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25) 4/1: Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
here). Because I pre-ordered her newest book Inspired, I had the opportunity to also be sent an Advanced Readers Copy of it so I could read it a couple months before it was released. In it, Evans comes back to the Scripture with new eyes, reminding herself why she was drawn to it in the first place, and she falls in love with it again.
In some ways, the format reminds me of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth; both recognize the Bible is written in various styles, and just as you wouldn't approach a book of poetry the same way you'd approach a history text, so you shouldn't read the Psalms the same you'd read the prophets and so on, but Inspired has a less clinical feel.
Rachel Held Evans has a small vignette before each chapter to bring light to the upcoming section. Perhaps it's a short story, a play, a poem, even a choose-your-own adventure piece.
Some chapters, like her section "Resistance Stories," feel especially relevant and timely. In the "War Stories" chapter, Rachel Held Evans reminds us it is good to wrestle with passages we can't make sense of, like widespread slaughter of people groups in the Old Testament:
"Brene Brown warns us we can't selectively numb our emotions, and no doubt this applies to the emotions we have about our faith. If the slaughter of Canaanite children elicits only a shrug, then why not the slaughter of Pequots? Of Syrians? Of Jews? If we train ourselves not to ask hard questions about the Bible, and to emotionally distance ourselves from any potential conflicts or doubts, then where will we find the courage to challenge interpretations that justify injustice? How will we know when we've got it wrong?" (pages 68-69)I appreciated this book, following RHE's journey and watching her create and learn, finding herself retreating back into the Bible and being reminded of what she loves about it.
26) 4/2: Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist
Each chapter offers a recipe (I listened to the audiobook, read by Shauna, and in those cases, there is a link to download the recipes instead of having to copy them down). Some recipes are more complex than others, and I enjoyed how she shared the role each of the meals played in her life. Moments of joy and grief are naturally covered. After all, I think of when my brother and first child died, how we were gifted meals upon meals, a welcome relief when we could barely form thoughts together, let alone cook a nourishing meal. And I think of when we welcomed two other daughters home, and in those joyful, sleep-deprived times, we were blessed with meals yet again. Food connects us, and this book discusses how that is a sacred thing.
27) 4/5: The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
These 600-plus pages make up only the first of three volumes. This copy is found just often enough at used book sales, but I've never come across the other books in the wild, new or used. My husband was kind enough to locate them online and gifted them to me, so I'm hoping to work through those volumes in the next year or so. A word of warning: one member of the book club switched to an abridged edition when it became clear she couldn't finish in time. However, as the discussion went on, she realized she got the overall picture but missed the specific stories that brought life to it and helped the other two of us appreciate it. So if you're intrigued, pick up the unabridged book(s), not the abridged copy.
Solzhenitsyn has compiled comprehensive information to inform us about how Russians were arrested and imprisoned with no cause in the years 1918-1956. The torture they endured, the interrogations, the monotony of daily life once they arrived in a cell -- much is covered in this volume. Solzhenitsyn wrote this in secret, and I'm in awe of his capacity to remember details, names, circumstances.
His insights are powerful; one section compares and contrasts Germany and Russia after World War II. Germany publicly prosecuted 86,000 war criminals, whereas Russia only put 10 on trial (given their populations, that number should have been closer to 250,000). Solzhenitsyn suggests that, when Russians hesitated to draw all of that evil into the light, wanting to ignore it and let sleeping dogs lie, they were teaching their youth that evil is not punished and, instead, is financially lucrative. Whereas Germany publicly condemned their sins, vowing to learn from them ("Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes", page 177). I mentioned this on a couple different occasions with a friend who grew up in Berlin, and she confirms that, when they discuss history, there is absolutely no sugarcoating Hitler's actions.
"We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to repress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neighter punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations. It is for this reason, and not because of the "weakness of indoctrinational work," that they are growing up "indifferent." Young people are acquiring the conviction that foul deeds are never punished on earth, that they always bring prosperity.
It is going to be uncomfortable, horrible, to live in such a country!" pages (177-178)
His book is heavy and hard to read at times because of the subject matter, but he does have a sarcastic style that comes through that could bring a smile to my face in the darkest passages. And I found myself drawn to such beautiful, poignant insights:
"The sixteen-hour days in our cell were short on outward events, but they were so interesting that I, for example, now find a mere sixteen minutes' wait for a trolley bus much more boring. There were no events worthy of attention, and yet by evening I would sigh because once more there had not been enough time, once more the day had flown. The events were trivial, but for the first time in my life I learned to look at them through a magnifying glass." (202)
This is an important read and I'm hoping to start the second volume in the coming weeks. It feels so relevant to read and process and discuss.
28) 4/7: How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #9) by Louise Penny
I enjoy all of Louise Penny's novels, but this is tied as a favorite; I've learned I have a special place for the volumes where she has intricately woven several storylines. This one plays out spectacularly. We know Gamache's actions are being analyzed and as several cases converge, the tension heightens as we see what's at stake in the bigger picture.
29) 4/9: In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
I appreciate the portraits we get of the various members -- they are well-rounded instead of being visions of holy, unattainable, perfect nuns. Each is shown with foibles and weaknesses, but we witness them working to love each other through their failings as they struggle to live faithfully in their cloistered home.
There's humor and vulnerability throughout. I loved the truth inherent in the following exchange:
‘Weren’t you surprised that God should have chosen you?’ a young woman reporter, writing a piece on vocations, had asked her. ‘Yes,’ Dame Perpetua had answered, ‘but not nearly as surprised as that He should have chosen some of the others – but then God’s not as fastidious as we are,’ said Dame Perpetua.
30) 4/10: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
I was still a little behind my daughter's progress, but wait until next month when I jump ahead!
31) 4/14: The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #10) by Louise Penny
This ended on what felt like a necessary conclusion, even if it's disappointing and devastating in a way.
32) 4/18: The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #11) by Louise Penny
One note: I adored Ralph Cosham as a narrator, but he passed away between books ten and eleven. I was a little jolted when I began listening to the gentleman chosen as a replacement, but by the end of the book, while he's different, I could appreciate him as a skilled narrator. It took some adjustment, but in this and later titles, I can admire his skill while also mourning the loss of the artistry that Ralph Cosham brought to the text.
33) 4/20: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I enjoy epistolary books, but this one is extra delightful given that these are actual letters exchanged. It's a beautiful picture of friendships forming from an initial love of literature. As time goes on, Helene gets involved in their difficulties by sending food parcels to them, and it blossoms from there. It's a short read/listen, well worth encountering.
34) 4/23: A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #12) by Louise Penny
Gamache fires some faculty and hires others, one of which is a gamble, given his history. Gamache even selects the incoming cadet class, and one particular student he takes under his wing. Amelia Choquet doesn't seem as if she will finish and she's rough around the edges, but Gamache knows her back story and chose her in an attempt to stop the cycle of hopelessness and grief.
When a professor is killed, Gamache finds himself investigating again, and a copy of a map leads him and some students back to Three Pines to investigate.
35) 4/26: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
It's not a short read/listen; the audiobook clicks in at nearly 27 hours (although about 30 minutes of that is a conversation with the author). There's a lot of buildup, but the final hour or two are riveting. Irving admitted in the concluding interview that he started with a premise of what would it take for an atheist to believe in a higher power, and he wrote that story. The Vietnam War feels like a character, although we are hearing about it years in the future. It's a tribute to friendship and to family.
Small sidenote: when I was younger, I saw the movie Simon Birch, which is loosely based on this book (I can recall the circumstances of watching it -- at the annual cabin campout through our 4H club -- but the movie was forgettable). I decided to watch it again after concluding the book, but I was highly disappointed in the alterations they made, even as I understood why. The book's closing is so powerful that it's hard to settle for the diluted retelling.
36) 4/30: Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #13) by Louise Penny
A mysterious masked and hooded figure appears in Three Pines, standing ominously in the square, refusing to speak or leave. When the figure is later found murdered, the investigation is muddled and we switch between the trial and the events leading up to the discovery of the body and the time afterwards to see what could have been changed.
Louise Penny is not afraid to try new formats for her Gamache books, which is one reason I keep coming back. I heard an interview with her where she admitted that she doesn't want to get bored writing formulaic mysteries, so she keeps playing around until she finds something that captures her interest. This isn't a favorite of mine, but it was still an enjoyable listen