Books

At The Library

After work yesterday I spent a good half hour or so among the books. Library… synonym for sanctuary, at least in my personal thesaurus. As I hadn’t been to our library here in Appleton for more than five minutes in the last several months, the visit yesterday had me thinking about the hours I’ve spent in libraries in the course my twenty-nine years. Countless, really.

In junior high and high school, my sister and I walked after school to the tiny public library in our town. Two blocks from the school (those two blocks being the length of our ‘downtown’), it was a squat, square building filled with shelves of delight. Jessica and I spent numerous afternoons there. Starting our homework, naturally, but more importantly, searching the stacks. That library is where we got hold of every single Sweet Valley High, Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, and Ramona book ever written. It’s where we discovered Gilbert Morris, Lori Wick and Janette Oke. Heck, it’s even where we discovered the nonsensical fun of People magazine. And it’s where I first opened the pages of Pride & Prejudice. I can still picture that copy in my mind: large, with a dark green hard cover and drawn illustrations interspersed among the chapters.

Occasionally we’d stop at the larger library in the relatively larger town nearby (Menominee). I never knew my way around this two story stone building that well and each visit felt like an exploration. This one had wide bow windows overlookng the marina and Lake Michigan and thus I learned how remarkably well water views and reading go together.

I never liked the library at Grand Valley State. It was unwelcoming and hard. When I transferred to Franciscan though, I loved my library once again. Softer lighting, comfortable chairs, beautiful volumes…. A friend secured me a part time position as a clerk and I spent a few quiet hours behind the counter and returning books to their proper homes. I sporadically wondered how happy I’d be as a librarian.

The Appleton public library is unremarkable but adequate. I don’t spend a lot of time there as it doesn’t provide the cozy security I associate with the libraries I’ve loved. Nevertheless, the occasional visit – for longer than five minutes to pick something up that I have on hold – remains a delight to me. I will always feel at home among the books.
Books, Holiness, Scripture

How Small a Fire

I fell asleep while reading Persuasion. All the Jane Austen novels are worth reading (though Mansfield Park perhaps only once) but it is Persuasion that I return to time and time again. It is my literary comfort food. Among other things, the story is a demonstration of the terrible power of words. Words to persuade and convince, words to manipulate, words to hide behind, and words left unspoken for far too long. Only when words are spoken in humble honesty, without guile but with hope and courage, only then are things set aright and happiness slips into the grasp of the long suffering hero and heroine.

As this and other things this week have me considering the power of our words, the passage from James Chapter 3 came aptly to mind.

“If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers.” (vv. 3-10)

It’s a dire outlook on human communication but one that is unfortunately justified again and again. With the same mouth we worship God on Sunday mornings then tear down our neighbor, a priceless human being made in the image of God. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so…” This need not be so. That comment cuts me to the quick. Encouragement and discouragement; love and hate; hope and fear; honesty and dishonesty; and on and on. Are we even aware of the fires we set with our words? Daily we engage in communication with one another, from the spouse to the stranger, and none of our words are without effect. None of them.

If we consider the power of our words for ill, are they not equally capable of good? Were we but more conscious of ourselves, more attuned to the responses of the other person, more concerned with building up another than ourselves… oh the good that could be done. Instead of violent fires, the flames set might be lamps added to one another’s paths – paths often difficult enough to walk without us multiplying the difficulty for each other. Yes, the good that could be done.

Books, Writing

Snowy Night

Nature launched a blitz attack on my evening plans. The snow began mid-afternoon, millions of flakes rushing to the ground with the aid of a skin-chilling wind. It hasn’t stopped. I’m attempting to focus on the sparkly blanket of beauty and not on the shoveling or the messy driving. In lieu of dinner and a movie with Matt and Nethanial, I am opting for “Without a Trace” reruns, long neglected issues of “Better Homes & Gardens,” and chicken alfredo pizza.

The snow has me in the mood for slippers and writing. I’m craving progress. I’m craving the feel of my pen in my hand, the pressure of the point on the paper. I was part of a conversation today on the transition of books to a digital format. My personal preference remains old school. I’m doing my best to accept that this realm of things is changing drastically though. That the generation after me will likely be raised on digital literature is a fact I’m not going to ignore. But as I listened to the guys talk up the evolving technology I thought to myself that the delight of writing won’t ever change. The satisfaction of scratching those letters onto the lined page will remain. My work can be published in whatever format anyone wants. I won’t fight that. Whatever the end result, it’ll start with pen and paper though. No better night to return to that work than this snowy one.

Books, Writing

Standards & Practices

I’m currently reading the Catholic novel, Fatherless, by Brian Gail. Important, compelling subject matter; potentially rich cast of characters; horribly disappointing quality of writing. I am so frustrated with this novel! With so little authentically Catholic literature being written and published today, it is beyond aggravating to read a novel with such squandered potential. I’m trusting that in the end I will be glad I read it, as some friends have claimed, but getting there is getting under my skin.

Okay, I’ll admit it. Amongst the most frustrating aspects of reading this book is the reality that this is published and my book is not. I am not claiming that my novel is perfect or reaches its fullest potential or even touches on subject matter as compelling as what is found in Fatherless. Yet I can’t help but ask no one in particular how a book with such poor narration, confusing timelines, weak character development and further flaws was accepted for publication and mine has been only rejected? Jealousy is rearing its ugly head. I’d be lying if I denied that.

Silver lining though – and this is what I choose to dwell on when the jealousy or frustration are making themselves felt: I have so much fresh motivation! Motivation to continue editing, to hold myself to higher and higher standards as I learn more of the craft of writing, to dedicate myself to this work that I love. And motivation to trust that the Lord will not deem this work fruitless. By His grace and timing, and my continued perseverence and effort, it will bear the fruit it is capable of bearing. I will serve Him by this work. I will follow through on the desires and hope He has created in me.

“Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

Books

Bookish

I am such a sap! Yesterday, I laughed my head off and cried my eyes out at the movie, “Ramona & Beezus.” The movie is based on the Ramona books by Beverly Clearly, favorites of mine as a child. Plain and simple, this was an excellent family film – funny, heartwarming, clean. Not a blockbuster or an Oscar contender, but entertaining fare worth a family’s time. But beyond the goodness of the movie was the sweetness of seeing on screen beloved characters from so many years ago. My sister and I repeatedly exclaimed under our breath as yet another character or situation was introduced that we recognized from the books. It gives me half a mind to read those books again. More than that, it drew me into memories of reading. At breakfast, in the car, curled up in bed, in between homework assignments, during commercials… I grew up with a book in front of me. Joy and excitement were found in the immersion of my imagination in the words on each page. There wasn’t a lot about my little life to ‘expand my horizons’, but books… well, books let me know there was a vast world around me, filled with a host of personalities and cultures, opportunities and adventures.

It’s why I still read. It’s why I write fiction. It’s why I question how long I should sustain my current circumstances rather than take a leap.

Books, Intentionality

One Good Thing About This World

The rain is landing percussively on the office building’s roof and dancing on the adjacent blacktop. It is a rhythmic sound of spring and it is making me smile as I putter through the usual Thursday tasks on my desk. It is spring! For it does not rain in winter, not where I live. The trees have that stripped naked look which only spring can cause. I am daydreaming of tennis matches at the park and bike rides on the county trail. Those activities are still a ways off but I find it easy to believe they will be here in a blink of an eye while I listen to this snowbank melting rain.

I’m starting over on a few things today. The daily workout routine I committed myself to but let slide during the last several days (with good reason; I had a newborn nephew to visit and hold instead of make time for exercise); the fasting from TV for Lent which I cheated on yesterday because I just could not forgo the season finale of Psych; chapter 13 of The Mercy Hour and the critical plot juncture therein; praying Morning Prayer each day before work (why do I convince myself I’ll get through the day okay without starting it in prayer? So lame.); deterimned patience with a few particulars of life that I cannot do much about at present (impatience has been reigning supreme lately)… What would life be without these “starting over” days?

“That is one good thing about this world… there are always sure to be more springs,” remarked Anne Shirley and I must agree. We live prodigal lives. Spending thriftlessly our time and energy, indulging in what will not satisfy, and having to return again and again to what will. We must cycle round to spring before we reach the end of five, ten or all of our years and realize we lingered in winter because it was easier to stay there. Newness and freshness can be encircling us and we stay tucked under our coverings of old habits and weaknesses.

The other night I stretched out on my bed for a good think after reading another chapter of one of my favorite books, I Capture the Castle. I thought about the layers of effects that book has had on me. While reading a favorite chapter I’d realized I wasn’t quite feeling what I’d felt in the past about the story. Not a lesser reaction or affection, but different. Instantly this realization produced sadness and a wish for all that I’d ever thought and felt about the book to remain the same. It took some effort to accept that this was neither possible nor preferable. For an effect to be efficacious, for a change to make change, there must be a result. There must be new aspects to my thoughts and feelings if, as I claim, this book really did have ramifications on my thoughts and feelings. The book, of course, is only one example. An adventure, a job, a friendship, a prayer, any undertaking… they change us (or should) and yet it is so easy to mourn the “old me” that changed instead of rejoicing in what is made new.
Books

Preferences

As a typical single, romantically minded, literature loving girl, I am well aware of the standards among my kind. I find, however, I’m not the most apt to adhere to standards.

My all time favorite Austen is Persuasion, not Pride & Prejudice. I’d much prefer Mr. Knightley to be my hero over Mr. Darcy. Emily of New Moon is a more kindred spirit to me than Anne with an “e.” (Though I’d fall head over heels for a real life Gilbert Blythe any day of the week.) I think guys named Rick have a built in tendency toward skeeziness so I’ve never trusted Humphrey Bogart’s character in “Casablanca.” Canadians have a better chance of falling into my own personal “intriguing” or “sexy” categories than any man from continental Europe. I appreciate boldness, not flirtation. And long walks on the beach are always better solo than with another person.

I was thinking over the weekend about how set I am in my preferences. My “types,” if you will, whether it be in regard to books, movies, travels, hobbies or men, are well defined. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That is, does it make me capable of focusing on what is most likely a well-suited fit for me without wasting my time? Or does it increase the chances that I will overlook unexpected possibilities for joy/fun/satisfaction?

Of course the thought that my preferences could be potentially damaging to my life brought me around to the additonal thought that I may very well be outside of other people’s set preferences, too. Ouch.