What We’re Reading Wednesday: Fairy Tale Edition

We just started listening to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the car, and C.S. Lewis’ dedication at the beginning to his goddaughter, Lucy, struck me. I’d read it before, but this time that phrase “someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again” made me smile.

“My Dear Lucy,
        I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,”

— C.S. Lewis

Lucia usually enjoys, or at least tolerates, most of the fairy tales we bring home from the library. Of course, the ratio of text/illustrations matters in terms of holding her attention, as well as the translation — we’ve read several Cinderella’s based on Charles Perrault’s version, for example, but the more archaic translations are obviously not going to hold this 3.5-year-old for long (or her mom). Not gonna lie, it gratifies the snob in me that she prefers the Cinderella books to the Disney version. (Then again, she gets stressed out over Daniel Tiger (“AUGHH!! They’re making a mess!!!”) , so Lucifer the cat was a slightly more traumatic viewing experience…) But anyway, here’s a roundup of some of our recent favorites:

CinderellaOkay, I lied, K.Y. Craft’s Cinderella isn’t actually my favorite. The text got a liiitle too long for me (Lucia didn’t seem to mind, but I think everyone here can relate to the 7:45 p.m. speed reading phenomenon), and some of the lines were pretty sappy (overhearing the ending, Luke rolled his eyes and commented, “Well THAT was treacly”), but the illustrations are lavish, and there a couple new details that I hadn’t encountered in other versions of the tale (for instance, the prince meets Cinderella as herself before the ball).

Moving on.

849287The Twelve Dancing Princesses, told by Marianna Mayer and also illustrated by K.Y. Craft. I’d never heard this story before, but it strikes me as such a perfect blend of romance (in the broader sense of the word…adventure! Courage! Awkward glances over bouquets!), fantasy, and that necessary frightening element that underlies every good fairy tale. The nightmarish aspects of the twilight kingdom went over Lucia’s head, I’m sure, but was creeped out. The image of the sorceress prophesying over the dying queen is also pretty vivid (warning: there is a sorceress prophesying over a dying queen!) In the end, the honorable gardener wins the heart of the kindest princess, the shadow of death is defeated, and love wins, with lots of dancing. Now that is the stuff of fairy tales.

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The story of Sleeping Beauty also intrigues me. Have you seen the trailer for Disney’s Maleficent? I’m not sure how I feel about it. I really like the Disney Sleeping Beauty, so if the new story is all about how Maleficent is the victim byproduct of the violent male patriarchy..mmmm. Don’t mess with my head, Disney. Anyways, this version by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, stuck out at me — the storytelling is really good (even when details were probably too complex for Lucia, it still held her attention overall), and the pictures…sigh. The note in the back says Sanderson pulled inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites, especially John William Waterhouse, and the results are simply lovely to look at.

I would also be remiss to not mention the fact that we’re currently hoarding our library system’s collection of the Ella Bella Ballerina stories. Nice of James Mayhew to give Swan Lake a happy ending — I was wondering where he would go with that :-o

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And finally, my turn:

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I wonder what it’s like to view the world with Neil Gaiman’s mind and imagination. There are a lot of good reviews on Goodreads that basically strike the same note: Gaiman, and with this book in particular, is a league of his own. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is haunting and painfully exquisite at times. The main character, a bookish, lonely child (whom I just realized isn’t even named…is he?) is so believable, even as he flounders in the unbelievable, utterly fantastical world that lies just below the surface of his reality (or literally, “at the end of the lane”). And the writing — Gaiman describes those fringes between wakefulness and dreams with such clarity, and the surreality of that magical world so vividly, that more than once I just had to pause and think…what is going ON in Neil Gaiman’s head?? There’s a lot going in on this book: the theme of memory, and our accuracy in remembering; the fears of childhood; the fears of adulthood; the longing of both children and adults…all so poignantly distilled into the elemental power of fairy tale and myth. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads but upon writing this review I’m having trouble thinking why I didn’t just give it all 5. I do think this is the kind of book that only gets better with a reread, so maybe next time I will.

Lest you think we consume only the highest quality literature and media in these parts, the past 45 minutes of blogging time have been brought to you by this little underwater Bella Swan:

and Ursuala’s about to be torpedoed, so I better go — oops, too late. She’s dead. Kids seem unfazed. Phew.

Go visit Jessica for more of What We’re Reading Wednesday!

What We’re Reading Wednesday +1

Luke and I called a sick day this week. The kids weren’t exactly on board, but we sure tried to lounge around and recover from winter’s last stomach bug as much as possible on Wednesday. I don’t know what Luke did, but I read The Penderwicks. I was telling Faith it felt downright indulgent to just lie on the couch and read a kids’ book cover to cover in a day…but oh it was delicious.

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I realize I’m kinda late in discovering this book (I also only read Anne of Green Gables for the first time a couple years ago, so there’s that), but I was quickly taken in by the four Penderwick girls, each believable and lovable in their own way, and their fierce, sisterly loyalty to each other. Really, the more I think about it, the happier I am to have found such a good book about girlhood. The romping, adventurous, sunshine-y days of girlhood, and the little (to grownups) joys and sorrows that can make or break a child’s summer day. My one qualm with the book is that the adult villains are just too perfectly villainous; the children’s characters were so beautifully drawn out, so I was a little disappointed that the antagonists (think the Baroness and Captain Von Trapp pre-dancing-with-Maria) felt rather cliche. Or maybe it’s just me. I still loved the book, and am now out of things to read until our next trip to the library.

I also recently finished The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris.

108681Part meditation, part memoir, much of The Cloister Walk revolves around Norris’ experiences as a Benedictine oblate at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota (sidenote: did you know you didn’t have to be Catholic to be an oblate? Huh. The things you learn.) Anyways. This was a beautiful book, and I recommend it especially for those of you who loved In this House of Brede, as I did. To me, some of the most stirring chapters were ones filled with quotes from Norris’ conversations and correspondence with Benedictine women — cloistered nuns talking about life in community, or describing in frank terms how they’ve grappled and struggled with the vow of celibacy over the decades. It was like hearing the characters in Brede come to life. (Which only gives me more respect for Rumer Godden getting it right). The sisters’ insights are searingly beautiful and, on the other side of the same coin, often uncomfortable to hear, because they destroy any romanticized vision one might have of monastic life and religious vocations. (Brede spoiler alert: Norris’ chapter on celibacy and relationships really helped me figure out Cecily and Dame Maura’s fraught relationship).

Kathleen Norris also reminds me of Heather King, in that both women have a poet’s way with words and almost seem to see writing itself as a kind of religious vocation. As far as I can see, their work falls in the bounds of orthodoxy, yet they also manage to write from outside the traditional liberal/conservative Catholic camps (well, Norris isn’t even Catholic, but still), which I find so refreshing.  I finished Norris’ chapter on the monastic women’s religious habits — and the political and theological baggage that unfortunately comes with it, especially post-Vatican II — and thought…Huh. Never thought of it that way before. And when a writer can pull that off, and not in a preachy way, I think that’s a good thing.

Anyways. Go visit Jessica for more of this week’s What We’re Reading links. And send me recommendations; I’m out of books!

 

 

 

7 Quick Takes of Lenten Fluff

1. Have you heard of Bogs? They are the only thing getting me through this long season of always winter, never Christmas. I bought this pair in brown sometime in January and haven’t looked back. Waterproof and lined with whatever magic inside that keeps your feet warm and dry, these have been perfect for rain, snow, slush, ice and everything else this ridiculous winter has thrown at us. I love them. I think they came to around $90, with tax, on Amazon, and it looks like the Bogs website itself is having a sale on this particular pair. Pricey, but seriously the best money I’ve ever spent on shoes, period. Oh, and the cherry on top? I can put them on/take them off hands free. That is priceless.

I also found a pair of girl’s Bogs on sale for around ~$50 on REI earlier this year:

I ordered a size up and Lucia didn’t seem to notice, so hopefully they’ll last through this spring’s rains and next winter, as well.

A friend of mine out here has family in Alaska, and she said they outfit all their kids in these boots, so if that’s not testimony enough, I don’t know what else is.

2. I’d been keeping an eye out for a nice car/play mat, and when this one from Joey Boey showed up on Kid Steals for almost half price, I, well…stole it.

Beginning to lament the fact that I’m not even getting paid for this…

It’s a durable, easy-clean surface and the town is much more detailed than any other, similar playmat I’ve seen (there’s a library, church, school, airport, farm, park, various houses, etc.) I like how it lends itself very easily to imaginative play with just about any of my kids’ numerous cars, trucks, animals and people.

Tangent: The Joey Boey website also seems to cater toward your friendly LDS families with a….Mormon town version? Complete with Mormon temple? (“Visit the temple or cruise on over to the missionaries at the MTC.” Yes I had to Google that last acronym ;)

Perhaps not very Mormon.

What I’m thinking is….where is Catholic Town?! Get on it, crafty ones.

Anyways. Our kids are into it, and it’s also been a hit the couple times I’ve taken it to the playgroup in our church basement, so that’s a win for me.

3. Speaking of which, I’m probably jinxing everything by bringing it up, but the kids have been playing so well together the past three days…and it makes such a difference. On Wednesday, I swept and mopped the downstairs floors; did multiple loads of laundry; ORGANIZED THE BASEMENT, which has not been touched since we dumped things down there when we moved in over a year ago, and then realized…why aren’t they hanging on me? What is going on?!

The blissful answer: they’re starting to actually play with each other. While in the basement with me, they found a box of party supplies, including the Happy Birthday banner from Lucia’s 3rd, and the rest of the day was taken up with a pretend 5th birthday party, complete with party hats, cake baking, presents and games. Upstairs. On their own. Completely organized by Ms. Bossy Pants and supported by her toddling fan #1.

I know this is a “no duh” moment for moms who’ve graduated from the “small children and…more small children” phase and keep telling me “it gets easier!”, but this is a game-changer for me. They still pop up at inopportune times (read: the bathroom) and follow me around, but it’s not quite as needy, and Felix especially seems more willing to go off and play whatever game his sister has concocted. I’m a little more free, and they’re a little more pleasant to be around.

Life is not as terrible.

Jk, jk. I like my kids.

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Actually, this one was all his idea.

4. Ads for this movie keep popping up on Spotify (which probably says something embarrassing about my listening habits), and I would just like to say, as a Christian, that I find it insultingly bad. Bad bad bad. Insulting to my intelligence, insulting to actual non-believers’ intelligence, insulting to actual Christian artists making actual art and not self-affirming tracts featuring Duck Dynasty stars….and seriously? The Newsboys are still a thing? Anyways. I’m done. For now. I keep thinking up new lines for my diatribe, and I gave up Facebook for Lent, so it follows that expanding on the subject here would do wonders for my spiritual growth. Obviously.

5. On that note, tonight Luke and I are driving an hour into the depth of Connecticut to see my fave, Andrew Peterson, sing at…gulp…a Christian coffeehouse. We’ll see how this goes and whether Luke can keep his mockery to a minimum (though he keeps asking me questions like, “What if everyone just starts singing along? What if they start to sway? What will you do?“)

I do dislike 99% of Christian music. Andrew Peterson is a rare (one of, like, three) exception. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s a wonderful lyricist with a very Catholic imagination and self-professed love for C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor, and all those other authors all the cool kids like (yes, this is what I’ve always defined as “what the cool kids like”). His song “The Magic Hour” also introduced me to farmer and writer Wendell Berry, whose novel Jayber Crow is hands down one of the most exquisite books I’ve ever read.


6. And, because I’m realizing this post is making me sound like a terrible, jaded person…here’s another favorite Peterson song:

7. [Two days later] Well, they did sing along, and no, I did not, because I’m Catholic and whatnot and we really don’t take well to sudden, spontaneous audience-participation choruses, I realized. Actually, I spent a good portion of the concert (sitting in tiny, packed church on padded chairs with a happy, mostly middle-aged+ crowd) bemusedly noting all the ways I felt out of place in an environment that, in childhood, would’ve been at least as familiar to me as Mass, if not more so. With each little ripple of nodding heads and “Amens!” I became more convinced that, if you could shove denominations into the different temperaments, Catholics would be melancholics. (I also thought of Jen’s post on a similar theme recently). Maybe this is way too broad a generalization, but I think we’re okay with pondering. We can linger on big questions without feeling the need to sermonize or provide a pat answer within a three-minute song. We’re okay with staring at a crucifix for an hour. Every time the audience responded to a particularly poignant line with a smattering of applause or amens, my inner critic was yelling, “SHUSH! This is a GREAT SONG!! Let me INTERNALIZE!”

On the hour drive home, I told Luke about this while trying not to get car sick on the dark, winding forest roads. (At one point we drove over the top of a dam. I mean…seriously, Connecticut. Build some more highways). Apparently, it surprised even him. “Wait…THAT’s what you were thinking about?” Yep. I’m sitting in an intimate concert space with one of my favorite musicians, and I’m wondering whether Pentecostals would be sanguines or cholerics.

On the plus side, I did get to meet Andrew Peterson, thank him for introducing me to Wendell Berry, and tell him to read Pope Benedict. (I mean, he even talked about his growing appreciation for the rhythm of liturgy. I couldn’t let that slide :) So all in all, a good date night!

WWRW: SEALs, Mice and Octopus Balls

1. The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, by Eric Greitens

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It should really go without saying that this is not a typical read for me. Actually, it’s probably a first. But, my Air Force Special Ops brother gave it to me for Christmas and, feeling guilty about not cracking open the book of personal stories of North Korea escapees he gave me LAST Christmas (?!?), I started this.

The jist: In college, Greitens gets drawn into the world of international relations and humanitarianism. He pays his way to spend semesters in war zones as a volunteer and photojournalist in refugee camps, and later goes to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, continuing to research and visit some of the poorest, most ravaged parts of the world. Yet throughout both his formal education and time spent shoulder-to-shoulder with volunteers and NGO staffers — from American evangelicals in Rwanda to U.N. bureaucrats in Croatia — he comes to the conviction that, despite all the good that is done by volunteers and relief efforts after the fact, there’s no replacement for the warrior who steps up to defend the innocent who suffer most during war. Faced with the question of what he’ll do with this conviction, he walks away from lucrative offers from both Oxford and the business world, and signs up to be a Navy SEAL. Or rather, signs up to be yelled at, degraded, almost drowned and underpaid, in the hopes of becoming a SEAL. Spoiler! He does! And the journey there is incredibly well-told.

The last book that made me stay up irresponsibly late (11:30 p.m.! Who am I!) was In this House of Brede, a fantastic novel about life in an English Benedictine cloister. How on earth does the memoir of a Navy SEAL pull me in just as compellingly?

  • This isn’t some memoir of a meathead who just joined the military to shoot guns and be tough. Rather, Greitens comes across as well-rounded, principled and educated. His love of learning is very evident, from his familiarity with the Great Books to his frequent mentions of his childhood fascination with historic, wartime leaders. Pericles definitely gets in his fair share of quotes. And the man was in love with Oxford — how can I not appreciate that. At the same time, he maintains an admirable balance between reading and talking about issues, and doing something about them; between discussing world affairs with a seminar of fellow college sophomores, and leaving the university bubble to experience that world for himself.
  • Likewise, Greitens makes it clear that a warrior’s strength doesn’t reside solely in the physical — formation of character, including a keen sense of restraint, is integral along with the grueling training. He shares the story of witnessing Army Rangers take a suspected terrorist’s house, skillfully rushing and capturing the suspect while at the same time shielding an infant in the same room until they were able to carry her to safety. There’s a lot of heart and compassion in his story.
  • Raised in a Catholic-Jewish family, he also seems to be a man of faith, carrying a handful of religious medals given him by friends of various faiths and sincerely thanking God for sparing his life during two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He speaks well of the Christian volunteers he meets around the world, noting their good intentions even when some are more culturally insensitive (<–understatement) than others (the Southern Baptist Paula Deen character who tells survivors of the Rwandan genocide to accept Jesus or go to hell, etc.) All in all, he is very respectful of faith’s role in motivating people to do good, whether it’s his black boxing coach during his days at Duke or the Missionaries of Charity in India.
  • Finally — and this is probably something I appreciated most of all — he doesn’t come across as promoting an ideology, whether a faith in pacifism or military strength. He’s pragmatic, but hopeful and sincere — and most importantly, he backs up his convictions with a willingness to lay down his life, literally and figuratively, for them. There are some beautiful moments in the book that give you a sense of the sacrifices Greitens has made, along with his knowledge of what he was walking away from. To use Catholic speak, it was like reading a “how I realized my religious vocation” story. With his knowledge of history, philosophy and literature, he even raises the haunting, age-old questions himself throughout his story: What is freedom? What does it mean to live the Good Life? And what am I willing to do to grasp it?

And so, fellow literature nerds, humanities lovers, and stay at home moms whose idea of grueling exercise is trudging up and down three flights of stairs to retrieve a forgotten teddy bear — I highly recommend giving Greitens’ book a chance.

2. Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo, by Matthew Amster-Burton

Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo

Another Christmas gift, this time from my more similar-in-tastes sister-in-law :) Food blogger/podcaster Matthew Amster-Burton takes you (and his family) on a zany, month-long, food-centric romp through Tokyo. Eels, ramen, and fried balls of octopus (not to be confused with octopus balls…which…I don’t think exist…) abound. A fun read resulting in me googling Japanese restaurants and scheming when Luke and I can get to New York.

3. Who Goes There?, by Karma Wilson

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A cute story about mouse companionship and all that, but what really makes it worthy of a mention here is Wilson’s book dedication to a certain, beloved British author. (Hint: the little jacketed guy on the cover is named Lewis).

Anyways. Looking forward to reading more reviews at Housewifespice – thanks, Jessica!

What We’re Reading Wednesday

  • Roundtrip drive to the middle of nowhere, Connecticut UConn: 2.5 hours
  • Standing in line to buy books: .5 hour
  • Standing in line to get said books autographed: 1+ hour
  • The privilege of eating Sunday afternoon college cafeteria food with my toddler: …let’s not go there.
  • Checking off the ol’ bucket list and talking about the awesomeness of Sigrid Undset and Kristen Lavransdatter with Tomie de Paola for like a whole three minutes: I just about peed, it was so great.

On what Luke is now referring dryly to as “Tomie de Paola Sunday,” Lucia and I went on a “date” to the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair last weekend. (The morning began auspiciously with my date’s meltdown/refusal to wear clothes, but Mommy put her foot down on that one, yes she did).

Long (probably very boring) story short, the man is even higher in my estimation now. Starting off the morning with a 20-min q&a (most the q’s coming from kids — “What’s your favorite color,” “What’s your favorite Strega Nona book,” etc.), he immediately struck me as very genuine and jovial. The tone of the event was also very casual, with toddlers and baby-wearing moms roaming the back of the room, a mute Strega Nona costume character bobbing up and down in one corner, and kids practically standing on chairs with their hands raised.

Then, off to the book-signing portion of the program, which he technically had an hour for, though it was clear he’d need longer than that. Across the length of the ballroom, one line stretched from nearly one wall to the other just to buy the books, only to turn around and form a new line in front of the actual author table on the other side of the room. I felt bad for the other authors who pretty much spent their time texting behind their empty tables along the other walls of the room, but….I was there for The Man. As were a couple hundred other kiddie book lovers, apparently.

He could’ve kept the line moving by not personalizing the autographs….but he didn’t. Or he could’ve sped things up by not chatting with each person, taking the time to ask and answer questions…but he didn’t. And he could’ve called it quits after his scheduled hour….but he didn’t. Truly a joyful, gracious man.

So all in all, I had over an hour to contemplate how to not commit word vomit/formulate what non-dumb fangirl statement to deliver when I finally got to the table. (Don’t worry, I scratched, “I like your scarf!”) Because you’re dying to know, it went down like this:

Liz: [Big Stupid Grin]

Nice male assistant (henceforth, NMA): “Okaaay, so….these are for Lucia and Felix?”

Liz, super perky: “Yep!” [thinking: What was I going to say again....?]

TdeP, to Lucia: “Do you have a baby brother named Felix?”

Lucia, wearing a paper crown at this point: [disinterested scowl]

Liz, recovering: “They have The Clown of God at home, and for the first month I couldn’t read it without choking up.”

TdeP and NMA, in unison: “Awww!”

TdeP: “Thank you! Yes…that is one of my favorite books I’ve done.”

[Silence as he signs the board books. I take the plunge.]

Liz: “So…I saw on your website that you like Kristen Lavransdatter.

I swear he lit up and could not look more like Santa Claus if he tried. He paused the signing and we chatted a little about how great KL is, and how he’ll burrow in and read the whole trilogy in two days (he nodded and laughed when I said it took me two years — “oh, yes, the first time, sure!” — and that he’s also read The Master of Hestviken but likes Kristen better (I was so agreeable with his opinions at this point), that he did like the film version, and that Sigrid Undset “was a very interesting woman.”

I ended with a random and way too excited, “I want to go to Norway!” before stepping away. Day made. Thank you, Mr. De Paola.

I’m a little sad at the lack of photographic evidence, but know that a picture would’ve looked like this:

 

Wheeeee!

Wheeeee!

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My new BFF

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Couldn’t care less.

Anyways, one of the books I bought on Sunday is Joy to the World, a collection of three Christmas stories along with several illustrated carols.

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De Paola pulls off his usual folk tale magic with The Night of Las Posadas and The Legend of the Poinsettia, both stories taking place either in the Catholic Southwest or Mexico (bonus points for setting the first story in Santa Fe, my favorite city to spend a day in when visiting my parents in New Mexico). The Story of the Three Wise Kings is just a straightforward retelling of the biblical story, but the illustrations are probably my favorite in the book, with de Paola pulling on Byzantine and Romanesque tradition to depict the Magis’ journey. I also picked up/had signed a couple board books for the kids (Bible stories and fairy tales), but I hope this collection stays a family favorite for many Christmases to come.

Thank you, Jessica, for giving me a place on the Internets where fellow moms/bloggers/readers of way too many picture books won’t find the above tale way too weird for comfort :) 

What We’re Reading Wednesday

As I sit here, eating an untouched half of Lucia’s pb&j sandwich from preschool this morning, avoiding a to-do list that was probably overly ambitious to begin with (“Treat laundry stains”? For real? “Mail voters registration” — that’s not toooo late, right?) … how about a tour of our kiddie lit library finds that haven’t made me want to gauge my eyes out lately?

Okeedokey.

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I picked up Building Our House solely because I recognized Jonathan Bean’s name from the list of authors who’ll be at the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair next month. (Sidenote: will I fulfill my dream of meeting Tomie de Paola and almost assuredly embarrass myself in the process? We shall see. All I know is, as I told a fellow mom and de Paola fan, if I don’t end up going and he dies before next year’s fair, I’m gonna be mad). :-o

ANYWAYS.  Building Our House is a picture book about the ultimate DIY family: they build their own freaking house. I mean. Come on. Oh, and like 3/4 of the way through, the mom gets pregnant and later on is carrying around a newborn like nobody’s business during moving day. (Just in case arts and crafty blogs and winsome, Montessori homeschool Pinterest boards don’t make you feel inadequate enough).

I kid, mostly. This is a pretty adorable book told from the oldest daughter’s perspective, although it’s based on Bean’s childhood experience of his parents really, truly building their own timber frame house. Even 3-year-old “I want to be a ballerina for the All Saints party” Lucia requests it daily, soaking in illustrations like children gathering stones from the neighbors’ pastures in order to break them up into the concrete mixture used for the house’s foundation. Who knew pictures of a pregnant mom stapling insulation in the dead of winter could be so fascinating?

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The Growing Story, by Ruth Krauss, is another cute one, and the fact that this edition is illustrated by Helen Oxenbury makes it a winner. The prose is a little too repetitive for my taste, and maybe teeters in the balance between simple/flat. (But — what do I know?) Still, the concept is sweet — little boy watches the plants and animals on the farm growing around him and wonders if he’s really growing, too — the end made me smile, and the illustrations totally make it worth it.

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I’m probably the last literate person on the planet to realize this, but — oh my gosh. THIS POOR MONKEY.

Luke was all, “What, you didn’t know George was kidnapped by poachers to be exploited in America?” but yeah, somehow I missed that subtlety as a kid.

Lucia tolerates the books as my attempt to transition her from PBS’ spin-off back to the written word (can anyone tell me why, in the show, George sometimes lives in the suburbs, and other times in a high rise in the city? Hmmm? This is literally something that kept me up at night this week). It amuses me how George’s shenanigans stress her out as much as they did to me as a kid. Same cloth, I suppose.

Go visit Jessica for more book recommendations! And Happy Halloween!

What We’re Reading Wednesday

Hello Jessica and friends of Jessica! (And friends of friends of….etc.)

Well, that is awkward. Days after posting about my grandiose plans of understanding evolution and reconciling it with a Catholic anthropology, etc. etc., I gave up. Too hard. Need the movie version. :-o

So, I picked this up as a fun, guilty pleasure read … and was pleasantly surprised.

Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture

Yes, Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, by a self-described “humanist Jew” from Brooklyn. Sounds cringe-worthy, right? Well, it was definitely hilarious (Radosh’s awkward encounters with well-intentioned evangelicals at Christian bookstores slapping him on the back and saying, “My Best Friend is Jewish!!”), searingly accurate (he perfectly captures the wholesome weirdness of the Contemporary Christian Music scene), and surprisingly respectful of Christianity. I know that’s probably not a glowing endorsement — “not as condescending or mean-spirited as I thought it would be” — but Jesus Camp, it was not. 

Actually, what I found most interesting was reading the book in light of Pope Francis’ recent interview in Americaparticularly those controversial quotes where the pope, very paraphrased, is basically saying: Let’s be clear: we’re not changing the teachings of the Church. But if we’re honest with ourselves, and we step out of our bubble where all our arguments and Catholic language are just bouncing back onto our own ears — if we genuinely try to understand how the rest of the world perceives us — something’s not working. And we’ve got to get our act together before we lose what’s left of our credibility. 

Radosh, now a writer for The Daily Show, comes off as an intelligent, compassionate, witty and probably very nice guy. The one time he lashes out in the book occurs when confronting a volunteer with Rock for Life/American Life League, who’s passing out literature against IVF on the basis that embryos are destroyed in the process and that it objectifies children. Radosh pulls out a picture of his twin toddler daughters, conceived via IVF, and challenges the now-speechless pro-lifer to accuse him of considering his daughters objects.

Other than that, I think he interviews his subjects fairly (from teenagers at Christian music festivals wearing terrible Christian t-shirts, to Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, which operates the Creation Museum in Kentucky). He distances himself from the strident, militant tone of the “neoatheists” a la Dawkins (while saving his sharpest ire for their Christian equivalents), and I thought for the most part he avoided taking what could have been easy, cheap shots. I mean, he spends a chapter with a 20-something guy who straps on Spandex and plays “Bibleman” to live audiences in the Bible Belt. Come on.

With its outsider’s perspective, then, it was an enlightening and instructive look at the way Christianity (or at least, American evangelicalism) presents itself to the rest of the world, in all its sincerity and utter goofiness. I say “instructive” because I saw a lot of parallels with Catholicism, especially the Church’s task to engage in the New Evangelism, which I think Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis have been urging us towards very strongly.

So what does one Brooklyn Jew’s romp through Evangelical Land USA have to do with Catholics? My takeaways include:

  • When faith is divorced from reason, it’s immediately apparent to everyone except the guy in the awful Christian t-shirt that what’s left is utter bs.
  • I mean. I can’t even handle this.

     

  •  Radosh’s incident with the pro-lifer really struck me. I accept the Church’s teaching on the immorality of IVF. But I learned it as an already practicing Catholic, willing to accept a difficult teaching with faith seeking understanding. When it comes to communicating its message to the world, the Church has lost the privilege of assuming that that world speaks its language. A few months ago, my women’s reading group at our parish was discussing the marriage debates and trying to grapple with how it seems the Church, in the U.S. at least, is still struggling to articulate the basis for its opposition to gay marriage. I mean really articulate it, in a way that meets the opposing view on the same playing field, not just bounces back to our Catholic ears already steeped in Catholic concepts and vocabulary like sacrament and essence and natural law.* 
  • Likewise, I guess it’s cool and everything when your apologetics materials lay the smackdown on whatever hersey you’re trying to combat, but when you’ve lost sight of the person amid the argument, you’ve lost it all. Luke is fond of a phrase he and his friends jokingly used in college when discussing (or probably closing discussion on) a point of view other than their own: “Labelled, dismissed!” In short, satirizing the easy temptation to slap a worldview/philosophy on a person, assume that those couple words sum him up in whole, and casually file him away as completely understood. But, right or wrong, Daniel Radosh didn’t fit the pro-lifer’s notion of a Collaborator in the Culture of Death(!!!). And it showed, and everything fell apart because of it.
  • The most winsome method of evangelizing, says Radosh, is not evangelizing at all. Actually, he says something like, “The Christians I found most convincing were the ones who couldn’t care less whether I converted to Christianity.” Granted, this is maybe antithetical to the very definition of evangelical. Okay, the way Radosh puts it, it’s very antithetical. The point is (and it’s sad this has to be a point), you don’t treat people like projects. Not like potential “wins” to “our” side. Genuine faith, Radosh seems to realize, isn’t afraid of others with opposing views or no religious beliefs at all, which means it’s also not caught up in a myriad of frenzied gestures to come off as persuasive. It’s just…real. And free. And loving and (this is my addition, because it’d probably be too dogmatic for Radosh in the end… :)) certain enough of Who it’s founded on, that it’s okay with wading out into the messy, complicated, un-labeled world and being itself.

And so, Daniel Radosh, because you definitely are one of the five people who read my blog, next time Luke and I get our hipster on and are in Brooklyn (there are so many contingencies here, let’s say….in the next 10 years), let’s get a beer. Or, more likely since we both have young children, organic yogurt. That’s cool too, and you sound like a decent guy.

***

*It reminds me of one of the most beautiful passages in the pope’s interview, in my opinion:

Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.