Friday, May 8, 2015

What I read in April

April turned out to be a great reading month--I enjoyed all of these books. Click the title to read my full, more detailed reviews at Marie's Book Garden...these are just brief snapshots.


The Lost Memoirs of Jane AustenThe Last Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I've always enjoyed epistolary novels, so that helps. This book purports to be Austen's lost memoirs and tells about her unrequited great romance. I enjoyed the way she described her close relationship with her sister Cassandra and also her independence. I recommend it for Jane Austen lovers!

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein
By the author of my #1 favorite last year Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is another novel set in World War II illustrating soul-deep friendships among women. Rose is an American ATA pilot and poet who gets captured by the Nazis and deposited in Ravensbruck, where she befriends Russian, French, and Polish women. She is especially drawn to the "Rabbits," the Polish women who were the subjects of the Nazis' horrific medical experiments.
The Circle

The Circle, by Dave Eggers
The Circle is like a 1984, updated to the Internet age. Young Mae Holland is thrilled to land a job at The Circle, which is like a combination Facebook/Google...a company for the cool kids. As a main character, she falls a little flat. But this book is not so much about character development as it is biting satire and a parable for our like-and-tweet-obsessed, voyeuristic culture. As each of The Circle's projects are unveiled, what initially sounds like a good, democratic, society-improving idea turns out to be creepy and sinister, reducing any shred of privacy we have left. This book made me question the time I spend on the Internet and how I too have gotten sucked into wanting "likes" or shares. It's about our need for instant gratification, coupled with our desire to know everything about everyone. Sinister and thought-provoking. 
Pope Francis: Untying the Knots

Pope Francis: Untying the Knots is the first in-depth book on Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Vallely wrote it after traveling to Argentina to interview those who knew him well and investigate the claims that the Pope did nothing to prevent the kidnapping and torture of two priests during the Dirty War. I'm fascinated with Pope Francis' transformation as a young man: he began as an arrogant, dictatorial leader who was also extremely conservative.

I used these uncommon, beautiful, sometimes deliciously irreverent prayers as my focus for the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each day in April I featured one of these prayers...from homages to doctors, nurses, the pope, the Girl Scouts, IT professionals, proofreaders, and angry prayers at Osama Bin Laden and texting drivers...he celebrates the miracle and muddle of ordinary life in a most beautiful way. The Daily Beast calls him "a writer to be ignored at your own peril."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z: Last Prayer

Today ends my month of blogging daily, meditating on author Brian Doyle's uncommon prayers celebrating the miracle and muddle of the ordinary. I hope these posts have made you look anew at the ordinary. And here is Brian Doyle's last prayer, a reflection on the blessings in his life. What would you write, if you were to be thankful for the greatest blessings in your life?

And yay for otters. They are my favorite animal too. My spirit animal. 

Z: Last Prayer

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever.

Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let along understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened!

And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious!

And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them!

And You let me write some books that weren't half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.

I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.

But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life--make him the biggest otter ever, and I'll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. Thanks from he bottom of my heart. See You soon.

Remember--otters. Otters rule. And so: amen. 

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Y: Your Father's Day

Thank God for feminism, because as a result our generation's men are so much more engaged in their children's lives. Increasing numbers of men are making the choice to be stay-at-home dads or primary caregivers to their children.

In my own family, my sons are learning that being a man does not necessarily mean going outside of the house to work. Sometimes the moms do that and the dads stay at home to care for the kids.

The fathers I know are heavily integrated into family life and have close, loving relationships with their children. So the uncommon prayer today is for all of those incredible, dedicated, and caring dads...especially my children's dad!

Prayer on Father's Day

Brothers, I too have spent many sleepless hours worrying about money and insurance and minor-in-possession citations and speeding tickets and endless bouts of the flu which might mean some horrifying disease. I too have snarled and barked and growled and roared at my children.

I too have sometimes, usually in the shower, wondered what crimes I committed in a previous life to be afflicted so with rude and surly and vulgar and unappreciated progeny. Yet I too, brothers, know that they are why we are the luckiest men who ever lived; and I too have laughed so hard at their capers and antics that I had to lie down for a while; and I too have bathed and fed and rocked and coddled and wrestled and played and sung with them, and believed myself at those moments to be closer to heaven than any man ever, and known that this was indeed so, even more than it was and is in the delightful throes of romantic love.

So, brothers, a prayer for us today, as we are handed useless garish neckties and Weedwackers that will soon rust and die in the shed, and scrawled coupons for chores to be done in the future; for we are blessed, brothers, and we know it in our better moments, and we pray that today is composed of only those, for once. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Monday, April 27, 2015

X: Snarling Prayer for TeXting Driver

Last year 32-year-old Ann Sanford was taking selfies and posting to Facebook while driving in North Carolina. Right after she wrote how much the song "Happy" makes her feel happy, she crashed her car and died. The news is full of other similar ridiculous bad texting-while-driving decisions with bad endings.

No text message is important enough to risk your life or others' lives to read it. Texting makes you 23 times more likely to crash. Even scarier, 77 percent of teens and 55 percent of young adults think they can safely text while driving. So I can relate to Brian Doyle's disgust and righteous anger at the reckless jerk who was texting while driving...especially because he could have killed multiple people with his stupidity!

X: Snarling Prayer for the Reckless Jerk Who Just Swerved Insanely Among Three Lanes of Traffic at Incredible Speed While Texting, Causing Us Other Drivers Heart Palpitations

You are important and we are not. You ought not to be slowed down by cars in your way, because you are you and we are only dross and froth.

You obviously are a terrific driver, cool as you text behind the wheel of your shining new Lexus, and we are merely drivers of battered ancient wagons that should be recycled into recalcitrant toasters. Really we should have pulled to the side of the road and gaped as you whizzed by, but forgive us for not realizing immediately you were so cool.

Now we know, and as soon as my heart rate retreats and my fingers unclench from the steering wheel and my rage beings to subside and the visions I had of smoking wrecks and sobbing children dissolve, I will offer a disgruntled prayer for you, you selfish fool: that you get a grip, that you see what fear and turmoil you put into people's hearts when you drive like that, that you get a dose of humility without paying for it in your blood or someone else's.

I pray also that you soon get the biggest speeding ticket in the history of the state of Oregon, so big it has its own zip code. I pray you have an epiphany and realize you are not actually the most important or interesting person on the planet. I pray that you grow up.

It took me long enough to begin to grow up, so I am not crowing here; I'm just saying I hope the One gently delivers a message to you soon, before you kill yourself or someone else, you arrogant dolt. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

W: Weird Lovely Things Women Wear in Their Hair

This is Brian Doyle's love letter to women, including his wife, and it's lovely. It made me think of our gorgeous friend Clara, who is 97 and close to death...and the lost glory of her once-red hair and the the beauty of aging women like Clara.

Visiting Clara last month
Clara last year with another beautiful woman I know
Clara in her younger years--not only beautiful but industrious!
Prayer of Bemused Thanks for Scrunchies & Those Other Weird Lovely Things Women Wear in Their Hair

Which is, of course, a prayer of thanks for women, every one of them beautiful beyond words, not that I am looking closely or anything. But they are. Brilliant and silly and generous and graceful and sinewy and amused by clunky burly male animals. And o gawd their hair spilling and cascading and rippling and sliding over their shoulders, their hair cupping those extraordinary faces!

I have never once seen a woman who was not beautiful; even those who were churlish and surly, those who most obviously and assiduously used their beauty as tool and weapon, those who drew plaudits in business for being as cold and greedy as male captains of industry were girls still somewhere inside, and liable to flashes of tenderness and grace.

I was granted one above all, to witness and to celebrate, to sing and to explore, though there will never be an end to her mystery, never; and I was granted a daughter, to witness and to protect, and finally to launch into the world, far away; and I was granted a vision of all those scrunchies and clasps, clicking and snapping hairpieces, buried headlong in the wildernesses of their voluminous hair; and it is another mysterious gift of Yours, I know, that the women I have met who have lost their hair, and beam at me bald as doorknobs despite the wither of their illness, are more beautiful than they were before; how could that be? Yet it is so.

For their fullness and their litheness, for their patience and their testiness, for their endless complexity and their oceanic empathy, thank You. And this is not even to get into the whole kissing thing, another great idea. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

What I Read the First Three Months of the Year

I've not been keeping up with my book summaries on this blog, so I have some catching up to do! And it's almost the end of April! Click the title to read my full reviews at Marie's Book Garden.

Golden Boy
Golden Boy, by Abigail Tarttelin

I loved this book about an intersex English teenager. Max Walker is his family's golden boy, but he and his family are harboring a secret. But when Max has a horrific encounter with a boy from his childhood, everything shifts and the secrets begin to leak out. This book is painful, poignant, and beautiful, and is an artful and sensitive depiction of sexual orientation and intersex issues. Abigail Tarttelin is a young actor and novelist, and she is an author to follow!

Keeping the House, by Ellen Baker
Keeping the House

Each chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. Told through the lens of Dolly Magnuson, a homemaker who moves to a small Wisconsin town in 1950, the book goes back to the late 1800s when Dolly begins visiting an abandoned mansion and uncovers the secrets of the family who inhabited it. Dolly's unhappy in her marriage, just as Wilma Mickelson, the matriarch of the great house, was unhappy in hers. This novel illustrates the pressures women faced, trying to create a perfect house while sacrificing their own needs. It's homemaking before feminism.
Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The protagonist of Never Let Me Go, Kathy, tells the story in first person, about her childhood years at Hailsham, a private school in England. The narrative style was dry and distant, typical of Ishiguro. I was expecting more out of this book...I didn't feel it was very compelling. I wonder what Kazuo Ishiguro is like as a person, as the characters in his novel seem to live their lives as unfulfilled, unhappy's almost as if he doesn't want his characters to be happy and he has a cynical, depressing view of life.

The Kizuna Coast (Rei Shimura Mystery, #11)
The Kizuna Coast, by Sujata Massey

Animal DreamsI've been reading Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura detective series since the late 1990s, captivated by these books because the main protagonist is a Japanese-American antiques dealer turned detective, living and working in Japan. A fascinating character who I've always felt I could relate to more than most detectives, Rei has led me through ten adventures. Soon after the tsunami hit, Rei's mentor Mr. Ishida calls her, asking for help. She gets to Japan as soon as she can and gets embroiled in a find out what happened to Mr. Ishida's young apprentice, Mayumi, who has disappeared. She goes to Tohoku as part of a relief effort and is touched by people who have lost their loved ones and livelihoods. I thought this book lent a fascinating glimpse into the earthquake aftermath and relief efforts, a tale told by someone else who loves Japan.

Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver 

I read Animal Dreams soon after it was published in the early 1990s, but I reread it in February for my book group. Kingsolver masterfully writes colorful characters; the plot in is secondary to characters and setting. It's a story packed with community, redemption, ecological justice, family, and sisterhood...strong women and deep female relationships. It takes a little while to get drawn in, but it's a beautiful novel, well worth the effort!
Evil at Heart
Evil at Heart (Gretchen Lowell series), by Chelsea Cain

I read these books because they're set in Portland and I got the privilege of hearing Chelsea Cain speak in 2010. Gretchen Lowell is an evil serial killer on the loose, and Oregonians are apparently obsessed with her. If you can suspend reality, it's a thrilling read. I will wait a few years before reading the next one's a bit too light--and violent--for my regular tastes!

Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit: Making the Most of All of Your Life
Prime Time, by Jane Fonda

The ageless Jane Fonda breaks our lives into three acts, and she focuses most of this book on Act III. Weaving her personal life stories with strong research and tips on aging, food, fitness, friendship, love, and sex, Fonda recommends that we each perform a life review--especially while our elders are still alive so we can interview them--to better understand where we've come from and where we're going. In the end, a well-worth-it read on aging for women!

Half Broke Horses
Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls

I loved this true-life novel/biography of Walls' spitfire grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, born in 1903, who was a "mustang-breaking, poker-playing, horse-race-winning schoolmarm.” Lily worked side by side with her ranch-running dad, breaking and training the horses. When she was 15, she took off on her horse, solo, for a 30-day journey to Arizona, where she'd landed a job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, even though she'd hardly had any formal schooling herself. She drove cars and flew planes and worked her fingers to the bone, carrying two jobs when she needed to, running a ranch and teaching in her spare time. During the depression she sold moonshine out their back door (keeping it hidden under the baby's crib) to save their ranch. I loved this book and I would have loved to meet Lily Casey Smith. What a great American hero.

The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

Rose Mary Walls (Jeannette's mother) had been raised to be independent, but she took that to an entirely different level. Probably bipolar, Rose Mary wanted to spend all her time making art, not raising children. So the children had to raise themselves. They didn't get groceries for weeks at a time...because Jeannette's dad Rex drank away any money they had, and Rose Mary couldn't be bothered to find a way to feed the kids. Nomads and rebels, Jeannette's parents took their kids all around the country, and they would flee towns in the middle of the night when her parents were unable to pay their debts. They slept in cardboard boxes and peed and pooped in a hole in the ground until it overflowed. This book has so many shocking's unfathomable that her parents would think how they raised their children was okay...but alcoholism and mental illness will do that.

Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World, by Alan AtKisson

Alan AtKisson is a true optimist at heart. He reminds us about the Greek myth about Cassandra, who was blessed with the gift of prophecy but cursed because no one would believe the truth she had to share. And that is the essence of how we need to communicate about the perils facing our planet. When we preach doom and gloom, it's easy for people to turn us off and believe that nothing they can do can possibly help (I often find myself feeling the same way!). His aim is to give hope, and for all of us to find a way to be optimistic about the challenges facing our world. He urges us to break Cassandra's curse by giving people a reason to hope instead of letting the doomsayers take over the messaging. Because if that happens, no one will listen. This book has already helped me transform my thinking about how to communicate about sustainability, especially to those people who are unconvinced of the need to turn the tide.

Friday, April 24, 2015

V: Valiant Prayer for Boys and Girls of Other Sexual Orientations

I did add the word "valiant" to fit this prayer into my A to Z. Creative license!

But seriously. This is a personal passion of mine, creating safe and welcoming places for LGBT people to call home. The church has wrought so much damage and pain, and we have so much apologizing to do. I am so proud of my own church, ELCA Lutherans, for voting to affirm and allow rostered gay clergy and in Oregon, to support same-sex marriage enthusiastically and wholeheartedly. It's the right thing to do, to welcome all, and it's what Jesus Christ would do himself.

Valiant Prayer for Boys and Girls of Other Sexual Orientation than Mine

Brothers and sisters, I did not understand the pain and strain of your lives. I did not know the humiliation you endured. I did not know nor did I even try to know the fear of being cast out from your family and your friends. 

I did not know what it was like to be insulted and castigated and beaten for the crime of being yourself. I did not know what it was like to be welcomed in word but not in deed in my Church.

I did not know the trepidation with which you spoke honestly of who you were for the first time. I did not know nor did I try to know.

I made scurrilous remarks myself, once upon a time. I casually tossed slurs for comic effect. I stand here ashamed and abashed. I ask quietly for your forgiveness. 

I pray for your calm courage and your patience with us who were cruel and dismissive and ignorant and worse. I ask this of the One who once assumed a form like ours, and in that form was insulted and castigated and beaten for the crime of being Himself. 

I pray that the slow changes I see now in our country and in our species are a sign of our progress another inch toward love; which is why we are here, brothers and sisters. And so: amen.

Here's more information on why I chose this focus for the A to Z, and you can read all my 2015 A to Z posts here. I hope you enjoy the celebrations of the miracle and muddle of the ordinary! 

You can buy the book at Brian's favorite local bookstore, Broadway Books, at Powell's Books, or on AmazonBrian's work is used with permission of Ave Maria Press.

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