Les livres de 2011: round 3

I feel like I've written less about this Soul semester than I did about Memory, but don't take that as a sign that I haven't been thinking about it. I have a wrap-up post scheduled for later this week because my third semester starts on Sunday (!!) and I can't wait to dive into that one.

But let's do some book reviews today, shall we?

16. Reading Jesus by Mary Gordon
One afternoon, in a cab, it occurred to Mary Gordon that she'd spent a lot of time analyzing literature and barely any time analyzing the Bible. She set out to read the four gospels and write about them in her new book and let me tell you - if you have ever enjoyed the experience of dissecting words in a literature class, you're going to appreciate this book. 

Shelves at Shakespeare & Co in Paris.
Having read it, I feel like I can now say that John is a writer who goes for the intellectual storytelling and that Luke is a bit more descriptive and poetic. And why shouldn't they have different tones and styles? The writers of these four gospels were recounting what they had heard themselves, with tone and voice specific to their personalities. 

"I am uneasy calling myself a person of faith," she starts her book, and I appreciated this candor, as I myself am somewhat uneasy about it. She's never preachy and is very honest about what moments in the text are troubling to her as a reader. But she's also honest about what aspects of religion she's drawn to… and for that, I found it to be a really balanced read.

17. The Girl who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
What a strange premise for a book! The narrator, the daughter of a Danish woman and an African-American man, lives through a family tragedy and is sent to live with her grandma in Portland, Oregon. Race tensions, emotional trauma and a couple of thought-provoking coincidences make up the ingredients of this plot.

I loved the writing in this book. I read a lot of non-fiction lately and it was so lovely to dive back into pure story. I especially loved all the references to Danish (language, cooking, etc.) because I grew up with a couple of guys whose mom is Danish… and because I'm a cultural junkie and will take foreign-ness when I can take it! 

18. Mary by Janis Cooke Newman
I will also take President Lincoln when I can! If you liked reading Loving Frank when it came out several years ago, you might like this book. Loving Frank told the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's mistress; Mary tells the story of Lincoln's wife - her shopping addiction, her mental illness and the world she lived in.

I think Historical Fiction is becoming one of my most favorite genres. I learned so much about Lincoln, the Civil War, Chicago in the 1800s and (obviously) Mary Lincoln. I'd love to do a presidential road trip one day, wherein I drive around a bunch of the middle states and visit libraries and original presidential homes. 

Warning: this book is BIG. That said, it flies and does such a nice job integrating early life and modern life for the Lincolns that you speed right on through.

19. The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball
When I told Kelley I was doing a semester on discomfort, she jumped on it. "You HAVE to read this book called The Dirty Life," she said. "It's about this woman in NYC who falls in love with a farmer and ends up living on this amazing farm and loving it!" Then she bought it for me for my birthday. 

I liked this book a lot and not just because it constantly reminded me of my summers working at Muscoot Farm. (No joke, I really miss milking cows!)  I really felt like I learned some things about growing vegetables and farm life and the debate between tractors and horses. And though it didn't tempt me to move out of the city and up to nowhere, NY, I did talk with Chris about doing a vacation to a farm with our kids one day. Planned!

20. The Wheel of Life by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
When you grow up with a mom who's a cancer nurse, you've heard of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Sitting at the dinner table with my mom gave us a daily dose of how someone died and who they saw on the way out. Sometimes it was Jesus and sometimes it was a loved one and sometimes it was just a bright light. These weren't religious recounting, but rather matter-of-fact responses to "how was your day?"

Ironically, I was hunting around my closet for the Bible the other day to read the gospels for the Soul project and I found this book instead. It's Kubler-Ross' final book after a long career of writing about and researching death and dying. This memoir tells her life story, from growing up in Switzerland, to putting herself through med school, to volunteering with Holocaust victims in Poland, to an unexpected career in the U.S. She's the one who identified the 5 stages of grief and she's the one who interviewed over 20,000 people who had near-death experiences. 

This book comforted me. It gave me this sweeping, enormous perspective on life and death and though I know there are tons of skeptics out there, it seems a bit presumptuous to judge a lady who witnessed thousands of deaths when I have witnessed zero. Without using religion to argue the existence of an after-life, Kubler-Ross comes at it with data and if your mind is just a tiny bit open to the magic of the world, this book is going to give you some great food for thought.

21. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Alright, what is on your nightstand? What are you reading? PUT IT AWAY! This is totally the next book you should read.

It's fiction and it's so, so, so lovely. I borrowed it from the library (per usual) and I'm totally going to go buy it so that I own a copy. It's the story of three grown sisters who end up back at home in Columbus, Ohio. The characters were so real to me that I felt like she was describing aspects of my siblings and me perfectly. 

The voice in this book is also amazing. She tells it from the collective sisters' point of view and it's so unique. Oh! And also! The thing is littered with Shakespeare quotes because the father in the story is a Shakespeare professor. Eleanor Brown literally uses the Bard's citations as almost a mini-language in this story. So impressive.

On another note, the author has an awesome little blog! Isn't she adorable? Go read about how much she loves Gone with the Wind. I totally want to hang out with her. And re-read her book immediately.

Excerpt alert!

"What do you think all those years were if not for this?" our mother asked. "We don't just come from the womb bearing our talents. They grow from all the things we learn. And if you hadn't worked at restaurants, or you hadn't learned to throw together meals from whatever you had, you'd never be the kind of cook you are now." (307)

22. On Life After Death by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Right. So now I'm obsessed with this after-life stuff. After reading The Wheel of Life, I needed to track down this short little book of her essays. I highly recommend if the following quote resonates with you:

"We have to accept, in humbleness, that there are millions of things which we cannot understand. This is not to say that those things which we cannot understand do not exist, or are not real simply on the grounds that we are not able to understand them." (5)

What are you guys reading lately?

1 comment:

Tara said...

very excited for the weird sisters! i love your recommendations. i hope i can find some time to read them. :)