Chewing a Book

“How do I tell you about my conversion to Christianity without making it sound like an alien abduction or a train wreak?  Truth be told, it felt like a little of both.  The language normally used to describe this odd miracle does not work for me.  I didn’t read one of those tacky self-help books with a thin coating of Christian themes, examine my life against the tenets of the Bible the way one might hold up one car insurance policy against all others and cleanly and logically, “make a decision for Christ.” While I did make choices along the path of this journey, they never felt logical, risk-free, or sane.”

– Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

There are lots of different types of books out there.  Haunting, silly, thought-provoking, infuriating, bad, easy reads, and books you have to chew.  You feel like a cow who is constantly regurgitating its cud and going over it again.  Now, I don’t read much non-fiction.  I know.  Probably not a good thing.  But, I really don’t enjoy it.  I would much rather read a well crafted fictional story than a non-fiction any day.  Generally my only non-fiction is True Crime and Serial Killer stuff that I read for research.  So…when I was given and then peer pressured into reading The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by friends and family I was a bit unhappy.  I don’t enjoy non-fiction.  Sigh.  Maybe a little pout.

Thank goodness for peer pressure.  This tiny little book took me almost a month to read.  (To make that clear, I usually read a few books a month – thick ones.)  I really had to chew this novel.  I couldn’t read it in the space of a few hours.  I had to read and then chew.  Read and then chew.  It may have been short, but it was weighty.

This story is a conversion story.  Now hear me out.  This is not a conversion story with butterflies and flowers.  This is hard, painful, painstaking battle.  The author had no interest in converting to Christianity.  She was a feminist and a lesbian.  She hated Christians and for good reason.  Here comes the chewing.  She was very honest and straight forward about why she did not like Christians.  If you read this and are a Christian it will cause you some soul-searching.  You will not be comfortable.  You will have to look at yourself and see if you treat people like her the way she was treated.   Or do you welcome any and all with open arms.  At least, I found myself doing this.  I chewed this book cause it challenged my perception of the world.  It made me look at my perfect box and realize, once again, that that box was a source of pride for me.  Like I picked the family and up bringing I enjoyed myself.  Gosh.  How stupid.  To find pride in something I didn’t even do.

The other thing this story made me chew over was something which gave me hope.  I hope to have a family someday.  I would like to have a fair amount of kids and I might even open my home to adopt a few children.  I don’t know if my husband and I will home school or what form of education we will choose.  I do know, after playing with nieces and nephews, that having kids is a full-time, life-time commitment.  In the back of my mind has been a nagging fear that I would not have time to write when we start our family.  This lady wrote a book and published it.  During that time, she home schooled her children, fostered, adopted, was very active in her community and in her church, opened her home all the time to visitors, college students, and neighbors.  I have to admit I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Just knowing someone else had done what I want to do helped me feel like it could be done.

So, I challenge you readers to read this amazing little book.  You will find it to be something to ponder, chew, and wrestle with even when you are done.  A little disclaimer…I don’t agree with all of her doctrine…I am, after all, a Reformed Baptist and not a Reformed Presbyterian.  🙂

Firefly and Star Trek:NG

I watched the “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” episode of Star Trek:NG (Episode 2 of Season 5) a few days ago.  It’s one of my all time favorite NG episodes because of its creativity and unique language concepts.  Plus, watching Picard put the pieces together and discover what “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” means is amazing.  If you let your kids watch this episode, or you’re a geek like me, you will incorporate this and “Shaka when the walls fell” into your every day dialogue.  Why? Cause I’m a geek.  What does it mean? Go watch the episode.

A few days later, I finished watching Firefly by watching Serenity.  ‘Nough said.

What is it about these two shows that I love so much?  I’m trying to put my finger on it.  They’re wildly different.  Star Trek is clean and filled with hope in man’s ability to overcome any obstacle and bring peace to the universe.  Firefly is dirty and dank and filled with people dying on the edge of civilization.  The ones not dying out there are working for a government who engineered the Reavers, and then tried to cover them up while they ate townspeople.   The whole point of Firefly is to stick it to the man, while Star Trek is the man.  And yet with two totally conflicting worldviews, I still love both shows.  Even when challenged to pick one over the other, I can not.

The only thing I can really say is this – Friendship.  Unlike many other shows, these two embody friendship.  They’re about the crew and the ship.  That’s really it.  You care about them as a family and they work as a family.  Whether its Mal screwing up a heist when his morals, thank goodness, get in the way, or Picard’s leading a scientific mission which goes dangerously awry and kills off a few red jackets, the story is about them.  You want to watch Data learn to be more human from Jordi.  You want to watch Riker and Picard play off each other as the cool headed captain and the brash first officer.  You want to watch Worf as he struggles to put his two lives together.  You want  Simon to make River better.  You want Zoe and Wash to have a family.  You want Mal and Inara to finally admit to their love for each other.

You can feel the chemistry on screen between these men and women.  You can feel their friendship.  And when you watch the bonus features, you realize their friendship is deeper than the silver screen.  They really care about each other in real life.  This is the key.  Their real life friendships shine through to touch us, the viewer.

This friendship is more than lust, more than working together. It’s deeper and truer.  It’s a friendship which is hard to capture, but which speaks to the human soul.    It makes us want to hang out with our friends.  It makes us want to be better friends.  It inspires us.  Oh, the beauty of storytelling!

Whether you want to board the Enterprise or Serenity, remember that what really matters is the friends you take with you.

“They say that when you can’t walk anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that…  ” You find someone to carry you.”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

“It gave me a queer feeling.  Yesterday or the day before, while I had been going about my business, quietly and in private, some unknown person — some stranger — had gone to the trouble of marking my name onto this envelope.  Who was it who had had his mind’s eye on me while I hadn’t suspected a thing?”

I’m a reader.  I’ve been reading for as long as I could remember.  I’m the kid who used to hide behind furniture so that I could ignore the calls of my mother or my siblings and focus on my books.  I love the magic of reading.  I love getting to know new people and visiting new places.  I love stories.

When you read a lot, you are always on the look out for the “it” book.  For a book which grabs you around the heart and won’t let go.   One of the gripping thing about a book is the style in which it is written.  The wordsmithing if you please, even though spell check hates that word.  How did the author go about the work of picking their words, heating them, melting them down and remolding them in a way that is fresh and captures my attention.  Some writers have very soft voices, while others burn bright and fade quickly.  Some books start out strong, beautiful, inviting you as a reader to pull back the curtain and view a new world for a few hundred pages but can’t carry that voice throughout the whole story.  They begin to lose their voice as they go along.

The Thirteenth Tale is not a book with laryngitis.  It called to me from the shelf!  It’s voice does not turn into a gravely whisper as it gets further into its tale.  No.  It blares its beautiful words at the top of its lungs taking the reader on a visceral journey of descriptions both horrendous and brilliant.  I have read few authors with such a grip on adjective and adverb.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a book for readers.  It is about readers.  It is about lovers of stories and lovers of books.  It is also a gothic story.  Not gothic as in vampires and what not, but gothic as in Jane Eyre.  In fact, Jane Eyre is mentioned so lovingly so often in this novel, I might just have to read it again soon.

This story is about a twins, a dying story-teller, ghosts, lost children, insanity and lots of other wonderful gothic themes.

I think one of the interesting parts about the book is the timeframe.  You’re everyday brain spends a large part of the book trying to decide what year it is, or at least what decade or century.  The story is multi-layered and so parts of it take place back when people still drove coaches and wagons.  But the rest of the story is modern, just how modern one never really figures out.  This never distracts from the story, only tantalizes your brain when you are away from the book.

I hesitated to recommend this book until I finished it to see if it could pull off the end as well as the beginning. It did.  It is beautiful through and through.  I will put it on my book shelf next to a few other books I think are excellent not only in their story telling, but in the beauty of the wordsmithing: Lord of the Rings, The English Patient, Shutter Island and the Time Traveler’s Wife.

If you enjoy a gothic story, a beautiful story, a gripping story, read The Thirteenth Tale.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

“Seventy-five years have gone by, and I still remember the feel of the mud between my toes, the rush of water over my feet, the cold against my skin.  Beautiful Moon and I were free in a way that we would never be again.  But I remember something else very distinctly from that day.  From the second I woke up, I had seen my family in new ways and they had filled me with strange emotions  – melancholy, sadness, jealousy, and a sense of injustice about the things that suddenly seemed unfair.  I let the water wash all that away.”

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of those books you savor.  Each word, line, character, and  event is rich with life and beauty tainted by sorrow, pain, and death.  This book is a joy to read.

Inspired by the secret language of women in China, Lisa See builds a story of two women joining hands as small children and growing up together.  She traces their lives through the difficulties of footbinding, to marriage, child-bearing, plagues, war and death.  She traces Lilly as her life improves with age and Snow Flower who withers away.  She incorporates much of Chinese culture, belief, and practices.  If you love historical fiction or just a beautifully written book – Read This!

On a more personal note, this book was very hard to read.  Not due to comprehension or reading level, but because the subject matter is difficult.  This book drove me through a range of emotions.  A vast range of emotions.  I started out feeling frankly selfish.  When I married I did not on any level take my family into consideration.  I never thought or cared what they felt about my husband or how he would impact our lives.  Now, thankfully my family loves him and he them.  But the fact of the matter is, we as modern Americans can be very individualistic.  This is a great strength for us, but it can be a very selfish strength. too.  I also felt great relief and thankfulness that I was not a woman in China at that time.  Footbinding?  Oh man.  And yet, what are we willing to do every day in order to be considered beautiful.  This book will challenge you to examine your own sense of beauty and your beauty habits.

Ultimately, I came away marveling at the vast difference between the modern American culture I live in and the Chinese culture represented in this book.  How different our thoughts, actions, hopes, and dreams.  How free we are to live and be unfettered by cast systems, superstition and broken feet!  And yet, you have to look at yourself and wonder if you are helping or serving anyone with that freedom.  I also found it interesting that despite the cultural differences, men and women are the same the world over.  We love, we cry, we live, and die.  We care about our friends and family.  Yet we can be very blind to their pain and very focused on our own.  Humans are human.  Women are women.  It doesn’t matter if you live in an upstairs room and break your daughter’s feet in the hopes it will get her a good husband, or you live in a three bedroom home with a good man and beautiful trees.  We are all still dreamers, longing for hope, and fighters.

Read and enjoy!

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

 “He thought of Bud White, Ed Exley.  He sent up a wedding day prayer: The NiteOwl dead and buried, safe passage for ruthless men in love.”

This line, half way through the book, made me love it.  I wavered back a forth between hate and respect for a long time, but at this point I was caught – hook, line and sinker.

Ellroy writes in an intense, staccato style which beats you around.  I must admit, following his story was a challenge, and I’m a pretty well-rounded reader.  I write urban fantasy cause it’s my style, but I love reading crime novels, classics, and literary fiction, not to mention Tolkien and other great fantasy writers.  Ellroy liberally uses everyone’s first and last names, has a huge cast, and a story ranging over 10 years from beginning to end.  Reader prepared to be challenged.

I watched the movie several years ago, and have always been interested in crime from the 1950’s, plus I have a prologue which takes place in the same decade.  I can almost write Ellroy’s novel off as research.  I really enjoyed the movie.  It was gripping, over the top, and brilliant.  I love that White and Exley becoming friends in the end to face a foe bigger than their hatred for each other.  I love it.  I watched the movie again as I neared the end of the book because I was having a hard time following the story.  I felt in need of a “cliff notes” version to remind me what was really going on, in the big picture.  It helped me focus in on the points of the plot and the mystery of the crimes committed.

Now, I started this book and didn’t really enjoy it.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like stories with heroes.  I like good guys.  I like a little varnish.  The world is filled with enough evil as it is, I don’t really enjoy soaking in it when I’m trying to relax.  Ellroy’s heroes have no varnish. None. Nada.  Zip.  They are ruthless, hard, cold, and just about as evil as the men they hunt.  They are selfish, self-serving, disloyal and kinda gross.  Any good points they have are lost in all the bad.  In fact, the movie had to add varnish.  It made them much better than they were.   So, here I am in the middle of a book with no real good men, covering topics in detail which are the lowest of humanity.  I’m asked myself, “Why am I reading this?”  Will any good come from it.  I kept reminding myself that I liked the movie…not always the best way to motivate yourself to finish a book.  Books and movies are two totally different artistic storytelling mediums.  Then, I got to the line I quoted above and I decided to finish the book!

“…safe passage for ruthless men in love.”

So…now I’ve finished the book.  What did I find?  Heroes!  Yay!  Ruthless men in difficult situations who stop looking at what is gonna save their skin and start looking at what is right.  They start seeing past their hatred of one another, and find the common foe, only to realize they make a really good team.  I loved it!

The movie edited out 90% of the plot and brought the team together much quicker than the book did.  It slimmed down the case and made the story easier to follow.  It cut out a lot of the grosser and more debased sides of the story…if it hadn’t no one would have watched it.  The book is a hard-hitting, fast paced, over the top story of three cops without stellar records caught in a series of crimes much bigger than they.  Out of it comes a trust and friendship which leaves the reader feeling very satisfied.

In this case, I would recommend the movie as a great film, and the book as a great book.  Both take a strong stomach and a strong mind.  Neither are clean or pure, but they come out shining with ruthless men doing the right thing.