Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rend your hearts

Last Wednesday, which did double duty as Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday, Pastor stood in the pulpit to read the scripture Joel 2:12-17.  First he said that he doesn’t often read from Joel.  Then he read this to us:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments….

On a day when we were called to contemplate both love and death, this was an excellent scripture choice.  But I was left curious about what else is in the book of Joel that makes it unlikely to be read.  That evening I started in on the first chapter, and found this:

Lament over the Ruin of the Country

Hear this, O elders,
    give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
    or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
    and let your children tell their children,
    and their children another generation.

What the cutting locust left,
    the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
    the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
    the destroying locust has eaten.

I don't know about you, but when I read that, I get an image of teenaged boys at a high school cafeteria table eating off each other’s plates. But put that aside, and ponder the utter destruction here.  In English it sounds like All Locusts All the Time, but in Hebrew, it’s even worse: those are four different types of pests.  In the King James Version, one of them bugs is called the “cankerworm.”  Okay, grossness and not one crumb of food left.  Annihilation.

We have met the locusts, and they are us.  We seem intent upon slaughter of ourselves.  Perhaps it is we ourselves who have not demanded loudly enough a solution to the ills that plague us.  We are content to let the killing continue.  I rend my heart. 

It’s true that I have never had a run-in with actual locusts that ruined my actual crops.  Let’s acknowledge that locusts are Prophet Joel’s metaphor for invading troops, but still, I haven’t experienced that either.  (Although I hear there are some Russian bots…) Life in modern America is, by most counts, a vast improvement over life during the time of the prophet Joel in ancient Palestine. 

I can’t say that my country is ruined (yet), but I will lament over its diminishment. Just this week, there’s the inability of the Senate to pass legislation on immigration, there’s another mass shooting, there’s the gutting of the American with Disabilities Act, and there’s the Secretary of Agriculture’s “American Harvest Box” proposal, a dignity-smashing way to keep poor, hungry people in their place, while enriching canned food and shipping companies. 

Calls for “thoughts and prayers” from my legislators make a mockery of addressing God, as if those legislators had no possible means of bringing change for the better.  No, Mr. Congressman, I will not pray for those who died.  They are dead. 

They are dead, Mr. Congressman. 

I will pray for you, Mr. Congressman, to, at the very least, set up a permanent tax-payer funded pool of money to cover the costs of the people who survive our incessant mass shootings and who, because of your cold-hearted votes, have no health insurance.  I will pray for you, Mr. Congressman, to have the courage to pass a ban on bump stocks.  To have the courage to allow research on gun violence and prevention.  To have the courage to give back the money you took from the NRA.  To have the courage to…

It seems entirely right to rend my heart.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Favorite books read in 2017

Little Free Library

The best fiction I read in 2017

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.  
Far and away the best writing of any book I read in 2017.   Based on this book alone, the author's Nobel Prize is well-deserved.

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (translated from the French  by Gallic Books).

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway.

Tortilla Flat, by John Steinbeck. 

Standard Deviation, by Katherine Heiny.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. 

The best non-fiction I read in 2017

Gender Revolution: Special Issue, National Geographic magazine, January 2017.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder. 
I read it twice in 2017. 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah.  
I really enjoyed this fascinating memoir. 

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson. 
This was a difficult read because of the subject matter.  Nevertheless, I recommend it to white American Christians.

How about you?  Do you have any favorites that you have read recently? Have you ever used a Little Free Library?

First Lines: Nov and Dec 2017 edition

My new job is keeping me so busy that all I can do here on the blog is to continue getting caught up on documenting the books I have read during the past year.  Here are the first lines of books I finished in November and December.

Book 1
I remember the plane hurtling above the village.  It left a trail of thick gray smoke, and its engine roared and coughed.  Grandmother and I were working in the garden, digging potatoes.  We could see the plane was an enemy fighter, part of the squadron we’d heard earlier as it growled north, heading up the coast.

Book 2
My grandmother called my grandfather Satrapi, never by his first name.  She said one must respect one’s husband.

Book 3
Chapter 1: Beer and Knees
            On any Friday evening, the Cumberland Bar, just round the corner from Drummond Place and Scotland Street, might be expected to be busy, the meeting place of assorted mercantile tribes, of office workers from further down the hill, of young accountants, of estate agents and lawyers, and, conspicuous by their less formal attire, of some of the more bohemian, the more artistic inhabitants of this eastern corner of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town.

Book 4
Wife kills husband with frozen leg of lamb, then disposes of the “weapon” by feeding it to the cops. Serviceable enough Dahl offering, though Lambiase questioned whether a professional housewife could successfully cook a leg of lamb in the manner described—i.e., without thawing, seasoning, or marinade. Wouldn’t this result in tough, unevenly cooked meat?

Book 5
Deep breath.  Feel the air fill my lungs.  This is the right thing to do.  The country needs to see that our democracy still works, no matter how painful this is.  Breathe out.  Scream later.

Book 6
Sunday, December 12, 1971
I could have stopped at three and called it a miracle. After all, three in a row is good. Not just good—great. You know the odds of that happening by itself? Miniscule.

Book 7
History does not repeat, but it does instruct. As the Founding Fathers debated our Constitution, they took instruction from the history they knew. Concerned that the democratic republic they envisioned would collapse, they contemplated the descent of ancient democracies and republics into oligarchy and empire. As they knew, Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability, while Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants. In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny.

Book 8
Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like
his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself.

Titles and Authors revealed:

Book 1
A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin, © 2016. 
I met this author at a talk at Northland Library.  The book is sort of YA fantasy, but not too over-the-top in its fantasy and not too infantile.  The author does use a quirk of not naming any of the characters save one, the one from the fantasy world.

Book 2
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi (a graphic novel), © 2005.  Weird.

Book 3
The Bertie Project, by Alexander McCall Smith, © 2016.

Book 4
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, © 2013.
Second reading of this book.  We read this for book club – it made a good read following the heavy, violent book we had read the previous month.

Book 5
What Happened, by Hillary Clinton, © 2017.
It’s rare that I read a book during the year it was published.  Here’s the exception.
The book opens with this epigraph:
If you are tired, keep going.
If you are scared, keep going.
If you are hungry, keep going.
If you want to taste freedom, keep going.
            - Harriet Tubman
Good words from Harriet Tubman.  Just keep swimming.

Book 6
Dreidels on the Brain, by Joel Ben Izzy, © 2016 (YA).
This book seems to be semi-autobiographical.  It covers eight days in the life of 12-year-old Joel, during Hanukkah 1971.  I found it enjoyable.  Sometimes it seemed like it was trying to be a primer to explain American Judaism to people unfamiliar with it, but that may be appropriate for the age of readers it is aimed at.

Book 7
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder, © 2017.   (second time reading).  You can read this.  It’s short.  Just do it.

Book 8
Go Tell It On the Mountain, by James Baldwin © 1953.
Excellent prose. Deep layers of meaning, which I was not in the right frame of mind to explore.  This book is steeped in Christian religious imagery.  It would be a good book to read for a class.

In December I started several books which I did not finish.  One was Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans.  It’s a book about writing.  I wanted to finish, but got pulled away to read other things.  There’s only so many times you can renew a library book before the library police come to get you.

Soon I’ll post a list of my favorites from 2017.