Posts tagged #books

The Poisonwood Bible

"Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. " I first read The Poisonwood Bible the summer between my junior and senior year in college. Since then, I've read it at least five times.

It's my favorite book. Ever. I long to write like Barbara Kingsolver. Her words seem to dance off the page effortlessly - and her description of Africa sets an ache deep in my soul. It's the perfect juxtaposition of grotesqueness and beauty and confusion and preciseness...

Set in Kilanga, Congo, Kingsolver's work attributed to my love and connection to Africa long before my feet ever touched the soil. There are so many reasons this book resonates with me. I see myself in Nathan: my pride all too often gets in the way and I lack the discernment to listen to the wisdom of those around me. When this monster comes for a visit, the result is always the same: I know what's best. I cling to what I think is best. Nothing can change me. And then I crash and burn - realizing with newfound humility my way means nothing in light of the sovereignty of Christ.

I see myself in Adah. Oh, I see myself in this girl. Creative. Misunderstood. Brooding. Shy. Did you know I had an imaginary friend growing up? I did. And I talked to myself. I would sit in my room, on my bed, and create these fantastical stories all the while whispering to my confidante. I was made fun of - my glasses and braces and crimped hair leading to nicknames seared in my heart's memory. I sat alone often. But, I was okay with this after awhile. And eventually, I came into my own - realizing the gimp leg I thought was my lack of self-confidence really was just a misnomer. I was confident. I did have stories worthy to share.

But most of all I see myself in Leah. And I wish I could say otherwise. I wish I could be chic and say Adah is my soul twin - which - probably isn't too far from the truth. But I empathize with Leah's absolute need for approval feeding into an unhealthy dose of perfectionism. My love language? Words of affirmation? Yeah...just another tally mark in my quest. I know what it's like to strain so far for someone else that you don't even recognize yourself anymore. And, I know the beauty of returning home - of finding your footsteps belong in the dirt of a continent that captured your heart long before you ever knew its importance.

At the beginning of the book, Orleanna speaks about how sometimes Africa comes and visits her when she leasts expects it. Smells invade her senses and suddenly it's all she can do to run, crawl, swim, dance, careen and somersault her way to the place that caused so much heartbreak and growth. I get this. I know this. In fact, while rereading this part recently, I literally jumped off the chair and turned circles with excitement. I miss Africa so much that it physically hurts sometimes - and it's so hard for me to understand because of what it did to my heart, but it's home. Even if going back means revisiting emotions tough to process and heavy to endure.

The first time I read Kingsolver's book I immediately knew I wanted to teach it someday. I didn't know how I'd incorporate it into my class, and up until this year, I've relied on excerpts to show the power of diction or voice. This year, I finally get to accomplish my goal. The students read the book for their summer assignment and we are currently talking about it in class. I can't wait to see what comes of our discussions.

Posted on September 1, 2010 and filed under africa, books.

THE list (one year later.)

Last year, I posted this list of the top 100 books according to NPR. Those I read I crossed out - I decided to revisit the list and see how I'm doing with twelve months in between this post and last post. (I highlighted the recent changes in red) 1. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling 2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini 4. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding 5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen 6. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells 7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald 8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams 9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg 10. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

11. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger 12. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel 13. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan 14. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien 15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger 16. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell 17. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett 18. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien 19. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides 20. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain 22. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver 23. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith 24. The World According to Garp, by John Irving 25. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller 26. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy 27. Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel 28. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman 29. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler 30. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer (really? top 100? hmm.)

31. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole 32. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck 33. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant 34. Beach Music, by Pat Conroy 35. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 36. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier 37. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card 38. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry 39. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough 40. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

41. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett 42. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy 43. Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice 44. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier 45. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo 46. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes 47. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas 48. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins 49. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb 50. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie

51. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott 52. The Stand, by Stephen King 53. She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb 54. Dune, by Frank Herbert 55. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows 56. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 57. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll 58. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov 59. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo 60. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

61. Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver 62. Jaws, by Peter Benchley 63. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner 64. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner 65. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson 66. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway 67. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand 68. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut 69. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut 70. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

71. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway 72. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy 73. Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns 74. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding 74. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe [tie] 76. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte 77. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon 78. The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher 79. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver 80. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett

81. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck 81. The Pilot's Wife, by Anita Shreve [tie] 83. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy 84. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson 85. The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery 86. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy 87. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich 88. Shogun, by James Clavell 89. Dracula, by Bram Stoker 90. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera

91. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow 92. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger 93. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt 94. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris 95. Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume 96. The Shining, by Stephen King 97. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan 98. Lamb, by Christopher Moore 99. Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen 100. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

A grand total of 25 books already read on this list. How much different is this number from last year? FOUR BOOKS. I know I have read about 100 books in my life time - the sheer volume of our home library is a testament to the truth that Russ & I love our books. And, although some of these books are absolutely stellar, some titles which made it to this top 100 list have surprised me. I mean, I know I've read more than four books this past year.

Over the next four days I'll take four of my favorites from this list and write about what makes me love them oh-so much. I may even do a follow up series of books I despise. Sounds favorable. (And probably much, much easier to explain why I hate Billy Budd so much as opposed to why The Stand had me reeling for weeks on end.)

Where do you stand? How many of these books have you read? Which one is your favorite?

Posted on August 30, 2010 .

picking dandelions

You know those unpretentious memoirs? The ones where the author doesn't feel the need to let you know everything he/she has accomplished and really just sits and talks with you as if you were over for dinner or having a phone conversation? That's Picking Dandelions.

When Sarah first mentioned her need for bloggers to read her book for her upcoming blog tour, I immediately jumped at the offer. I mean, she's an English teacher who writes on the side...and she's still sane. That's gotta count for something, right? I plowed in as soon as I got the book in the mail, anxious to read her thoughts on growing up - both physically and in her faith. The fact Sarah teaches English isn't the only similarity we share. I didn't grow up in the Midwest, but I did grow up in church, and I did attend a remote Christian college completely unassuming in keeping any of its students within the community. I found myself laughing at some of the incidents she finds herself, like buying a homeless man dinner so he can use the restroom in a local fast food joint in order to get around the rules of the shelter where they were volunteering. Or sitting in church business meetings - brave soul - when she was in elementary/middle school, finding her voice amidst the politics and realizing sometimes church goers aren't...well...nice.

But perhaps the most striking of her memoir are the moments at Ground Zero - where she brought water to those digging through the smoky rubble of the World Trade Center for just one...more...survivor. My heart broke for what she must have seen during those weeks.

I know memoirs are a dime a dozen these days - and most of them are full of thoughts people believe are the MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN GET OUT OF THIS BOOK. But not this one. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed it so much. Sarah's full of truth - full of questions and honesty about growing into one's faith and owning up to faults and mistakes. She's learned the fine art of not comparing herself with any other writer - and I highly recommend you get to know her.

Buy her book here.

Get to know her here.

Posted on March 15, 2010 and filed under books.

Firoozeh Dumas


This past summer, I went to the National AP Teachers' Convention in San Antonio. Firoozeh Dumas was one of the speakers & I fell in love with her style of presenting. She shared a story about how while touring she would always talk about people from other countries changing their names in order to make it easier on the Americans - you know - pronunciation can be tricky. What made it humorous? Russ talks about this all the time.

My husband is tall & brown & has a mop of beautifully curly hair. Many, many people have questioned him about his ethnicity - despite his last name being, um...Ramirez - and Russ has developed a story that (for whatever reason) people believe.

He tells them his family is from Kuwait.

And then, when the eyebrows begin to burrow in confusion & people wonder about his Spanish heritage, Russ just shrugs his shoulders & says, "we came to Texas, looked for a different last name to acclimate ourselves to society, found one often repeated in the phone book, but had no idea it was hispanic." He then smiles & says, "kind of funny if you think about it. A guy from the Middle East with a hispanic last name?"

I know. I know. Every time he shares this story & people believe him I wince. If I am lucky enough to be there - I usually set the record straight & share that I am not the only storyteller within our small family of two. Russ has as much imagination as I do - and more.

So, when Dumas shared this story I laughed and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! Another person who would understand. I went & bought her books, anxious to read her perspective of growing up Iranian in America, and walked over to the table where she was giving autographs.

"Hi! It was so great hearing your stories. I thought they were hilarious - especially the one about immigrants changing their last names? My husband tells that story all the time - except he isn't an immigrant. He tells people he's from the Middle East and..."

I could see her eyes glaze over. I could see boredom (or apathy? perhaps even anger at my audacity? who knows...) Needless to say, I wrapped up my story in quite the lackluster fashion & accepted my books freshly stamped with the permament marker scent of her name. She gave me one of those "nice-to-meet-you-hope-to-never-see-you-again" type smiles & I awkwardly turned around to leave.

Despite our less than stellar introduction, I did enjoy her books. Light reads - easy enough to finish within a day - both of them held enough weight to force you to contemplate her words once finished. Misconceptions about who you are simply because of your name is nothing new to me. I'm a white girl with a very hispanic name - it seems to roll off peoples' tongues in automatic accents - however, I have no clue what Dumas' family endured simply because where they came from happened to be (and still is) under negative attention from the media.

I encourage you to pick these copies up next time you are at the library or bookstore. Dumas is funny. You will find yourself laughing out loud at some of the stories she shares about her family. However, don't let the hidden weight miss its target. We may be vastly different from each other, we may be from completely different worlds where it's hard to connect, but the lesson remains the same: we're all in this together.

And as Dumas says in Laughing Without an Accent, "ultimately, it doesn't matter where we learn that lesson. It's just important that we do."

Posted on October 30, 2009 and filed under books.

East of Eden

014200065501lzzzzzzz We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never ending contest in ourselves of good & evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a fresh new young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is. - Steinbeck, pg. 413

A couple years ago, someone told me this book was why he kept reading. He said that in a time where he wasn't really too fond of books, this one by Steinbeck helped him fall in love with fiction all over again. I went out & bought the back that night.

For the past few years, it's been sitting on my shelf - taunting me. Ill admit. I questioned the quality based on the sheer volume.

Then, one of my co-teachers read it & loved it.

Then, I heard Jason Russell (co-founder of Invisible Children) place it on his "Top 3 Books Every Human Must Read" list.

I've had numerous friends tell me it's the ONE PIECE OF FICTION they have actually enjoyed.

Really? This book?

I finally decided to try & read it this summer. What can I say. I have a penchant for peer pressure. I opened up the book around the middle of June.

I just finished this book about three days ago.

It never takes me this long to read. Never. I recall being the middle & thinking, "Good Lord, am I ever going to finish?"

And then I did.

I loved it.

I must say one thing: it didn't take me long because of the length.To be precise, it took me awhile simply because of the brilliancy & beauty of Steinbeck's language. The diction in this book was...superb. And, more than once I just had to sit the book down not because of boredom, but because I needed to think. Think!

Bottom line? I know for a fact that this is one of those books I will hopefully get to teach some day & more than likely, I will read numerous times.

Slight Plea: I think, if you allowed yourself to get so caught up in characters & who goes where, this book could be incredibly confusing. However. Don't let it. Steinbeck's ode to human nature is pretty mesmerizing, & I guarantee if you just let the story roll over you, you're going to connect yourself with one of the characters. Let's just hope it's not Cathy.

(makes you wanna read it, right???)

Posted on August 10, 2009 .