Category Archives: books

Women talking about books.

reading
Arthur Lismer – My Wife at Sackville River

What I love about our women’s book group at church is how, over the course of the year, so many different women participate, and yet, each gathering is a totally different mix of women; the literary conversation is unique and fascinating in its range of genres, and even more so in the literary lives of each woman present. Those who met this week wear a variety of “hats” in their daily life, including those of mom, wife, schoolteacher, iconographer, farmer, marriage and family counselor, librarian, and screenwriter.

Our recent meeting — our first in-person meeting in over a year! — was after a non-reading break for Pascha, and it was a short get-together solely for the purpose of picking our next book. We were all supposed to bring an idea, and then we would vote. At the end of Lent when we met on Zoom, we had planned to return to the group’s original focus on women authors, and we also hoped to read something “summery” next, not in the “spiritual reading” category.

But of the six women at the table in the church hall Sunday afternoon, half weren’t aware of those parameters. The books that were suggested were:

1 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

2 – The Italian by Ann Radcliffe

3 – The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

4 – My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

5 – Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus

6 – The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

Each of us told a little something about the book she was nominating, and then the informal and public voting began. Several of us lobbied for someone else’s suggestion. We had to choose a date for our discussion, also, which was harder, because for sure someone will have to miss that fun. People go on vacation.

Which book would YOU choose? Would you want to read a few, as we wanted? I came home and perused book covers to display here, and it was not easy to decide even among them.  If I were a graphic artist, I would think it the loveliest thing to do book covers.

I will tell you later what books we agreed upon, if I manage to read one or both of them. In the meantime, please tell me if any of these pique your interest or reaction for any reason. And I hope your own summer reading is satisfying in the best ways.

by Katie Harnett

Lists, letters, and taking leave.

During a 20-minute phone call with a friend last week, I mentioned all of the books pictured above, only one of which I have read, long ago. After he asked me about a couple of them, “Did you finish ____ ?” I blurted, “I don’t read books, I only buy them!”

It’s partly true; three of the books pictured I am in the middle of reading. I think I will take The Cross of Loneliness with me on my travels this week, because it is little and is likely to be encouraging to my spirit, without demanding too much of my analytical abilities. It sets down the correspondence of Saint Sophrony and Archpriest George Florovsky from 1954 to 1963. These illustrations from the book of their kind faces make me eager to peek in on their friendship.

I’ll be flying to Colorado to visit my son Soldier’s family, and from there to Idaho to see friends Jacob and Rosemary, before heading back to California. Both of these families are in new towns since I last visited them! The excitement of navigating airports, riding in airplanes, being in strange places and beds; playing with grandchildren and chatting¬† with everyone will keep my mind plenty busy. It’s already buzzing with the challenges of getting myself ready for the big day, and incrementally taking leave, in my heart, of my home, and my garden with all the plants I have been nursing along; like the first golden zucchinis that will ripen while I am far away. I will say farewell to my stack of To-Read books, which if it actually were just one stack would be higher than my house.

But I know that I will like to read on the plane, and read in my room before going to sleep at night, so I must choose what to take along. This book that I discovered in my Kindle, Make a List, looks appealing for a few summery reasons.

(List of) Reasons why it’s a good book for this summer:

1 – Only a couple hundred pages.

2 – Not demanding content:

2a – No long list of fictional characters to keep straight.

2b – No complex-thinking philosophers to follow.

3 – It will help me keep engaged with my philosophical self and my life back home by simply jotting down a list here and there.

4 – It will prompt me to keep writing without my always having to make quality whole sentences, which are a lot of work. I might even compose travelogues entirely of short lists!

It occurs to me that my attempt at Bullet Journaling was kind of list-y. Unfortunately I always felt the need to elaborate and my bullet points swelled into paragraphs. It will be necessary to keep these lists in a different category from journaling altogether. I haven’t written one thing in my journal for a month or two, which feels scary. Maybe I’ve already made the break?

My college roommate Ann has been an inspiring list-maker all her life. She makes lists of the lists she needs to make. You might say is the idea that Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has elaborated on; you can hear her talking for three minutes on the subject here.

Now I need to get back to the lists I have recently been working from, like:

1 – To-Do Before I Depart, and
2 – Carry With Me On the Plane.

Once I add “Kindle Reader” and “Notebook for Writing Lists” to that second list, I’ll be good to go! …. or will I…? One more very important list must be completed, before I shut the door on my tottering stacks:

Books I Really Want to Read Soon But Must Sadly Leave at Home.

But I’ll come back, Dear Friends!

 

The old child at the heart of him.

Morning light was filtering through fog as I read this passage from Luke Chapter 11:

No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.

Soon enough there began to play in my mind a hymn that I haven’t sung since childhood in the Presbyterian Church, “Open My Eyes, That I May See.” I looked up the hymn in one of the several hymnals our household has collected from previous generations of my late husband’s family, and the lyrics contain the essence of a humble prayer.

But though spiritual sight must be part of what Christ is talking about, twice He uses the words, “whole body full of light.” Pause and think on that! What can it even mean? We can theorize about it, but Christ, Who called Himself “The light of the world,” is not an idea or a theory or a spiritual practice. He will have to teach us what this means by experience. Our yearly Lenten effort is our effort to return again and again to that lifelong process. And He has many ways of opening our eyes and bringing us to Himself, customized to each person’s unique situation.

In The Princess and Curdie, we meet Curdie again not long after the exciting events of The Princess and the Goblin, during which he learns a lesson on humility. But already Curdie, in his young teens, is losing some of his youthful goodness. If our lives are like mirrors that are meant to reflect the glory of our Creator, his mirror is not doing that very well; it has gotten dirty by slow degrees and not even his parents understand why their son does not bring them joy as he used to.

One reason for his not being “in a good way,” our narrator describes like this: “As Curdie grew, he grew at this time faster in body than in mind – with the usual consequence, that he was getting rather stupid – one of the chief signs of which was that he believed less and less in things he had never seen.”

MacDonald sermonizes more in this book than in The Princess and the Goblin. But his little sermons are wise and kind, so I don’t mind them. I do wonder if children would make much use of them, however. He contrasts what is happening to Curdie with the ideal:

“The boy should enclose and keep, as his life, the old child at the heart of him, and never let it go. He must still, to be a right man, be his mother’s darling, and more, his father’s pride, and more. The child is not meant to die, but to be forever fresh born.”

Looking at Curdie, I am reminded of why we are on our Lenten journey: so that we can by some small effort cooperate with God as He does whatever work is necessary to bring us back home, as the Prodigal Son came home, to the “old child” of our heart.

For Curdie, the means involved a white pigeon:

“Curdie had made himself a bow and some arrows, and was teaching himself to shoot with them. One evening in the early summer, as he was walking home from the mine with them in his hand, a light flashed across his eyes. He looked, and there was a snow-white pigeon settling on a rock in front of him, in the red light of the level sun.

“It was indeed a lovely being, and Curdie thought how happy it must be flitting through the air with a flash – a live bolt of light. For a moment he became so one with the bird that he seemed to feel both its bill and its feathers, as the one adjusted the other to fly again, and his heart swelled with the pleasure of its involuntary sympathy. Another moment and it would have been aloft in the waves of rosy light – it was just bending its little legs to spring:¬† that moment it fell on the path broken-winged and bleeding from Curdie’s cruel arrow.

“With a gush of pride at his skill, and pleasure at his success, he ran to pick up his prey. I must say for him he picked it up gently — perhaps it was the beginning of his repentance….”

As the pigeon lay bleeding and limp in his hand, and looked long and wondering at him, Curdie’s heart began to grow very large in his bosom. What could it mean? It was nothing but a pigeon, and why should he not kill a pigeon? But the fact was that not till this very moment had he ever known what a pigeon was.”

The drama of the next moments captures the storminess of a human heart when it strives against the pain of self-knowledge, and the temptation to despair. In the Curdie stories the white pigeons figure as messengers and angels of the divine Love, and after an indefinable time out of time, which may be less than a minute, our boy comes through the storm with clarity, and proceeds with his repentance.

With clarity… under the influence of that Light that wants to fill all the dark corners of us, to make us radiant with Himself. It does seem an impossible image, until we remember that our personal task is to respond to the light we are given, respond to the Light Who is Christ, in this moment, and do the next thing that we are able, to “clean the dirt from our mirrors.”

During Lent, the Orthodox Church gives us many tools for this holy work, and one of them is the Holy Unction service. In addition to the one I described here, another General Unction service is often held during Lent in which anyone prepared may participate, whether or not they are gravely ill, and I am looking forward to being the recipient of its healing grace this evening.

May we all make good use of our sins,
and of the lights that come to us,
and Dear Lord, fill us with Your Light.

Hot sand, then fog.

Today’s beach trip kept getting put off, until by the time I got out to the coast it was already afternoon. These flowers had opened sometime in the last week; I don’t remember ever seeing them on the California coast before. The daisy flower looks like something that might have escaped a back yard, but the plant as a whole definitely does not.

However, the Seek app tells me it is redpurple ragwort, Sinecio elegans, which is in the aster family: “Native to southern Africa, it is cultivated as an ornamental plant… It has been known to escape cultivation and become naturalized in areas of appropriate climate.” I guess that’s why it doesn’t look like a typical Pacific coastal plant.

The sand was surprisingly hot on my bare feet at first, a new thing after many months of fall and winter. But then the fog, which had been thin and drifting away, changed its mind, thickened up, and cooled everything off. I didn’t walk fast today, and I didn’t walk in the ruffles at the edge. I sat on a stump to read, behind the labyrinth, with this view:

Then I walked on up the beach a ways and sat to read a little more.

I saw this new sign, “Sensitive Wildlife Area: Do Not Enter,” one of many posted along the rope that surrounds an area not twice as large as what you can see in this picture. The dunes are of course always in flux from the changing winds. It seems odd to guard a relatively tiny spot, and also not to say what agency is forbidding the children to play there. [See more about this in the comments.]

In the car today I finished listening to The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, which I also read last year sometime. It is one of my favorite books. When I got home I read a lot of The Eucharist, and created a recipe for vegan tapioca pudding using leftover ginger pulp, agave nectar, two sizes of tapioca pearls and mostly almond milk, with a bit of coconut milk, too. It was good!

Mondays seem to be a good day to go somewhere to be alone and quiet, and not try to accomplish too much. The high school class that I teach on Sunday afternoons will end soon and maybe my Sundays won’t be so brain-deadening, but for now, I’m glad for these Mondays and for the beach that is always there, and willing for me to participate in whatever it’s doing, if only by breathing.