Sunday, December 14, 2014

Well and There is Always the Land

photo by Anna Reavis

"But still one thing remained to him and it was his love for his land."
from The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck

Well and I surely do miss Old Wang Lung.  Ken and I finished The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck early last week, and I realized a few nights ago that I missed my nightly visit with Wang Lung, the main character.  Certainly he was an imperfect man, and sometimes hard to pity, but he was such a fully developed, well-rounded character that I feel as if I truly knew him, and now I miss him in my house.  I miss hearing about his adventures and misadventures, his ups and his downs, and his endless, fruitless striving for peace in his house.  And in the vein of most of the best novels, I miss a place and a time I've never actually experienced but feel as if I have.

So many themes were explored in this book: urban life versus rural life; leaving the land and returning to it; mobility versus being tied to the land; new ways and old ways; progress versus conventional wisdom; family values and loyalties and how we imperfect humans so often rip those suckers out and stomp them flat.

One strange thing about The Good Earth was the constantly repetitive use of the word "well" in the dialogue.  I'd be willing to bet this book contains the word "well" more than any other book ever published. At first I found it distracting, but then I, well, I guess I just came to accept it.  If anyone can shed any insight on this odd word overuse, I'd appreciate it.

The Good Earth is the first book in a trilogy about the Wang Lung clan, but the second and third book seem to be readily available only on Kindle.  My mountainous TBR pile warns me against buying them.  If anyone has read either of them (Sons or A House Divided) and would like to offer an opinion, please do so.

Well and I think I've said my peace for now.  Happy Hibernative Winter Reading!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Savagery Is Inevitable?

"And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy."  from William Golding's Lord of the Flies

I finished Lord of the Flies a few days ago.  This book has the distinction of being the only book I've read along with both of my children during their senior years in high school.  Before the recent re-read, I thought I didn't like it.  Upon re-reading, I discovered I had missed a lot the first time.   Honestly, I'll have to say that I remembered almost nothing except that it was about a group of boys who were stranded on an island and who descend into savagery.  I remembered that there was something about a conch and some pigs, that someone dies, and that the boys were eventually rescued.

But what I know is that the book is a metaphor for how quickly we descend into savagery.  I'm sure we'd all like to think, in our high-tech, highly cultured world, that we are above barbarity.  Look around.  Watch the news.  Violence is our go-to reaction.  My "group" can rest, well-fed, in our warm homes, unmolested, always safe because our race and socio-economic status protect us.  We can believe, because it's easier and more comforting, that savagery is far from us.  The truth is the danger of that descent is all around us, all the time.

We can choose to see only ugliness and division.  We can choose to perpetrate divisiveness.  We can choose to reflect only the negative.  Or we can choose to see and reflect the good, the beauty, the hope, the prospect for redemption.  When did reserving judgment and seeking the truth become passe?  Instead of just praying for peace, work for it.  Be the light, everywhere, all the time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Opposites Attract?


"He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would hear.  But so long as he uttered it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken.  It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage."  from 1984 by George Orwell

My two recently finished books are so totally opposite:  1984 and Gone Girl -- kind of like my seemingly constantly-shifting personalities.  I get frustrated with myself in that I don’t ever seem to know exactly what genre I will wake up in the mood for on any given day.  I guess that’s why I’m always in the middle of multiple books.
Upon re-reading 1984, what I found I remembered about it was only the first part, the happy part.  I had completely blocked the memory of the last part.  I remembered the love and the sex but forgot the torture and the soul-killing loss of true life that ends the book.   That could be an analogy for my own memory choices about my past, but that’s a different blog post.  Anyway, I am glad I re-read the book, which was very well-written, inventive, and forward-thinking, given the time of publication.   It put me in the mood for some more dystopia.  I still haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Maybe that will be up soon.

Gone Girl is harder for me to write about.  So many people loved it.  I liked it.  Ish.  I did.  I just think I should have read it when it came out before all the hype.  Expectations, you know, I don’t do well with them.  I did find it to be entertaining and diverting.   I’m going to leave this one as having been over-hyped by the time I got to it.  I do think I will like the movie.
My current reads are Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which I am loving, and The Divide by Nicholas Evans, which I am liking.  K and I also are still reading The Good Earth aloud, and I'm listening to A Tale of Two Cities in the car.  Audiobooks are a new experience for me, but I'm enjoying it.  I may read the sections after I've listened to them just for clarity.  I read A Tale of Two Cities in high school, but I remember little about it except that I loved it then...lo those many years ago.   This weekend I'm reading Lord of the Flies along with Anna.

Have a great reading Thanksgiving week!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mini Reviews and Hibernating for the Winter

Photo by Anna Reavis

    But words are things, and a small drop of ink / Falling like dew upon a thought, produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.  – Lord Byron

If you're looking for me for the next few months, you'll find me as above.  I love winter because it gives me an excuse to spend days doing exactly what I'm doing in the picture...pajamas and all.

After years of avoiding it, I finally read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  Seemingly all the readers I knew had read and loved it and recommended it to me as a story of redemption and hope.  I put off reading it because I knew there would be drama and heartache.  I especially avoided it after I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by the same author because that book was so full of heartache.    While I liked The Kite Runner better than A Thousand Splendid Suns, neither is really my kind of book.   I did find it an important work in that it offered an insight into life in Afghanistan over the past decades of which I was woefully ignorant.  I just don’t like books with that kind of heartache and drama.  I’m more of a fan of understatement.  Also after having read both books, I find them to be a little formulaic.

Recently, Ken and I finished reading Father Melancholy’s Daughter by Gail Godwin.  This was a re-read for me of what I had remembered as being one of my favorite books.  I did enjoy it again but not quite as much as I had expected to.  Partly I think this was because the book really doesn’t lend itself to being read aloud -- too much introspection and deep thinking.  I was thinking our next read aloud would be A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, but last night K suggested The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.  I've been wanting to read it for a long time, so maybe we'll put off the Bryson book for now.

A few weeks ago, upon Ken’s and my father’s recommendation, I read The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West.  I did enjoy the points made in the book but found the plot a little scattered and disjointed.  I found the characters to be likeable and engaging and wonder if the current pope has read the book, as the pope in the novel seems to have been a model for him.

I was reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert but half-way through I became weary of some of the things happening to the main character so have abandoned it for now.  Currently, I'm reading 1984 by Orwell with my daughter for her senior English class and am finally trying Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I originally read 1984 in 1984 when I was a junior in high school.  I am loving it even more now than I did then. 

Happy Winter Reading Everyone!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sound

photo by Anna Reavis
"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." Aldous Huxley
Last night as I was reflecting on some of the advice my therapist had given me yesterday morning, my Pandora station switched to Pachelbel’s Canon in D, one of my favorite songs.  So I stopped thinking and paused just to listen to the music for a moment.  I’ve been playing (or rather attempting to play) this song on the piano for 30 years, and last night is the first time I’ve ever heard the simple, clear foundation melody in the left hand.  I’ve been too distracted by and focused on the difficult right-hand runs of eighth and sixteenth notes to hear the quietly insistent beauty underneath the ornamentation.  A timely and lovely metaphor for what my therapist was trying to tell me:  Stop assuming.  Stop talking.  Stop running.  Focus.  Listen…There is beauty to be heard.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Meaning of Life?

photo by Anna Reavis
"We are not made to love immortal things.  Only what is irreplaceable, unique, and mortal can touch our deepest human sensitivities and be a source of hope and consolation."  Henri Nouwen
Reading authors like Henri Nouwen and Frederick Buechner reassure me because they remind me that I am not alone in my questioning, not alone in my doubt.  It has always been hard for me to realize how many thoughtful people of deep faith struggle with the same non-belief I often feel.  We seem to live in a climate of such thoughtless surety.  I recently re-read Turning My Mourning Into Dancing by Nouwen and finished A Room Called Remember by Buechner. This post is going to be some of my thoughts from the Nouwen book.
One of the most important issues most of us struggle with is the search for meaning in our lives.  At our low moments I expect a lot of us slide into some form of existential angst where we feel overwhelmed by the absurdity of our existence.  Our society has become so insular, so alienating; we are so closed in on ourselves.  The mindset that leads to such insularity is breaking us.  What if our goal, both personally and as a society, became as Nouwen hopes “[to] live in a world without zealously defended borders”?    Nouwen, along with many others, asserts that love is the meaning of life, that loving each other should be our purpose, that we should strive to be a vessel to carry love to others, to let love flow through us without attempting to hoard and clutch it for ourselves.  To make as our goal learning to love one another without suspicion, insecurity, or manipulation.  Love often means accepting, without impatience or judgment, what we have no ability to understand.  We must allow others to be just that:  other.
How difficult it is, though, to love others purely and truly when we aren’t able to love ourselves, when our own needs clamor for attention at every passing moment.  We need justification, praise, validation, attention, and on and on.  Seems like it should be easy to love and forgive yourself, but I think it is one of the hardest processes we struggle with every day. We try to earn love, forgiveness, salvation…from ourselves and from others.  We can’t accept that these are gifts born not of striving, born simply of grace.  We to try craft our own image from the praise and validation we get from others.  We use people to meet our own needs.  How hard it seems to be to see everyone as worthy of love, patience, and acceptance.  The homed and the homeless, the criminal and the judge, the addict and the priest, are people, flawed and broken, just like I am.  We seem to have no real ability to understand another’s pain and often no real ability to understand or accept our own.  Sometimes helping others becomes a method for manipulation and a way to avoid dealing with our own problems.  We make people into projects, objects for improvement, ignoring or bulldozing their personhood and their pain.  Loneliness and neediness create demand and disappointment and break, rather than heal.  What if we learned to love and accept without attempting to change or influence?  To listen without predicting or assuming.  What if we become conduits for love to pass through, rather than receptacles for its landing?
Our openness to each moment as it happens is probably the most important indicator of our own happiness.  I would like to learn to ignore the compartmentalization and dictates of time and society and learn truly just to be in every moment, even if I am doing no more than sitting on the porch reflecting. I need to learn to be alone, open, honest, vulnerable and to listen for the voice of God, even if it comes back to me as the voice of my one true self.  It will be the voice that tells me to accept, love, and forgive myself without impediment, and to extend to others the same gift.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sometimes You Just Get Lucky

photo by Anna Reavis
"The sun was up when I awakened and the world was remade and shining.  There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I."  John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley

I decided a long time ago that whoever I chose as a partner needed to be a reader.  Unfortunately, until now, I have never enforced that rule.  I had no idea what I was missing.  Since we started dating, K has read several books from my library, and we have consistently read aloud to each other.  A couple of weeks ago, after perusing my hundreds of titles, he came into the kitchen having chosen two of my favorites to read.  It was like a Magic 8 Ball coming up "All signs point to yes."  But what I have enjoyed the most about his interest in reading is our reading aloud to each other. 

Our first read aloud was Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz.  It's been on my TBR pile forever, and I was so thankful to have an impetus for finally reading it.  Given K's profession (minister) and my own belief ambiguity, I thought it would be a good starting point for our discussions about faith or lack thereof.  It did serve that purpose somewhat, but the book was disjointed and lacking real depth and insight for me.  I did love reading aloud together and being able to discuss ideas and process our thoughts together. 

Our second read was Woodrow's Trumpet by Tim McLaurin.  I had remembered really liking this years ago and thought I remembered its being laugh out loud funny.  Isn't it odd how your expectations affect your experience of something?  We both did enjoy the story, but I didn't find it nearly as funny and entertaining as I had remembered it. 

Next up was Steinbeck's Travels With Charley, which I had read before and loved.  Here my memories were true.  I love Steinbeck's voice and outlook on life.  And what a dream to amble around the country with an old dog.  Travels is different from his novels, but an entertaining read and a nice insight into the mind of one of our greats.

K's love for Africa led me to choose our current read, Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa.  I read Green Hills maybe ten years ago and thought I remembered liking it, so here again my expectations were high. There is so much minute detail in the book about big game hunting that K and I are both having trouble getting through it.   To our pacifist, naturalist sensibilities the descriptions seem almost obscene.  We may have to abandon this one.

Funny thing about go into something expecting marvelous and you get mediocre, but sometimes, when you get really lucky, you expect mediocre, and you get marvelous.   Read aloud with someone; it may change your life.