Lit She Loves, Rachel Libick: The Hawk and The Dove

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Rachel Libick, an author you’re going to want to watch for.

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hawkanddoveOkay, this book is amazing. It’s a bunch of short stories about a 15 year-old girl and a bunch of monks in a monastery.

What? That didn’t immediately scream, “READ ME!”? Not to worry, you’re not alone. I run into this problem every time I try to recommend THE HAWK AND THE DOVE, by Penelope Wilcock – which is often. In fact, as I write this, I am having to google quotes because my copy is with a friend.

The trilogy starts with Melissa, a woman remembering her 15th year and that dawning awareness that most of us experience around that age that life and the world is so much bigger and stranger than we realized. As she says in the first chapter: “I was just beginning to ask questions, to search for a way of looking at things that would make sense. The easy gaiety and simple sorrows of childhood had been swallowed up and lost in a hungry emptiness, a search for meaning that nothing seemed to satisfy.”

Each chapter is a little slice of her life, and a story told her by her mother. The stories Mother tells are of a monastery, stories that have been passed down through the generations of her family. They are stories of lives lived in service to God, and still confounded by temptation, irritation, and expectations that simply don’t match reality, despite being in a cloistered medieval monastery. Father Peregrine, the abbot, is a man full of intellect and skill who is attacked, beaten, and must learn in middle age how to live out a different kind of humility and love as he finds himself disabled and reliant on the brothers under his leadership. The monks and their struggles are intensely human, but offer transcendental glimpses of the divine.

I found this book when I was about 12, and starting to experience the questions Melissa was asking. I was an adopted kid, and a pastor’s kid. I grew up immersed in the Bible and church, and had a double helping of “always put your best face forward” instilled in me from an early age. It was a breath of fresh air to know that it was okay to question, to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and wonder why people who taught me to love Jesus and be kind weren’t living up to what they taught. The book not only told me it was okay to feel this way, but that, paradoxically, the answers to the questions were in reality to come to a deeper understanding of what I’d known since my nursery days – that truly submitting to God is not always easy or comfortable, but doing so frees you to become more completely yourself.

There are two books set up in this short story format, and the final book is set exclusively in the monastery. It tackles lingering illness and how to continue to pour love into a person who is being taken from you. I read that book in one night while visiting my grandmother who was dying of cancer. I think I cried more during that night than I did at her funeral, but the next morning I could look her in the eye and smile in joy at the time we had together instead of bracing for what was to come.

These stories are gentle, funny, and honest. They point continually to our humanity, and to God’s divinity. They are like sipping hot tea– tiny doses of warm encouragement for the abrasions of daily life.

I leave you with one last quote – the one that encapsulates the heart of the series. Melissa is talking about a teacher who gave her a poor grade because she wrote an essay about God. “I know now what that poor, starved woman could not have known, that not only my essay, but the whole of life is a love story, about a tender and passionate God.”

Author Bio: Rachel Libick is a supervising clinician at a clinic for learning disabilities, and dabbles with words on the side. She lives in Olathe, KS with her husband and enjoys travel, cooking, and all things nerdy. Her current blog is www.thereluctantprogressive.wordpress.com

I would love to have other guest authors share about the literature that inspires them. If you’d be willing to be a guest author on Lit I Love, please let me know and I’ll get you on the schedule.

Lit I Love, Title 16: The Color Purple

I apologize for the lengthy nature of this post, but bear with me, I think it’ll be worth it. 

Regardless of which side of the political lines you find yourself on, these are uncertain times. It extends farther than just the boundaries of the United States, North America, and the oceans. These uncertain times are global. Even if the uncertainty isn’t political, Earth is itself uncertain, rocking the coasts of New Zealand and Japan with earthquakes and the threat of consuming waves. As humans, we really don’t do well with uncertainty.

Many of us feel drawn to crawl under a thick duvet and hide there until our footing is more solid. Some want to run screaming into the unknown with tight fists in balls, ready to bash whatever demons they encounter. Then there are those of us who know that our beds won’t protect us any better than our balled-up fists and we try to figure out what can be done. It is human. It is not new.

I’m in that last group. While part of me is lulled into the comfort of soft sheets and oblivion, the bigger part of me needs to know what’s expected of me, and what I can do.

My first step is always reading. I read everything I can get my hands on. And in this particular moment in time, there is one request I am reading over and over. Listen. Listen. Listen. 

There are plenty of us co-dependent sorts out in the world that have a desperate urge to superhero things up. We want to swoop in and da-da-da!! save the day. There, I made it all better, now we can be happy. Yay! Certainty. Alas, that plan leaves out all kinds of reality and at the very least, it’s not what’s needed.

What’s needed is our ears. We have to listen to the stories of those who are in front of us hurting. We have to listen to the stories of their ancestors. We have to listen to the parts of the stories that overlap with our own, the parts where we aren’t always the good guys. It is crucial.

Author David Augsberger says, ““Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

tcp2coverAnd now, more to the point of this blog, THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker, is one of the first books I ever read that really exposed me to the lives I knew nothing about. I first read this in high school, but have read it several times since (which is rare for me). It exposed me to the personal history of a black woman growing up in slavery, a survivor of rape, a woman living in an abusive household, and of a woman with a sexuality more fluid than my own. These narratives will never be mine, but thanks to Ms. Alice Walker, I have a much greater understanding of women who have lived these stories.

This is the power of story. Sharing non-fiction in a compelling way is vitally important, but fiction has a power like none other. In it, we can name names, we can expose all the ugliness that lurks in the dark, and we can show how in spite of the battering, humanity doesn’t just survive, but it can thrive. It shows that no one is confined to live under the weight of prejudice or abuse, but instead they are free to become who they were meant to be. If that doesn’t inspire hope in you, you might need to check your pulse.

This story of Celie, Nettie, Sofia, and Shug, inspires me. They each find a way to stand on their own feet as women and say to the darkness, “you don’t scare me!” They each find a way to wriggle out from under the oppressive forces and bloom. Nothing that bound them defines them. They are shaped by it, but not defined by it.

We can’t support our living sisters and brothers if we don’t know their stories. We have to listen to them, we have to read their cultural histories, and we have to find fiction that can help us fill in the rest of the story. Only then can we even start to grasp where help and support should begin.

This should make those  of you who are still bunkered-down under your covers happy. Pull your e-reader under the sheets with you and read. Read everything you can find on people who are living in the margins: people of color, people who have disabilties, the LGBTQIA community, and those of other faiths. Then start conversations over cups of coffee with people that are different from you with the sole intention of just listening to their story. Maybe you’ll discover where your gifts and skills can fill a need, but know that just listening and trying to understand is a way of extending love.

I apologize for the break from my standard form here, but breaks are good sometimes. To Ms. Alice Walker, I thank you for being a teacher for me. I thank you for helping me better understand others. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world. I believe we, your readers, are all better humans for it.

What books have helped you step into the life of another to better understand them? What have you read recently that has helped you gain some perspective on the world? 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Lit I Love, Title 15: Flight Behavior

fbcover-bkIf I said Kingsolver could write a cookbook and I’d read it, would you believe me? (She almost did with ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE,  and I did read that.) One of my favorite of all-time authors, Barbara Kingsolver, works her magic again in FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. She takes an ordinary family that is struggling within the boundaries of a failing marriage on a failing farm and pairs it with a failing environment and creates an amazing book.

I will admit to some hesitancy at the start of this book. Due to my own personal history, I was a afraid I was reading a book that would expect me to cheer for a woman leaving her family which would be hard for me to embrace, but I stuck with it, and boy was I glad I did. Dellarobia Turnbow (a fantastic character name) feels herself dying inside and her threatened life mirrors the plight of the Monarch butterflies that visit the part of Appalachia in which she lives. It is a personal, political, and ecological tale worth reading.

One can expect Kingsolver to provide a reader with a sumptuous setting, rich prose, and characters so familiar you’d swear you know them in real life, and she doesn’t skimp in this title. One can also expect Kingsolver to find some real and current issue worth caring about to be at the heart of her stories, and that is present here, too, but, I’d say, it felt a little more front-and-center in this book. It’s not a bad thing and it didn’t take away from the story for me, but it did seem more obvious. Other reviews state that it was too present for them.

In this book, the thing that really spoke loudest to me was the relationships between the characters. It smacked of honesty. It felt real and human, and in the end, hopeful, which is how I want to feel at the end of a hard story. However, the ending is one that is left up to the interpretation of the reader. It wasn’t my favorite ending because it’s not clear whether the reader should take it literally or figuratively, but that’s as much as I’ll say about it since I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t read it.

Kingsolver reminds me, as a writer, to strive to make hope attainable, and if it’s not possible to put it within a reader’s grasp, then it should at least be put it within a reader’s line of sight. Go ahead and tell the hard story, but remind the reader that the story doesn’t end there. Hope resurrected, hope for life in a new way.

Have you read FLIGHT BEHAVIOR? How do you feel about reading explicit ecological themes? Do you feel like Kingsolver went too far with this one? Did you feel hopeful at the end of this story? Is a glimmer of hope at the end of a story good enough for you?

Thanks for reading!

Lit I Love, Fresh Ink: The Perfect Son

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tps-bcwA few months ago, a challenge was put forth to a writing group in which I participate. The challenge was to read more books in the same genre in which we write. I am a Women’s Fiction writer, so I started compiling a list to read. (You can find a growing list here on my Goodreads’ profile.) I’m almost 10 books into the list since the challenge, and I am both excited by what’s available and also humbled enough about my own work to make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be, because the competition is fierce.

The first book I read in this genre was THE PERFECT SON by Barbara Claypole White. This is a story about a woman, Ella Fitzwilliam, who is the hub of her family. The other members are orbiting planets and she is the sun. In this story, the sun loses its power to hold her planets in place and they have to reorient or be cast into the splintered, dark abyss of a broken family’s space. The disorientation of this known and predictable system is complicated by the fact that the son in the story, Harry, has Tourette Syndrome, which is inherently erratic and uncontainable. It disrupts the father’s, Felix Fitzwilliam, desire for order and perfection. The story follows this unlikely reorientation for worse and for better.

Barbara Claypole White has a gift for communicating the humanity of her characters, and they felt so real to me that at one point I shouted out loud at Felix, and throughout the story, I felt a need to protect Harry and Ella. I was squarely stuck in this story and that is an unusual place for me as a reader. Normally I know I’m a bystander. So, hats off to you, Barbara.

THE PERFECT SON is a great example of how a person can be in a state of constant redemption, never fully who we’re meant to be, and yet, a state so much better from where we began. That feels sincere to the human condition, to me. I hope I can emulate that in my own work.

Have you read THE PERFECT SON? What books have you read that stayed true to the human experience? Have you read titles that show what it’s like to live with disorders or mental illness that rang true to you? 

Thanks for reading!

Lit I Love, Title 14: To Kill a Mockingbird

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I didn’t know I would love TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. Early on, I was forced (assigned reading) to read the book, and it didn’t stick. The story didn’t stay with me. It was okay, but at that point, I was just reading it to write a book report. I had to want to read it. I knew it was good and about anti-racism, but at that point in my life, I think I was too self-absorbed and pretty sure I wasn’t racist, so come on, you’re preaching to the choir. Moving on.

It wasn’t until adulthood when I felt compelled to revisit classics both highly lauded in literary circles and that friends held dear. So I picked up this weathered title with it’s sprawling tree on the cover. Its character names so familiar to me, the subject matter, something I thought I knew. But just like it has for so many others, my eyes were opened again. I’m not sure how they manage to fall shut so often, my eyes, but they do, and I am grateful to all the stories that help keep me awake, awake to the injustice in the world that I both need to work to right, and that I unwittingly participate in.

What I didn’t realize was how this story was about so much more than racism. It’s about being a single parent and still doing your best to raise caring, intelligent future-adults. It’s about finding your way in this prescribed world as a female child. It’s about friendship when things get hard. It’s about understanding White privilege (though that is a new term, it’s a very old concept).

By the time I finished this book, I knew it would stay one of my favorites, too. I understood then why a friend of mine would be so moved by it, she’d name a child for its author. I understood why so many “Tom Boy” friends of mine clung to Scout as their emissary, maybe it’s why she’s named Scout- out there forging new ways to be.

I know that when I’m writing I usually have some core idea I’m working around, some kind of fundamental stick in my protagonist’s craw that has to be worked out. I don’t intend for it to be multi-layered,  but sometimes it’s there anyway. I wonder if Harper Lee intended for all these components to be there. I tip my pen to her whether she did or didn’t.

Is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD one of your favorites? If it is, what made it stick for you? Are there books that you’ve read that have opened your eyes to injustices in the world?

Thanks for reading!