Monday, September 9, 2013

the robe: review

It wouldn't normally occur to me to pull this book off a shelf, and I would have missed out greatly if it hadn't been loaned to me. I don't read 'Christian fiction,' but the review SugarMama provided when she offered me the book made me take the chance. 

Calling this book 'Christian fiction' is like calling Mahalia Jackson 'Contemporary Christian Music' - unfair, dismissive and misleading. The Robe is a classic written in 1942 by Lloyd C. Douglas. Taking a historical approach, it tells the story of the Roman tribune who gambled for, and won, Jesus' robe at the crucifixion. It follows the impact of that event on the tribune, and traces the roots of the young Christian religion. It's a finely wrought and moving personal story of duty, love, struggle, and wonder. 

I don't know how different my reading of the book would have been if I wasn't a Christian with a whole lot of familiarity with the gospels and the new testament record of the early church. I cheered when Simon Peter entered the story and sighed when Stephanos was introduced, knowing how his story arc would end. However, no matter what I am reading I always try to read like a writer - with attention to plot, structure, pacing, language, character, etc. The Robe has all of those things and also offers, as the writer of the preface states, a sense of the 'mystery and wonder' of Christ. 

Without that 'mystery and wonder,' the story is still powerful on many levels. The character development of the main players - tribune Marcellus Gallio, his love interest Diana, and his Greek slave Demitrius - is moving and appropriate for both their youth and their relative stations in life. Character growth is so often forced into a story or completely missing - it was refreshing to have it handled skillfully. Marcellus' skepticism is especially finely handled. A Roman Tribune is a man of reason and evidence; he's the perfect person to investigate the stories of Jesus. 

The story moves smoothly between Rome, Athens, Damascus and Jerusalem. The historical detail - from quivering, aged, senile Tiberius and rabid Caligula to the information on how a robe was woven differently in Galilee than in Jerusalem elevated the book far beyond a simple story. The language is rich - it's not often I find myself reaching for my dictionary while I'm reading, and this book had me doing so repeatedly. 

This is the point where I normally say whether I'd recommend a book or not; I absolutely do recommend The Robe, but I do so with an awareness that where you stand in relation to Jesus will, I assume, greatly influence your reading of this book. I'd love to know if any of my atheist/agnostic friends have read it and what they think. As I've said, it's a well written book - rich, engaging, and a page turner. I think everyone can enjoy it from whatever perspective they approach it. 

And yes, The Robe was made into an epic movie in 1953 in the style of The Ten Commandments and Moses. It stars Richard Burton in the part of Marcellus, and I'm pretty sure it'll be worth watching. A little cheesy and over-the-top, no doubt, but interesting. 

Amazon Associate Link

Friday, September 6, 2013

let's explore diabetes with owls: a book club review

There's long list of words and phrases that we, culturally, grossly over-use. To me, the three most egregious are love, literally, and 'laugh out loud funny.' And then I read David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls and it was, literally, laugh out loud funny, and I loved every page of it. 

Funny aside - when this book showed up on our book club reading list, I raved to my fellow clubbers about David Sedaris, and told this great story about another book of his I'd read and how I'd laughed out loud just reading the publication page. Only it turned out, once I picked up Owls and read what other books Sedaris has written, that the author I was referring to was David Eggers

I don't normally read essays, or even very many short stories. I am mostly a novels reader. But that is one of the reasons I joined a book club - to broaden the scope of what I read. Also for the wine, food and great company, but in terms of it being a book club as opposed to some other kind of club - I really wanted to be introduced to books I wouldn't normally read. Anything subtitled "essays, etc" would definitely have fallen into that category if this book hadn't been our selection this month, and I would truly have been missing out. 

Some of Sedaris' essays are at least loosely autobiographical and moderately non-fiction. Some of them are outlandish character sketches. All of them are revelatory and heart-warming. In even the most bizarre, triggering episodes that allude to attempted rape or edge on to what we now consider child abuse have a tender charm that brings us back to a world where love and gratitude and appreciation cover a multitude of sins. 

In fact, one of the things I like best about this collection of 'essays, etc' is how well edited it is to fulfill on that promised final pay off. Although the stories jump around in time and space - 1970's Raleigh North Carolina, to 2008 West Sussex, England, with stops in China, Chicago, New York, Japan, Australia - the constant theme of connectedness carries through. Sedaris may try to pass himself off as a heartless disengaged teenager when he returns from a school trip to England to find his mother has died, but underneath all the English slang is a longing and sensitivity that left me both laughing until tears ran down my legs, and wishing I could give young David a long hug and a cup of cocoa. 

I loved this book. It was literally laugh out loud funny. And touching, poignant, intelligent, and eye-opening. 

Amazon Associate Link

About the club, not the book:
I arrived at book club an hour late, having made my way straight there from the ferry. What a lovely way to end a long day - delicious salmon, scalloped potatoes, fresh tomato salad, pinot grigio and fabulous conversation. As usual, only 10% of the conversation was actually about the book, but I think we like it that way.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

turning myself inside out

I recently read a blog post, one of many written on the subject in the last while, that made clear for me that for my whole life I’ve misunderstood a core part of who I am. Of the 23 possible signs you may be an introvert listed in the article, I identify with about 20 of them. Because I am not shy, because I am a joiner, because I am not only unafraid of but actually seek out the spotlight – the bigger the audience the better - I’ve always believed I am an extrovert. In fact, I didn’t just believe it, I celebrated it. I took pride in it. I was grateful to be an extrovert, and truly believed (and still do) that extroverts have an advantage in our culture. 

Singing for 900 - no problem.
Talking to the girl singing with me, not so much. 
Inside of that identity, reinforced and heavily outlined until it became almost a caricature, there was a core ‘me’ that never got to be expressed. Oh, that’s not so accurate – she got expressed, but only ever as a reactionary breakdown. After enough denial and stepping over, the neglected introvert in me would come out swinging, alienate people, and force a retreat to whatever sanctuary was available. 

I now recognise that reaction – before getting to the breakdown stage – as something that I refer to as getting ‘peopled out.’ It’s a weird sensation – I can be surrounded by people I love, whose company I enjoy, and just want to run away. I become anxious, and then i become quiet. It seems odd that I got to my fourth decade before I figure this out. I am not an extrovert. I am an introvert with extrovert tendencies. The clues are all there – I’d rather speak or sing to a room of several hundred people than be alone in a room full of strangers with whom I have to make small talk. I can do the latter, but it drains me (put me in front of a crowd, though, and I’ll float home). I hate the phone – those people who prefer contacting me by phone I will move to email as soon as possible. My default setting is to let my written words speak for me – honest, but one step removed. 

Recharging on the Irish coast.
The favourite trip I’ve ever taken was when I traveled solo for two weeks, starting with a week in a cottage on the edge of a seaside village. I love social media, but even there I keep the elemental me protected, and every once in a while I have to shut it down, stay offline for a while, and (as you may have noticed) stop blogging. I am familiar to a fair number of people, and trust few of them to know me. It’s no accident that I’ve had the same best friend for more than 40 years. I adore my sweetheart and my sons, yet as I write this, I am in a happy place – a hotel room by myself, with the city passing by outside my window. It is one of a series of happy places throughout my life that all share the key features of solitude and quiet - the crook of a tree on our farm, the library at my grandparents' house (or really any library), the garden, secluded rock outcroppings along our nearby ocean.
Sometimes playing shy just feels right. 
I suspect that, as with so many human behaviours , the introvert/extrovert tendency is more of a spectrum than a strictly either/or proposition. And, also like so many other elements of life, the secret is likely balance. It’s something that The Man has helped me to recognize – I am better with people when I have time to myself. It’s important for me, with a job that requires putting myself out there, to have at least one day on a weekend where we don’t do anything. During times of higher stress, my response it to need more alone time, not more people around me.

I suppose this is not that earth shattering to most people, but when you’ve spent a few decades thinking you’re some lable, but not being able to integrate your whole self into that idea, it’s pretty liberating to have a new understanding of who you are.
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