I found reading book a curious and unsettling experience. It is astonishingly well-researched, and Boo's attention to detail and ability to vanish into her writing, allowing the subjects of her work to maintain the spotlight is admirable. It is a grueling read, since what I suspected from the beginning of the book -- that nothing good will happen here; that despair, disappointment and anguish will surely follow -- proves all too true. Multiple suicides, ubiquitous corruption (especially among organizations like World Vision), ever-increasing poverty, violence . . . I found turning the pages harder and harder. This perhaps, is the challenge for the reader. I am someone who is not at all put off by grim, dark fiction (in fact, I quite like it), and whereas my heart can withstand a good deal of what might be termed depressing fiction, it cramps under the weight of heart-breaking non-fiction, of children doomed to painful lives and early deaths, of women trapped in violent marriages, of unnumbered masses of people barely existing in the maw of crippling poverty. And yet, one should not look away. The least we can do is bear witness, to educated ourselves and feel increased empathy -- perhaps even find a way to help, if not the people who struggle so halfway round the world, then the people just like them, struggling down the block.
A wonderful book -- inspiring, accessible and thought-provoking. Through the writings of Alcoholics Anonymous and a wide variety of faith traditions -- both in commentary and wisdom stories -- the reader is guided to accept the liberating and profound truth that wholeness and serenity are found in the paradox of perfection in imperfection.
I've read most of Chet Raymo's books and have enjoyed them all. This, while it may not be my favorite (that spot's taken, with a tie between "When God is Gone, Everything is Holy" and "The Dork of Cork" -- who could resist that last title?) it's a good read. Raymo is professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, and was at one time the science writer for the Boston Globe. The man walks a lot and observes the most wonderful things as he goes. Here he takes a six-week walk along a section of the prime meridian, each stop becoming a jumping off point for discussions on a wide range of scientific and historical subjects.He starts off with an essay on the original debate concerning the choice of this zero-longitude line. Raymo discusses Sandford Fleming, a Canadian surveyor and engineer, and how he attempted to gain international acceptance of a prime meridian. Both the British and the french bristled with nationalist outrage at the idea the other might be selected. In the end an international delegation chose the Greenwich meridian, even though "it rather assertively sliced across France, effecting a successful cartographical invasion where centuries of British military interventions had failed." From there, as Raymo walks, he 'talks' and his focus moves outward, until at last it comes to rest somewhere out among the stars. The man has such a diverse range of topics and such vast knowledge that it's both inspiring and humbling. From the Greek philosophers to Piltdown man, there's always something to learn and I can't imagine a better teacher. Once or twice he gets a bit cranky on the subject of religion and I found this odd. His book, "When God is Gone, Everything is Holy" is one of the most spiritual books I've ever read (as is his wonderful "Climbing Brendan"), and I can't help but wonder if he didn't get into an argument with one of the neo-atheists as he was writing this book. There is, of course, a great difference between dogmatic religion and spirituality, but where he generally is quite comfortable with some sort of wonderful Creative Awe, here he dips a little. Still, he ends the book this way, "In knitting the history of life, including our own species, into the space and time of the geologists and astronomers, Darwin helped to accomplish what the medieval builders sought in their own way to do: to life our eyes from the confining circle of our birth and draw our attention to the light and glory of the cosmos." Ah.... there's the Chet I know and love.
As astonishing as it may sound, reading about seriously ill woman finding companionship with a wild snail who lives next to her sick bed is an experience both profound and moving. It is a meditation on life with the microcosm of a gastropod's life serving as the symbol for the majesty, mystery, tenacity and downright lushness of existence itself. A slim volume which is far greater than the number of its pages, it's a book I will no doubt read again. In truth, I became surprisingly attached to the little snail.
A wonderful brain-cramping twisted thrill ride of a book. What a mind Philip K. Dick has. Part of the joy of a novel like this, which is supposedly set in 1992, is seeing how he got the future right, where he got it almost right, and where his imagination got lost (although in delightful ways). It's easy to see why he inspired so many writers. Bravo.
This is an utterly astonishing book -- complex, thoughtful, elegaic, Wiman's book of essays are a profound medication on faith and poetry and the search for meaning. Wiman, the editor of POETRY magazine wrote the book during a period when he was undergoing treatment for incurable cancer (he is in remission, although not cured).There are few books I've underlined as much as this one. His essays are complicated and never offer simple answers, either to questions of faith or art. He often recedes into the shadows of poetry -- his own and that of others -- to find the language of clarity he seeks to explore the concepts of an afterlife. He says, "You must let go of all conception of what eternity is, which means letting go of you you are, i order to feel the truth of eternity and its meaning in your life--and in your death." and "What do you do, what do you say, what in the world are you going to believe in when you are dying? It is not enough to act as if when the wave is closing over you, and that little whiff of the ineffable you get from meditation or mysticism is toxic to the dying man, who needs the rock of one real truth." Indeed.Wiman is able to articulate concepts about time and God and Christ without proselytizing and in such a way as to be useful to anyone asking the Big Questions; one needn't be Christian. I am deeply affected by this book -- both comforted and provoked -- and I know I'll refer to it often. I'll end with one of Wiman's final thoughts:"So much of faith has so little to do with belief, and so much to do with acceptance. Acceptance of all the gifts that God, even in the midst of death, grants us. Acceptance of the fact that we are, as Paul Tillich says, accepted. Acceptance of grace."
The subject of Smith's evocative and quite wonderful memoir (which won the National Book Prize) is her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and their development as artists. There is much about the wild and gritty life in Manhattan during the last sixties and early seventies that makes present-day Manhattan look like a bland, glitzy shopping mall. Rock and roll, poetry (it's Patty Smith, so there is much Rimaud scattered throughout), drugs, sex, and everyone from Warhol to Jim Morrison to Jimi Hendix to Janis Joplin to Salvatore Dali to Sam Shephard to William Burroughs wanders through the pages, in various stages of poverty and inebriation.I'm not sure I believe everything Smith tells us. For instance, the idea she learned of Mapplethorpe's death at the very moment the Tosca aria "Vissi d'arte," I have lived for love, I have lived for Art, plays on early morning public radio, is a tad hard to swallow. But who cares; if it didn't happen that way, it ought to have. And was she really the first person to call Janis Joplin "Pearl?" There is much humour here, and astute observations about place and period. Her descriptions of living on the streets when she first arrived in NYC from New Jersey are frightening and one scene, in which she and a very ill Mapplethorpe find temporary refuge in a end-of-the-line flop house filled with junkie drag queens in various stages of dying, is harrowing, but never voyeuristic or self-pityingHer portrait of the famous "doll’s house in the Twilight Zone”: the Chelsea Hotel, which boasted a now-legendary collection of eccentrics and cultural icons is terrific, as is that of Max's Kansas City. One of my favorite vignettes was when Allen Ginsberg tried to pick her up in an automat. He paid for her sandwich, which cost ten cents more than she had, and then, after sitting at a table with her for several minutes, leaned in and asked if she was a girl. When she says yes and asks if that's a problem, does he want the sandwich back, he just laughs and says, no, she can keep the sandwich, but he had thought her a very pretty boy. Mapplethorpe himself perhaps remains the most elusive figure. When he is closest to her, as her lover and artistic collaborator, he hasn't yet come out, even perhaps to himself, as a gay man, and this makes for an incomplete portrait, of course, even though Smith does spend a good deal of time on his conservative-Catholic upbringing as a reason for his inner conflicts. When he does begin to explore his sexuality, he does it away from her, as a street hustler and, of course, in the dark shadows of the extreme S&M world he photographed. He feels emotionally distant, a bit of a cipher. But, as elusive as he may be, their bonds to each other are never in question. The youthful posturing and artistic grandiosity of these two is fascinating. They sometimes question their talent (who doesn't?) but never abandon the belief they will one day be famous, be Real Artists. When I hear most young people say such things, I have a tendency to shake my head knowingly, but this story reminds me that every once in a while, as with these two, maybe not all such dreams are delusion.
Antonya Nelson is best known for her short stories, but in this novel she uses the extra space to wonderful effect. This is a thoughtful, elliptical novel and the gentle pace may not grab all readers, which is a pity because this is a beautifully written, deeply insightful novel about the lives of three women in Kansas. Catherine is in her 40s, and married to much-Oliver, a vain and self-indulgent man on his third marriage, although one senses it may not be his last. Misty is Catherine's childhood friend, whose life diverged from Catherine's into more turbulent, and messier, waters. The book opens when Misty, with a dog in the back of the car, drives off a road to her death. Her daughter, Cattie is a teenager is 'willed' to Catherine and when she learns of her mother's death, skips out on her Eastern boarding school with $500 in her pocket, a rather dodgy travelling companion and a stray dog. If you are looking for a page-turning plot, perhaps this isn't your book, because things happen slowly here, and apart from the intial car crash, without much violence, even though the BTK Killer hovers like a malevolent spirit in the background. Nelson's territory is interior and this is the landscape on which she works her considerable magic. Her focus shifts, at one moment bringing Catherine and Oliver's marriage into the spotlight, at another turning it onto Oliver's infidelities, or Cattie's journey . . . All flows together seamlessly, creating a vivid and intriguing portrait of these people's lives. On cannot help but think of Chekhov.The story begins and ends with the dog from the back of Misty's car, and it is testment to the grace of Nelson's writing that this feels right and good and not a bit maudlin. Settle in. Get a good cup of tea. Relax. Take your time and enjoy this terrific book.
While I was expecting to be moved by this book, as I have been with every holocaust memoir I've read, I wasn't expecting to be as deeply moved as I was. The faith of the ten Boom family, and the way it informs their decisions to do the right thing, regardless of personal risk, is humbling. This is not to say Ms. ten Boom does not have moments of despair -- how could she not given what happened to her, to her family and to her neighbors and those she helped? It is the moments of despair which allow reader to identify with the her and her sister and father.A remarkable book about the light that remains alight even in the darkest of nights.