Saturday, January 12, 2008

Reading my way into the new year....

There is so much I could and should write about our time in FL: the spectacular celebration of my grandfather's life, complete with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and counsins' children sharing stories, faith and music in his honor; a visit with my father near his favorite FL beach as the kids leapt, skipped and marched their way back and forth between the ocean and the handmade sand castle they optimistically created within reach of the incoming tide; my grandmother's surprise trip to the Emergency Room that resulted in a pacemaker and a new lease on life (She plans to start her own blog at 90 years old--how's that for embracing life and moving forward?). And should I write about the sunshine? But of course! There is something renewing and refreshing about a warm weather vacation in the midst of New England winters. It is a reminder that spring will come, shorts and short sleeves are around the corner, and we will once again swim and play outdoors. Truly, it is coming.

BUT, I'm not going to write about all of that (or have I already???). I want to begin writing about the books I'm reading....not reviews, not critiques; in fact, I plan to create little more than a list. What the list represents is important, though. I am notorious for saying, "I wish I had more time to read." I imagine myself with a life pre-work, pre-kids, pre-commitment in which I lounge by the pool all day with a book in hand, as though this was a life I once knew or one I'll ever have. Contained in the comment is a little bit of resentment about my life's commitments (which include demanding work, kids, classes, church, Sunday School teaching and board service, etc.), and a whole lot of inaccuracy about the reading I do or don't do. In fact, I read quite a bit. True, some of this is for courses I take. But I'm also known to squeeze in a pleasure book while writing that last paper, or grab a weekend to be reading near the kids as they are creating yet another city with their lego, block, and Little People friends. In fact, I am someone who does have time to read. And this year I'm determined to prove it!

Here's what has been part of this new year so far:

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer: While Krakauer's book is the story of one individual's quest to escape civilization and challenge his skills and strength against and with nature, my reading put me in touch with a broader essence of masculinity. In telling the story of Chris McCandless, Krakauer describes his own youthful ventures to take on the odds, and I could see elements of Matt and many of the men I know. That the story of Chris McCandless ends in death does not diminish the universality of the quest to understand his own significance (or insignificance) in the midst of a natural environment that still contains many mysteries.

Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding Myself, Frances Kuffel: This is a book that grabbed me from the library shelves as I was wandering on one of those "time to write the paper--but let's see what I can have as a reward when I'm done" afternoons. For anyone who has lost weight, only to discover that the inside of herself has not necessarily caught up with the outside (or vice versa), this book will speak. To learn since from Frances Kuffel's blog that she continues to struggle with weight, size, food and self is to find empathy. There is a lifetime of learning that goes into reshaping one's sense of self, and her journey is a reminder that there is no single destination, but many points of temporary arrival.

Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir of Growing Up, Coming Out, and Changing America's Schools, Kevin Jennings: It doesn't take long to discover my favorite genre is memoir. I would read one a day if I could. (See, there I go again bemoaning the absence of time--perhaps I should strive for one a week!) Jennings' story is one of overcoming great odds (poverty, participation in racism, heterosexism and homophobia) to become a renowned, if unlikely, activist. I was moved to tears by the horrors he experienced (vowing yet again to protect my children with outrageous means, if necessary), by his willingness to participate personally and publicly in change, and by the story of his mother's unique and parallel transformation. When my teacher sister shared yet another story of children taunting another child on the playground with "You're gay!" without the slightest clue what it meant, I had this title in hand--what a gift.

Here If You Need Me: A True Story, Kate Braestrup: Yet again, a memoir! This is the story of a mother of four who tragically receives the news that her much loved spouse has been killed in a car accident while on duty as a state police officer. Her grief takes her through personally washing and dressing his body, being present to hers and her children's emotions, and weaving a new life that includes the pursuit of what had been her husband's call--to be ordained as a Unitarian Universalist pastor. The call becomes intimately her own, and the book is filled with the stories, images and insights that have come from her years as chaplain to the state game wardens of Maine. It is a lovely book, even tinged with the many inevitable tragedies that shape her life and her work. I savored each word. A few years ago Matt discovered (via NPR, I believe) the author Mike Perry, and quickly felt a kinship through Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. I loved this book as well, and appreciated that Here If You Need Me took me on a similar journey, but with explicitly stated spiritual questions and discoveries.

So what are you reading this year, and how can we celebrate the time we do have to read? Enjoy!


Sue said...

I love checking out what others are reading. Interesting collection! Yes, memoirs are certainly addicting. I just finished Frank McCourt's trilogy and really liked them all. Now I'm ready to embark on Philip Yancey's book on Prayer. It's for our Book Club and it will be a strange thing for me -- having P.Y. come to our last church was Don's last big endeavor, and even though it was wildly successful ... well, I won't go there. I met P.Y. but didn't read the book (although his talk on the topic of prayer was fabulous). Now, a year later, I get to read the book. It will be interesting, for so many reasons ... appropriate to say the least.

Happy Reading!

Minister and Friend said...

I cherish the memory when you and Heather were young, of the joy mom and I shared reading to you both, then having you read to us, and the love of reading was and is important to each of us. I love reading Memoirs; biography such as Truman, and 1976 by David McCullough...I found a delightful book "the House where the Hardest things happen" of what happened in a small country Church to shatter her beliefs, and from which she grew. Mindless mysteries amuse my brain, while books such as TEAR SOUP written for children, is the most profound book of grieving that I have ever read...
I'm trying to narrow down the FIVE books which I consider most meaningful to me...thanks for jogging my own memory Jennifer...