A story has only one master – its narrator; he decides what he wants his story to do. I know, I have always known, what I want my stories to achieve – I want to make people believe. Believe what I tell. Believe in it. Believe me. Belief is the one effect I’m always looking for… I must believe ancient Ireland as I describe it. The swords really did ring loudly off the shields. And the armor surely gleamed in the sun.
— from Ireland by Frank Delaney, 2005
I enjoyed this long, meandering novel more for the storytelling aspect than for the Irish history. As one boy grows up and follows (or tries to follow) the career of the last traveling storyteller in Ireland, the stories he comes across, either from the storyteller himself or from the other people he comes in contact with, unravel the history of a country. A secret concerning the boy and the storyteller also builds until it is finally revealed at the end.
My favorite story in the book is about two monks who create the beginnings of a great illuminated gospel as part of a contest to see which monk should be the next Abbott. The two monks are so very kind and generous, and also very creative and good at their work. The voting of the best illuminated page at the end of the story turns out a tie because everyone voted twice. So the monks rule the abbey together.
This was a good find at the library. There are more by this author, so I might read another one someday when I’m in the mood for a long, rambling story.
I just finished reading a new book written by Sally Clarkson and her son Nathan (c. 2016). It is called Different and tells a non-chronological story of Nathan’s life and how Sally loved him. Nathan was different from his siblings and most of the other people he knew. In his teens he was diagnosed as OCD, ADHD and ODD.
I like the hope and realism and raw truth in this book. They had strong faith in God, but it wasn’t their faith that pulled them through difficulties. They homeschooled, but this isn’t really a homeschool success story. They talked to each other and were honest to each other, but even that didn’t solve problems. This book is about the way they lived. It isn’t really about what they did or how anything was fixed. It’s simply a story of God working in a life, a difficult life. We can all live, right? That’s the hope. Keep living, keep looking to see what God will do next.
Here’s a quote I like from a section where Sally is speaking, “I also realized that each of my children, especially Nathan, needed to feel that the foundation of our relationship was unconditional love and respect for his or her essential self. Home was my primary tool for conveying that truth to them. For Nathan, I wanted it to be a place where he could breathe out the pressure to perform, to conform, to always be ‘good’ when what was defined as good was almost impossible for him, as God made him, to conform to” (141).
Isn’t that what God does for us? He makes us a haven where we can just breathe and be the person He made us. The world has this idea of how I should act, but God knows me best. He has this unconditional love for me that I can just fall back on. The falling back part is difficult, I know. It’s difficult to become different from the world, even from family members who know me well, but being different from the way I am made is even more difficult, almost impossible.
IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder–everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouch’d by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.
–by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
I’ve been missing the gentleness of life lately. When is the last time I had a really gentle thought? When have the conversations in our house been quiet and peaceful, completely lacking in sarcasm or discontent? Why don’t I have these moments of calm, holy times quiet as a Nun, when the gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea? We went to a small beach today, just to do something different. The girls enjoyed playing in the sand, but I was uptight because one of them waded too far and got water in her rain boots, and my son laid around on the merry-go-round, clearly not enjoying himself.
If the second part of the poem is correct (and I don’t think the theology is quite right), then my lack of feeling gentle does not mean God’s gentleness is far from me. It seems as if I constantly have to be reminded that God doesn’t leave me alone. He’s there, even when I don’t think He is. Well, then. I go through these ungentle stages of life. But the higher reality is always there, always gentle, always brooding o’er my present time.
It is Wiseblood Books’ fourth anniversary. This small Christian press published my book of short stories, A Flower in the Heart of the Painting. The editor, Joshua Hren, wrote a nice article on Wiseblood Books Weblog. Here is an interesting bit:
And yet Flannery O’Connor, in spite of her crutches, gave us legs to stand on. She gave us, in spite of her bad eyesight, a vision. She raised some crucial problems: in literary works written in a world that lives as though God is dead, do we need to shout so that the deaf can hear, draw large and startling figures so that the blind can see? Does not grace feel like violence, sometimes, and is not fiction particularly capable of dramatizing the awful conversions that can come of such disruption? Certain things have changed a great deal since O’Connor’s time. And yet things have largely stayed the same. When we try to say “God” in contemporary fiction, should we fake a sneeze at the same time? Lest it actually sound as though we were narrating some of the eternal questions of religion—of the nature of grace acting upon human life, of the problem of suffering, of the sacramental dimensions of nature, of conversion—even here in the Year of Our Lord 2017.
I really don’t like Flannery O’Connor’s writing much, but I don’t like to admit it because she is Christian and writer at the same time. Plus famous! And not sappy romantic. I like what Dr. Hren has to say about her work… do her figures have to be startling so the people in this world, with their eyes covered up to all mention of Christianity, are forced to see Christian truth? Maybe so. Sadly so. And I hope it’s not always so. I hope mainstream fiction can embrace thoughtful Christian truth in a more subtle way without being pushed aside as “too preachy” or “old-fashioned.” Until then, there’s Wiseblood Books. Perhaps it’s not mainstream, but it is an outlet for Christian literature.
This weblog article makes it sound as if Wiseblood Books publishes all Catholic literature. I just wanted to add that my book adopts my Protestant worldview, as does the book of short stories by Robert Vander Lugt, also published by Wiseblood.
When I was young in the mountains, we sat on the porch swing in the evenings, and Grandfather sharpened my pencils with his pocketknife. Grandmother sometimes shelled beans and sometimes braided my hair. The dogs lay around us, and the stars sparkled in the sky.
— from When I Was Young In The Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Diane Goode (1982)
This beautiful picture book is very calming with its rhythmical repetition, its mellow pictures, and its description of a simple, old-fashioned mountain life. The theme of contentment builds through the pages, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book about contentment before.* It’s refreshing and thought-provoking at the same time.
My youngest daughter and I read this book as part of our Five In A Row curriculum this week. We made a graph, counting different things in the illustrations. We talked about contentment, but my little talk seemed completely insignificant. The book speaks for itself. We looked at pictures of the Appalachian Mountains, and that was lovely. Did you know there are Green Mountains and White Mountains? We ran across a picture of a Mohican longhouse, and that was interesting. We also talked about food and good nutrition, making a placemat to remind my snacky daughter that vegetables and fruit are important, too. My daughter enjoyed the picture of Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, who looked alike. She’d cover up the bun in Mrs. Crawford’s hair and say, “Now she’s Mr. Crawford.” Such lovely, happy people in this book.
*I’ve just now thought of another book about contentment: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. But that was a bull. It’s easier for a bull to be content than a person.
Beautiful prose by Geraldine Brooks:
Whatever joy there might have been in the summer that followed Caleb’s coming to us, it ended on a day so sweet and still that I moved through it as if floating in a bath of honey. It had rained hard the night before; that kind of heavy, sharp-scented summer rain that lays the dust and washes the pollen from the air, leaving everything rinsed and bright. The fragrance of ripeness and bloom grew more pungent as the morning waxed fair. The harbor sparkled, and when the lightest of breezes rippled through the sea grass, each blade shimmered like a filament of beaten silver.
On a day so Godsent, your mind is untroubled, the entire world seems well. You gird for tragedy on a different sort of day.
— from Caleb’s Crossing (2011)
I am reading two good novels right now, and they are slow readers. Something about the language slows me down. Not to mention I’ve been busier lately, preparing for birthdays and school routines and an upcoming season of homeschool co-op.
My downstairs book is Remembering by Wendell Berry (1988). The main character is a farmer who is also a husband, father, and speaker at farm conventions. He is trying to adjust to a hook on his right arm where some farm machinery removed his hand. He leaves behind an almost ruined marriage as he goes to San Francisco for a convention where his bitterness embarrasses him in front of the audience. If I were my husband, and I was still a writer and still part me, this might be the book I wrote. Hurray for Wendell Berry and his down-to-earth farming sense combined with excellent descriptive prose and a sound insight into the human farmer condition.
My upstairs book is Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (2012). It took me awhile to understand who this book was really about, but now that I’m more than half-way through, I am delighted with the story. It’s about the daughter of Calvinist minister, Rev. Mayfield, who converts many Wampanoag Indian to Christianity. It is also about the first Native American man to graduate from Harvard University. Puritan stories are always interesting to me because I am raised in the Calvinist tradition as well. And it’s Geraldine Brooks writing the story, which means the characters are deep and rich, very sympathetic. I might write more about this book when I’m finished with it.
I am so thankful for good literature.