Tuesday, September 11, 2018

First Lines: July-August 2018 edition

I bought meself these roses to cheer meself up.

My reading during July and August centered on lamentation, with a smattering of redemption.  I was privileged to read some excellent writing on some difficult topics.  Here are the first lines of books I finished.

Book 1
How lonely sits the city
    that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
    she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
    has become a vassal.

Book 2
Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.  It was pretty much a surprise all round.

Book 3
Born in 1984: Masha
On the seventieth anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, Masha’s grandmother, a rocket scientist, took Masha to the Church of St. John the Warrior in Central Moscow to be baptized.

Book 4
The winter had become a test of endurance and patience, especially for those living in northern Wisconsin. 

Book 5
Higher Ground
I wasn’t prepared to meet a condemned man.  In 1983, I was a twenty-three-year-old student at Harvard Law School working in Georgia on an internship, eager and inexperienced and worried that I was in over my head.  I had never seen the inside of a maximum-security prison – and had certainly never been to death row.  When I learned that I would be visiting this prisoner alone, with no lawyer accompanying me, I tried not to let my panic show.

* * * * * *

Titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Lamentations, by Jeremiah.  ©586–520 BCE.
It is customary among some Jews to read the book of Lamentations during the period between some fast I never heard of and the fast of the 9th of Av (which memorializes the destruction of The Temple).  Lamentations seems appropriate for us today, too.

Book 2
Still Life, by Louise Penny © 2005.  Read for the second time, for book club.  I still wonder if the painting that is so central to the story would be actually possible to paint. 

Book 3
The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen. © 2017. Very well-written.  Amazon says this is a 527-page book, but I read it in 5 days, although that was partly because it was a kindle version borrowed from the library, and it threatened to disappear from my reader if I did not truck on through it. 

The subject matter is unsettling and alarming.  Anyone who thinks they admire Putin and his Russia needs to read this book. It includes the stories of several people living through the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of Putin’s regime. 

It also includes a Cliff-notes version of Hannah Arendt’s explanation of how totalitarian regimes employ terror: It substitutes for the boundaries and channels of communication between men a band of iron which holds them so tightly together that it is as though their plurality had disappeared into One Man of gigantic dimensions.” Robbed of his individuality and therefore the ability to interact meaningfully with others, she wrote, man became profoundly lonely, which made him the perfect creature and subject of the totalitarian state.

I wonder if Arendt’s notions about loneliness relate to Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.  I have that on my list to read. 

Book 4
On The River (Bassville Stories Book 2) by Melissa Westemeier © 2018.
I loved escaping to the riverbanks of the Wissapaw River in Wisconsin, to read about the lives of the fine people of the town of Bassville.  The machinations of Maw made me laugh out loud.  The novel includes a just treatment of people’s reactions to a difficult life situation.

Book 5
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson.  © 2014.  What can I say?  Every American should read this book.  (I read it for book club.  It was helpful to discuss the book.) The stories here are gripping and important, and Stevenson tells them well.  He leads us through our justice system, which is no more “color-blind” now than it was in 1980 or 1940 or 1880.  Can we find “liberty and justice for all” in our nation?  And yet, in spite of our brutal history, Stevenson offers a note of redemption. Mercy is an undeserved offering of grace and forgiveness, and Stevenson finds mercy in the middle of terrorism and strife and injustice.  Read This Book.