Title: Running in Heels
Author: Mary A. Perez
This book was hard for me to read, mainly because – post motherhood – I have discovered that reading about terrible childhoods pulls at all the wrong heartstrings. Getting through the beginning and wanting to scoop little Mary away from all the mess, while simultaneously wanting to save her mother from herself, was stressful. The things I loved about The Glass Castle are the same things that, after having a daughter, held me back from finishing The Liar’s Club. Things I have the stomach to deal with in real life, because it needs done, is not something I have the stomach for in past tense memoirs, because what is done is over with now.
Mary’s memoir remains hopeful and hope filled. After all the trials and tears, she comes out the other side, not just ok, but happy. For this reason, I plan to donate my copy (that was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review) to the women’s ministry down the street. There are so many people who could be blessed by her story.
She’s a quick paced writer, a little repetitive at times, but that is the way it is with memory: certain things stick out and you rehash them trying to make a bit of sense from them. A mother who doesn’t like to cook is one thing, one who won’t cook is quite another. As an adult, a mother, a grandmother, I imagine much of this repetition is bafflement and she articulates the differences at different ages through her life. A child will say “mama doesn’t like cooking” whereas a woman would look back and think, “Why didn’t my mother cook for me?”
Through much of the book, Perez tells you the facts, and leaves you to infer your own conclusions as a nurtured adult. Through obviously more emotional periods she tells you what she was feeling and leaves you to infer the facts. It’s a riveting tactic.
Author: Leif Enger
Genre: Fiction/ Literature
One of the few tragedies of working in a bookstore is seeing the popularity aftermath of a book. When there are fifty copies of something for $1 we clerks get in the mindset (if we haven’t read the book yet) that the title was a fad. Not just a fad, but it was clearly a book not worth keeping or re-reading.
Note to shoppers: just because a lot of people don’t keep their books and just because a book isn’t something people jump to re-read, does not mean it’s not worth reading in the first place.
For this very reason, it has taken me years to getting around to reading Peace Like a River. Not just that, but I was tentative and checked the book out – I didn’t even purchase it!
Next time I see a beautiful hardback, I will.
Peace Like a River is all soul filled and gorgeous with running themes concerning miracles, family, God, and consequence. It’s not what I would call a happy book, but it’s not a sad one either. I think it is one of the few in this world written truthfully about human experience, religious families, and the nature of people who function within the knowledge of an ever present God. People without the faith of Jeremiah Lands just don’t live lives like Jeremiah Lands. Some might think that would be a blessing – to go through life without such scruples. I mean, look where it got him. The fictional character finds himself in the precarious position of being a good and godly father to a fugitive, his other son – though revived from death at birth by a miracle – is a severe asthmatic. His daughter is an insanely intelligent poet, but becomes a target in their war with existence.
But Jeremiah Lands, even in pneumonia and illness, never seems exhausted. The guy is a far cry from energetic, but he is steady. He is solid. He is the kind of father I think many hope for, despite his oldest son’s resistance to him. That sort of resistance is natural, I think, when it comes to family and God. It happens. And it happens very much just like that. Davy is a good person with scruples of his own, he was raised right and chooses I think what many of us would choose in certain situations. But the consequences of his choices make faith hard, and the lack of faith makes each choice harder than the next.
I needed this book this year. And if you see a copy in a bookstore for a dollar, snatch it up quick.
Title: Ape and Essence
Author: Aldous Huxley
Genre: Fiction/ Literature/ Allegory
Length: 152 pages
Of the four Aldous Huxley books included on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, is not one of them.
With good reason.
While I was reading I kept thinking, I like the concept, but I am aghast that this is the man famous for a book that millions are required to read for school. Not because there is anything bad about it… it’s just… really? This is the kind of stuff we want to force teenagers to read? It’s disjointed, surly, and… dare I say… a little boring.
The best moment, by far, was when I read:
‘Give back that ring.’
‘Which ring?’ the man falters.
At which point my nerdy self said to my book: “The one that will rule them all, duh!”
To be fair, the book that is typically required reading for students is Brave New World, not Ape and Essence. So, naturally, I had to do a bit of research before considering reading Brave New World, giving Huxley a chance to prove himself in my eyes. If I can’t stomach 152 pages of the man, why would I submit myself to more?
I feel justified in my disappointment, because as my kid sat and worked through a literacy program on the computer at the library, I consulted the Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume 6: Modern Writers 1914-1945, and read up on Huxley and this piece of drivel I had just plowed through.
There I read, “Aldous strained to pile horror upon cross horror… the book, it always seemed to me, achieves a high degree of unbearableness.”
There I also read, “most the characters and ideas come from a discount Huxley warehouse.”
Deep sigh of exasperated relief. I don’t have to like this book. Thank God.
Mikhaul Bakhtin described Huxley’s work as the “Canivalesque Novel.” Others in this category would be Rabelais’ Gargantua and Cervantes Don Quixote. These novels are known for “emphasizing inclusion rather than selection” and are “structured like a ‘plate of mixed fruit.’” They are known as the anti-novel.
Sheldon Sacks, on the other hand, considered Huxley’s work as apolgoues, like More’s Utopia, Voltaire’s Candide, and Johnson’s Rasselas… fictions structured as persuasive arguments. (For the record, I am basically paraphrasing – and point blank quoting – the CDBLB!)
The title for Ape and Essence was taken from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, when Isabella says:
Could great men thunder
As Jove himself does, Jove would ne’er be quiet,
A sFor every pelting, petty officer
Would use his heaven for thunder;
Nothing but thunder! Merciful Heaven,
Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt
Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak
Than the soft myrtle: but man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.
Again, I have not read Brave New World, but I come away with the overpowering sense that perhaps it is easier to digest because, like the CDBLB says, Brave New World is about what could happen; Ape and Essence is presented as something that probably will. Ape and Essence leaves you with nothing to hope for, and in a world full of agony – hope is vital. The whole book is about how “faith in progress has led to outright regression,” and the book ends with an egg being cracked over a gravestone.
A society so driven by perfection and stamping out rebellion and evil that they have destroyed everything. They do not have the hope and insight of Steinbeck when he wrote in East of Eden, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” Instead, everyone strives for perfection until they’ve essentially destroyed themselves and everything around them. They’ve destroyed the world’s ability to think and grow.
Ape and Essence is the most depressing piece of near-satire I’ve ever encountered.
The man himself, however, had some awesome things to say on the nature of writing. Many people read his novels and were irritated by finding mirror images within some of his characters. After a few lost friends he responded,
“Of course I base my characters partly on people I know – one can’t escape it – but fictional characters are oversimplified; they’re much less complex than the people one knows. There is something of (John Middleton) Murry in several of my characters, but I wouldn’t say I’d put Murry in a book.”
I could not say it better myself. Characters may seem a bit like this person or that, but never, never is any fiction that I write in any way biographical. So even though I did not care for Ape and Essence, I came away from researching Huxley fulfilled – and justified.
As a homeschool mom there’s a constant struggle for designating specific “school times” through out the day. She is learning that education is a life pursuit, and at four can tell you that. I can’t tell you how adorable it is to have a four year old look at someone when they ask her about school and tell them, “Education is a life pursuit.” Every day, every moment, is a chance to learn something – and she is extremely aware of this as we stop to read information along trails, get sidetracked by research projects after asking a simple question, and discuss the scientific reasons things are happening in the kitchen as I cook. But sitting down for specific lessons, that’s a bit harder to grasp. We open our reading book and she thinks that crazy silly time shall commence. She has a stubborn nature she gets from me combined with her father’s joy of watching me fume with frustration, seriously, I get angry and she laughs at me. It’s a problem.
Someone from one of the homeschooling forums on Facebook gave us a great idea, though. Read Ecc. 3:1 before every lesson. Don’t know that one off the cuff? The “lyrics” were made famous in the 1950’s by The Byrds.
The concept of there being a proper time and place for every activity and emotion, is a necessary lesson to teach toddlers (and kids, and teenagers, and humans at large). Emotions, feelings, and attitudes toward chores can be intense. There is a time to feel those things and a time to suck it up and do what you have to do. Just like a gardener has “a time to plant and a time to uproot” there’s also “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” We end the reading of these verses with, “there is also a time to be silly and a time to focus on your lessons.”
Needless to say, both little girl and I were excited to find this book at the public library last month.
This picture is beautiful. It reveals art styles from all different regions, cultures, and time. It gives a child a great sense of the impact these words have on every human throughout history. Everyone must learn this lesson, the fact that everything has a time and place. That feelings can and will be embraced and (if we want to be overly bookish and quote An Imperial Affliction – a book by a character imagined by John Green in The Fault in our Stars) and say, “Pain demands to be felt,” but as every grown person has learned at some point, sometimes it can’t be felt right now. For a four year old, the wiggles must come out… but they can’t always come out right now either.
And everyone must learn this lesson. Whether you are from China, Russia, Germany, Egypt, or Ancient Greece. Whether you are Native American or from the heart of Mexico. Whether you hail from the Ukraine or Australia, Japan or England. Humanity is united in this one all encompassing lesson of life: “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up… a time to love and a time to hate… a time for war and a time for peace.”
Title: Life Is Hard But God Is Good
Author: L. Jay Horton
Length: 233 pages
My best days usually involve me waking up earlier – before my child wakes me up. I mosey through the kitchen, I get my coffee, I read something ‘too serious for late at night’ usually Augustine or the bible or something that my newly awake mind can handle better than my sleepy, tired mind can. I write for awhile, I read something not-so-serious but with a positive spin, and then of course am interrupted by my child for toast. After toast, all bets are off and it’s whatever I am in the mood or have time for that gets read.
Those are my ‘best’ days, not every day. But my best days have included a few minutes with L. Jay Horton post ‘too serious reading.’ He’s good for a little motivational pep talk and reminds me of things that I really need to remember – like staying positive, not letting other peoples’ negativity get me down, and enjoying the setting of goals. I love goals. I’ve always been big on goals – that’s why I named my review “Goals are the Gas in Your Car” because it’s my favorite thing that Horton said in the whole book. And the book is full of some good stuff.
I’m typically leery of pep talk books. The likes of Joel Osteen make me nervous. I hear the skepticism of my father in my head when I see him, “Of course he’s smiling, he’s taking all your money.” But Horton is genuine. I’ve met him in person, worked with him at book signings, enjoyed coffee over the enigma of the twitter-spere – Horton wants good things for people and his book is all about him sharing the things he’s learned about achieving good things in life.
Horton’s book feels a lot like a lukewarm bible study, but it’s really meant for your professional life. Wake up each morning, read a chapter, go back to the grindstone with a smile on your face and productivity in your heart… success will follow. He talks about the importance of greeting your coworkers with a hello and a smile, about not chatting it up with the people who bring negativity to you, and the importance of goal setting. It’s all common sense stuff that is so easy to lose sight of if you’re not being reminded of it every day.
All in all, Horton’s book is full of good stuff and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future. And I know there will be more work from him to read, because Horton still has goals – after all goals are the gas in his car.
Title:A Circle of Quiet
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Memoir/ Spirituality
Length: 229 pages
A Circle of Quiet is powerful. So powerful it inspired me to write nearly 10,000 useable words, to writers you may note the awe I have when I say useable.
Some were used for the sequel to my novella, a novel that is supposed to come out in the fall of this year – fingers crossed. But most of the words were for a new book, stories about my trails in the woods that are itching to be told but I’ve not known how to tell them because it’s all still happening, my trails are still real.
What is most impressive to me about A Circle of Quiet is not how many beautifully quotable quotes there are, but how completely relevant L’Engle’s story is to me. So relevant, I didn’t noticed until 3/4 of the way through the book that it was published in 1972 and the things she writes about occurred in the early seventies if not the late sixties.
I was baffled to discover this. A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of her children’s books are as fresh to me as the Harry Potter series. I read them as I child without the impression that they were old. In my mind, L’Engle has been an author of the 80’s who would be around as long as C.S. Lewis once the years had passed. I did not realize that the books were much older than that and that the years had already passed. A Wrinkle in Time was first published in 1962.
How is this possible that every moment, every ache, every joy (aside from winning the Newberry of course, as I’ve won nothing) is one I feel in every fiber of my being as a thirty year old in 2014? When she was born in 1918. What struck me most is that A Circle of Quiet is timeless.
Madeleine L’Engle is timeless.
This is a must read for any mother, any writer or creative, any soul searching for God, any person trying to balance their introversion with their extroversion, and ultimately any person.
She published these from her journals, which she admits were written for publication, but still I am honored to have been allowed a peek into the window of her thoughts.
4-20, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, Spring Equinox, Earth Day (on the 22nd)… so many things to celebrate. Today, we hid from them all and took to the woods after doing some spring cleaning and moving of furniture.
So as we practiced the catechism (“Who made you?” “God made me.” “What else did God make?” “All things.” And so on), we gathered wildflowers in an ‘Easter’ basket and frolicked in the sunshine.
It looked a bit like this:
This time in the woods was refreshing, as always. And much needed after the exciting week we had. All day yesterday I was out celebrating Earth Day with S. Smith on her last day in Houston, while kiddo was with her Grandmom dyeing Easter eggs (a tradition I can only get behind because I love eating hard boiled eggs).
Below are pictures from the Earth Day Celebration Seed Savers Signings at HPB Humble and then HPB Montrose.
There’s more celebrating to be had. S.Smith will be touring San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas before she heads back to Oregon; and HPB Humble will be giving away reusable bags to the first 25 customers Tuesday morning. Next Saturday (HPB Humble) there will also be a seed presentation by the Mercer Arboretum volunteers!
… But will take longer to undo.
Saying “I am not in control of that” is not the same as being helpless.
Counting is not productive.
Trying harder sometimes doesn’t offer results, but rather drives you a little nuts.
I am allowed to have contradicting feelings as long as I am honest about both and do not bury the less favorable/ moral one. A feeling is not a decision. But bottling feelings and under-reacting to things that hurt your feelings can turn into a very foolish and very public behavioral issue similar to a train wreck or a volcano that kills an entire village.
“What am I to conclude when my grandmother says that the happiest decision of her life was giving up everything for her husband and children but then says – in the very next breath – that she doesn’t want me making the same choice? I’m not really sure how to reconcile this, except to believe that somehow both these statements are true and authentic, even as they seem to utterly contradict on another. I believe that a woman who has lived as long as my grandmother should be allowed some contradictions and mysteries. Like most of us, this woman contains multitudes. Besides, when it comes to the subject of women and marriage, easy conclusions are difficult to come by, and enigmas litter the road in every direction.” – from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed.
I can’t control other peoples’ thoughts and feelings. Nor, if I’m to be honest do I want to. What I decide for them takes away from me making healthy decisions for myself.
Other people making a decision I do not like is not a slight on me as a human. I am still in tact. I can say my piece in peace without expecting them to bend to my will. In fact, I want to enjoy the freedom of talking out my feelings knowing that it does not change the outcome of life. My words won’t make or break the world and the people in it. I am not that powerful. I don’t want to be that powerful. I want other people to feel comfortable making their decisions based on what they need. Would I like for them to consider my feelings when they choose to follow that decision? Yes. Do I want my feelings to be the basis of their decision? No. God, no.
What I want and what I need are allowed to be out of sync sometimes, as long as I take time to process my wants and needs in a calm manner without panic – without drama – and without superfluous descriptions. As a writer I am apt to take a small situation and find the epic, extraordinary, or devastation in it. As a survivor I take big things that may actually be epic, extraordinary, or devastating, and belittle them – act as though they are nothing. (Someone dies, I roll with the punches. Someone says something irritating, I come out swinging. It doesn’t make sense. It has been a long running joke among many of my friends that I’m the girl you need at a funeral. I’m the girl you need in a physical crisis, on the battlefield even. Put me in a room of people having a good time, and suddenly I’m twitchy.)
These are things I used to know, and for various reasons, I have lost sight of. These are things that I need to remind myself daily, if not hourly.
So my newest truth above all – there is no shame in reading self-help books and memoirs by people who have a very different world view from yourself. There is no shame in believing that, “this woman should not be condemned or judged for wanting what she wants.” In fact that’s a very beautiful belief.
Finding balance is the hard part. When does what you want step on what someone else wants and needs? When does what you want need to be suppressed and when does it warrant being spoken? My understanding of this balance is erratic at best.
Making a very open attempt to find this balance has been interesting too (I say this as though I’m well seasoned at the effort that I’ve been making for a whole of four days). I am diving into all this for myself. Go back a few blog posts and you may notice my sanity attempting to escape me. Yet, it hasn’t just begun to calm me, it’s helped me stop and smell the roses.
Roses that, though not real physical red petals and thorny stems, are more present than I supposed.
Roses like: I actually get more done when I am busy acting instead of busy reacting. Roses like: when I attempt to be as direct as I once was my husband attempts to woo me like he once did. This is nice. I’ll take that rose. Yet, I am not being direct so that he will woo me, I am being direct because I need to be, the wooing is just a happy accident. And, for once, wanting to be wooed doesn’t sound like an act of selfishness – it sounds like an act of being feminine. Yes, I’ll admit that typing those words were difficult, that in that admission I nearly panicked.
I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have pretty much no answers. The only answer that I do have is that I hope to be less self-destructive this year than last year. I hope to be more open, but less vulnerable.
This year, I plan to internalize something that’s been hanging in my own Grandmother’s kitchen my whole life…
God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.
Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet. And, I’m not done reading this book!
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Non-fiction of some kind. In a bookstore it would go in the memoir section, I’m sure – but it’s so much more than that.
I’m aware that when one decides to follow a book reviewing blog, they don’t expect the posts to start turning into self-aware sob stories. However, I cannot fully digest a book without it becoming part of me and my psyche and putting a little bit of pressure on my world view and myself.
When I read Eat, Pray, Love a few years ago, you may or may not remember my indignation. I was so irritated. This woman was so flippant! How dare she walk out on her marriage and go gallivanting and call that spiritual growth! I loved Gilbert’s writing style, I loved her way with words, but all I could think was, “What a selfish whore.”
That was unfair. I see that.
I’m reading Committed now. A friend had told me Gilbert would redeem herself in my eyes in this book. I was skeptical. How could I ever see eye to eye with this woman?
But that’s the thing. I don’t see eye to eye with her. But now, I’m ok with that. Not because of this book, though, I’m sure that helps; but because of me. I’ve come to realize some things about myself in the very short time that it has been 2014.
I have a very intense moral code. So intense, it is probably filled with much higher expectations for life than is humanly obtainable. Stepping outside of this moral code in the past has left me trembling. It terrifies me, because, simply:
I fall short. It is impossible to live up to it.
I expect others to live up to it. If we all strive to live up to it then maybe we can have a chance in hell of making it.
I see this now.
Yes, that makes me a hypocrite, I suppose. Often.
Yes, that means that deep down I hate myself for not being able to live up to my beliefs. Even saying this is in contradiction with my beliefs… I believe the whole bible to be true and even the bible says that we all fall short of the glory of God. I believe in being a strong, independent, secure human. Both of those things are in contradiction with me hating myself for falling short.
You see, it’s not just me being unforgiving of others. I am completely unforgiving with myself too. Especially when what I perceive as truth, and what I believe is right, is the polar opposite of what I want.
I was taught that my wants were frivolous nuisances to be disregarded. Bury them. Pretend they’re not there. Doing what you *should* do is far more important than doing what you want. Wants are things that destroy people, families, cities, empires. Look at history – use your brain. Don’t feel, use logic.
Somewhere in that teaching, there’s a logical fallacy. Like Gilbert’s ice cream purchases correlating with drownings example – which made me laugh out loud. (Statistically where there are higher ice cream purchases, there are more drownings. Obviously, this does not mean that buying ice cream will increase your chance of drowning yourself, that would be a logical fallacy – yet, that’s exactly the kind of logic that has been ingrained in me.)
Now, 10 days away from 30, I feel a strong urge to fix this problem.
This is not something that can be fixed in 10 days.
Shockingly, despite my looming 10 day notice, I find myself a little at peace while reading Elizabeth Gilbert – author whose views I have previously found revolting – has spent page after page talking about forgiveness.
Things I have always been really cranky about – HOW does someone behave THAT way – she spells out. Instead of just saying, “It happens,” she takes great descriptive pains that only an eloquent writer could take to tell me how. To explain. Pages 108-110 left me in tears. Finally, I see why people have been so angered by my judgement. Finally, I see why I have no right to judge.
I was wrong. I’m sorry.
I’m not sure how this will effect my future decisions. But at least I can start to not hate myself, whatever they might be. Yay for mid-life crisis number two (and I’m not even mid-life yet, am I?).
I’m not finished reading yet, but I’m sure I will be soon. I have so much to say and think about this book and there will be a second post on it in the future.