Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Read All Over

November 16, 2006

One of the great parts about spending so much time with Ella is that she sleeps so dang much. Never for big long stretches, and rarely when I’d like her to, and not so that I can get anything done. But just enough that I can do a little reading. Indeed: I’m learning to always keep a book handy, just in case she falls asleep in my arms, or in the carseat, or wherever. (I love thee, blogdom, for you are endless and completely perusable with one hand. But after thirty minutes, you turn my brain to mush.)

Joan Didion’s brilliantly titled The Year of Magical Thinking is an exquisitely written account of her grief for the year following her husband’s sudden death at dinner one night. It is a gripping account that does a great job of embodying the cognitive storm of grief (eg, she gives her husband’s clothes away, but keeps his shoes because she somehow expects him to come back). One of the very best books I’ve read in a really long time.

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis. I have a theory: I only like Lewis’ thin books (I keep rereading The Great Divorce). A brutally honest account of mourning and grief. I love that he writes this in a complete stream-of-consciousness, even to the point of editing himself as he goes.

Operating Instructions is Ann Lamott’s hilarious and frank journal of her son’s first year of life. What can I say? I absolutely love Lamott.

Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor teamed up to write A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, which has been fodder for much heated discussion in the world of Christian blogs. Spencer has taken a lot of static for ideas that people see as unorthodox, and a departure from the faith. But he says so himself, so what are you gonna do? It is wide-ranging, eclectic, and nonlinear. Which is to say, it is a good embodiment of Spencer, and of his thinking, and of the spirituality which he promotes.

In the end, Burke and Taylor tick people off because they generally ignore conventional definitions of theological terms, and makes up a few along the way (the chapter on ‘grace’ is great). But isn’t this the point? Isn’t our unfortunate tendency to define and pin down ideas and formulate simple ideologies (“well, I’ve got that issue figured out– time to move on!”)? So if this book is squishy and unsatisfying, I like it. Maybe it will make me think and find some clarity for myself, instead of sitting in the seat of scoffers.

I saw an old favorite in the four-dollar bin at Amazon, so I picked it up. Enough explores genetic, robotic, and nanotechnologies and the ways in which they would alter life as we know it. As usual, my man Bill McKibben makes his winsome arguments with ethical insight, social observation, and gentle theology. (Why does that word need any qualification? Oughtn’t theology be, by its very nature, the most humble and generous of disciplines?) In book after book, McKibben points to contentment as the path to happiness and fulfillment. Here, his exploration of the ‘technological sophistication’ of the Amish is brilliant and deeply engaging, and he cites the example of Chinese and Japanese societies, which have audaciously and courageously rescinded rampant technological escalation (seafaring and firearms manufacture, respectively). What is progress, really?

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3 Responses to “Read All Over”

  1. Liz says:

    Well, I guess I now have an excuse to go to B&N; this weekend… I have a copy of Lewis’ book that I can now return. I WAS going to give to you. It’s fabulous. I found it to painfully honest to read it right away (which is why I hadn’t given it to you, yet) but once I had healed a tad; I read it several times.

  2. Mojo says:

    I remember a long time ago I read two of Lewis’s books about pain, I think The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. A Grief Observed was much better, as the other was a much more academic ‘let’s think out a logical explanation for bad things’ type of book. I’ll have to look up Enough.

  3. dawnrw says:

    Interesting “thin” Lewis notion. I just reread the space trilogy and as much as I enjoyed Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, I can barely bother wading through That Hideous Strength. Don this and Cambridge that and scotch this. Just don’t care.

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