by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, 1988.

I've already used this book for a Teaser Tuesday quote (click on the title to see that post). It isn't taking me a long time to read this book because it's hard to read, or anything like that; three friends and I are studying the book during August and September, taking one of the eight chapters each week. So I'm savoring the book over a longer period of time. I could share one quote a day here and probably not run out of interesting things to talk about for a year. Maybe more. Here's another one:
Campbell: "The dream is an inexhaustible source of spiritual information about yourself. ..."

Moyers: "What do we learn from our dreams?"

Campbell: "You learn about yourself."

Moyers: "How do we pay attention to our dreams?"

Campbell: "All you have to do is remember your dream in the first place, and write it down. Then take one little fraction of the dream, one or two images or ideas, and associate with them. Write down what comes to your mind, and again what comes to your mind, and again. You'll find that the dream is based on a body of experiences that have some kind of significance in your life and that you didn't know were influencing you. Soon the next dream will come along, and your interpretation will go further" (p. 40).
Have any of you paid close attention to your dreams or tried to understand them over a period of time? Coming up tomorrow in my discussion group: Chapter IV: Sacrifice and Bliss.

The Seat of the Soul ~ by Gary Zukav, 1989.

I've set this aside too often to read more immediate books, but it's due back at the library day after tomorrow and I need to finish it -- now. Here are a few interesting quotes:
"Our species has become arrogant. We behave as though the Earth were ours to do with as we please. We pollute its land, oceans and atmosphere to satisfy our needs without thinking of the needs of the other life forms that live upon the Earth, or of the needs of the Earth" (p. 50).

"Hatred of evil does not diminish evil, it increases it. ... Hatred of evil affects the one who hates. It makes him or her a hateful person..." (p. 71)

"You create your reality with your intentions" (p. 110).

"No two people have the same reality. ... By choosing to feel kindness instead of coldness, you change the frequency of your cdonsciousness, and this changes your experiences" (p. 111).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunny visit

Carla and I had a full day today as I showed her around town. Here she is with the Coolidge Park Carousel behind her as we crossed the Walnut Street Bridge, our "walking bridge" over the Tennessee River, for those of you who don't know Chattanooga. And it was a perfect day, with the sun shining but the temperatures a good ten degrees lower than they've been recently. June photographed me with Carla when they were both here last year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why do you read?

If what we eat is what we are, what we read also shapes who we are. We seem to blog more about what we read, but today I'm asking you why you read. What do you hope to get from your reading? Do you want to be entertained, informed, inspired? Or do you read as an escape, as a way to avoid thinking about your life? All of us probably read for many reasons, but for your leisure reading, what is it you expect from a book?

Some people read strictly for information, as in this detail from "The Tilton Family" (1837) by Joseph Davis. This is the kind of reading we do in college, for example, when we need to know the facts. Even a novel can be read this way, if we are studying for a degree in English literature, for example. It's definitely the way we read mathematics, sociology, history, or science textbooks.

Some people read for inspiration. Perhaps they choose memoirs and biographies of famous people in order to be motivated to do as they did. Maybe you read books on how to get in touch with with your inner child -- or with nature. Maybe books become your passport to the world and you choose to read about exotic places.

I read to explore ideas. I've been thinking about this because it's obvious I don't review only the newest books. It's true that I want to know something about the books being discussed by my friends, but sometimes a review is enough knowledge to recommend books my friends would like. I don't feel compelled to read a book just to say I've read it. But I do want to learn, and I do that by exploring ideas and thinking about things.

This may sound exactly like reading for information, but there's a difference. When I reviewed The Time Traveler's Wife a couple of days ago, I mentioned that I've always been fascinated by the idea of time travel. Right now I'm reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Both of these books are novels, but in January I read Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. I can explore the idea of time travel in fiction and in nonfiction.

In her meditation entitled Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books (1996), Lynne Sharon Schwartz gives her reason for reading:
"I had no greater urge to putter in the kitchen alongside my mother. ... What I liked was sitting on my bed and having a book happen to me" (p. 52).
Spending time with this book was worth it for that sentence alone. Having a book happen to me? Yeah, that seems about right. This is one of those pleasant books that readers enjoy because we like knowing others read as much as we do. Rated 7 of 10, a good book.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Myths ~ a short history, plus one example

A Short History of Myth ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2005
"Mythology was ... designed to help us to cope with the problematic human predicament. It helped people to find their place in the world and their true orientation" (p. 6).

"A myth ... is an event that -- in some sense -- happened once, but which also happens all the time" (p. 106).
Armstrong shows how myths changed from the time of the hunters of the palaeolithic period, to the farmers of the neolithic period, to the stories being told in the earliest civilizations. Then came the Axial Age (around 800 to 200 BCE), when new religions and philosophies emerged: "Confucianism and Taoism in China; Buddhism and Hinduism in India; monotheism in the Middle East and Greek rationalism in Europe" (p. 79). The book finishes up with chapters on the post-axial period and what the author calls "The Great Western Transformation" (from around 1500 to 2000). Where are we today?
"We are myth-making creatures and, during the twentieth century, we saw some very destructive modern myths, which have ended in massacre and genocide. These myths have failed because they do not meet the criteria of the Axial Age. They have not been infused with the spirit of compassion, respect for the sacredness of all life, or with what Confucius called 'leaning.' These destructive mythologies have been narrowly racial, ethnic, denominational and egotistic, an attempt to exalt the self by demonising the other. ... We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe" (p. 136).
For all it covers so succinctly, I rate this book 9/10.

Because it was the first book in the Myth Series of novels, A Short History of Myth was published simultaneously in 33 countries and in 28 languages. The idea for the series was to ask writers from around the world to retell a myth, any myth, each in his or her own way. Since I've read one of the novels, I'll review it here, as well.

The Penelopiad ~ by Margaret Atwood, 2005

When Margaret Atwood was asked to rewrite a myth, she thought of her reaction to reading a story by Homer: "The hanging of the twelve 'maids' — slaves, really — at the end of The Odyssey seemed to me unfair at first reading, and seems so still." What she did in her novella was to look at the same story, but from the perspective of the women, specifically Penelope. Odysseus we know, but who was Penelope? As narrator of this novella, she begins with these words:
"Now that I'm dead I know everything" (p.1).
Penelope has waited a long time to give her version of events, telling this tale from a 21st century Hades, looking back on her life as the wife of Odysseus. She lets us know that her cousin Helen ruined her life. You remember Helen, don't you? Helen's was the face that launched a thousand ships. The men, including Penelope's husband, sailed off to bring Helen home from Troy. Before they could bring her home, they had to fight the battle of Troy. Meanwhile, Penelope is back home trying to hold everything all together over the years and years (ten of them). A major problem is the suitors who say she should marry one of them because her husband is obviously not coming back from the war -- he must surely be dead. The hanged maids form the Greek Chorus, or as Atwood calls them, the chorus line that accompanies Penelope's tale. They were there; they know the difficulties Penelope faced.

I've read other rewritings of famous novels. For example, Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres is a retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear, from the viewpoint of the three daughters. Then there's Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund, which is the wife's perspective of the Moby-Dick story by Herman Melville. I enjoyed these two novels more than The Penelopiad. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this one, even though I like the concept. (If you want to see other novels rewritten from the women's point of view, read my post on Book pairs ~ his 'n hers.)

Rated 7 of 10, a good book.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Three Women ~ by Marge Piercy, 1999

My friend Sherry asked, "Have you ever heard of Bookcrossing? It is a website that encourages people to set books free in the wild (leave them random places) so that others might find them and experience the book." Yep, I've been a member since March 26, 2003. In that time, however, I've released only one book into the wild. It's a book I never reviewed here, since I didn't start this blog until three years later. Here's what I wrote about it many years ago.

Three Women by Marge Piercy, 1999

I journaled about the book on Saturday, April 05, 2003.
Three generations of women: Suzanne is a respected lawyer now facing the prospect of her wayward older daughter (Elena) moving back home and, more troubling, her disapproving elderly mother (Beverly) is ill and in need of help. For the time it takes to read 371 well-written pages, the reader escapes into this world of other women. Though it is far from the major point of the novel, I especially enjoyed reading about Rachel, Suzanne's other daughter, who chooses to become a rabbi.
Then I "released" the book the next day, Sunday:
About 8:30 p.m. my "book buddy" and I went to eat at Panera Bread -- and to release my book. After standing it on the long, low windowsill beside a table, I took a couple of photos of the book "in the wild." Then we sat two tables away so I could keep an eye on the book while we ate. Finally, a policeman sat at that table, and a policewoman soon joined him. Neither noticed the book. Two other policemen joined their table after getting their orders, and the last one to sit down talked for several minutes before he noticed -- and picked up -- the book. He showed the policewoman the "Hi! I'm a free book!" marker sticking out the top of the book. I was sure that, if he didn't take the book, the woman would. But no, he stood it back on the windowsill before they all left. When we left soon after that, the book was on its own, fending for itself -- and possibly feeling unloved after being rejected by the policeman! I wonder if it will still be there tomorrow. A half dozen women were sitting at a table nearby, so maybe one of them noticed my little book in the wild. I hope someone takes her home with them tonight.
Click to enlarge the photo to see the "free book" marker in it. On Monday we went once more to check it out:
We two book buddies drove around the deli at lunch time today. The book was no longer on the windowsill, so it seems to have found another reader. :)
The rating I assigned the book back in 2003 was 7 stars out of 10.

The Time Traveler's Wife ~ by Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

"I met Clare for the first time in October, 1991. She met me for the first time in September, 1977; she was six, I will be thirty-eight. She's known me all her life. In 1991 I'm just getting to know her." -- Henry (p. 144)
Clare and Henry know each other only in fits and starts, but I'm thinking that may be more true of all life than I have ever realized. I take notes as I read, and I am usually in the process of reading several books at a time. Fits and starts, even in my reading, but I pick up where I left off reading and am right back into the story. I don't see a friend for weeks, even years, but we pick up the conversation of our lives with no seeming break in our friendship and the part of life we share with each other, which is usually different with each friend.
"Clare!" Across the quiet of the Meadow Clare's dad is bellowing her name. Clare jumps up and grabs her shoes and socks.

"It's time for church," she says, suddenly nervous.

"Okay," I say. "Um, bye." I wave at her, and she smiles and mumbles goodbye and is running up the path, and is gone. I lie in the sun for a while, wondering about God, reading Dorothy Sayers. After an hour or so has passed I too am gone and there is only a blanket and a book, coffee cups, and clothing, to show that we were there at all. (p. 78)
Once again, this is like life. Whether we jump up and run away or are whisked away by a chrono disease like Henry's, whether we move on in life or reach the end of life, there's nothing left but cast-offs to show that we were here at all.

I read to explore ideas, and I've always been fascinated by the idea of time travel. My favorite novel of this genre is Jack Finney's Time and Again (1970), but every single time travel story I've read until this one has characters cautioning against -- or at least pondering -- the dire consequences of meeting yourself in your own past. And what would happen if you accidentally killed one of your parents before you were born? Would you ever exist? If not, then you couldn't have killed your parent. This novel, on the other hand, has Henry meeting up with himself on a regular basis.
I ponder my double. He's curled up, hedgehog style, facing away from me, evidently asleep. I envy him. He is me, but I'm not him, yet. He has been through five years of a life that's still mysterious to me, still coiled tightly waiting to spring out and bite. Of course, whatever pleasures are to be had, he's had them; for me they wait like a box of unpoked chocolates ... he's got my number so completely that I can only acquiesce to him, in my own best interests. -- Henry (p. 152)
This book certainly gave me a lot to think about. It's very well written, too. For example, I love this image:
I breathe slowly and deeply. I make my eyes still under eyelids, I make my mind still, and soon, Sleep, seeing a perfect reproduction of himself, comes to be united with his facsimile. (p. 517)
Rated: 9 of 10, an excellent book
I quoted from The Time Traveler's Wife a few days ago, here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Koi to the world

It's been a busy day. Would you mind feeding the fish for me? Click them some food.

Teaser Tuesday ~ The Power of Myth

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

* Grab the book you are currently reading.
* Open to a random page.
* Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
(Don't give too much away and spoil the book for others.)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!
My teaser sentences:
Moyers: After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all your life." He was in a new world of myth.

-- from page 18 of The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, 1988

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Voices

Saturday evening I attended the New Voices Poetry Reading at Pasha's Coffee Shop and enjoyed some of the best poetry and music I've heard in a long time. Five poets were featured: Finn Bille, who is also an accomplished storyteller; Veronique Bergeron, who wrote one of her poems just today; Ray Zimmerman, who read from his collection of nature essays this time, rather than his poetry; Bruce Majors, author of The Fields of Owl Roost; and E. Smith Gilbert, who has published extensively in the United States and Great Britain.

During the intermission, The Undoctored Originals wrapped us in smooth and sophisticated jazz. The haunting voice of the soprano saxophone of Dr. Bob Vogt, pictured at left, drew my attention and held it. Dr. Jim Woodford was on keyboard, and Dr. Rich Fastiggi played acoustic guitar. I could have listened to them all evening.

Open Mic followed the jazz, when other local poets were invited to share. I didn't come planning to write a review, so I took no notes, but I did get a few of the poets' names: Billy Holton, an intense young man whose poem inspired me to say "wow"; Chuck Hamilton, who read "My Azizam"; and Ginnie Sams (at right), who read her poem "The Blue Pony," which I first heard when she was the featured poet at Rock Point Book Store in March. Excellent poem. Jim Pfitzer, who emceed this event, used the open mic period to relate the humorous story of how he lost his beard.

Thanks to all the poets and storytellers for their powerful presentations. (And apologies to those whose names I missed.)

Note: I took a couple of photos during the "action," but the lighting wasn't good and I put away my cellphone. Afterwards, Ray Zimmerman asked me to write a review and I thought, If only I'd known ahead of time! I would have brought a good camera or at least gotten a lot closer to the subjects. Knowing I could have done better (much better), I still wanted something to illustrate this review of the evening, so please forgive the poor quality of these pictures.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Charlie Brown Eggs

When my friend Donna and I went to church this morning, she took deviled eggs for the potluck lunch that followed the service. On top of the Tupperware container, she had taped this note:

Charlie Brown Eggs:
a little "devil" in
a basically "good egg"

You're a good man, Charlie Brown. And you're a clever woman, Donna. I like your quirkly thinking.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Heart of Christianity ~ by Marcus J. Borg, 2003

The Heart of Christianity : Rediscovering a Life of Faith ~ by Marcus J. Borg, 2003, religion
"Listen to your life.  Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks.  It's in language that's not always easy to decipher, but it's there powerfully, memorably, unforgettably." — Frederick Buechner, quoted by Borg (page 73)

Emerging Paradigm

More and more people are beginning to understand Christianity in a noticeably different way.   Borg calls these two ways of seeing Christianity the "earlier" paradigm and the "emerging" paradigm.  A paradigm is a way of seeing the whole, a large framework for understanding reality.  The earlier paradigm is centered on belief, but the emerging paradigm revolves around the need for transformation:  (1) transforming the self through a dynamic experience of God, who is not separate from us but a part of us, and (2) transforming society.  Religions are "communities of transformation" (page 215).

Metaphorical Language

Literalism is the problem.  Borg says we need to move beyond literalism and see that religious language is mostly metaphorical language, which can be profoundly true.
When children ask about a biblical story, "Is that a true story?" they may be asking, "Did it happen?"   But they are likely to be satisfied with an answer like, "Well, I don't know if it happened or not, but I know it's a true and important story" (page 195).
Metaphorical language is MORE than historical or factual and has a surplus of meaning.  As Borg said in a lecture I attended on March 11, 2006, "The Bible is true, and some of it happened."


The really important issue is relationship and the transformation that flows out of it.  How do we experience God?  How are we supposed to "love" God?  We "grow" our relationships by paying attention to the beloved.
Loving God means paying attention to God and to what God loves.  The way we do this is through "practice" (page 187).
In other words, it is something we DO, not something we believe.  Modern Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity, has not made practice central.  Other religions do:  Judaism is primarily about following the way of Torah.  Buddhists follow the eightfold path.  Four of the five pillars of Islam are about practice, one of which is praying five times a day.  Borg says:
I have been told that the five prayers together take about forty minutes, and I have often wondered how we as Christians would be different if we spent forty minutes a day in prayer (page 188).
Practicing our relationship with God is all about "beloving" God.  Christianity is a way of life.  To love God and neighbor, we must love what God loves -- and that means not only loving the people (neighbor, self, enemy), but loving all of creation.  Have you practiced compassion today?  Have you done justice today?  Have you cared for the earth today?  Oops, now I've quit preaching and gone to meddling!  I'll end with something Borg said, when I heard him three years ago:  "Practice is how we actualize grace."

Rated:  10 of 10
I mentioned this book a couple of years ago, here:

Update:  On Sept. 2, 2009, I wrote about this book again, here:

Teaser Tuesday ~ The Time Traveler's Wife

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading, which I found on Marg's Reading Adventures blog. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:
* Grab the book you are currently reading.
* Open to a random page.
* Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS. (Make sure what you share doesn’t give too much away. You don’t want to ruin the book for others.)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!
My teaser sentences:
As I wrap my hair in a towel I see myself blurred in the mirror by steam and time seems to fold over onto itself and I see myself as a layering of all my previous days and years and all the time that is coming and suddenly I feel as though I've become invisible. But then the feeling is gone as fast as it came and I stand still for a minute and then I pull on my bathrobe and open the door and go on.

-- from pages 150-151 of The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, 2003
(Today's not Tuesday, you say? Ooooh, you caught me, didn't you? But today's the first I'd heard of this great idea, and I simply couldn't wait. I'll try to do this on Tuesdays from now on.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

NPR's 100 Best Beach Books Ever

I saw NPR's list of the 100 Best Beach Books Ever (almost 16,000 "book-loving NPR-types" cast some 136,000 votes in their poll) at Alisonwonderland's So Many Books, So Little Time. I haven't posted a list like this in a long time, so here it is, with the books I've read in bold:

1. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling (I didn't read all of them)
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
4. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
6. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
10. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

11. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
12. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
13. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
14. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
16. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
17. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
18. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
19. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
20. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
22. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
23. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
24. The World According to Garp, by John Irving
25. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
26. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy
27. Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
28. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
29. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler
30. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

31. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
32. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
33. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
34. Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
35. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
36. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier
37. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
38. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
39. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
40. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

41. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
42. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
43. Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice
44. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
45. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
46. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
47. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
48. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
49. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb
50. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie

51. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
52. The Stand, by Stephen King
53. She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
54. Dune, by Frank Herbert
55. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
56. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
57. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
58. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
59. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
60. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

61. Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
62. Jaws, by Peter Benchley
63. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner
64. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
65. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
66. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
67. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
68. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
69. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
70. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

71. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
72. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
73. Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns
74. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
74. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe [tie]
76. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
77. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
78. The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
79. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
80. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett

81. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
82. The Pilot's Wife, by Anita Shreve [tie]
83. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
84. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
85. The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
86. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
87. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich
88. Shogun, by James Clavell
89. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
90. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera

91. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
92. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
93. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
94. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris
95. Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume
96. The Shining, by Stephen King
97. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan
98. Lamb, by Christopher Moore
99. Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen
100. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

That's 45 for me, with several others on my TBR list. Which of them have you read? What is your favorite "beach book"?