Friday, April 13, 2007

Spring Reading Thing update

Remember the Spring Reading Thing? I promised to give little reviews as I went along, so here you go! (If this is the first you've heard of it, go read this post at Callapidder Days. And then join in!)

I’ve discovered something interesting as I’ve embarked upon my reading list. There is a reason that I generally only read light fiction and mothering/vocation/spirituality books. Light fiction (humorous, sci-fi, romance, some modern lit) is restful. I can retreat from the world for a few minutes and come back refreshed. It doesn’t require any real effort from me – I can simply enjoy it. And right now, that is often what I need. Two children who have continuous needs throughout the day, and a husband who would like some attention in the evenings as well leave me pretty exhausted, and retreating into a book is just that – a retreat. And I think a reasonable and necessary one.

Vocational books are restful in a different way; they are encouraging (other mothers feel this way, too!) and helpful as I look for ever better ways to order my life and strive for holiness in motherhood, my God-given vocation.

Books that fall outside these categories are just not helpful at this stage in my life. Case in point: The Picture of Dorian Gray. I have no doubt that this is a good book. I would probably even agree that it is a classic. After all, it is a re-telling of the story of Faust, so the basic material is certainly classic! But I hated reading that book. Not because it was particularly hard – surviving Torrey certainly taught me how to read hard material and this wasn’t anything like the most difficult thing I’ve read – but because it was so dark. It was hideous to watch a soul being poisoned. I hated it by the end of the first chapter and kept hating it for the rest of the book. I finished it out of nothing more than stubbornness, and I’m not sure I’m glad that I did. I am seriously considering learning from this experience and saving Demons for another time of my life.

If you have extra emotional energy, and care to expend it on a classic book, then I’ll recommend it. It is well constructed and possibly well written (although to be honest, it was not what I was expecting from Oscar Wilde, and I’m not sure I liked his prose as well as his drama). But if you’re a mom and trying to keep your head above water in normal life, this is NOT the book to retreat into!

I can, however, recommend some of the other books on my list. Straight Up is an amazing novel. I generally steer clear of “Christian fiction” because, frankly, so much of it is bad writing. Lisa Samson breaks that mold in a well-constructed story about two deeply flawed women who encounter God in two completely different ways. I can’t tell you too much more about that without giving a lot away, but I can tell you that the characters make you care about what happens to them. And the book includes the best conversion I have ever read. It makes you want to stand up and cheer.

The Eyre Affair is also a lot of fun. Suspend your disbelief and embark on a ride through time, space, reality and fiction. Jasper Fforde has lots of fun with idiosyncrasies of the English language, and I laughed out loud quite often. Sarah, you should read it – you will love the bookworms (yes, worms) who read/eat Mansfield Park and poop apostrophes. :)

Girl in Hyacinth Blue is decent. I didn’t particularly like or dislike it. And I can’t think of much interesting to say about it…so no real review on that one. Sorry! :)

And now I come to Parenting in the Pew, which Amber also just read and asked me about (which actually was the impetus for this whole post, so thanks, Amber!) :) I’m not going to review the whole book, because Amber’s review will give you a basic outline of what is in it. I’ll just say that I didn’t like it, and tell you why.

The first eight chapters of the book are pretty non-objectionable. The premise (that we should be teaching our children to worship God in church, not teaching them just to sit still and quietly) is good and true. She develops her reasons for the idea adequately, and provides some hands-on ideas for how to help children participate in the service.

My biggest problem with the book is the author’s inconsistency. She makes a very good, practical, and compelling case for involving our children in worship (chapters 1-8) and then denies them participation in a central part of that worship (chapter 9). Everything in me is offended by the idea that children are old enough to participate in prayers, singing, monetary offering, and listening to the sermon, but are not old enough/mature enough to participate the sacraments. We worship God as we give him our praise, our prayers, our money, and the bread and wine. We also worship God in our reception of his good gifts to us. Denying children participation in God’s gifts, while maintaining that they must participate in worship by listening to an entire sermon at age four (!!!) seems inconsistent at best.

Granted, this is a very Anglican way of looking at things. But my Baptist self (remember, I was raised Baptist/Non-denom) was also upset. Mrs. Castleman writes about how her boys were required, before they could receive communion, to write out their testimony and read it out loud to the entire church. Perhaps her boys were just incredibly socially competent at a very young age, but I find that an appalling requirement. I remember how terrifying it was, at age nine, to simply walk down the aisle at church and stand at the front (with lots of other people!) when I wanted to be baptized. Had I been required to make a verbal testament of my conversion, I would likely have decided that it wasn’t worth it. Besides being appalling to my remembered-nine-year-old-self, I also think it is simply wrong to require more than simple faith and basic understanding of a child who desires to receive the sacraments. Mrs. Castleman admits that her boys loved Jesus and desired to receive communion, but says that they were denied it until they were “mature enough”. I do not agree that it is up to a parent to decide when their children are “mature enough” to participate fully in the life of the church, including the reception of Christ’s gifts in the sacraments.

So, both my Baptist self and my Anglican self find Mrs. Castleman to have a good premise, some good ideas, and a woeful lack of consistency. I can’t say that I’d recommend the book to anyone – I’m sure there have to be better ones out there.

Those are the ones I've read so far. Now that I think about it, I actually get a lot of reading done in between parenting the boys and cooking meals and spending time with my husband. I guess even the busiest moms make time for the things they really care about! :)

Happy reading!


ACN said...

Hi Emily, you don't know me, but I'm one of your sister's old friends from back in the SacTown day and a fellow blogger. I'm sorry to hear you hated The Picture of Dorian Gray - I have to say it's one of my favorites, so beautifully written, so stark in its moral treatment, and very inspirational (in a strange way) to an aspiring artist (music, in my case). Have you tried The Importance of Being Earnest? - outrageously funny, everything that Dorian Gray isn't. Plus it's short.

Emily said...

Hi Anyssa,
Welcome to my corner of blogdom. :) I'm glad you commented! I LOVE The Importance of Being maybe I just like Wilde's drama better than his Faust re-write. Or maybe early motherhood isn't the best time to appreciate Dorian Grey?

I'm curious - why do you find it inspiring as a musician/artist?

Amber said...

Well, I think that she did go over the top in requiring the whole profession of faith in front of the church thing, but I do think she has an extremely valid point in making children wait. I think there is a lot of value in waiting until they have some idea of what they are professing to believe when they partake and waiting until they can understand what they are actively doing before they do it. But hey, I'm Catholic, so what do you expect? :-)

Thanks for the reviews - I agree on the Girl in Hyacinth Blue one too, it wasn't anything remarkable by any means. I remember reading it a couple years ago, but at this point I can't really remember much more about it than a few fuzzy details.

I tend not to read heavy, classic fiction anymore either - especially stuff that contains stuff like Dorian Gray or a lot of violence or neglect towards children. My mommy self is just too strong to detach from that to be able to read it and see the bigger picture or to enjoy the writing, plot development, etc.

OK, Matt is headed up to bed with a grumpy baby. Something tells me I should get off the computer and go join him. :-)

ACN said...

Hi Emily - here's my attempt to answer your question. :)

I first read Dorian Gray when I was just turned 18, and it made a huge impact on me. Wilde asks, in a way I've never seen equalled, at what cost beauty? I remember being intoxicated by his writing style and mulled over the disparites and the sameness of goodness and beauty for long afterwards. In fact, I remember writing several essays for my own amusement on this subject, though I have no idea where they are now! Perhaps in some old email. There was also a particularly beautiful passage about what it means to be an artist, somewhere in the section about Sybil Vane performing Juliet. Unfortunately I don't have the book with me in Germany, so I can't quote anything for you!

I can understand this book losing its appeal after motherhood - in fact, I think most of my favorite (or rather, the best books I've ever read) might fit into the category of no longer appealing after motherhood.

My top choice books are: Underworld (DeLillo), On the Road (Kerouac), The Chosen (Potok), and Lolita (Nabokov - this book, a celebration of the English language, is the most virtuosic, disturbing, heartbreaking novel I've ever read - some passages at the end bring forth tears). Perhaps my choices may seem a bit strange (though all these books are classics of their time), but I love books that somehow capture the human condition, all its beauty and sordidness, joy and despair, books with a deep understanding and authors that are masters of the English language.

At A Hen's Pace said...

Hi Emily--

Thanks for visiting me through the Easter Blog Carnival! You ask about our church--we are Anglican too, AMIA. (My husband and I both grew up Baptist, tho--like you!)
You're right--we are so blessed to be in an Anglican church where the arts and creativity flourish. It's so unusual and such a full-orbed worship experience. I'm especially glad for our children to grow up in such a vibrant, but grounded place! What's your affiliation in the alphabet soup of Anglicanism these days?

I loved your review of Parenting in the Pew. I haven't read it, but I feel the same way about the excellent points you made.

I have to agree with you that light fiction is much more relaxing to a mom of little ones. I can't even read much in the way of nonfiction, unless it's a parenting book. Just the stage we're in, I'd say. I was a lit minor in every thing there is a season.

So glad to "meet" you--will stay in touch!