Still - Notes On A Mid-Faith Crisis

Still - Notes On A Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner

This is the personal story of Lauren Winner who was raised Jewish and later converted to Christianity, an experience she wrote about in a previous book "Girl Meets God". In the beginning days of her journey with Jesus she felt His presence and talked to Him easily, but life got hard and things began to fall apart. She lost her mother just before she got married, then her marriage failed. Anxiety, grief and guilt took their toll and doubt crept in. She questioned her faith and the very existence of God. This is her journey through that darkness.

It's rare to find an author who can be honest about her personal life while still maintaining discretion. Ms. Winner does it beautifully. She admits to doubts we all have and hide, but in her admission there is tact and grace. There is no wallowing. There must have been some of that in her actual experience but she's a good enough author to leave it out of her book. Her writing is intelligent, honest and clear in a way that has you nodding your head and recognizing yes, you've been there, or maybe are there now.

Her graceful candor is a breath of fresh air to one who has read too many I-have-all-the-answers books. She works her way through this "mid-faith crisis" by putting one foot in front of the other. She keeps breathing, working, living, though much of it seems pointless at times. In her own words "...I continue to live in the world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, and not left alone. I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wonder. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze."

"Still" was not written as a how-to manual for getting through your own periods of doubt, but it is a light for the darkness. Hope is necessary for survival and it is strengthened when we hear of someone else going through a crisis similar to ours and surviving with faith intact. You will find no pat answers here; what you will find is encouragement to carry on, and that is far more valuable.

"Quite a Curiosity"

Quite a Curiosity - The Sea Letters of Grace. F. Ladd Louise Nichols

Grace Forrest was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1864. At the age of twenty-one she married Fred Ladd, captain of a sailing vessel, and traveled with him around the world for most of his sailing career. They raised their young children onboard until they were old enough to be at school full time.

This book is a collection of letters that she wrote to her father from various places around the world. Included are a few that he wrote back and some of her daughter Kathryn's memories. By the time Katheryn was born, steam ships were handling most of the trans-atlantic crossings so her memories are mostly of sailing up and down the Atlantic coast of North and Sound America, making her own experience different from that of her brother, Forrest, who saw the world in his early years.

I can barely imagine what it's like to raise a toddler on a ship but the Ladds seemed to have have no problem with it. They took care of medical emergencies, weathered storms at sea and celebrated Christmas with gifts and festive meals. The pictures of their living quarters are impressive so I know they had some creature comforts, but still, it would take a strong woman to live that life and feel comfortable raising her children on the sea. I have nothing but admiration for this woman.

Grace collected "curiosities" from the places she visited, hence the title. She and her husband made friends of other sailing couples they would meet in various ports and even visit between ships when they were at sea. In port she did the tourist things, shopping and seeing how the natives lived, then writing of her father to tell what they had seen and done.

I was born and raised on the east coast of Canada and lived here all my life but had never heard Grace Ladd's story, so I was thrilled to come across this book. It's a fascinating look at sailing life in what is called "The Golden Age of Sail" and at the personal details of domestic life and child-rearing at sea. A great read, indeed.      

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

The Perks of Being A Wallflower

I’m not sure there are any - perks that is - but it was a good book nevertheless. I didn’t really begin to get into it till about a third of the way through, but the main character, Charlie, intrigued me so I kept going. Really it was a fight to even begin it. It’s a YA novel, a coming-of-age thing so there’s a lot of angst and high school stuff and sexual awakening. The truth is I find that all a bit tedious now - there’s just so much of it in books, on tv and in movies - and I would never have chosen this book for myself, but a couple of friends at book club put it in my hands and said I should read it. I trust them, so I did.

I liked it. I still didn’t enjoy all of that stuff - I think my own high school experience was more than enough for me - but Charlie is a fascinating character. He has no idea what’s wrong with him, but he knows there’s something. He doesn’t react to things the way other people do. He feels things differently. He is detached and sometimes feels that he isn’t there at all. He’s highly intelligent, well mannered and lovable in a quirky, Sheldon Cooper kind of way, but there’s something wrong somewhere. Life doesn’t feel good to him. He’s different in a way he doesn’t understand.

The book is written in letters, all to “Dear Friend” and signed “Love always, Charlie”. He writes letters because he believes them to be more real than a journal. He does share the very personal changes in his life, but the book is written with restraint and is never salacious, in my opinion. Your opinion may differ.

The “Dear Friend” he writes to is someone he chose because another friend (we don’t know who, other than it’s a girl) said he listened and was trustworthy, but he makes it clear that names and details are changed to maintain his anonymity. He doesn’t want the recipient to ever know who was writing to him. We never learn the identity of the “dear friend” but that doesn’t matter because it feels like Charlie is talking to you, the reader, the entire time.  He gets to you, this boy who quietly carries more pain than any child should have to.

It was interesting to learn that the author, Stephen Chbosky, wrote the screenplay for the movie “Rent” and was executive producer of the tv show, Jericho. He obviously knows how to tell a story. This is his first novel.   

"Suite Francaise" and "The Long Way Home"

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Irene Nemirovsky was a successful writer in France when WWII started. She was also Jewish, and was arrested and taken to Auschwicz where she died. The manuscript for this novel went undiscovered until decades later when it was found and published in France in 2004. This translation to English was published in 2007 and it has now been translated and published in countries around the world.

The story of the German invasion of France is told from the points of view of seven different people/families. Corbin is a banker in Paris and his mistress, Arlette, is a dancer. Mr. and Mrs. Michaud work for Corbin and have a son, Jean Marie, who is serving as a soldier in France. Gabriel Corte is a renowned author who is used to having things his way. Charlie Langelet lives in luxury and "loved nothing in this world but his porcelain collection.". Madeline and Cecile Sabarie live in the countryside on a farm where they nurse the Michaud's son back to health after he is injured. The Angellier family live near the Sabarie's farm, in a small town overrun by people fleeing Paris after the invasion.

Each story vividly describes what it was like to be in those particular circumstances when the panic of invasion set in. The detail given to each situation makes the stories come alive so that you come close to understanding some of what they must have been feeling. There are so many little things, daily habits and activities that were turned upside down by the German takeover, things we who have never experienced war have never had to think about. It's a vibrant novel, full of real life and real tragedy, but it never becomes weepy or too sentimental. It's the kind of book you don't want to describe as entertaining because of the subject, but it is a well written, highly readable novel that will disturb your comfort a bit and will hold your attention from start to finish.

The Long Way Home by Robin Pilcher

This book was slightly disappointing. I love Rosamunde Pilcher's novels, but didn't find this one, written by her son, lived up to it's hype.

It is said to be written "in the tradition of his mother" but something is missing. It has all the Britishness that I find so appealing, the house in Scotland, the manners and mannerisms, and the language, but it fell flat. There was no edge, no sparkle, no special something to make it memorable.

It's not that I didn't like it at all, in fact I might read another of his novels sometime when I'm looking for something light and easy to read. It just doesn't have the substance that I like to find in novels and that I usually did find in Rosamunde's.  

"Heaven, Your Real Home"

Heaven, Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada

One of my goals this year is to do more spiritual reading but I didn't want to give up other books to do it, so in January I began reading a bit each morning from one of the books on my "spiritual" shelf. I won't get through these books quickly, but then I don't really want to. I want to absorb what they say and put to use in my life the things I'm learning.

I think I chose this one to start with because I have days when I really don't want to be here anymore and I thought a book about Heaven might give me something to look forward to, Carrying an image of Heaven in my head makes it easier to push my body through one more day of pain and frustration on earth. Not that every day is frustrating. I do have pain every day, but some days I feel better than others and can do a few things without paying too dearly for it. Other days, as anyone with chronic illness will tell you, it's just pushing and pushing some more to get through the day.

This book did help get my mind off the troubles of earthly life and get me thinking more about Heaven. I'm a picky reader and didn't find it terribly well written, but the content did made a difference some days. The author has learned to live with quadriplegia while maintaining a healthy outlook and still contributing to society. She has purpose and hope, though there are times when she'd like to get this life finished and move on to the next. She has bad moments in a positive life. I was getting to where I had good moments in a negative life, and I needed to read this book at this time to get me looking up a bit more.  

"Doris Day - Her Own Story"

Doris Day - Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner

You just never know when you're going to pick up one of "those" books, the ones you don't want to put down and when you have to, you can't wait to pick it up again. These are the books that make reading fun and I have to say I surely didn't expect to find one of those books between these covers.

I love biographies and autobiographies because every individual is endlessly fascinating. No-one's story is what you expect and I love the surprises, even the disappointing ones and there are always a few of those. Doris Day is someone I heard a lot about when I was a child. She was making movies while I was growing up, so I remember her on tv and radio. She had a unique voice, warm and earthy, yet light. If you've never heard her sing, find a recording of Que Sera Sera online and listen to it. She sings quite unlike anyone else. She was endearing as both an actress and a singer, but I knew there had to be more to her than the sweet, smiling girl she always seemed to be. I came across this book online somewhere for just a few dollars and couldn't resist. It's a bit of a mess with a torn cover and yellowed pages and that never makes me eager to read a book, but once I read the first couple of pages, I was hooked.

The book was actually written by A.E. Hotchner, who interviewed her over a period of time, then put the book together from the point of view of Doris telling the story. Hotchner probably deserves the credit for the good writing, but she is one articulate lady as well. It was intelligent, well-paced and absolutely fascinating to read.

As one would expect, Doris Day's life was much more complex than her public image would suggest. A lot of young girls wanted to be her and have what they thought must be the glamorous lifestyle of a famous movie star, but no one would want to face the things she actually suffered in her life. Sure, she knew famous people and she made a lot of money, but the turmoil in her personal life was nothing to covet. She's bounced back from more than most people will ever have to face. Now, at 91 years old, she spends her time working with the Doris Day Animal Foundation raising money for people and organizations who help animals. (At the end of the book she had eleven dogs living with her!)  

I'd give this book pretty high marks. It's easy to read, it's personal and honest and it has lots of photographs showing Doris at every stage of her life. It's just about everything you'd want in a biography.