11.25.2009

Black Mountain Breakdown

Lee Smith has long been a favorite (even if her The Last Girls was a serious disappointment). I finished today her 1980 Black Mountain Breakdown, and it was quite good. Granted, it did not change my perspective on life or move me to some deeper understanding of humanity, but it was well-drawn, and though sad, it was a compelling read. There was some little lack of cohesion, but for the most part, it rang true. I couldn't help but feel like there was an awful lot of Lee Smith herself in Crystal Spangler, which causes me to wonder how closely she identifies with Crystal. Overall, a good addition to the list of havereads for this year.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Ok. Everyone knows I'm dead inside. Movies don't make me cry. My children don't make me cry. But books occasionally can, and this one did. Well, I welled up and fought it back, but that's close enough in my world. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is a fine (read that word like Meg Ryan's character uses it to refer to her mother in You've Got Mail) book. I read it to see if it was appropriate for a readaloud with the kids, and though I think we must delay it for some years, it was a wholly satisfying experience to read. I've read the reviews on Amazon and can understand how a reader could be taken by surprise by the dark realities DiCamillo portrays. There is much suffering here, and the reader's heart does break a bit for each of those terrible losses. But the redemption, the progress that we make with Edward is lovely, and the ending even managed to surprise me somehow. I'm always so happy to have these moments to read a book in one sitting, and I'm glad this time to have sat with Edward Tulane and his amazing loved ones.

11.22.2009

Godric Finished - Now What?

It took me longer than I anticipated to read this little volume, but I got up this morning and stayed in bed to do just that. It was luxurious, and I loved it even more when the kids got library books and came and quietly "read" with me. Well, mostly quietly anyway. It was still precious time.

And it has been a precious, thoughtful, weighty time reading Godric. The language is beautiful, the story compelling, and I love the Truth of it shining through the historical stretches Buechner provides.

Here are some things I gathered from this reading:

Laugh till you weep. Weep till there's nothing left but to laugh at your weeping. In the end it's all one. (11)

On his brother, William: Words were the line that moored him to the world, I think, and he thought if ever the line should break, he'd be forever cast adrift. (13)

On his sister, Burcwen: It gave her peace to gather back the bits and pieces of herself the day had scattered. (13)

So Christmas comes and Christmas goes, and the world the holy child is born to rests, as ever, full of dark so deep that all the Norman bishops in the land with all their candles aren't enough to drive it back an inch. (127)

What's prayer? It's shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who's to say? It's reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets vanish in the sea. You beg. You whimper. You load God down with empty praise. You tell him sins that he already knows full well. You seek to change his changeless will. Yet Godric prays the way he breathes, for else his heart would wither in his breast. Prayer is the wind that fills his sail. Else waves would dash him on the rocks, or he would drift with witless tides. And sometimes, by God's grace, a prayer is heard. (142)

The other night, I read one of the funniest chapter books for kids I've encountered in awhile: Stuart's Cape by Sara Pennypacker. I also read her Clementine - both to see if they were appropriate for my little ones. Stuart's Cape is a definite go. Really. One of the funniest books ever. When (on page 3, mind you) the lemons fall out of his Aunt's braids and she rejoices because she couldn't remember where she packed them, she had me hooked. And this came after the hilarious play on words about man-eating spiders. Though there is plenty of wit that the kids will miss, there is equally plenty of greatness that the kids will eat up (like playing hide and seek with the gorilla, dinosaur, and horse or the toast plant that grows giant toast). I can't wait to start it with them. Clementine has me still a bit uncertain. I like the character, and I think she will resonate with Chloe's energy. I love the writing and the illustrations, but I think I'm going to save it for a bit later. I don't want Chloe to think cutting off your hair (or your best friend's) is anywhere near a good idea. But we'll see. It is pretty adorable the way she protects her brother from the pointy shoes in the book. And we've handled other books where kids make bad decisions. So maybe it will get read soner than later. Good stuff all around.

11.10.2009

Godric by Frederick Buechner

Buechner and I have an old aquaintance, but we've never walked together in a fictional world for an extended time. My familiarity with Godric comes from his daily meditation book, Listening to Your Life, which I hold most dear to my heart. So, it is with pleasure that I am finally getting to read this book in total. I started it some time ago but couldn't get into the medieval tone, so it's been on the TBR shelf for awhile. Back in January, one of the Godric passages in LTYL moved me beyond words (in reference to Joe R.), and since then, I've been thinking about it more. So, here I am, diving in again, this time ready to swim.

Four pages in, I have come to this place to record some touches of humor and beauty.

On why he has sent Reginald to Godric:
"To put your life on parchment, Godric," Ailred says. His cough's like the splitting of wood. "To unbushel the light of your days for the schooling of children. To set them a path to follow." Did he but know where Godric's path has led or what sights his light has lit, he'd bushel me back fast enough. I've told Mother Reginald tales to rattle his beads and blush his fishbelly tonsure pink as a babe's bum, but he turns them all to treacle with his scratching quill. I scoop out the jakes of my remembrance, and he censes it all with his clerkish screed till it reeks of mass. He brings me broth and plover's eggs. He freshens my straw when I foul it. If some dream shipwrecks me at night, he's there with his taper to beacon me safe to shore. Just the sight of his sheepface gives me the cramp. (6-7)

That's funny stuff. And so human. I had to look up about 5 words (tonsure, treacle, jakes, censes, screed) to really get the greatness of this passage. It was worth the effort. Especially jakes, which means privy. What a great image.

Then just two paragraphs later:
That's five friends, one for each of Jesu's wounds, and Godric bears their mark still on what's left of him as in their time they all bore his on them. What's friendship, when all's done, but the giving and taking of wounds? (7)

I anticipate finishing this book and wanting more.

11.09.2009

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

I finished National Book Award Winner The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall last night. I heard a lot of buzz around this book at the time of its release, but I'm just now getting around to reading it. And I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. I wanted to be captivated by these characters. I wanted the story to transport me. I wanted to love it. And I did not.

I think part of the problem is that the whole book feels like merely a setup for books to come. J.K. Rowling was able to see each of the books in her Harry Potter series as chapters in the longer "book" that was the series, and each links beautifully to the other without wasting time and energy reminding us of what has come and who is whom. The characters are richly drawn and engaged in action right from the start. This book, by contrast, feels like a prolonged introduction to rather thin characters - not exactly one-dimensional, but awfully close. Skye is the tomboy rebel; Jane is the dreamy writer, Rosalind is the responsible preteen, Batty is the baby. They don't cross those lines, and though there is quite a bit of action, it is so scattered as to cause the reader to lose focus. None of the sequences really leads to anything; they are vignettes. Like Curious George, whose far-fetched adventures are linked merely by the thinnest circumstances, these girls get into "trouble" that doesn't really amount to any developing action. Plus, with the dead mother, absent father, and multiple siblings thing, it feels formulaic. It's been done. And since we're enjoying the Boxcar children so much right now, it becomes extraneous.

There wasn't anything wrong with the book, and I don't think I'll mind if the kids find it on the shelf, but I won't necessarily insist that they read it.

11.04.2009

So, You Want To Be Like Christ

We concluded tonight our 8-week session on this book So, You Want To Be Like Christ? by Chuck Swindoll, which means I finished the book this afternoon. It has been a good study: thought-provoking, challenging, and a good nudge in the back to keep me moving forward with Jesus. I found Swindoll's writing accessible without being juvenile or repetitive, and his choice of anecdotes was often spot-on and well-timed. Overall, it was a positive experience, and I'm glad I embarked on it with our group.