What We’re Reading Wednesday: The Yearling

Lately, I’ve been on a “young adult classics I never read as a young adult” kick. Think Peter Pan, A Wrinkle in Time (which…I really enjoyed, but thought would be more epic , maybe a la Harry Potter – please don’t judge :)) and, most recently, Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s The Yearling. 

The YearlingThere is so much to immediately love about this book. In my Goodreads review, I mentioned it was like reading a Wendell Berry novel set in Florida, if for nothing else than the beautiful themes woven throughout: the honorable man is the one who respects nature and only takes what he needs while making sure to leave enough for future generations. A simple, hardworking lifestyle is praised above the freewheeling, carousing antics of other settlers. Family and home are islands of safety, and the people themselves, far from being depicted as backwards, mockable hillbillies (even when they’re literally prancing around naked before dawn, playing their fiddles and banjoes), are treated with the author’s respect and given a spirit of joy and sense of culture and purpose, even alongside their flaws.

And the prose! I knew I was in for a heart-wringer when I got to to this passage in the first chapter, after the 12-year-old protagonist returns from an afternoon’s romp in the woods:

“You’re addled,” she said. “Jest plain addled.”

It was true. He was addled with April. He was dizzy with Spring. He was as drunk as Lem Forrester on a Saturday night. His head was swimming with the strong brew made up of the sun and the air and the thin gray rain. The flutter mill had made him drunk, and the doe’s coming, and his father’s hiding his absence, and his mother’s making him a pone and laughing at him. He was stabbed with the candlelight inside the safe comfort of the cabin; with the moonlight around it. … He went to bed in a fever and could not sleep. A mark was on him from the day’s delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember. A whippoorwill called across the bright night, and suddenly he was asleep.

I mean. I can’t even handle it; that ache is almost tangible as I read the words again. At the risk of spoilers, I will say that, as a coming of age novel, “addled with April” doesn’t last forever; innocence confronts death, in more than one context; and young Jody emerges the next spring as much more of a hardened young man than the lively “yearling” who slips away from his chores to play at the spring.

But the ending! (Definitely spoilers ahead :)) After a veritable Return of the Prodigal Son moment, Jody’s heroic father, Penny, delivers this final homily — and that’s how it came across to me, just downright cold and preachy — on the hardness of life:

“Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life. … A man’s heart aches, seein’ his young uns face the world. Knowin’ they got to git their guts tore out, the way his was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin’. I knowed the lonesomeness he eased for you. But ever’ man’s lonesome. What’s he to do then? What he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on.”

Jody goes to bed, thinking of his fawn — “He did not believe he should ever again love anything, man or woman or his own child, as he had loved the yearling. He would be lonely all his life. But a man took it for his share and went on.” (And then that last sentence of the book…oh, it is haunting.)

And as adults, I think we read that with two minds…on the one hand, we mourn the tragedy of his irretrievable loss of innocence. We empathize with Penny, wanting to shield his son from sorrow. And the mention of loneliness as almost the  defining trait of the mark of death reminded me of John Paul II’s theology of the body,  which considers loneliness in a twofold manner: first, man’s natural, “original solitude,” which points him irrevocably in the direction of companionship with God and others (and, oh, Jody’s “I must up and return to my father” moment nearly made me cry); and second, the loneliness that occurs because of man’s alienation from God. In Jody’s world, the swamp — as glorious and mysterious as it is — is marked by sin and death, and he feels the stab of loneliness acutely.

I digress. “He did not believe he should ever again love anything,” blahblahblah. Yeah. That can’t be true. Even Penny, who didn’t even marry his first love (and we get a glimpse of what could’ve been), treats Jody’s ornery mother with a tenderness that I found moving. And we know that Jody will most likely grow up, marry, have a family, and then more fully understand Penny’s love for him as he loves his own children. So I’m not sure if Rawlings is leaving us with an adolescent’s short-term view of things, or if the lesson really is, “You will never love again this perfectly, and you will never be fulfilled”?

Anyways. I’m really rambling. Suffice it to say, I thought it was a powerful book that totally took me by surprise. Also, there are fun mealtime scenes (squirrels and corn pone, anyone?) Do yourself a favor and read it, and then the next morning, after staying up until 11:30 to finish reading, listen to Andrew Peterson’s Ballad of Jody Baxter while silently choking up over dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Except then you can’t even blame it on pregnancy hormones like me — ha!

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

What We’re Reading Wednesday: The Whole Five Feet

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Christopher Beha is a 20-something Princeton grad living in his parents’ Manhattan apartment and undergoing something of a quarter-life crisis. Sounds thrilling, I know. He finds himself drawn to the five-foot shelf of Harvard Classics books inherited from his grandma, a woman who educated herself with them through the Great Depression, and decides to read through all 51 volumes in a year. Voila: a memoir.

Overall, I appreciated Beha’s openness to the questions posed by the Great Books: What is the life worth living? What are knowledge’s limits? What is a good death? What is the purpose of education? Heck, I appreciated his openness to the “Great Books” themselves and the value of past wisdom. The book’s most moving parts occur when Beha’s year doesn’t pan out exactly according to reading schedule, and his lessons in the meaning of suffering include sharing an apartment with his dying, beloved aunt. Having faced his own trials of serious illnesses, including cancer as a college student, Beha takes history’s great thinkers at face value when they confront their own mortality and sense of purpose. Some of the most poignant sections were when Beha, a fallen-away Catholic, dwells on the importance of tradition, belonging, and faith’s role in shaping culture. And his chapter spent pondering the value of cultivating culture (especially through reading the old, good books), but also of engaging modern culture (by actively consuming popular media) — and whether the two ideas are exclusive — has given me a lot to think about.

I wanted to read Beha’s book because I’ve been trying for awhile to formulate my thoughts on the value of a Great Books education. (Also, why season three of Veronica Mars is dramatically sub-par to the previous two, and whether Felix is so far “behind” his sister in terms of talking/being a member of civil society because we ignore him too much. Keeping it real.) I mean, Luke and I met in and subsequently sat through 7 out of 8 seminars together in our university’s Great Books Honors program, so there’s that. (We bonded sophomore year when my look of surprised horror at accidentally playing footsie with our curmudgeon of a Franciscan friar caught Luke’s amused, knowing expression across the table. Pause to shudder through relived awkward moments).

Our last semester of Honors was something of a letdown, taught by a nice, well-intentioned, Distributist (he once spent an entire class waxing on the glories of owning one’s own cow) adjunct professor who left me feeling that the Catholic faith he championed was not fundamentally different than the modern ideologies we discussed and decried. I mean, he certainly thought it was, but there was something about his impassioned presentation of 20th-century Catholic thinkers — and for the life of me, I’m still trying to nail down what — that failed to convince me that a life of faith (specifically, a life lived within the Church) is bigger, more expansive, and more freeing, than ideology. I believe it is (because otherwise, what’s the point, right?) , even as I try to reason myself there. But with no thanks to Prof. Great Books, who had his books, had his thinkers, and therefore had his system which allowed him and his to lead their nice, structured lives, cow and all, with little thought to the other planetary systems orbiting around them. (Terrible analogy, I know).

Beha doesn’t go into detail about his reasons for falling away from his childhood faith, but from the sound of it, he grew up in a faithful Catholic family, surrounded by practicing members of the Church with bookshelves laden with Catholic classics and theology. That he’s read them shows in his beautiful fiction. What I’m trying to get at is that Beha’s story in The Whole Five Feet reminded me that life, and people, is more nuanced than that last Honors semester would have led me to believe. That, while there’s profound truth to Newman’s famous quote, “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” there’s also a danger of triumphalism and the easy dismissiveness of those who “just haven’t read enough of the right things yet.” And, Catholic or not, I think that leads to an impoverished culture.

To be honest, the Great Books still mystify me, mainly in part because they went over my head in college, and it wasn’t until after I graduated and started working that I started connecting the strands and realizing their relevance. (Sidenote: this book really helped me with that synthesis). The Whole Five Feet reminded me of the value  of going back to the voices of the past and participating in their conversation — even continuing it in the culture we create today. And it made me newly appreciate revisiting that canon with a reading partner whose perspective is different than mine.

Anyways. Go see Housewifespice for more book recommendations!

 

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 :)