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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.

 

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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

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.

 

The Last Policeman

10 Aug

Over the weekend I finished the last installment of Ben H. Winter’s “The Last Policeman” trilogy. Since beginning my long commute I have been reading more audiobooks as I have mentioned and mysteries are one type of audiobook that I find I listen to best.

We started the first title of the trilogy last year on a road trip to Missouri. My husband doesn’t usually listen to audiobooks so I knew it was a good pick when we found ourselves lingering in the car to finish just a little bit more of this book.

What it’s about: 

An asteroid, nicknamed Maia, is hurtling toward Earth and will kill everyone on the planet when it strikes. Upon hearing this news it’s only natural that the citizens of earth lose it. Most people simply walk away from their lives or their work to fulfill “bucket lists.” This series takes place over the last 6 months just before the asteroid hits. Panic ensues, infrastructure fails, and soon people are running out of food, gas, and options. Suicide becomes so prevalent that eventually there is no need for detectives to sort out the “whodunit” but instead the need for enforcers rises. Hank Palace, our last policeman, is a new detective, recently promoted, who is called to the scene of a suicide. Because of his natural inclination to solve crimes, Palace of course notices right away that this is not a suicide.

The trilogy follows Palace as he hunts down suspects like a dog. He is unrelenting in his quests. Palace is one of the small percentage of humans left that will simply not quit. Being a detective IS who Palace is. It’s what he does. So, naturally, as the asteroid gets close to earth so too does Palace to the killer. The second installment is a missing person’s case—one that reveals society’s further collapse. Palace’s sister, Nico, is involved in a conspiracy group trying to save the earth by blowing up the asteroid. And in the end of the trilogy we find a broken and battered Hank with his ever faithful bichon, Houdini, still at his side solving crimes. This time looking for Nico and in this book we get the finale we’ve been waiting for.

Why this series is great: 

We’ve had a lot of post-apocalyptic stories recently. A flood of them, in fact. Viruses, zombies, unnamed catastrophes. But we are always given the story of after. Winters instead looks to the just before. What would it really be like if we were given the news that a 6.5 km wide asteroid will hit Earth in October, giving the world the news in January? What would a person do with that information?

Through Henry’s investigations we see many different responses to the asteroid:  desperation, suicide, conspiracy, obsession, religion, and even manipulation. Because Hank—Henry as we come to know him—is so thorough we see the world’s destruction through his eyes. Henry is a good man, one that wants to solve the crime. But he becomes increasingly confused and we learn that his parents died when he and his sister were young causing him to become, as one character suggests, a sort of Bruce Wayne. He is a man who is trying to save the world but in this time of Maia the best he can do is solve a case and do what is right.

Henry is a man guided by his own moral compass and one that is both honest and dogged. He is obsessed with his job but loves his sister, Nico, to the point that even in the final hours she is on his mind. He has charged himself with watching over her and he never gives up on keeping her safe.

This series is great because not only do we receive from Winter’s a complex main character we receive from him an enticing story. Knowing that this series WILL end a certain way makes the story even more desperate and even more intoxicating. Why does Henry Palace even care? We find ourselves following him wherever he will take us, even to the end of the world.

The Last Policeman series by Ben H. Winters:

  1. The Last Policeman
  2. Countdown City
  3. World of Trouble

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

30 Jun

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

A while ago I was reading an article about the progression of the series on SyFy called “The Magicians” that would be moving forward in production. Hey! I thought, I read that! That would make a great series!

I decided then that it was time to finish the trilogy in order to be fully prepared for, what I can only imagine, will be a magical and wonderful television series.

The Magicians:

In the fall of 2012 I was living in a new community, had just graduated library school, and I was looking to get involved with my local library. I was in luck because they had just introduced a sort of “books on tap” kind of book club and the first meeting was the next month. The title the librarian chose was “The Magicians” a book I had only sort of seen but not really heard of. I knew that I would love it because I enjoyed Harry Potter and I like stories with magical realism inserted into the plot.

I hated it. What was also going on in my life was that my Mother was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I had time to read “frivolous” books about magic. I needed real big L literature. I went to Madrid for a visit while my husband worked and then, a few months after her diagnosis, my Mother passed away.

But this book kept needling me. It had all of the elements of a book that I would love. And I should have loved it. I ran an experiment: If I read this book a second time and still hate it: well,  I tried. But if I read it a second time and loved it, it would be proven: sometimes we aren’t ready for a book.

I loved it. Quentin was just moody enough and I was just old enough to love this. I was grieving the loss of my Mother and I got it, Quentin. I understood you. I understood what it means to be waiting for something more to happen.

The Magician King

For this title, I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time to read. I ordered the book used (and scored a used library copy at that–treasure!!!!) so I tried reading it on e-book. But it wasn’t working for me. We hear more from Julie and Quentin is getting older and I just had a hard time reading it. I was busy with a new job and I knew that I was going to really enjoy this book! I didn’t want to rush it.

So I took a chance and downloaded the audiobook. And that is the moment this series became special to me. Mark Bramhall’s voice at first appeared a little off for me. To narrate this story I had always assumed a young voice in my mind. A twenty-something young man’s voice full of sarcasm and wonder and maybe a touch of naivete.

But as the story darkened and as Quentin grew into his own I knew that this was the perfect choice. Bramhall’s voice makes it. The sparkle of wonder at being in Fillory is rightfully shadowed in a dripping sardonic tone that often colors the story much sadder than I think it would be if I were reading it on the page.

We get to know Fillory much more intimately and following Quentin is a pleasure–even if sometimes it’s so very difficult to see him flounder. And the introduction of Julia and her trials and tribulations make this story so much more real than Harry Potter could ever be–because this is a story about growing up. Harry Potter is so much more about what it means to be a child and what it means to tell a good story with characters written with the complex depth reserved for children’s literature. Here, with the Magicians trilogy we are privy to real human characters and what it means to long for one’s childhood. To long for something more–and to realize that even when you get that “more” you may not always be happy with it.

The Magician’s Land:

Because I was so transfixed with Mark Bramhall’s narration I decided to finish the trilogy on audio. I cried many times and I sat in my car on more than one occasion just to finish the chapter. Here Grossman’s talents really shine. He is able to sculpt the story into one that will become (or SHOULD) become a classic. This trilogy allows its characters to make mistakes and to grow from them. Quentin starts this story as a moody teenager who takes love and life and magic for granted. We watch him grow into a man who knows his limits, knows who he is, and understands that even with all of his failings: he matters. He struggles with his failings but he knows in his heart that while he can’t fix everything and he can’t make it right, he can make it good.

This story spoke to me in a such a very real and awe-inspiring way. Much like Harry Potter is to so many readers, this story awoke in me a passion and nostalgia for the story as I closed it’s final pages. I found myself feeling what the characters were feeling and that is a powerful way to immerse oneself into a story.

I know that I will revisit Quentin and his friends soon. I hope that you do, too.

The Bees by Laline Paull

17 Apr

I’m notoriously picky about books so the fact that after reading the delightful and incredibly wonderful novel “The Word Exchange” by Alena Graedon I picked up ANOTHER lovely and engaging book can’t be coincidence. I think this is another year for great debut novels. Especially inventive debut novels.

Before I write this review let me get something off my chest: I’m not afraid of bees and I don’t usually run away from them when they approach but I don’t exactly find them cute or cuddly. After reading this book I’m so excited about bees I had to remind myself it isn’t prudent to start beehives while living in an apartment.

So: “The Bees” by Laline Paull.

What it’s about: A hive. Literally a novel about a particular hive and a particular bee named Flora 717.

What I thought it was about: Not bees. I sort of thought there were be a twist at the end or in the middle that was like JUST KIDDING it’s really about PEOPLE! I’m so glad Laline wrote this book and not me.

“The Bees” is great because it’s an entire beautifully written story about a worker bee (sanitation to be exact) who is sort of different. She can talk and she can think when really every other bee in sanitation doesn’t do that. She’s also curious. And she wants to be near the Queen so badly she does whatever she can to get there. I know it sounds weird that this is an entire book about bees but Paull’s able hand pulls it off. I forgot I was reading about insects and felt like I had been transported into a world where bees were anthropomorphic and looked like bee-people or something. The entire first half of this book I kept thinking of Pilar from “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood–how she loves the bees and talks to the bees and cares for the bees. 

Not only does Paull create an entire bee culture (which I will wager comes from extensive research) she makes it convincing. The language she so beautifully engages the reader with draws the reader in for more so that even when there is a violent battle between wasps and bees you don’t want to miss a single word this woman has written. The description is lovely. Some books I enjoy because the story, characters all come together. Some I love because I become so engaged with the story I can’t stop reading. This was one of those books. I look at flowers differently now, I want to smell the world like a bee (maybe just for a minute). Flora 717 is a strong female character who is full of resolve to do not only what’s right for Flora 717, but what’s right for her beloved hive and her children. 

Fans of dystopian lit and fantasy will eat this up. GO READ THIS!