Carry on, Jeeves

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Carry on, Jeeves
by P.G. Wodehouse

In a word, hilarious. I think this was Wodehouse's first book in the Bertie Wooster series. It's about a British dandy who acknowledges himself to be a bit of an idiot, and his faithful man Jeeves who always saves the day. This, being an earlier book, doesn't have quite the side-splitting hilarity of later books, but I still laughed uncontrollably.

In a related tangent, based on a discussion of this author with my family this afternoon, I have decided to call my winter home (which incidentally is also where I summer, spring, and fall) "Squirrel-Drop-in-the-Fields", a title befitting its station. If my parents ever get the beach house my mom now longs for, it shall be called "Penguin's End." I laughed until my mascara ran.

It's great to be with family.

Wild Blue

Wild Blue: Stories of Survival from Air and Space
Edited by David Fisher and William Garvey

My mom left this book with me during her last visit, and I returned it to her during my visit this time (yup, I'm still here). It's a collection of short stories by a wide range of authors, and I enjoyed it. My honey had read it in something like three days when it first showed up at our house, but I forgot about it, and then discovered it again when I wasn't feeling well. It's another good morning sickness/super tired mom book. I could read it at the breakfast table while feeding my daughter, and curl up at night with it and read a few pages pages before enjoying precious, precious sleep.

The authors ranged from accomplished aviators/authors like Beryl Markham, Ernie Gann, and Antione de Saint Exupery, to unknowns who simply had amazing stories to tell. The story that I remember most was by William Rankin. He was a career Air Force pilot who had to eject from his FU8 at 47,000 feet above sea level. He survived the explosive ejection in near-space, only to fall into a thunderstorm and be caught in the violent updrafts for 40 minutes. Lightning, hail, waves of water: any of this would be enough to kill a man, but it's even more remarkable after his rapid decompression 10 miles above the earth. Another memorable story was by a British reporter in WWII, covering the RAF's burn unit and patients' rehabilitation. It was on the other end of the spectrum, but just as heroic. I skipped the few fiction pieces, because they sounded false in contrast to pilot's personal stories. In this case, reality was more powerful.

This book is a reminder of what humans can achieve and overcome, even in the face of overwhelming odds. It makes me think that maybe I should stop whining so much about my morning sickness.

Some general housekeeping

Monday, September 22, 2008

Does nobody want a free book? Seriously people, it's not very encouraging to have one's first giveaway ignored. I'll take some blame, though. After a very long post, if you finally made it to the end to read about the giveaway, you probably felt like you had already finished the book. (Sadly, this is me trying to be concise. Long blog posts are a what happens when a quiet person receives a virtual soap box.) Well, in case you missed it, I am giving away my copy of "Banker to the Poor." I am at my parents' house right now, and I was going to bring it with me and and just leave it with them but then I forgot. I blame the babies, both of them. But anyway, now's your (second) chance to receive an inspiring book.

Also, I apologize for the unfinished blog design. I can't leave Blogger's templates alone, but I ran into technical difficulties. I can't help it: I alter my jeans, I make my own vinegar, and I can't use a stock web design. I'll eventually fix it, but you'll have to be patient with me.

Miss Match, Rematch, Match Point

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Miss Match, Rematch, and Match Point, by Erynn Mangum

Well, this post is a little embarrassing. But what good is the internet, if you can't make embarrassing admissions about yourself to total strangers? So here it goes: I read some chick lit. Okay, not just any chick lit... Christian chick lit. A combination of two genres not known for literary excellence. And... (sigh)... I enjoyed it.

Here's some background: I've just been feeling terrible lately. I'm so grateful to be pregnant but I've been experiencing morning sickness while my honey has been away for weeks on business trips. I've been trying to finish Dorothy Sayer's essays but lately I'm just not up to it. My friend loaned me a trilogy by Erynn Mangum which couldn't have been more timely. I read them while laying on the couch when my toddler was napping, drinking ginger tea and trying to ignore the piles of laundry and dust bunnies floating across the floor.

It was a little like watching a Christian version of the TV show "Friends," which I hope doesn't sound like an insult, because it's not. Nobody lives like that, but I was absorbed in that world for as long as it lasted. The main character, Laurie, is a 23- year old single Christian who can't stop playing matchmaker and was loosely based on Jane Austen's "Emma." I thought the author would parallel the plot of "Emma" too, but she respected her characters enough to let them have their own stories. There was no heavy-handed evangelism or salvation-through-romantic fulfillment which often pollutes Christian fiction. The characters were all saved and acted as such, and it was a pleasant, although sanitized, world. This isn't Flannery O'Connor, and I was so glad.

Still, if you're picky with your books, don't read this series. Most of the characters' dialogue had the same tone. The author used frequent Jane Austen quotes, Princess Bride references, Cheesecake Factory shout-outs, and lots of chocoholic activity in what seemed like an effort to help the reader identify with the characters more. They were unnecessary--I related to Laurie's inner life and a young single woman far more than all the Jane Austen love (of which there is plenty!). Laurie is happily single and loves her life, but begins to be blindsided by jealousy of all the newlyweds and engaged couples around her. Her nightly devotions speak to what's going on in her life, and are alternately surprising, thought-provoking, encouraging, etc. I think every Christian knows what it's like to have God quietly speaking to you in the midst of confusion, and the author's honesty gave the books authenticity.

It will be interesting to see how this author matures as a writer. According to Anne Lamott in "Bird by Bird," good writing is about telling the truth. , and I hope that Erynn Mangum will improve her craft so she can communicate more clearly in the future. I'll read it.

The Divine Hours

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle

Simply put, this is a script for daily prayer. Depending on your background, this can really scare off Christians or they can become enthusiastic proponents of fixed hour prayer. My master-of-divinity brother-in-law Michael had a good point about fixed hour prayer when I was picking his brain last fall. He said that like all spiritual disciplines, it can be a great help in your Christian walk, or you can rely on Pharisaical actions to earn your own salvation. It always goes back to your heart: are doing this to please God and increase in holiness? Or are you doing it to impress God with your manufactured righteousness?

So, with that introduction, I like this book. I had some concerns to overcome before buying it after at least a year of deliberation.

  • My gut reaction against the title, "The Divine Hours," which sounds rather conceited in today's world. (Actually, it's an old, old title which probably could be paraphrased "The Sacred Times of the Day" in modern English.)
  • Phyllis Tickle, the author (or probably more accurately, the editor) is renowned in American spirituality and Christianity, but lately has thrown her support behind the Emergent Church, so I was concerned that she would dilute the truths of the Bible and the way historic Christianity has interpreted those truths.
  • Scripture quotations are from the New Jerusalem Bible, which apparently is the accepted Catholic translation but I don't know any more about it than that.
  • I don't come from a ecclesiastical tradition of fixed hour prayer or following the church calendar.
I used my birthday money to finally commit. I'm glad I did for the following reasons:
  • I'm not a disciplined person, so the prayers intended for certain times add structure to my day.
  • This is a great way to pray the through Scripture.
  • The Book of Common Prayer (a hallmark of orthodoxy) seems to be the foundation for this book. I would describe it more of a liturgy for personal worship. For example, each reading has Bible verses to praise God and make requests of God, there are selected hymns to sing, readings to meditate on, etc.
  • As described above, there's a nice variety to keep my attention from wandering.
I mostly just use the readings when I get up in the morning and before I fall asleep at night. I'm not a stickler for certain times, although I do the other two times (around lunch and dinner) if it's been "one of those days." It's nice to take a break from your day to specifically focus on God. The author emphatically notes The Divine Hours are not intended to replace personal prayer, and I've found that daily use encourages me make more informal, small prayers throughout the day.

If you're willing to take the red pill like me, check out this link to the current office. And now since I've stayed up too late (again) I'm going to bed.

"May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen."

Peace Like a River

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Peace like a River, by Leif Enger

Loved it. I'm so glad I read this one. I actually started it a long time ago... Whenever I was at my friends Drew and Jessi's house, I would invariably nurse baby Violet upstairs in their office, where they keep their books. And of course, I would read. After all, I was stuck there for at least 30 minutes, so I worked through the first few chapters of "Peace Like a River" over several months. I liked what I read, but I didn't complete the book until this summer. I had an unused credit which I redeemed for our vacation this summer. I tried really hard to pick something my honey would like, too, but he hasn't read (or rather, listened to) this one yet. His loss--I'm sure he will love it, too.

The story is set in rural Minnesota in 1962. The narrator is a 10 year old boy named Reuben, and he describes his imaginative, honor-bound little sister, Swede; his father, whose prayer life is so alive, and whose King James Bible is so worn, that genuine miracles accompany his humble circumstances; and his 16-year brother Davy, who seems more like his father's equal than his own brother. Two bullies harass the family until Davy is provoked to violence that puts him in the town jail and the center of controversy. When Davy escapes, the remainder of his family sets out to search for him.

Their search echoes the poetry that Swede writes, epic battles of good and evil set in the American west. Swede brings plenty of allusions to "Riders of the Purple Sage," Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and Zorro. But then Rueben, in his foolish 10 year-old judgement, makes disastrous choices which affect even more people than their own family.

The writing was lyrical, and the characters were firmly anchored in a strong sense of place and time. My only quibble was that the ending was so beautiful, and so gut-wrenching, that it almost felt like cheating. I usually listen to audiobooks (or podcasts) when I'm doing chores like mopping or laundry, but when I got to the ending, I just sat on the couch and listened while tears streamed down my face. If you want to read a really good story, get this book.