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.
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.
Part 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!