Saturday, July 28, 2012

Insecurities, Why I Will Never Be a Heroine... Oh, and a Book List

I was asked for book recommendations a few weeks ago and felt utterly overcome with responsibility. What if you didn't like the books I recommended? Or, like always happens every time I recommend a TV show, I've forgotten something in them that will make you very uncomfortable? Or I leave a book out that deserves its place on my shelf of favorites? And what if I make my favorites sound worse than they are by trying to be honest about them? And what if I'm no good at reviews?

I have overcome these fears by not thinking about them. Which seems to be my new approach to fears and things I don't like in general. What's that you say? Avoidance? So?

Thus, in no particular order, here are my favorite books.

Peace Like a River: 

Told from the perspective of a little boy, Rueben, I love nearly all the characters in this book, particularly Rueben's sister Swede. But I think what makes it one of my favorites is that it's a book about miracles--about the mercy and attentiveness of God--that doesn't get cutesy or preachy. Instead, it's a story in which miracles occur and largely go unnoticed, or freak people out. The downside of this book is that, like so many others, the ending feels rushed.

How to Kill a Mockingbird:

You all should have read this in high school. If you were deprived of that opportunity, go pick it up from the library. If you used sparknotes or intuition to get by on the tests, go pick it up from the library. And if you read and thought, "That was nice," but it didn't make you laugh or cry hard, go pick it up from the library. That's all.

The Elegance of a Hedgehog: 

I adore this book. I love this book. I recognize that this book is not for everyone. It's plot is slow to start, and slow to pick up. It's a book that is largely concerned with people and ideas and, so, will dwell on them for quite a long time. Also, there is this side plot concerning suicide which can be thematically disturbing. And while we're being completely honest about things I don't adore about this book, I have to say that I thought the ending was the product of either a lazy writer or a lazy editor.

Those things honestly sound worse than they are. What I love about The Elegance of a Hedgehog is it's main character who intelligent, funny, and utterly unorthodox in the world of fictitious heroines. I also think the language is soul-stirringly immaculate. Truly, this book is worth reading if only for the vocabulary boost. I think we often read, or participate in any kind of art really, because we want to feel a certain way. When I'm stressed out I listen to cello music, and read this book (and, yes, eat lots of chocolate) and I feel better.

Howls Moving Castle:

This book is nowhere near the quality of the other books I'm recommending. There is nothing in this book that I feel the world at large should become aware of. The language is entirely adequate, the characters funny, interesting, but probably not deep. I'm recommending this book not because I think it is a triumph of modern literature, but because I like it and because I think you can't always be reading triumphs of modern literature.

Howls Moving Castle is a fantasy book about a girl who gets cursed--and turns into an old woman. Which, yeah, pretty much stinks. But instead of buying a new wardrobe of lavender and lace and feeling sorry for herself--which is probably what I would do--she runs away from home and becomes a cleaning lady or an evil wizard. And this is why I will never be a heroine.

The Book Thief:

This is one of those books that I'm pretty sure everyone has heard about. In fact, I think all of these books might be this way. Or maybe I just love them so much it's difficult for me to imagine it's not. The Book Thief is a product of genius story telling, gorgeous language, and brilliant character development. It's narrated by Death and takes place in Nazi Germany. And it is one of two books I have ever read and thought, "That was the perfect ending."

Go read it. Now.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Metaphor

In US History I read about how some of the founding fathers thought of God as a clockmaker.

You know. Like, He made the universe. Maybe He tinkered with atoms and quarks at His work bench--the God particle came to Him in his sleep and woke Him with a flash of sheer brilliance. He smoothed out the dark satin of space, started the mechanical movement of the stars, compressed and carved a few worlds and then dusted his hands off and walked away. Said, "Well. That was fun. What else do we do around here?"

Maybe He went and created a few other universes. Maybe He took a really long nap. Or went and listened to an extremely long angel concert. But he definitely walked away. Because why else would there be starvation? And war? Why else would children be abused, and families be broken up? Why would politicians be corrupt, and everyday people be nasty?

If God were still around, these things couldn't happen. Or so thought the founding fathers. Their God was a perfectionist, intolerant of anything that wasn't as good as He was.

I thought about this for a long time. Having been extremely sheltered, my experiences with the world's evil and heartache is extremely limited. So I admit to being unqualified to explain why God allows bad things to happen to good people. But, you know, my lack of qualifications haven't really ever stopped me before.

I'll admit that what bugged me most when I read about the founding father's was not, as my friend pointed out to me, that the men who wrote about "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God" did not, in fact, believe that God was around. It was mostly that they had a metaphor for how their God worked, and I didn't have one for mine.

I confess it. I'm an English major at heart. (I'm actually trying to decide if I want the rest of me to be an English major, or whether I want to isolate the impulses to my thoracic cavity. Thoughts?)

After a great deal of thought I have come up with my metaphor.

My God is an orchestra conductor.

I don't know if you've ever been in an orchestra. (I haven't. I was in a band--school band. I'm not cool enough to be in a non-school band.)

An orchestra conductor gives you music and says, "Hey, listen, things will work out best for you if you follow this music." He can't make you, of course. But he suggests it. He'll help you out if you come talk to Him, and explain the difficult passages. Sometimes He'll give you hard music just so that you'll struggle with it, learn from it, come talk to him about it.

But sometimes He won't be able to explain things to you. How can He tell you what a violin bow is supposed to feel like in your hand? How can he explain how to speed your breath up or slow it down in time with the music?

He won't fix your problems with the other orchestra members either. Sometimes, in the middle of the performance the brass section will trip, slip, and tumble, messing up every other instrumentalist there. Sometimes there will be one musician struggling. Does he stop the show? Does he kick them out?

Sometimes. But he orchestrates everything and everyone. He is mindful of them all.

That's my God. He's stands at the front and begs everyone to watch, pleads with them to be good to each other, to make each other better. But he can't--or, maybe, he won't--play our instruments for us.