Spring Booksies

I’m very happy to be part of a book club again.  I’ve belonged to only one in my life;  it was a couple of years ago, and my relationship with it was very brief, mostly because it was held about 40 miles from my house.

This new one is comprised of eightish women from my church, each of us with enough interest-overlap to make things comfortably familiar, but with enough diversity to make for lively discussion.  The whole thing was spearheaded by a woman, who, for many years, I was hesitant to call “friend;” I hold her in such high esteem.  I still hold her in high esteem, but not awe.  Being awe-struck is not a good catalyst for friendship, and she’d rather be befriended than be held in awe.  So, I now call Kathy my friend, and she’s glad to be down from her pedestal.  🙂

The goal for choosing the books is Good Art + Good Message.  Just because we’re a bunch of Christian women does not mean we want to be reading the religious equivalent of pulp fiction, so, no Francine Rivers for us, thankyouverymuch.  (She would fall under Bad Art + Good Message.) 

Our first book (recommended by Kathy) was fabulous.  Absolutely fabulous.  It was, in fact, one of the best books I’ve ever read, at least in the top 10.  It’s called Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.  It was good on so many different levels.  It has a well-conceived, well-executed plot, with a lot of moral dilemma.  It’s beatifully written.  All the strings were not tidily wrapped up in the end;  a number of things were “resolved” in a very surprising manner, but in such a way that just seemed apt.  Actually, “apt” is a word that I’d use to describe Enger’s writing.  He has a fairly wide vocabulary, but it’s his apt usage, especially of adjectives, that had me in deep appreciation.  He doesn’t write showily, but all words are so judiciously chosen that the whole thing just seems right.  This book wasn’t ever presented, I don’t think, as a “Christian” book, but the author knows God;  it’s apparent from his writing.  Peace Like a River was a completely satisfactory read, one you feel better for having read when the last page is done.

(From Wikipedia, I learn that there’s a movie version in production right now, slated for release in 2009.  It stars Billy Bob Thornton, who must be playing the father in the story, and that’s probably a good casting, IMO.)

Before-during-after Enger’s book, I also decided to tackle Jane Austen.  I’d never read anything by her.  I’d always been intimidated by her, though, in retrospect, that doesn’t make sense, seeing how I’ve loved every movie I’ve seen made of her works.  But, that’s true for many fears:  once they come to light, it’s easy to see how irrational they are.  Yes, I was afraid of Jane Austen.  She’s held in such high regard — with deep love, even — by so many readers — scholars, even — and I was afraid, I think, that I didn’t have what it took to appreciate her.  I’m not so very girly.  I’ve never been into romances, or even books heavy on relationship.  I’m not so very proper.  Plus, given that she wrote 200 or so years ago, I thought maybe I couldn’t get into the archaic language…  and I didn’t want to feel like a literary failure for having no appreciation for Jane Austen.  So, out of discipline, more than anything, I decided that I would read at least a book of hers, just to say I’ve done it, both to myself, and anyone who might ask.  “Yes,” I’d dramatically sigh, “I tried reading her, but I just don’t have the depth of character to appreciate her works.”  Well, the only thing on our library’s shelf was Northanger Abbey.  So, I started with that.  And, golly, I couldn’t put it down.  Though a fairly slim book, it wasn’t a particularly fast read;  I did discover that, at least for me, there’s no skimming of Austen.  And, I didn’t want to.  I wanted to pick up every word and nuance and gentle foreshadowing.  I quickly followed Northanger Abbey with Emma, and after several very late nights consuming that delicious book, decided that I would have to limit myself to only one Jane Austen book every three weeks, or I’d never get any sleep.

At the book club (which meets only every-other-month), discussing Peace, we ended with a discussion of what book should be next.  It seemed like no one had really come prepared with a book to recommend.  One popped into my mind, and after no one piped up with their own suggestion, I laid it out there.  It’s a book that I’ve read three times already — twice when I was in high school, and the last time, 11-ish years ago, when I was pregnant with my firstborn.  And, I’d been wanting to read it again.  I remembered it as a fabulous book, and why not share its fabulousness with others, right??  Ugh.  I wish I could take it back.  Not that it’s a bad book, by any means, but as I start to read it again, I realize that it’s a terrific, compelling story, but it’s not necessarily anything art-like.  There’s not much craft in the author’s style;  he just lays it out there.  I’m realizing that it’s probably not the best book for our group, and since it was suggested by me, it’s humbling.  Plus, it was reported to me that a friend’s 8yo exclaimed to her, upon picking it up from the library, “Gosh, mom!  That’ll take you five years to read!”  It’s over 400 pages.  With that compelling bit of salesmanship, if you’d like to read it, too, please do.  It’s called The Silver Chalice by Thomas Costain.  I scored a hardback in excellent condition from half.com for $4.74, including shipping.

(I’m wishing that I had suggested In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden.  What a glorious, deep, beautiful book that was.  Hmph.  Maybe in another 18 months, when it’s my turn again, to recommend a book….)          

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on March 19, 2008, in Books I'm Reading, Friendships. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. the last “Christian” book I read and really liked was “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. I guess I liked it for a couple of reasons – Miller is a liberal and I’m a conservative, yet he’s not aggressive, confrontational or threatening, and I enjoyed seeing the world through different eyes. Plus his writing is style is light, almost conversational. He’s a very easy read. I also just finished listening to his “Through Painted Deserts”. Less spiritual, but still an easy read.

  2. May I suggest a title, if you like good art and good message? This may sound immodest, but I’ve been told “Outcasts of Skagaray” is both well written and has a good message. If you want to preview the writing, try http://www.threeswans.com.au to read sample chapters. There are also comments by other readers. I would be really interested to hear what you think. In any event I greet you as fellow Christians. Blessings.

  3. Ack, nj. You’re on the wrong blog to be touting Blue Like Jazz. But, we just won’t go there, OK? I’m tired of even the small level of debate I’ve fostered on my blog, and I’m not up for another round… (yet, I couldn’t leave it uncommented-upon).

    Ah, Mr. Clarke, are you the author? Is that, perhaps, where the “immodesty” might come from? I just checked, and my library doesn’t have it (checking books out at the library is my preferred way to test the waters of a new author). Bummer. Maybe I’ll try interlibrary loan.

  4. oops… sorry, I surely didn’t mean to cause any trouble. If it’s any consolation, I much prefer to avoid debate as well. I reeeally dislike argument, debate, etc. That having been said, I’ll snoop around a bit in the archives and see if I can find out the background on this one.

  5. How fun, Karen! I’ve never been in a book club but I LOVE to read so would probably enjoy one. I need to ask what may be a very stupid question though – what do you mean by “good art/bad art”? One of the reasons I ask is that I have a series by Francine Rivers sitting by my bed waiting to be read -I’ve heard she’s just wonderful but have never read anything of hers – and wondered why you don’t like her stuff. The other reason, of course, is simply to know what you mean. 😉

    I’ll have to jot down the names of these books and look for them. I always love good recommendations. 🙂

    By the way, I’m not sure what the background is behind Blue Like Jazz either but I read it and I totally don’t get how people think that it’s a great book. I think there was one chapter out of the whole thing that really struck a chord with me and had some meaning.

  6. I have just started participating in a book club, although it’s a fairly casual affair and mostly a social event. We pool our books though and the hostess for the month gets to buy the books for the month. (They are hers, but for the time being are contributed to the book club. – we each contribute $10) Aaannnnnyyyway..
    I know what you mean about Bad Art/Good message. Some of the books my dear friends have recommended are so poorly written, that I then can’t be bothered with the ‘good story’. Although I have to admit the few books I have read of Francine Rivers’, I have enjoyed. Her writing (albeit a little preachy) was enjoyable enough and I did identify closely with her characters. I doubt many will take up my recommendations some of which are classics.
    I felt the way you did about Emily Bronte, but recently tackled Wuthering Heights which had been on my shelf for years. There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from getting through and enjoying a classic. I also have the complete works of Jane Austen, but have only read a couple of her novels.

  7. OK… first, a note on BLJ: I’m just opposed to “Blue Like Jazz” and other books and authors associated with the emergent movement within the church. From my perspective, that
    movement seeks to undermine the sovereignty of God, and the authority of the Word in the life of the believer. It also exalts “culture,”especially
    cool, worldy culture, as what we as the Church should pursue, making a generation of hipper-than-thou quasi-believers whose doctrine is shaky (since doctrine isn’t really important w/in the emergent movement) and who look down their noses at those who actually seek to obey God instead of look for loopholes to avoid obedience and submission to the God of Creation. In short, it appears to me to be a bunch of people who want the benefits of
    Christianity w/o actually paying the price of perseverance, faith, self-control, humility, submission, seeking Him in the hard times,
    glorifying Him in the blessed times (indeed, even calling the idea of “blessing” in to question)…

    I’m not saying that emergent Christians aren’t Christians, and, it does take all kinds to make a solid Body of Christ. But, to me, Christianity has
    never been about having your cake and eating it, too.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Now that that’s laid to rest, back to your regularly-scheduled blog comments:

    MLBAH ~ We got into a discussion about Francine Rivers, who, to be fair, I’ve never read. But, I’ve never wanted to, simply from the titles and the genre — I’m not a big fan of Christian fiction in the first place. I’ve picked up too many of them over the years only to find them rife with poor writing. Not that I, myself, am a stellar writer, but I really appreciate a finely-written, carefully considered work of fiction. A lot of Christian fiction, to me, seems to be good (sometimes great!) stories, told in a poor fashion, with repetitive vocabulary, poor English grammar, lots of cliche, unimaginatively, uncreatively.

    A girl at our book club, Jill, did make a good case for her personal love for Rivers: when Jill first came to Christ, someone gave her a few books by Rivers, and it taught her so much about the heart of Christianity, and that has stayed with her. And, I’ve heard of other readers who just enjoy Rivers for an easy, breezy read. But, I guess if I’m going to invest my time in a book, I want something more meaty…

    Embejo ~ Loved your comment. When you said “preachy” that brought up another problem I have with Christian fiction. I don’t need to be proselytized!! I’m already a Christian. It’s like preaching to the choir. I mean, sometimes, it’s good to read something that’s faith-affirming, but argh. Sometimes it’s just enough already. Like I said, I’ve never read Rivers, but when I was in junior high and high school, I read every Jeanette Oke novel I could get my hands on. I likely wouldn’t read them today (and I haven’t watched any of the Hallmark Channel movies made from her books) but I have good memories of my time spent reading them… So, you have Rivers, and I have Oke. 😉 Now, consider me reaching across the oceans and giving you a gentle shake so that you’ll read those Austen novels on your shelf!!!!!!

  8. Karen, I’m totally with you on the emergent thing!!

    Thanks for explaining what you meant about the books. I’ll have to see what I think after reading this Francine Rivers book.

    I’ve read quite a bit of Christian fiction – some I thought was really good and some not so good. I don’t necessarily like the ones that are really preachy either. There are many that I’ve read and appreciated because it’s not so much a Christian theme but more that the characters are Christians which makes for writing with clean stories and no foul language – something a lot of secular authors seem to like to throw in for no good reason. I have a lot of my favorite authors listed on my blog – many of them Christian. One that would probably classify as the kind of Christian author you are describing is Lori Wick. In all honesty her writing doesn’t impress me at all but I usually read her books when I want a quick, easy, and light read. The stories (aside from the writing) are usually good. 🙂

  9. Karen, I’m the Kathy in the bookclub. So surprised and amazed and puzzled that you had me on a pedestal, ever. Must have been that I was a little older than you! Now that you know me better, I am positive the pedestal went “poof” -as all fantasies do. Would you agree that we are, more and more, peers? You certainly have my respect, as I stated at the women’s event planning day. Mother of 5 (I’m counting formed and unformed), gluten free super-mom, homeschooler, servant, witty, kind, adventuresome, adorable you. In my mind, it’s not that any of us are any “better” – we just put our hands to the plow God assigned us, and get to it. I think you probably never event think “look how much I’ve accomplished” – there is too much still to do in any one day, yes? Only those who don’t see the peddling beneath the surface (pardon the mixed metaphors) believe a duck deserves a pedestal. As the years go by, and you peddle your own water, you understand that I am only peddling mine. No big deal. Faithfulness…that’s all. I love you my faithful friend – KB

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