Today I am sharing what I've been reading in March 2019. Some heavy, heavy reading, for sure, and some serious fun, and even a couple children's books! Continuing with my plan to document what I read in 2019, I am creating a traveler's notebook - and can I interject right here that I love this size of documentation. I create a page - or two - for each book I've read, sometimes including rather lengthy thoughts on the book, and sometimes simply a short and sweet synopsis.
Inspired by Rachel Held Evans. Before I share my thoughts I want to preface those with this: that I give Evans' book 4.5 stars of 5 stars because she writes so beautifully. She has a true gift of the pen. She speaks with intelligence and eloquence and for those she writes for is compelling and swaying. That said, I truly am not who the book was written. I do not wrestle in the same way Evans wrestled with the Word of God. That is not to say I do not wrestle with the Word in doubt, but I wrestle with the Word coming from a belief, a faith that the Word is true, the Word and its various genre, and my wrestling is for understanding of that truth. I don't, but I guess one could, take offense at her scathing attacks of the conservative Christian and biblical scholar of the same because she writes with that slant and with an offensive arrogance (which is the reason I didn't give her book 5 stars). I got the distinct impression that if it comes out of the mouth of a conservative Christian then they could only be uninformed, simple-minded, intolerant, and definitely unenlightened to her truth. Many of the same 'truths' she's decided on have come from those same Christians who did their own grappling with the text. Thus, conservative Christians may find Evans' book difficult to read and may stir up anger.
I did enjoy her midrashic interpretations of passages at the beginnings of each chapter. I have read many compelling Biblical 're-tellings' of this midrashic nature from creative authors such as Francine Rivers, Liz Curtis Higgs, and Tessa Afshar and Evans reigns along aside. However, one has to be careful of interpreting scripture, adding story to the Word of God unless there is additional historical representation as truth, and sometimes I felt that is what Evans does; her view of the text is sometimes clouded by her midrashic interpretations. I was often confused by statements like "This single event, whether historical or legendary or a bit of both...never should it be discounted as just a story." On the one hand she opens up the biblical text as suspect but then says it should never be discounted as just a story. Or, "Bible stories don't have to mean just one thing...faithful engagement with Scripture isn't about uncovering a singular, moralistic point to every text and then sticking to it.' Yet, it seems sometimes the conclusions Evans has come up with are the hardened fast conclusions because they are different from more traditional interpretations because if they are traditional interpretations they couldn't be correct. Many of the texts' Evans has grappled with I have found already through my own studies and have come to similar conclusions and others she confronts that I have had questions she even cleared the mess out of the way. Yet, even still the Bible is more. Much more. More than any human alive will ever be able to flesh out every nuance, every conclusion, every truth. Evans often ends particularly controversial chapters or paragraphs of controversy with profound conclusion statements. Statements that I have believed for years and I can wholeheartedly agree with, statements she seems to write as if to say, "after all this grappling, this is what I believe.' And - if you're a Paul hater you must read the near to the end chapter on church stories. You'll be - enlightened. Whew! Enough said, I think. Enjoy!
One more thing...sorry. At the end of her 'fish stories' chapter, Evans is sharing a conversation she had with a mother at a dinner party about which were her favorite bible stories and the mother says it's the one where Jesus meets his disciples on the beach. Evans goes into a lengthy, intellectual - and obvious arrogant - discourse about the meaning of the parable. The mother's response is hysterical, "Oh, I wasn't thinking about all that. I just like the idea of God frying up fish for breakfast." Yes! It made me curious if Evans' intellect doesn't sometimes get in her way of seeing God!
Here's one of my own 'simple' stories: Hebrews 2:14 says, "Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil—" Many years ago, when I struggled to understand how God could have allowed my own body to be beaten and abused (bruising that lasted for half a year), strangled and smothered, kicked and brought to near death, it was coming across Hebrews 2:14 that brought me to my knees. Jesus was flesh and blood. He shared that with me. No! I shared that with Him. And, he was beaten and abused, and flogged and crushed way more than I ever was. And hung on a cross. He knows what I went through! He shared in my humanity. The Word of God, right there in my messy story. Yes, the Bible is so much more! But, even more importantly, God is so much more! 17/120
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan. Immediately drawn into a story with captivating prose. An intellectual, yet fledgling writer, Joy Davidman, married to an abusive and alcoholic husband is encouraged by a literary friend to write to C.S. Lewis, one of the spiritual giants of his time - and even today - when Joy is struggling with a crisis of faith, her writing woes, her marital struggles, life in general. Thus, begins a long-distance friendship through letters that eventually grows into love. Callahan weaves a story of enduring love and loss and friendship and finding God in the midst, at times excruciatingly heart-wrenching and agonizing, and with extremely flawed characters. Through this friendship and unresolved health issues Joy is led to England, leaving her sons behind, to finding healing, relationship resolution, and ultimately, eventually, finds acceptance and real love. While I usually don't like books when the characters have so many flaws (Please don't ask me why because I have no idea. I believe wholeheartedly in redemption for the worst of sinners as I am one of those heavily flawed sinners), yet even all the characters flaws, I adored Becoming Mrs. Lewis. Maybe this will be a turning point for me - flawed characters and their redeeming qualities are enough...While this was historical fiction, clearly the author did her research on the life of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis and weaved a truly believable tale as if I was reading their real life stories. 18/120
The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle. Hysterically funny! I have never in my life read a book that I laughed so much. It is a memoir on marriage - of sorts - and you just gotta laugh. And Shankle makes you laugh. I just laughed through the entire collection of marital 'bliss'. Her blatant sarcasm (I love quick wit and snarky sarcasm), the plethora of humorous anecdotes, smack dab in the middle and spread throughout, are some particularly acute, thought-provoking real marital truths and Biblical wisdom, although humor is the winning ticket. 19/120
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. How does one say I adored the writing, but hated the story. Especially the 'beginning story' as told by who I'd most definitely call the antagonist, Vida Winter - or at least - she is antagonistic to me. The 'beginning story' is horrific, cringe-worthy, bile-rising-up with each turned page in disgust. A truly disturbing beginning. Each time I thought, 'surely it stops!' It doesn't with more vile happenings. To be fair, this is a Gothic tale, generally, most assuredly, a genre I stay light years away from because they're creepy and horrible with extremely flawed characters, very dark. The Thirteenth Tale is filled with all. I found one spark of humor reminiscent of the board game Clue, "The doctor's wife. In the music room. With the violin." Ha! I actually laughed when I caught the subtle humor. There were intermittent reprieves from the menacing and creepy, such as the introduction of the giant and as a storyteller myself, no a writer of books but the stories of our lives I loved finding, "she seems to be managing a little better," the doctor imparted to Margaret, "She says it is the anesthetic qualities of storytelling." The theme of twins is woven throughout the book, but sorely out of place and superfluous is Margaret's own twin ramblings. 20/120
Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle. A funny memoir on motherhood. If I was in the throes of motherhood, especially if I was embarking on that journey, or in the trenches, this book would have been just as funny, I believe, as her hilarious memoir on marriage. Definitely worth a young mothers time and enjoyment. In her typical snarky, sarcastic, quick-witted humor Shankle delivers fantastically. 21/120
The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. This is not over-the-top wow writing, however, it is fun! It's not funny, but fun. If you like their show Fixer Upper and anything Chip and Joanna Gaines you'll enjoy reading their story. 22/120
The Complete Collected Poems by Maya Angelou. Her work is beautiful and inspiring. Poetry is not a genre I typically pick up but I am so glad I did. Ms. Angelou is brilliant. I read somewhere that we should read poetry because we have poems in us that need to be written. After reading this beautiful collection I was inspired to pick up a pen. Long ago I attempted to write poetry when I thought I was creative enough; thankfully I grew out of that:) But, in college (when I was in my 40s I took a Senior writing course where I was required to write many types of papers and realized that while I might not be talented it was something I enjoyed - I don't think the two have to go hand in hand). So, after reading this selection, loving, in particular the story or narrative poems, I wrote my own narrative poem, Black Momma Loves. 23/120
Calypso by David Sedaris. I had heard rave reviews for Sedaris' Calypso. Though I've never read anything by Sedaris, nor heard him talk, I checked out this selection from the library and I was - pleasantly surprised - when I wasn't blasted - and uncomfortable - with his vulgarity. A book of supremely personal and familiar essays, Sedaris has sarcastic, sadistic humor, and while I did chuckle a few times, the subject matters were often dark and gloomy, and much of his subject matter is downright sad. He has this deadpan prose style (Yep, I looked that up because I would have said drool or monotone. Think Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?) that can become annoying. But, just when I'm ready to throw the book aside he does this sneak attack wit that captures my attention, again. 24/120
The Empty Pot written and Illustrated by Demi and read by Rami Malik. I am always on the lookout for good children's books - it's the grandmother in me - and a friend of mine posted this book on Facebook as a book recommended to her by her librarian. Because it was recommended by someone I admire, I knew I had to read it and if I liked it would be going on the ledge in my hallway with all the children's books - for my grandkids when they come visit. Truth always wins is the ultimate telling of the story. A Chinese emperor announces an unusual test to choose an heir - the child who raises the best flowers from a seed given by the Emperor will be his successor. Ping, unaccountably, is unable to get his seed to sprout, let alone grow. But, somehow - Ping's empty pot is best of all. 25/120
Carla's Sandwich by Debbie Hermon and Illustrated by Sheila Bailey; read by Allison Janey. A tremendous telling by Janey who reads each character with voices the story is about Carla who brings weird sandwiches to school and her classmates have plenty to say about them, such as, disgusting, gross, and sick. But, Carla thinks otherwise, "It's unique, and creative." Just like Carla. When Buster forgets his sandwich Carla offers hers. This is a character building story of kids celebrating each others uniqueness, rather than tearing each other down. 26/120
Hallelujah! The Welcome Table by Maya Angelou. It is a month for reading books by the same author. Oh my! I say hallelujah for this chronicle of blessings, I mean - stories - in the extraordinary life of Maya Angelou and the food that is the backbone of those stories. I have long been a lover of stories + food and just as Ms. Angelou is a story teller and poet she is also a cook. The breadth that is Ms. Angelou is wide and her life is wider still. Many of the recipes I hope to try for my family and because we, too, have learned that sharing our table, our food, is some of the best kind of sacred fellowship it is not surprising I adore this book. 27/120
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. I adore this book! If one can hang on through the first several chapters, which are definitely essential to the story, yet still - frustrating, it is a delectable, charming, wonderfully precious story. While I have only read Anne of Green Gables by Montgomery, and this is nothing like Anne..it is, however, a testament to Montgomery's literary brilliance in weaving a charming story - Oh, how fun it becomes! This will definitely be going on my favorites list for 2019! It is un-put-down-able! Out of necessity because we get up at 4 am, bedtime is no later than 9 pm. I stretched that to 10 pm and reluctantly went to bed before I was finished. 28/120
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Wow! I easily finished this in a few hours as it was a page turner and un-put-down-able. I am not normally a sci-fi reading fan and rarely read sci-fi. But this. This was a fantastic read. Fast-paced and dynamic. As a Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis super fan (meaning I watch both shows at least once a year) I am familiar with the infinite number of alternate realities theorems so I had zero problems following along with the scientific story line. While there is science involved, ultimately, this book is about choices, and the infinite possibilities that could result from the choices we make, each and every choice. Which is an interesting dilemma. 29/120