Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Summer Reading Rehash

Although I like the idea of reading the same book together, I completely agree with taking a break during August and September. After tonight, I won’t have internet access for about a week anyway. But later, if anyone wants to read a book together, post the request, and I’ll join in if I own the book, once our books arrive.  And I like the idea of meeting here to read recommendations of what books you are reading.

Despite having a busy summer, I found time while on the road to do some reading, albeit very light reading, mostly self-help books.  Self-help books seem to be easy to digest when a lot is going on, especially when the opportunity to recreate yourself is available. Only I can’t say that I have integrated anything that I have read into my life. So maybe these books aren’t very helpful, but here’s a synopsis, nonetheless, for the sake of conversation.

The first book I read on the road was The Handbook for Catholic Moms by Lisa Hendey. A friend gave this to me as a going away present.  Lisa Hendey is a fellow ND grad, although I was a few years behind her.  Lots of familiar names from the blogosphere appear among the pages.  The book gives advice to moms according to four sections: Mind, body, heart, and soul. A new mom would probably find a lot of encouragement in this book, so I passed it on to my sister-in-law who just had her second baby. I did note down a few good quotes, like this one about finding time for silence, from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross:

“God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain perhaps, but in peace. And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him – really rest – and start the next day as a new life.”

Sounds good. I just need to work on that leaving it all with God part.

Also while on the road, I plodded through John Updike’s In the Beauty of the Lilies. The title was the best part.  I wish I hadn’t wasted my time. I can’t figure out the popularity of Updike. Not one character in this book about a family of failures was likable.  I couldn’t decide if the ending is a mockery of sorts or the final redemption of the family. The story begins with a minister quitting his church in the early 20th century because he has lost his faith. His family loses its social status, and he dies penniless. Meanwhile his three children battle soullessness of one kind or another. The third child is a pathetic underachiever who finally stands up for himself in marrying a lame girl and becoming a postman. They have a daughter who becomes a heartless movie star. Her son is a drifter who finally joins a religious cult, a la the Branch Davidians. As the cult is raided by the feds, the group begins to commit suicide, but the son finally wakes up and helps some women and children escape before he dies himself. So the family finally has a hero of sorts, perhaps confirming the original character’s replacement of faith in religion with faith in humanity, although these people are always disappointing each other. Bleak.

Once I arrived at my mom’s I picked up some books lying around her house. One was His Needs, Her Needs by Dr. Willard Harley, which was the 80’s version of Fireproof or The Five Love Languages. Since we have a number of friends with marital problems, and facing a lot of upheavals ourselves, I read this book with interest, although I felt a little like I was reading the tabloids because each chapter starts with the account of how an affair started.  But even though Dr. Harley isn’t Catholic, he is fully committed to rescuing even the most damaged of marriages, and he has real experience and insight, even if he lacks a poetic gift with language. He repeatedly hammers home the idea of making deposits in your spouses’ love bank.  In other words, you have to commit to small acts of love and affirmation, even if it means taking up a hobby you don’t really like, in order to keep a marriage strong. Pedestrian metaphor, but easy to remember and full of truth. It’s easy for me to be a taker; I’m always telling myself I’ve earned a break, but I don’t always remember to be a giver.

I also sped through Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy Your Child’s Imagination. I think he could have come up with a more imaginative title, don’t you? Anyway, this is one of those books that I agree with everything he says in theory: let your child run around outside, let him tinker with machines and motors, let him read good books and limit his connection to media, and instead expose him to fairy tales, poetry, heroes, real love, silence. But to commit to these habits requires a constant battle against contemporary culture, and in our transitory existence lately, we’ve relied a lot on electronic media to prevent tears and destruction. So I felt a little distressed about my parenting failures after reading it, although again I copied down a few quotes, for example:

“In the deepest heart of man, the motive for art and the motive for worship are bound together. That is not accidental. In both art and worship, the heart seeks out something beyond itself – a beauty or a power that is not its own. That seeking involves a great deal of what can best be called ‘play’ … The play of the artist’s hand is one with the praise of the artist’s heart.  .. . In other words, man’s imagination, when it is not corrupt, yearns for the holy – to behold its beauty from a distance, to be possessed by it. All the greatest art of the past, pagan and Christian, testifies to this desire. It is what inspires the poet Pindar and his Pythian Odes, for whom human glory is but a reflection of the divine. How can you celebrate a lad’s victory at the games if you do not contemplate the beauty and vigor of the immortal gods, from whom such blessings flow? . . . For the great threat of the imagination, roused to life like Lazarus from the grave by the faintly heard voice of God, is that it makes a man a man, not a consumer, nor a clodpoll to be counted off in some mass survey. The praise of God is inscribed upon the of man, says Saint Augustine, ‘man who bears about within himself his mortality, who bears about within himself testimony to his sin and testimony that you resist the proud.’

Lastly, I just finished Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. I don’t think Esolen and Lamott would necessarily get along if they met at a party, although they both would appreciate the power of the imagination. Lamott’s writing is poetic and evocative, but this is one of those books about a descent into the hell of alcoholism and drug abuse followed by a resurrection, which is heartrending, but also exhausting. I marked off a number of great quotes and observations, but I can't unqualifiably love this book because, after writing about forgiveness, love and acceptance, Lamott lets drop edgy political commentary that is divisive.

So none of these books would I say “Run and get this book for your library!”  Probably the best book that I read this month was Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, which my sister loaned to me. She posted something about it, but I don’t have time to find her link (add if you like, Betty). It’s a beautiful, but unfinished, story about Paris in WWII, just as the Germans are setting up their occupation there. Nemirovsky was writing about the situation as it was ongoing, but her story reads nothing like autobiography. You crave more after you finish, but you don't want to read it quickly because her writing is lovely. The characters are surprisingly free of antipathy between vanquished and conqueror. In fact, several of the vignettes describe love affairs between the Germans and French. Love grows everywhere, and life persists in the most depressing situations. It’s a beautiful book that you don’t want to end. I'd like to read more of her work. Anybody read anything else by her?

Probably too much info for one post, but I don't have time to edit. I probably won't be reading anything for the next few weeks, as we get settled into our new house and figure out our schooling situation, so I'll be ready to read some recommendations.


Melanie B said...

I jotted down the same quote from Handbook for Catholic Moms. I definitely picked that one up at the wrong time so it's sitting next to my bed, mostly unread. I've been thinking of handing it on to someone, just not sure who. I think you're right I would have appreciated it more as a new mom.

Christy from fountains of home said...

I've read Handbook for Catholic Moms as well, and felt all her advice was great and encouraging, if not completely new and unheard of even by a mom like me, who has only been a mom for 4 years! I think its important that theres books like hers out there, it can only encourage right?

Suite Française was amazing! I really enjoyed how completely immersed her writing made you feel. And even though it described how painfully difficult that time was, the lack of antipathy was almost miraculous.