Happy Friday from the empty house of silence.
All has been wonderful, except for the dead minivan battery that greeted me after my haircut and leisurely stroll through Whole Foods yesterday. Who could I call? My whole family is out of town. Our church staff and interns are out of town. Fortunately, our church elders are not out of town, and one of them happened to be grading papers at a cafe just down the street. He was parked next to me in less than ten minutes, and the van was running five minutes later thanks to his jumper cable know-how. Whew. (Thanks, Dan!)
Reading. It’s something I’ve been doing more of this week. I’ve always listed it as a hobby or pastime when asked, and I guess it’s true. My earliest memories of reading are from elementary school in my small Texas town. When I found out that you could check out any book you wanted from the school library…and take it home with you, I could hardly believe it. I made regular visits and spent a lot of my free time reading through my stacks of borrowed books.
One of the first books I remember reading was a biography of Helen Keller. It was fascinating to me, and included a diagram of the sign language alphabet in the back cover, which I immediately taught myself. Later, I read nearly every one of Judy Blume’s books. Though I’m not necessarily of huge fan of her style and topics today, she taught me quite a lot about life, which no one else was teaching me during a crucial part of my adolescence.
When my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Tanner, read aloud A Wrinkle in Time to our class (that would have been in 1979 or 1980), I was mesmerized. She even did different voices for the Ms. W’s. I read it on my own after that, bought A Wind in the Door (the next book in the series), and became fascinated with mitochondria because of it.
So here are a few recent favorites of mine. It was difficult to choose, but these are the ones that stand out for various reasons and that I’ve read in the last year…or two.
My friend, Greg, turned me on to Marilynne Robinson. Lila is the third book in the Gilead series, and gives the backstory of John Ames’ young wife. John is the older minister you get to know well in the first two books. Though Lila’s childhood contains the most extreme of circumstances, I cried often as I read, relating to her neglect subsequent coping skills. Her discoveries in the Scriptures and connections to it also pierced my heart, since they are so similar to my own.
He said, “Lila Dahl, I just washed you in the waters of regeneration. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a newborn babe. And yes, I do know what a whorehouse is. Though not from personal experience. You’re making sure you can trust me, which is wise. Much better for both of us..”
“I done other things.”
“I get the idea.” He stroked her head and her cheek. (p. 89-90)
2. A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit (1999/2013)
Wendy Shalit is a modern day, Jewish prophetess. Her ability to examine the culture, beginning as a student at Williams College, and foresee the ramifications of our social experiments in sexuality are uncanny. I read this book in 2000 and again this last year. It’s truer today than it was back then. Wow.
“Our pursuit of androgyny, though, has not aided the task of socializing our males. It’s rather difficult to turn around suddenly and try to teach men to be gentle around women, when we have been training them all along to assume that women are the same as they. If men are brought up,as today’s boys are, believing that girls always want the same thing they do from sexual encounters, and that it’s evil and sexist to assume otherwise, then they are that much more likely to be impatient and uncomprehending of a woman’s “no.” Female modesty <once> gave men a frame of reference for a woman’s “no.” Without that frame of reference, but instead taught from day one that women are always as ready to to receive advances as they are eager to make them, the modern male always takes a “no” as a personal rebuke. That is why women today link arms, charge down campus in their anti-date-rape rallies, screaming “No means no!” Before, it was a woman’s prerogative to say no – she didn’t have to join some political rally to enjoy this right – while now it is a man’s prerogative to expect sex.” (p. 43)
3. The Chosen by Chaim Potok (1967)
The Chosen was an optional read for the Challenge levels in Classical Conversations, but with so many novels to read and write about in one school year, we never could get to it. Still, I kept seeing references to it, and great reviews. It’s about the extreme prejudice between two Jewish fathers and their sons – mostly on the part of one father and son who are Hassidic Jews – and it all begins with a baseball game. There are compelling lessons here in the areas of acceptance and love.
“Somehow the yeshiva team had translated this afternoon’s baseball game into a conflict between what they regarded as their righteousness and our sinfulness. I found myself growing more and more angry, and I felt the anger begin to focus itself on Danny Saunders, and suddenly it was not at all difficult for me to hate him.” (p. 24)
4. Precious Bane by Mary Webb (1924)
Recommended to me by Robert via his college pastor, Tom Westbrook, this book is old and its language a bit arduous and archaic, but such a beautifully profound story. Really, both this book and Lila (and so many other books and movies) are gospel metaphors. Pru is born with a hare lip and believed to be cursed because of it, but it is Pru who comes to know herself and understand that her identity is in so much more than her appearance, no matter how misunderstood she is by those around her. While her brother slaves away for money with a severe scarcity mentality, she trusts in the God of the Scriptures that she reads in her attic room every day. When the unimaginable happens at the end, the message of redemption and unconditional love are unmistakeable.
“I fell to thinking how all this blessedness of the attic came through me being curst. For if I hadna had a hare-lip to frighten me away into my own lonesome soul, this would never have come to me.” (p. 34)
5. Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle (2017)
Melanie Shankle is one of my favorite bloggers, mostly because of the 1970s/80s allusions and Texas nostalgia therein. Oh, and Fashion Fridays. I tell people that Melanie and I not only have the same name and birth state, but we have been living parallel lives since birth. The many similarities between us make me laugh out loud and cry big tears on every other page. This is her newest book, and while I was a bit confused about the title the more I read, she does a good job of tying it up at the end and helping you to see God’s big work in your small, daily experiences and acts of faithfulness – with a lot of humor.
“Anyway, because the 1960’s were an optimistic time, and my parents were both very attractive, I guess they thought all their differences wouldn’t matter in the long run. I have no idea about all the ins and outs of their marriage or what went wrong, because those aren’t the kinds of things you pay attention to when you’re a kid. Especially not when you’re busy making up scenarios in which your barbies travel cross-country in a Winnebago, stopping at various places to lip-synch Olivia Newton-John songs before returning to their luxurious townhouse complete with an elevator and an inflatable hot pink couch.”
Wow. How’s that for an odd assortment? I may have Kayla do any future book recommendations, as her selections are a bit more hip and of this decade than mine, but they do have a common setting lately: World War II. I’ve loved hearing her passionate summaries of each one and should probably read one of them soon myself.
But it’s The Magician’s Nephew for me right now (almost done!), and I’m really enjoying it. I’m even putting a few pieces of the puzzle together, since I know some of the rest of the story.
“But the Witch looked as if, in a way, she understood the music better than any of them. Her mouth was shut, her lips were pressed together, and her fists were clenched. Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stronger. She hated it.” (p. 108-109)
“It was a Lion.”
I hope you enjoy your long weekend – and a good book!