Summer Reading (part I)

I’ve been wishing for years now I could clone myself. In order to have enough time to do all the reading (& writing) I’d really like to do, there would have to be at least 2 more of me. (Of course, neither the world nor I would really want that to happen!?)

Well…I’ve been reading some very fine books this summer. You might enjoy some of them too!

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, is the amazing story of a woman whose childhood was…hmmm…a little on the harrowing side, I’d say, by middle-class North American standards. I’m tempted to give my own children a copy of the book with the inscription “And you thought your Dad & I made mistakes!?!?!” Ms. Walls’ parents were…well…not your run-of-the-mill people, shall we say, & it seems a miracle their children became such strong individuals as adults. It’s a well-written & fascinating book. A real testament to the resilience of the human spirit…

This Is It – Dialogues on the Nature of Oneness (including interviews with Eckhart Tolle, U.G. Krishnamurti and Tony Parsons), by Jan Kersschot, is one I know I’ll be dipping into over & over again. In the Foreword, Tony Parsons (author of The Open Secret & As It Is) says “This is It invites the seeker to investigate the possibility that there is no one and nothing that needs to be liberated. The author speaks easily and clearly about moving beyond effort, belief and path into a new perception that sees everything as the expression of wholeness.” A very neat & sometimes challenging read. For me, the phrase “This is it” resonated right away. (My most recent posting on religion – My Religion – outlines some of the problems I see with much of “organized” religion.)

Falling Apart in One Piece – One optimist’s journey through the hell of divorce, by Stacy Morrison, is a book I reviewed very recently on the blog – here. An awesome read!

Three Cups of Tea – One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin (yes, I know, I know – I ought to have read this one years ago, but… I didn’t!) is the incredibly inspiring tale of Greg Mortenson & his work over the past 17 years to build schools in rural Pakistan. One day in 1993 he was coming down from a gruelling climb (a failed attempt to scale “K2,” the world’s 2nd-highest mountain) & got “lost.” So begins the amazing saga of his work & determination & the eventual creation of (then) 53 schools in poor & remote areas with the help of the organization he co-founded, the Central Asia Institute.

Having just read Three Cups of Tea, I then borrowed Sally Armstrong’s book Veiled Threat – The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan. A most informative & inspiring book! Seeing the book reminded me I’d once heard Ms. Armstrong speak, & that she was then encouraging women to host potluck dinners as fundraisers for teachers in Afghanistan. I’d actually forgotten I’d co-hosted one of these myself, with a friend – & got wondering…is anyone still doing that?? If not, why not? Such an easy & fun way to get together with friends & also raise money for a great cause! (The money raised could be donated to the Mortenson group, the Central Asia Institute.)

Stones into Schools – Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan is Greg Mortenson’s 2nd book, which I’ve just started in on. Would that we all had a tenth of this man’s energy & drive. We’d sure change the world mighty quick if we did!

Moving along to the fiction department:

The Bishop’s Man is a very fine book indeed. Linden MacIntyre’s fictional (& Giller prize-winning) tale of an insider enforcer, if you will, in a Catholic establishment riddled with…hmmm…language is failing me here. I always have a hard time knowing how to speak politely about priests who sexually abuse children. (Very occasionally, politeness seems a wee bit over-rated, don’t you think??) Well. The novel is a page-turner. Wildly well-written, interesting & challenging. So glad I finally picked this one up!

Noah’s Compass is a novel by Anne Tyler, long one of my favourite writers. Ms. Tyler’s characters are always…different. They often seem quite eccentric – yet are always so well drawn that one very much enjoys reading about their lives. Ms. Tyler blew me right out the water in this one with her recounting of (formerRoman slave & later Stoic philosopher) Epictetus’s lesson about everything having two “handles.”(1) Wow! That sent a shiver through me. Some of those ancient philosopher dudes sure knew a thing or two, eh?? For sure, also, you would never go wrong reading any Anne Tyler novel. I only wish she’s publish several every year!

Beatrice & Virgil is Yann Martel’s latest book. I gobbled it up yesterday in one big gulp. Wow! What a story. Unusual, disturbing – rather brilliant, I’d have to say. I love Martel’s sneaky way of letting readers know a little bit about what it’s like to be a well-known writer. Come to think of it, the whole plot is pretty sneaky, really. But as I said, rather brilliant…

I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake recently. Vonnegut is another of my all-time favourite writers. I’ve been reading his books for close to 40 years now! As it happens, I have an utterly hopeless memory for novels – the “up” side to this being I can re-read them & enjoy them every bit as much the 2nd time around! For sure, I re-read Vonnegut books & always find him brilliant & hilarious. He nails our society right to the wall, in such pointed ways that you marvel at his ability with the English language. Sometimes it makes one despair – but a laugh at human nature (& Vonnegut’s unique sense of humour) is never very far off. If you haven’t read any Kurt Vonnegut, what the heck are you waiting for? (Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse Five would be great ones to begin with… One of his last books is a collection of essays called Man Without a Country; also brilliant!)

Two books I go back & back to are Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser & Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories that Heal, by Rachel Naomi Remen. I always like to put in a plug for these two because they are such moving, healing, helpful, wonderful books. (the posts ‘Broken – or Broken Open?’& ‘Lonely & Terrifed: Just Another ‘Bozo on the Bus’ will give you more of an idea about Lesser’s book. The post ‘Crying – Honouring Our Pain’ tells you how I sometimes use Kitchen Table Wisdom to jump-start the tears when nothing else is making them flow...)

There are 6 zillion other books I’m also crazy about! The postings ‘Books that could change your life!’ & ‘Books That Could Change the World!’ provide 2 lists of books I’ve found very, very special & from which I’ve learned a very great deal over the years.

Reading… I can never get enough of it. I’m addicted!!

And libraries – definitely my candidate for all-time-best-human-invention ever!! (Have you ever met a library you didn’t like? I rest my case…)

Happy reading!!

Janet

p.s. A week or so later: Gotta add here a mention of Philip Simmons's wonderful Learning to Fall - The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, which I have been making my way through slowly - due to the fact that I'm reading about 5 books right now, & also want to do this one justice. Simmons wrote the book while dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), & it is wonderfully thoughtful & ... compassionate & wise. Many of us have our own reasons - as we speak - to pick up some words of wisdom about living well "under the gun," as it were. This is well worth a good look!!

‘Quote of the day’ w. this post: “If a book doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?” – Alice Walker


(1) From Wikipedia: “Everything has two handles, one by which it may be borne, the other by which it may not. If your brother sin against you lay not hold of it by the handle of his injustice, for by that it may not be borne: but rather by this, that he is your brother, the comrade of your youth; and thus you will lay hold on it so that it may be borne.”