248.4 T, “Tales of a Magic Monastery”

27 Jun

295807 Over the weekend I met a man who was in the process of becoming a monk. He had applied to be a monk at one monastery but had not made it through the admittance process and so he went to another monastery and was accepted to begin there. The man talked a lot about what it would mean to be a monk and about all of the different parts of the monastery: the rooms, the country, the grounds, even the library. While he was talking I found myself thinking of my limited experience with monks. I’ve never known any monks. I’ve only ever met a friar, Brother Ed, who was a teacher in my high school. But that’s far from the same thing as a monk.

I found myself thinking of Thomas Merton and of the Monks of New Skete and I finally found my mind wandering to a book I read many years ago after discovering it on the bookshelf of a friend, “Tales of a Magic Monastery” by Theophane the Monk. Like many books like this I try to pray and meditate on a question or worry that is heavy on my heart. So yesterday I decided to read this lovely book again.

Much like Jesus, Fr. Theophane uses parable and story to teach. I am always drawn to works like these which ignite something in me. I remember reading some of the stories and having a really deep thought or thinking “YES!” And reading this book yesterday I recognized the stories but this time reading didn’t have the same reactions. And I had so many God moments reading this book, thinking so often, yes, I get it! I get! God I get it!

I hope I get it at least.

Most of the stories involve an interaction with a monk. A person attending a retreat asking the monk for guidance or simply a monk interacting with another monk. Some of the stories are fantastical and others allegory. Some a few pages in length others just a paragraph.

My favorite is when the Buddha visits and writes trivia all over the walls and the monk realizes that to be a real Christian you must go into the heart of Jesus. That all of the things we remember and all of the pieces of “trivia” are secondary to being close to God. I like that a lot and I think it’s a good reminder.

This is a little new agey so I won’t recommend this to everyone but I think it’s worth a look and worth a read to anyone looking for some thought provoking words. I always feels moved when reading this book and always feel my heart being guided to some stories more than others.

 

wp-1467143482429.jpg

 

 

BIO POEHLER

26 May

yespleasepoehler

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please by Amy Poehler was one of those delightful surprises you didn’t know you had surprised yourself with until you’re in the middle of it and you can’t go back to better appreciate this gift you’ve given yourself.

I have heard from lots of friends that I “absolutely had to” read this book. So I resisted, naturally. Working as a librarian I come in contact with the “IT” books all the time. You know the ones…..the books that everyone is reading right now. The book everyone is talking about. And because I’ve worked in libraries for so long I’ve learned to discern between “popular” and “good.” Some books are popular, entertaining but not really anything important. Other books are popular, life-changing, and entertaining. And even fewer still are popular, meaningful, life-changing, and full of depth and understanding of the human condition.

So when I kept hearing about this book I made the assumption that it was just popular and entertaining.

I was so, so wrong.

First things first: I read this book as an audiobook from Audible. I checked it out from the library with every intention of reading this book with my eyes instead of my ears but life being what it is, I had to listen to it.

Amy Poehler’s narration was beautiful. I loved hearing her speak her words and it gave me the sense that she’s a natural writer. Some writers don’t read their words very well as if the way they write is at odds with their true inner voice. That’s not true with Poehler. It feels like her written words are complementary to her inner voice and I love that about her.

This book came out around the time I had heard about her divorce from her husband so I had worried this was a “divorce book.” But it wasn’t. Poehler takes time to speak about her painful divorce but she doesn’t dwell on it and the reader and the book are better for it. Poehler’s love for her boys is contagious and made me want children of my own as soon as possible and her devotion to her craft was inspiring. It made me want to quit everything and write my book and do all of the things i’ve always dreamed about doing.

Poehler asks us to be kind to ourselves. To be patient and loving with ourselves. This is a book to read at any moment in your life: a happy time, a sad time, a time of transition, a time of utter boredom. For any moment. I am so glad that I was invited into Poehler’s life for just a little while and so glad she shared my commute with me for awhile.

 

“Your ability to navigate and tolerate change and its painful uncomfortableness directly correlates to your happiness and general well-being. See what I just did there? I saved you thousands of dollars on self-help books. If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier.”
Amy Poehler, Yes Please

On Re-Reading

3 Feb

I often find myself wanting to re-read texts I read and was moved by as a younger adult. It is a delicate thing to do and I am wont to approach texts I have already read with apprehension. There are some books that should belong to our youth and remain there. To re-read a text which has touched us so intimately as to help form us in our younger years is a dangerous, often double-edged sword.

It is whimsical of me to believe that texts come to us at certain moments in our lives for a reason. A personal quirk of mine but I have found that so often a book that I have been meaning to read calls to me at certain moments in my life when I need it the most. So, to re-read a text like this can be disillusioning first of all. To read something at a time when it is not calling to you can make the text seem less magical, less important.

Lately, however, I have been feeling called to a nostalgic reading life. In conversations with friends on books I have loved that I wish they would read and love as well, I am drawn to these texts which found their way into my heart. There are some books which I habitually read every few years or so: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (though it has been far too long for this last title to be re-read).

These are my favorites, ones which every time I revisit welcome me back with open and loving arms. But there are others which I have re-read that lose their luster the more I read them: Catcher in the Rye by Salingers, The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, and, often, books I read as a child (The Secret Garden was much different than I remember).

I decided to give it a try again and I just finished re-reading “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. A novella I read in undergrad, in a Women’s Lit class I’m assuming. I remember reading this book through a feminist lens. I still believe it but as a young 20-something, and I don’t know how it is possible, I missed just how torturous it was for Edna to fall in love with Robert. Maybe it is my life experiences which have taught me more about life and love, but when I first read this I didn’t understand why she swam out to the ocean.

In this second reading, I felt almost compelled to cry for Edna at her tragic position in life. A woman who longs to be free to love who she wants, to be set free by divorce to be with the man she has fallen in love, but who can never be free. She cannot live her life as a free woman and having found her new independence and freedom so good, realizes that without it she cannot live any longer.

It’s incredibly depressing, of course, but in those moments when she is living in her delusions in her own little house–her room of her own–and she flourishes in her art, in herself, in growing and becoming her own person–we see that it is worth it to live a life like that. We take from Edna a thirst for living our lives on our own terms, to taking our bad decisions and doing our best to move forward and do what we can to get back on the path we first started.

I am so glad that I re-read this book and I’m looking forward to taking a chance on some other books I read when I was young and naive.

FIC CERVANTES

31 Jan

Late last night I finished the 2nd part of Don Quixote. I have read all 940 pages of Edith Grossman’s translation of The Ingenious Gentelman Don Quixote of La Mancha. It feels like a real accomplishment to me as this is the longest book I have ever read.

It took me far too long–almost exactly 13 months–to finish reading this book. Instead of devoting myself to Don Quixote as he did to his adventures as a knight-errant, I took my time with this work and let my readings of it ebb and flow. In between my readings of this novel I read 37 books in 2015 and have already finished reading 5 by the time I got to finishing this book.

The heart of the problem was this: I was unprepared for such an endeavor. Reading a novel, even a difficult classic novel, is one thing. At 300 or 400 pages you know that your suffering will soon be rewarded and you will reach the point where you may claim that you “have read” that classic work that everyone says they would love to read but hardly anyone does. But I was unprepared for the marathon that is Don Quixote. Many times I felt like Sancho Panza while reading this work! Trying to find the end to my suffering. As much as I love this work, it was a challenge to get through. And I feel so regretful to not be able to read it in its native language.

That being said: This is one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It is the funniest and saddest book I have ever read and reveals more about human nature than I thought a book could. It delves into our perception of what is real and what is not real; asks the question “what is truth? my truth or your truth?”; and it wonders at what is better: to leap out of your ordinary life, follow your dream, though you look like a madman or to remain sane and live the life you were given? It is no wonder that this book has been an inspiration to so many.

The question as to whether Don Quixote is the maddest man you will ever meet or the sanest man you will ever meet is a legitimate question to many of the people he encounters in this story. Could he be aware that the windmills are not giants but he desires it so much that he makes it so? Or is he really mad enough to see giants in those large mills? I want him to be mad and sane, I want him to live on forever reaching out for his dream even though, like many of the people around him are aware, it is likely to be the death of him.

I won’t spoil the ending but this is clearly a canonical work of literature for a reason and one that I think everyone should make the effort to read–if not the 2nd part then at least the first.

“In short, our gentleman became so caught up in reading that he spent his nights reading from dusk till dawn and his days reading from sunrise to sunset, and so with too little sleep and too much reading his brains dried up, causing him to lose his mind.”

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

“Take my advice and live for a long, long time. Because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.”

 

Fic Lee

3 Jan

About a year ago I read a review of a forthcoming title by the author Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea. I was intrigued at first because I had read his novel Aloft in undergrad and had enjoyed his writing as well as the story. Then I read the synopsis that this was a novel about future America, a bleak story about a place called B-Mor which was formally, of course, Baltimore. Futuristic story, possibly dystopian? Sign.Me.Up.

Then: I tried to read this novel in earnest about 3 times. But I found the first person plural point of view daunting and difficult. Each time that I tried to read this novel I felt overwhelmed. Then there is the content: The story begins telling about Fan, her lover Reg, and the community of B-Mor. A settlement of mostly Chinese immigrants (in fact most helpers we see are of some kind of Asian descent) who were brought here to harvest vegetables and fish for the Charter communities (in other words, they make the food for the upper-middle and upper classes). I felt utterly lost in this world of community living, talking of their culture and their work in a plural narration.

Which is, now that I’ve finally worked up the nerve to push through this novel like a difficult workout, I think, exactly what Lee wanted.

Many of my favorite “dystopian” or futuristic novels do what On Such a Full Sea does which is to drop you, the reader, in to the story in media res.  The Handmaid’s Tale feels like a close cousin to this novel as we are enveloped so intimately into this world of B-Mor, the Charters, and the Counties that while the question of how and when certainly crosses our minds, Lee sweeps us into the story so that we are pulled into the current of the narrative and what will happen to poor young Fan on her journey to find  her love. The act of using the community of B-Mor to relay Fan’s story comes from what we learn is very intrusive surveillance. Deeper into the story we learn that just by logging into their devices they can find a person in a Charter and follow them everywhere they go. It’s not always clear how they learn all of the details of Fan’s life but perhaps we should be led to the hive mind as in B-Mor everyone knows about everyone and they live in a very tight knit community as a result.

The story is simple and it is in this simplicity that the difficult themes can be thrust into young Fan’s path. Fan is 16 and she leaves all that she knows behind to venture into the wilderness on a path alone to find Reg, the man she loves. Through her trials and her adventure we see the world outside of B-Mor. We see the dangers, the way people live without the money and protection of the Charters. And we see the way the upper-middle and upper class live in fear of cancer, of the outdoors, the sun (It’s not stated outright but it seems obvious global warming and other environmental factors have caused rates of cancer to increase), and food. But where B-Mor citizens live constantly monitored and watched, with little money and no hopes of rising in life, Charter citizens are wildly rich, even buying on credit to live their rich lifestyles. These Charters exist in constant anxiety. The punishment for crimes or for losing one’s job can mean banishment to the unprotected land of the Counties.

Fan makes for a compelling character, especially being a 16 year old woman of very small stature–she is often mistaken for a young girl of 11 or 12 (though, spoiler: she is pregnant).  She is a woman alone in the wilderness journeying without direction or knowledge of where she is going or how she is going to get there, making her way on her own terms. Many times one fears for her around men. But Lee always allows Fan to come out of the situation either by her own strength or through the relationships she forges by being a decent human being to those who are otherwise treated as “other” in this world.

This was a difficult novel–one that reminded me of a mental workout or some kind of long distance run though it was only 352 pages–but one that I am happy to have read though the ending is going to haunt me for a very long time.

“For sometimes you can’t help but crave some ruin in what you love.”
Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea

“For if there is ever a moment when we are most vulnerable, it’s when we’re closest to the idea of the attained desire, and thus farthest from ourselves, which is when we’ll tread through any flame.”
Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea

“You can be affected by a person because of something particular they said or did but sometimes how a person was, a manner of being, that gets most deeply absorbed, and prompts you to revisit certain parts of your life with an enhanced perspective, flowing forward right up to now.”
Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea

“And while it’s easy to say this is a situation to be avoided, isn’t this what we also fear and crave simultaneously, that some internal force which defies understanding might remake us into the people we dream we are?”
Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea

Fic Robinson

1 Jan

Happy New Year!

This year, as inspired by a friend of mine, I’ve decided to make a goal for myself to read 50 books. I’m not at all worried about the goal–I’m in 2 personal book clubs and I run 2 book clubs for work at libraries. What worries me is being able to fit in so many books I’ve been wanting to read for so long. So I made sure to get a head start yesterday and starting reading the novel “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson.

I’m technically reading this for a work book club but I sometimes, not often, choose titles on my to-read list for us to read. I’m not sure many of the members will enjoy this novel–it’s very somber, a little difficult to follow in its construction, and without a happy ending–but I don’t care.

Robinson’s first novel is poetic. Sometimes when I read too many entertaining books I forget how lovely it is to read a good, challenging novel with language that reminds you as a reader why you read. This is that kind of book for me.

The story is simple: two young girls are raised by their Aunt after their Grandmother passes away. Their Grandmother had been raising them after their Mother committed suicide after leaving them on their Grandmother’s porch.

Throughout the novel Ruthie (who tells the story) and her sister Lucille are in a state of transition. First they lose their mother, then their Grandmother, and then they are thrust into care by their Aunt Sylvie, a drifter who has not had a home in many years. Ruthie and Lucille constantly run to the woods and to the lake to escape their home and to escape school.

What made me think of their grief is the constant running to the wilderness which drives much of their lives before adolescence. By being unable to understand how to process their grief and their worry of losing their last caregiver–for Sylvie is flighty and prone to walking away for hours at a time–they are unable to cope properly and skip school to spend time idly in the woods. What else would two children alone in the world do?

Reading Robinson’s words is a treat:

“But the deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house.”

“And then the library was flooded to a depth of three shelves, creating vast gaps in the Dewey decimal system.”

“Her head fell to the side so oddly and awkwardly when she reached to fasten up the hair at her neck, as my mother’s had done. That was not mysterious. They were both long and narrow women like me and nerves like theirs walk my legs and gesture my hands.”

This is not only the story of housekeeping–a family not only trying to keep their physical house but their symbolic house as well–but of what it is to live with family and without. How to keep a family standing when much of it has perished. And it is about being a woman without a mother. The older Lucille finds for herself women to model herself after, to become the woman she would like to be despite not having her mother. She is strong and capable of doing anything she likes. But younger Ruthie is unable to do the same. A dreamer like her Aunt Sylvia, Ruthie is constantly drifting through life without a sturdy mother figure to re-align her when she gets off course. By the end of the book it is unsurprising the life Ruthie allows to take hold of her and it is difficult to understand how it could have been different.

Grief and the loss of a Mother and Grandmother shifts us and changes us as women in ways that we do not always feel until much later.

So glad that I read this book and that it touched me so deeply.

 

Banned Books Week

29 Sep

This week is banned books week. I know that I’ve blogged about it before but this week something very odd happened: While I was working, and consequently had just finished putting up my banned books week display at work, a man came in and purchased an audiobook. Later I found out that the title he purchased for $10.00 was “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan. I found out from a coworker that he had purchased the book with the intention of throwing it away saying that he did not want children to stumbled upon this offensive book.

Sometimes banning a book means writing a letter to a school or to a library. And sometimes banning a book is seen in the action of simply not providing access to materials. On a recent visit to a local library I found that they did not own many of the books on the frequently banned books list from ALA (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks)

In America we take our freedom and rights for granted, I think. We assume we have the right to demean people, to say hateful things, and, that because we have our right to our opinion that we may impose it on others. When I impose my views of the world on a young reader I am telling them to only look at the world from my eyes instead of their own. If it takes a village to raise a child why would we want all the villagers to think the same?

And I know that many of these instances of censorship stem from love. But it is a disturbing kind of love to me, one that forbids growth and discovery. It IS true that books are seeds. I have found in reading books with friends that we do not always glean from books what others glean. Some seeds that are planted in my mind after reading a book might have nothing to do with the book or what the book was about. Something in the book stirs a thought in my mind, maybe one that I had always had or maybe one that I had never had. I can understand why a patron or concerned citizen may find this dangerous but I disagree: without the freedom to read any book that we want we are stunting our nation’s growth.