Category Archives: Books

Book Review: Lilith

Imagine your spiritual experience as a fantastical world.

I find this to be a cathartic and highly entertaining excercise. I can imagine my hand-clasped, grit-teethed struggles over sin or loneliness as a tumultuous landscape of sharp-jawed mountains and valleys pocked by caves. Or my days of solace and hope as strange silent gardens, like those in fairy tales, with voices in the air and wondrous fruit on elvish sized trees. My hopes, my desire, become flitting birds and butterflies of outlandish blues. Virtues, mine and God’s, well, I’ve always imagined them as tall, lithe companions with a light on their faces that doesn’t fade at dusk. As to my vices and those of the sullied world, they are a troupe of brutes and fiends with leering eyes and misshapen bodies, who all know my name far too well.

If you could take that sort of imagined world, add a smidgen of creative genius, an author with a soul “closer to the spirit of Christ than any other encountered,” and weave a story about a young man plunged into an epic journey through that soulish land, you’d have something approximating the brilliant spiritual fantasy of George MacDonald’s Lilith.

The tale itself is simple; a wealthy, leisured young man inherits an old estate and in its library discovers a presence he didn’t expect. A form, alternating between a huge raven, and a tall, raggedy-coated old man seems to haunt his house. In following this specter one day, the young man forays up to the attic and stumbles into another world. There, he meets Adam and Eve, who become his guides on a journey to his own salvation. In his quest, he encounters Mara, the Lady of Sorrow, Adam’s daughter, and eats the bread of her house. He takes refuge with the Children, a band of innocent, fairy-like little ones who never seem to grow up. And then, he finds Lilith, the dangerously lovely and utterly evil first wife of Adam. The incredible quest of the book is to explore how the most evil being in the world can be brought to repentance. The journey is the quest for redemption, but it leads, every step of it, through the mercy of pain.

Lilith is typical of George MacDonald’s unique spiritual fantasy in that the author takes the stuff of our spirits, the journeys toward salvation, the mercy of God that each of us will encounter in this life, and fleshes it out in faces and forms of fantastic imagination that somehow manage to bring God and all his goodness close as breath. Lilith (and Phantastes, it’s informal prequel) are not books to be easily explained, or lightly read, but they are stories that will shape the way you perceive God. In a way that no sermon ever could, they will present God’s mercy as a story, a song, they will show you how pain can be woven into the happiest of endings.

I don’t find this book easy to explain. (I’ve rather avoided writing this review because of it.) It’s a bewildering world, but the story, the light, and the grace are clear. C.S. Lewis himself, literary critic and verbose commentator, merely said after reading Phantastes that it had “baptized his imagination.” I suspect he couldn’t find more words. It’s enough though. When you enter a MacDonald world, you recognize mercy and goodness, love and grace as the powerful, beautiful things they are. Lilith is a world of a book- you taste it and touch it and find yourself face-to-face with some strange creature that you suddenly recognize as yourself. I find my soul sight clarified after reading MacDonald. In keeping with Lewis, I won”t say much more.

So go. Experience this world of a soul and story, look for yourself within it, look for mercy and pain and innocence to suddenly take form and speak to you through the characters of the books. And when you’ve read it, come tell me what you think. Maybe you’ll have more words than I did.

(And if you have read it, please, speak!)

Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under Books

Book special for Christmas!

Happy Thanksgiving Monday!

I have to start by thanking you all so very much for your lovely comments of congratulation on my book publication a couple of weeks ago. I am most encouraged. You’re kind comments are so heartening! I love having friends to share the festivities of book release celebrations.

Which brings me to the festivity bit. Seeing as Read for the Heart is coming out at Christmas and all, I decided its only fitting to offer it at a Christmas special. So, if you happen to know anyone who would enjoy a foray into the world of literature, then hop on over to the Storyformed Project and get them a signed copy of my book. Your brand spanking new, hot-off-the-press first edition of the book will also come with a lovely Christmas card and a printed quote on the glories of reading, just for fun.

This is also my chance to very informally introduce you to the new site I’ll be running. I’ll still be posting here, but I’m setting up a sort of online literary world over at a new blog site called The Storyformed Project. It will be an ongoing blog conversation on books old and new (and for young and old), writing, words, anything literary at all. There will be reviews, quotes, research, links, and all things literary I can imagine.  It will also be the hub of the speaking, teaching (creative-writing, English, and “Inklings” classes), and literary tours (dates posted soon!) I’ll be doing. I’m excited. It’s sort of like creating a virtual old English library where anyone can stop in for tea. I’m having a ball. It will all be redesigned quite soon (oh yes, I’m going to be all professional about this and actually get someone to help me frame in that tricky code) but the site address will remain the same.

Last but not least, if you live in Colorado, my mom and I are hosting several Christmas literary events where there will be talks on reading, Christmas book recommendations, readings of favorite stories, and of course, hot tea and toffee pudding. If you are interested in attending, email me at itinerantidealist@gmail.com, and I’ll whiz the details your way.

Have a beautiful Thanksgiving my friends!

13 Comments

Filed under Books

Today, I love…

Maxing out my library holds list. I get in a book mood and order about a dozen. Two are ready today: A Simply Wonderful Christmas: A Literary Advent Calendar, and Brendan.

Being done with the business side of being a writer. Sales tax licenses and business acounts, bleh.

Riffling back through the pages of Lilith in search of my favorite quotes. (Book review on that one soon.)

My recent gift from a bookish friend: Tasha Tudor’s The Great Corgiville Kidnapping. Tasha Tudor is one of my heroines. Do you know what made it even better? Opening the first page and finding it was signed. Yes. (I did, in all fairness, offer it back to my friend. I mean, there are some things you just have to do. My friend responded with heroic self-sacrifice and the book is now on my highest shelf.)

Walking in the opalescent light of melting snow with a sapphire sky above.

This quote by George Eliot: Perhaps the most delightful friendships are those in which there is much agreement, much disputation, and yet more personal liking. Which reminds me. I have recently changed my “Quotes” tab to “Quote Box.” I am adding more quotes there all the time, and think it would be a great delight to have a community quote collection. So, if you have any best beloved quotes, leave them in a comment on the Quote Box page. Thank you!

Coffee with my two lovelies, Ellie and Joy (my sister). We will ostensibly be doing a Bible study, but we’ll add in a good bit of rambling chatter with healthy doses of mocha and laughter.

Laughter in general.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Musings

Ramblings

I’ve rambled around the internet more than usual of late, and stumbled upon some marvelous artsy, literary sorts of things. I feel compelled to share them:

The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor
I’m having such fun with this. It’s basically a poem a day. If you subscribe to the free podcast, you get a dose of literary history for the particular day you’re on, as well as Garrison Keillor’s reading of the daily poem. Great literary stuff, and to hear the famous Mr. Keillor read the poems aloud in that strange, mellow voice of his. Well.

Remembering Esther Hautzig
When I studied WWII history, one of the first books my mom assigned was Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe. This true, but oh so winsomely told memoir of a Jewish girl from Poland who was exiled to Siberia in 1939, captivated me from page one. I think I read it several more times during my growing up years because it was a book that managed to bring the worldwide forces of war and separation down to the level of a young girl, longing for home, yet making a new one in the midst of exile. I still remember how desperately she wanted a pair of Siberian boots, only to find that she’d never wear them once back in Poland. I didn’t realize that Esther later came to the States and worked in children’s literature. She died just this week, and the above link will take you to a list of several tributes to her work and character. Remarkable woman.

The Semicolon Blog – “Books we must have though we lack bread.”
I’m lovin’ this blog! If you want a plethora of excellent book reviews on all sorts of subjects with a bit of history and art thrown in for good measure, then head on over.

James A. Michener Art Museum
I love serendipity. I was checking out the membership benefits of a certain art museum and found a list of other museums into which said considered membership would gain me entrance. One of them was the James A. Michener Art Museum. An author with a penchant for art? This sounded interesting. I headed over and found what is one of my delights- a small art museum with a collection of beloved, hand-picked paintings. This one focuses specifically on the art of Buck’s County, PA, but they have an online gallery of their works, and oh my, you wouldn’t believe the luminescent landscapes, the country scenes, the portraits to be found in that collection. I spent an accidental hour being enmeshed in their beauty. And I am now determined to someday own some form of night scene print by George W. Sotter.

John Muir Writings
I watched the PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and wished I could meet the people behind the whole national parks project. They loved nature. John Muir was one of them; he was a naturalist who spent months by himself in the deepest wilds of the rockies. His love of nature, his awe of its Creator, and the writing he did to describe it formed a partial narrative to the documentary. Needless to say, I wanted all his books after hearing this quote: he who believes in neither God nor glaciers is the worst sort of unbeliever. I can see the wryness on his face as he said it. Imagine my delight to find the above online collection for free.

Is There Anyone Anymore Who Will Tell Us How to Write Well?
I sent this article to my editor. I thought she’d appreciate it. She recommended I get White’s guide to writing style. (Wonder why?!)

Charles Van Sandwyk Art
I’ve mentioned this artist before, but a recent book fair enabled me to hold a few copies of his priceless books and I just have to let the world know of his existence again. The intricate, fairy tale, folk tale sense to his art is charming beyond words, but the fact that he steadfastly maintains his own press and oversees every bit of his work from start to finish is equally wondrous. I have just a few notecards of his framed, but someday, I hope to get a book. A browse of his pictures is a hearty meal for the imagination.

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Books

Reading of late

November resolution number one: write more book reviews.

It is scandalous how many books I read and never say or write a word about. A good book demands praise. So. Starting today, I’m going to do a weekly mini-review post of all the books I am reading. Just jottings; postcards if you will, from my literary travels. Longer reviews of particularly superb books will occasionally follow. But this habit will give me the chance to regularly articulate a few of the delightful, but agitated bookish thoughts constantly in my head. Feel free to join in the literary agitation.

The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family by Rebecca Fraser
51vj5AdpI7L._SL160_All writers need a few literary idols.  I never thought Charlotte Bronte would be one of mine. I liked Jane Eyre when I read it back in high school, but it didn’t sweep me away. Charlotte herself is a different matter. The fierce, tiny woman who hailed unthinkable grief with stoic faith, who loved and dreamed with unmitigated passion- she rivets me. Loyal, sarcastic, shy, determined, an idealist whose world was the tiny box of a parsonage on the Yorkshire moors, Charlotte Bronte offers a life story that reads like a novel. Gwen loved this and passed it on a couple of years ago, and having finally gotten round to it, I feel the same sorriness in finishing it as I do on ending Victorian epics by the likes of George Eliot, or Charles Dickens.

To begin with, this is excellent history and biography. The ideas and events of Victorian England and the literary world that was so rich at that time are extensively explained, as are Charlotte’s convictions, decisions, and history. I feel educated. But Rebecca Fraser has also managed to make this biography read like a story. She allows the brisk, brilliant tang of Charlotte’s letters and journals to form the main narrative of the book. We hear directly from Charlotte of the foibles of lifestyle, thought, and faith that made her a genius of a woman and writer. From her beginning as one of six imaginative children, to her end as the lone survivor of her beloved siblings, Charlotte’s story is marked by loss and a wild sense of sorrow. But it is shot through with her stoic Christian faith, her fire-fierce love for her family, and the vivid imagination that made an inner world for her and her readers.  I loved Fraser’s voice as a biographer. She is winsome, breezy, and descriptive. She shows great restraint in conjecture about Charlotte’s life, never forcing a theory where there is room for disagreement. Modern biographies often read all kinds of unfounded motives into the actions of defenseless writers who aren’t around to explain themselves. Fraser doesn’t. If Charlotte said it, it’s true. Otherwise, she leaves the matter to mystery. She also offers sympathetic, but often amused commentary on Charlotte’s rather abrasive opinions, her martyrish dedication to “truth in her art,”and her few fierce loves.

I started this book expecting to be challenged as a writer. In the end, I was heartened simply as a human soul by this story of the woman who accidentally set Victorian society on its ear with her passion and insight into human nature. Charlotte showed me the power of inner worlds, how a vivid, soulful imagination can form a story that makes a world for the inhabitation of other minds. She showed me how passion and grief can be poured into powerful creation. She also proved that it is possible to keep a soul vividly, lovingly alive in the shadowiest of situations. If you are in the mood for a long (this is 500 pages!), writerly, introspective, but tangy book and rather soulish biography, this is it.

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper
51bM1VhKklL._SL160_I thought of my siblings the whole time I read this. Especially my brothers. When we were all young, we spent read-aloud afternoons together which were inevitably followed by a re-enactment of our story (when we were little) or a discussion of its philosophy (when we were old and sophisticated). Our little gang would have gotten great mileage out of this book. I picked this up at Goodwill, and was going to skim it one Saturday, never expecting to be intrigued. But the actor boy Nat, the shimmering world of the stage, and a time-traveling story of Shakespearean England had me glued to its pages within five minutes. Eleven-year-old Nat is the hero of this tale, an actor of a boy who loves his role of Puck in an itinerant troupe’s production of  A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When Nat gets sick on the eve of a grand performance in London’s Globe Theater, he wakes to find himself transported back to the days of Shakespeare himself. His friendship with the Bard and the time he spends in the smelly, sweaty, rollicking world of sixteenth century London, help him to sort out the secret grief that lurks in his present. A celebration of the stage, a subtle exploration of how art and friendship help us to bear grief, while also being a sensitive tale of an orphaned boy, this story has a surprising poignancy. Cooper is a writer who weaves a scene so that you feel you are in it. I’d caution though, that this really isn’t a children’s book, however much it says it is. Nothing graphic, but the themes, and Nat’s secret sorrow, make this a more mature tale.

Sacred Legacy by Myrna Grant
412CNW8S3SL._SL160_Steph had this waiting on my pillow when I visited in October. I’ve read a chapter a day as a storyish way to begin devotions. I am heartily pleased. My first observation is very insightful, of course: it’s not treacly. I get rankled by the plethora of spiritual books for women that lack verve, strength, challenge. Not this. The first chapter is on Perpetua, a young and beautiful Roman martyr who was so enthralled by the joy of Christ, she walked to her death singing hymns, barely aware of the arena where she met a wild animal. Try that for a devotional spark with your morning tea.

This is a collection of writings excerpted from the works of nine, ancient Christian women. Remarkable  anyway for being writers in times when few women were educated at all, each woman was also exceptional in her love of God. Each chapter is prefaced by a personable introduction and short history/biography by the compiler, Myrna Grant. Grant herself is an engaging writer, using stories from her own life and travels as an intro to her easy-to-read histories of the ancient church and her bios of the featured women. These are followed by excerpts from the works of the women themselves. So far in my reading, I’ve met Perpetua, Dhuoda, a worried medieval mother writing instructions about faith to her son, and Hildegard, an opinionated, brilliant, and passionate nun. Each story, each rousing bit of ancient writing, has an energy that spurs me. I am better readied to think, to pray, but mostly to love after encountering the vivacious faith of these women. They have lots of verve. I want to too.

And now. On my currently reading, or soon to be begged, borrowed, bought, or stolen list:

1. Brendan by Frederick Buechner
2. The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Our Pain by Scott Cairns
3. Lilith by George MacDonald
4. The Importance of Being Foolish by Brennan Manning
5. Standing by Words by Wendell Berry. I am going to finally finish this.
6. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
7. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton


4 Comments

Filed under Books

My book, oh my book

437021o

It’s almost here. I just had to tell you. It’s like my baby. Three more weeks and I’ll have it in my hands. I am speechless with thanks.

I have to admit, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I sat down to write this. The urge to spontaneously jot down book lists for people has been with me since my teens; I’m that nose-in-a-book sort of girl. The original idea was a very intuitive one: “oh, I think I’ll write a book with all the lists of my favorites, and tell everyone why reading is the most delightful activity in the world.”

Well, it is. But now I have documented it, dated it, footnoted it, researched it, and laboriously listed out why. The sheer amount of details required to document each book mentioned is mind boggling! But it is done and the work and journey of the writing has been an education that has shoved me even farther down the literary road in my life. This is one of the things I want to give my life to. I want the whole world to love books. I want every child to be formed by stories. I want every person I can get my hands on to have their soul enlivened by the sorts of books that will help them to live an epic. I even want to give speeches about this, which, since I generally avoid speaking as if it were chickenpox, will tell you just how passionate this subject gets me.

So there you have it. If you live in the Colorado area, there are going to be several release parties/literary celebrations/Christmas book reading sorts of soirees in late November, early December. I’ll post dates soon. Have a beautiful day you all.

Oh, and while you’re at it… READ!

Update: I’m so bad at remembering details. Here’s the stuff I forgot that I really should have added. The publisher is Apologia Press. You can order the book at Apologia.com. (As soon as I have a specific link to my book, I’ll post it here.)

21 Comments

Filed under Books, Musings

Book Review: Remembering

41G7NpOQDjL._SL160_There is a peculiar light to Monday mornings. Uneasy, it always feels to me, as if hurry thrummed in the very color of the day. But this past Monday, I ignored it. Rush was mobbing my conscience, but I gated it out because I was reading a book I truly could not put down. It was noon before I finished, and by that time all my bustle had been scattered by the slow, sweet rise of joy that ached in my story. I don’t think I’ve ever been so immediately affected by a book as I was by Wendell Berry’s short novel, Remembering.

I have taken Wendell Berry for my mentor. His books challenge me, especially his fiction, because they make me face what is real, hungry, and true in my own heart. This is not escapist literature- there is no whisking away involved in reading Hannah Coulter, or A Place on Earth. You don’t put down his novels like you do some modern books and wish your life weren’t so mundane. In Berry’s characters, you meet yourself. The loves, the quiet losses, the unspoken griefs, the desires for transcendence and hope that plague every one of us humans every day, get articulated in the thoughts and lives of his characters. Because of this, Mr. Berry also manages to put his finger on the pulse of what we have lost in modern culture. He writes about the loss of community, the breakup of families, the deadening ways of consumerism, the way wonder is poisoned by a materialistic view of life, and he does it with quiet, logical eloquence, demanding us to value the old ways again. He speaks what we all feel, but have no idea how to say.

I must admit though, that I have often wanted to write him a letter of protest. How, I would say, do you return to community if you never had one? I yearn for history, for a people that knows me. But how do you learn rootedness without roots? Berry himself grew up in Kentucky, the son of farmers. He left to study, and could have stayed away forever, breaking the “membership” (one of his terms) of the life to which he was born. He came back. He re-entered the fellowship of place and family that were his history and gift. Lucky him. What if you don’t have that to come back to? Could he possibly understand the sense of displacement felt by so many in my generation? I at least have the priceless grounding of a strong, loving family. But I’ve moved at least 15 times in my 25 years. I yearn to be settled, and ultimately, known. Can a nomad soul like mine and others ever find community? There is no “place on earth” waiting, hoping for our return.

That’s why I loved Remembering.

For the first time, I knew that Berry had felt my own sense of being lost in a huge grey world where nothing is personal, and no one will hold you. Remembering is a journey in and through the thoughts of middle-aged farmer Andy Catlett. I knew Andy from previous books as every story Mr. Berry writes is set in the fictional town of Port William. Andy had been a boy when I knew him in Hannah Coulter, but now he was a man who had made the hard decision to return to the farming and family he had left when he was young. The story opens in a dark San Francisco hotel room, where Andy is questioning not only his decision, but everything he loves. Injured, alienated from his wife, far from home, rejected by his peers, feeling that he is a relic from an old time never to be reclaimed, he walks out into the pre-dawn of the San Francisco streets.

The first chapters were surreal; as a reader I felt disoriented. Only at the end of the book did I realize that I was meant not just to read, but experience, the terror of being unmoored from the people who love you and the place that knows you. Everything becomes strange. Andy wanders the streets, wondering if he can return to the life he thought he had chosen in Kentucky. Homeless men and suspicious woman grip his eyes; he sees the river-like flow of nameless faces stream through the city, and wonders how anyone can ever be known, get home again. The worst comes gradually to him. He has failed. Does he even want to be found? But then, there is this moment, as dawn creeps up the edge of the ocean. He sits on a bench, just watching. And he begins to…remember. Snippet from tales told in his childhood about the courtship of his great grandparents, or the first farm of his father. The stories of the lives of the men and women whose choices, loves, had made possible the shape of his life. They rise up around him and:

He is held, though he does not hold. He is caught up again in the old pattern of entrances: of minds into minds, minds into place, places into minds. The pattern limits and complicates him, singling him out in his own flesh. Out of the multitude of possible lives that have surrounded and beckoned to him like a crowd around a star, he returns now to himself… He has met again his one life and one death, and he takes them back. It is as though, leaving, he has met himself already returning…meeting…a few dead and living whose love has claimed him forever. He will be partial and he will die; he will live out the truth of that. Though he does not hold, he is held. He is grieving, and he is full of joy. (Chapter 3)

I won’t tell you anymore, but for me, every word from there out was the slow swell of a music only to be known in loving, and choosing to love again in the face of loss and grief. It is a music half broken, but singing itself whole. In hearing it, I knew that Mr. Berry had known the ache of being lost. I knew he had fought, as I am fighting, to believe that constancy in friendship and fidelity in love is possible. I knew he had heard, as I have, the derision of a fast-paced, impersonal world, and still chose to believe that the sort of life that grows up slow and rich from the ground of faith, hope, and love, was so precious it could demand the whole of his life. I even think he’s wondered if he had it in him to stay that course.

When I got up from my chair on that Monday, I felt held. Mr. Berry, I realized, is generous with his history, offering his own memories to cradle the hopes of nomads like me. He affirmed that my hope for a place on earth is already creating one. It is a struggle and a journey, but my very desire to love creates the possibility of community. Mr. Berry and Andy Catlett were blessed to have places to come back to, but someone had to begin it. In my case, I’m the beginner. My actions of hope as I search for my place are creating the memories that will one day hold my children. I will find my place on earth. But the story I am making in the process will be part of the “remembering” that grips those coming after me. This journey is a fight, but every step of it is also an act of creation.

With Andy, I was suddenly full of joy.

13 Comments

Filed under Books