Both my children are finally out of school for the summer and I’m celebrating on this (very warm) Saturday by decompressing: I’ve spent most of it reading, sipping iced drinks, and looking for a cool spot. So here is a lazy blog post on what I have been, am, and might be reading and listening to.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint
I read this book by a “tattooed, foul-mouthed” Lutheran woman pastor because Marilyn of Mean Fat Old Bat mentioned it on Twitter. I liked it, though I found it a bit . . . not superficial, exactly, but brisk. A lot of the chapters felt like extended sermons, which is not a bad thing–but sometimes I wanted more development to the reflections. Bolz-Weber has the good preacher’s gift for finding a telling anecdote and drawing meaning out of it. And there were moments in the book that really struck home for me. For example:
“In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.”
The image of the liturgy as a stream flowing through time or a gift handed down from earlier generations, a “language of truth and promise and grace” we can bathe in. The sense of participating in a long tradition is a really meaningful part, for me, of belonging to a liturgical church; the tradition is bigger than we are.
“How we feel about Jesus or how close we feel to God is meaningless next to how God acts upon us.” Grace isn’t our work. Also, we don’t have to wait to feel something for God to be working on/in us. At my church, we close our liturgy with a prayer reminding us that God’s “power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
“The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.” My dad said something along these lines to me years ago and it’s I always come back to it when I’m waiting for the spirit to move me before I go to church.
None of these are new ideas for me, but they’re things I need to be reminded of. For that, I’m grateful this book came my way
Elly Griffiths, A Dying Fall (Ruth Galloway mysteries #5)
New acquisitions at my online library reminded me that (as is my wont) I’ve fallen behind on this series. I love a mystery with archaeology, and I’ve enjoyed the touch of Gothic/supernatural in these books as well–something I often don’t like blended with mystery. I also like that Ruth is fat, and while she isn’t always comfortable with that fact, it doesn’t rule her life. Her weight is also not the cause of her messed-up love life: men find her attractive and she likes sex. She’s also, at this point in the series, a single mom with the kind of self-created “family” circle many people have. She loves her work (if not always her job) and she’s good at it. This one had a bit too much mysticism and too little archaeology for me, but I was still happy to catch up with old friends. It struck me that the characters’ situations change, but they don’t, really–but then, I’ve leveled the same criticism at myself, so maybe that’s just realistic, if sometimes frustrating in both books and life.
Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds (read by Simon Vance)
Continuing my epic Palliser series listen. Here’s what struck me most:
- The differences between admirable, likeable, and sympathetic. Lizzie Eustace, around whom this novel revolves, is selfish, shallow, and heartless. She is not in any way admirable or good and Trollope constantly reminds us of that. She can charm other characters, but the narrator is always warning readers against her charm (you, of course, knowing the whole story, know better. . . .). All her sufferings are richly deserved. And yet, Trollope made me sympathize with her. I think this is a key to sympathy in the Victorian novel: it’s not the object that matters as much as the moral growth of the sympathizer. Sympathy, like grace, doesn’t have to be earned. And so Victorian novelists often expend considerable skill on making us sympathize with people who don’t “deserve” it.
- Trollope’s attention to the plight of the middle-class man is fascinating. In book two it was Phineas Finn, here it’s Frank Greystock. These men, he suggests, are essentially driven to make mercenary marriages: they cannot afford to marry a woman without money because they can’t support her–at least not in the style that their class demands. This struck me, oddly, as a first step towards feminism, because it recognizes the harm done by patriarchy to both women and men (Trollope certainly doesn’t pretend that women aren’t hurt more than men by this dilemma and the way men flounder around romantically in response to it). The obvious solution, of course, is to let women earn money they can contribute to the marriage, to make them equal partners. Trollope doesn’t get there, but it’s the end of the road he’s on.
- Of professional interest to me: diamonds get stolen here, and that brings the police into the story. I think that where Dickens’ detectives are powerful, mysterious and charismatic figures, precursors of Sherlock Holmes, Trollope’s are bureaucrats. He’s mostly interested in their workplace politics (and in the way gossip about the case aligns with party politics). Everything is political in this series, not least love and marriage.
Adrian McKinty, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone (Sean Duffy #3, read by Gerard Doyle)
I thought this series, featuring a Catholic police officer in early-80s Belfast, the time of the Troubles, was going to be a trilogy, and this book felt valedictory to me, but it appears there’s a fourth book. Gerard Doyle is a wonderful narrator, and I think this is a case where the narrator makes the books even better. This one’s a blend of thriller (Sean is tapped by MI5 to help find an escaped IRA bomber before he begins a campaign of terror) and classic locked room mystery (in a bid to get information on the IRA man, Sean tries to solve the mystery of his sister-in-law’s death). Some parts, not least Sean’s death-defying luck, were pretty implausible, and as usual with thrillers the quieter early bits engaged me more than the big climactic finish, but the strong voice–both McKinty’s and Doyle’s–pulled me through. I loved all the joking references to classic locked rooms stories, which helped relieve the grimness of the setting.
I also DNF’d a perfectly good PNR/romance-y UF, the start of a series, because about two hours I thought to myself, “You know, I don’t really enjoy this subgenre. Why do I keep trying?” I didn’t hate it, but I kept rolling my eyes. So I deleted all the PNR lingering on my iPod. There are so many books in my TBR, why not stick with the ones I’m more likely to fall in love with? I feel free, not scrolling past them.
Almost done with Angela Thirkell’s High Rising. Vintage is re-releasing Thirkell’s Barsetshire series; I’ve found four so far and I do hope there will be more to come. I’ve been wanting to read these for ages. It’s funny and wry and hitting right in my “mid-century middle-brow” sweet spot.
About 1/3 into Heidi Julavits’ The Folded Clock: A Diary. The diary is really just a conceit–it’s more like short essays on identity, time, and whatever else strikes her fancy, posing as diary entries. I think I’m about done. They’re very readable, but the format means they’re slight and I find them kind of pretentious and self-centered. It seems silly to ding a diary for being self-centered, and I wouldn’t mind if this were actual diary entries and a nosy peek into someone else’s daily life (my journal entries are sure as hell self-centered, and dull to boot). But as essays, they just don’t have enough gravitas or insight for my taste. And they don’t seem to be adding up to anything, either, so why read on?
I’ve been reading a little of Grace Draven’s Radiance on the elliptical. I’m not really hooked yet, but so many people loved it that I’ll persist. (I’ve also been passing my workout time watching that old favorite, High Fidelity. Still love it).
Just started listening to Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends, read by the author. I’m not really a celebrity memoir reader, but a lot of people I know raved about this and it was in the $4.95 Audible sale, so why not? I’m enjoying it very much so far.
My holds on Beth Kendrick’s New Uses for Old Boyfriends (a Twitter rec from Laura K. Curtis) and Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (pretty universal raves) came in at the same time (inevitably) so I’d better get cracking.
Other Audible sale goodies: E. M. Forster’s Maurice and Mark Hodder’s Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (also read by the wonderful Gerard Doyle). And with my credit I got Phineas Redux so I can enjoy more Palliser goodness on my upcoming cross-country plane trip.