January 25, 2013

This United Church of Ours - Ralph Milton

More catch-up happening here!  This was (not surprisingly) the next instalment in the required reading for the Lay Worship Leader course that I am currently taking (2/3 of the way through - I can't believe that we are on the home stretch already!).

This book is a very practical introduction to the United Church of Canada - from governance to theology to practical day-to-day stuff like what worship services might look like.

My honest thoughts?  I wish that someone had given me this book to read 13 years ago when I was new to both church in general and The United Church of Canada specifically.  Or maybe 5 years ago when I started becoming involved with the committees and official board of my church.  At this point, I didn't find that there was anything new for me to learn from this book.

It was an easy read, and if nothing else, it affirmed to me why I choose to be a member of The United Church of Canada.  I am here by choice, not because I was raised here or told to be here.  I love The United Church of Canada, despite (and sometimes because of) it's faults.  We may not do some things well (e.g. sharing our faith), but there is lots that we do do well (e.g. being accepting of and welcoming towards everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from, as well as all of the social justice stuff).

And so that was this book.  If you are curious to learn more about The United Church of Canada I would highly recommend it.  I would also recommend the blog of the current Moderator (national leader) of the United Church, Gary Paterson.  You can find it by clicking here.  He writes very well and provides insight into some of the behind-the-scenes stuff at the national church level, as well as his own experiences traveling the country (leaving family and friends behind) to represent the church.

January 22, 2013

Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols - Madeleine L'Engle

Since I last posted on here, I have had a somewhat last-minute move across the province (this is two cross-province moves in a row that I have made in January - next time I will move in a month that does not involve snow and frigid temperatures!) with some stress involved.  But one of my friends commented that she was sure that I was continuing to read books through the move to review on my blog here, and she was right!  I am a few books behind in reviewing, but let me start with the one that I finished this evening, as it is freshest in my mind.

I love Madeleine L'Engle's books.  I loved her Wrinkle in Time books when I was young (the original trilogy), and have continued to re-read the full expanded series through high school and as an adult.  I have also read some of her non-fiction, which I have found to be equally enjoyable.

This book falls into the non-fiction category.  It was written as she traveled to Antarctica after recovering from a severe car accident that almost took her life.  The basic premise is that an icon is any item that opens our eyes so that we can see God better; and yet if begin valuing it as an item rather than for it's power as a window to God, then it becomes an idol.  Each chapter deals with items or ideas that can be either icons or idols.  (How's that for an alliterative sentence?!).  Expectations, Family Values, Bodies, Stars, Words, The Bible - all of these and more have a chapter dedicated to them.

Each chapter reads almost as stream of consciousness, with one idea leading to the next leading to the next, but eventually relating back to the theme of the chapter.  I loved it for the window into the author's mind that it gave me.  I also think that reading books like this give me a much deeper understanding of how Madeleine L'Engle's theology impact in her fiction.

And in general, I agree with the themes that she emphasizes through the book.  If it isn't love or loving, than it isn't God.  God is mystery - if we can understand God, than it isn't God.  She writes that the penguins in Antarctica, in their vulnerability, became icons for her; and very good icons since it is difficult to turn a penguin into an idol.

If you like Madeleine L'Engles other writing, I strongly suggest that you add this book to your To Be Read stack!

And finally, let me end with a prayer that she ends the chapter on Stars with:

"Maker of the stars, maker of me, I do not understand, but I love you for your love of us, for all of us, for every sparrow, every galaxy, every gnat, every drop of water and all that is within it, universes within universes, and all made by you, with love.

Amen.  So be it.

January 2, 2013

The Imposter Bride - Nancy Richler

As promised, I am catching up on my reviews for books I finished in December!

This was the second of the Giller shortlist that I picked up to read (on the recommendation of a good friend!).  The basic story is of a young Jewish girl from Poland who survives the second world war by stealing identity papers from a girl, Lily Azerov, who had died.  She uses these papers to travel to Palestine (Israel wasn't yet a country).  Her "family" there (who recognize that she isn't who she says she is) help her to arrange a marriage with a man in Montreal.  She travels there, is rejected by her potential groom, and she later marries his brother.  They have a daughter, and when the daughter, Ruth, is a few months old, "Lily" abandons her family.

What made this story stand out to me wasn't so much the plot, but the structure.  There were different threads of plot that were woven together like a blanket.  The story of "Lily" making her way to Canada; the story of the young bride and her young family; the story of Ruth growing up mother-less.  The amazing thing is that even without the hints that some authors like to give at the beginning of chapters, I always knew where I was, as well as who was telling the story, and when.  Beautifully structured!

This structure lead to a gentle and intriguing unfolding of the story.  What happened to the real Lily Azerov?  How did the imposter Lily get ahold of the real Lily's papers?  Why did "Lily" leave her family?  What happened to "Lily" after she left?  Will Ruth and Lily meet up again?  These are the questions that are slowly unravelled that kept me reading.  I found this to be a hard-to-put-down book while I was reading it.

And yet it didn't quite grab me to make a lasting impression.  Three weeks after finishing it, not much of the book, other than the basic plot and structure, has stayed with me.  Not the language, not the writing, not the characters.  It was an enjoyable read, but I suspect that it isn't one that I will go back to in the future.

One thing that I've been thinking about recently, given the past few books I've finished (this book, along with Mornings in Jenin), is the situation in Palestine / Israel.  One theme shared by the two books is the world-wide guilt following the Second World War and the treatment of Jewish people not only in Europe but around the world.  This collective guilt led to the support for the formation of the country of Israel in 1948, and even today leads to things like the recent handful of votes at the United Nations (including from my country - I was ashamed to be Canadian that day) attempting to deny Palestine "observer-status" at the UN.

One final thought on this book, and that is the spelling of "imposter" in this title.  I didn't even think about it until I was typing up this post and my computer spell check keeps highlighting that word as mis-spelt.  I looked it up, and apparently both "imposter" and "impostor" are equally acceptable, with "impostor" being slightly preferred.  I wonder why the author chose to spell it "imposter" in the title?

January 1, 2013

Favourite Books of 2012

Even though I'm a few books behind in terms of reviewing, I'm going to keep with tradition and come up with a list of my favourite reads of 2012.  Same rules as usual - it doesn't matter when the book was written, but I have to have read it for the first time in 2012.  Any genre counts.  And this is a purely subjective list!  So here goes, with links to my reviews...

1.  Say to this Mountain (Ched Myers) - this was one of my elective books for the Lay Worship Leader course that I am taking, but had a very profound impact on me.  I've found myself turning back to it on a regular basis since I read it back in March.

2.  Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain) - as an introvert myself, this book gave me a new lens through which to view the world around me.

3. 419 (Will Ferguson) - my favourite fiction read of the year, and deserving (in my opinion) of the Giller Prize that it won.

4.  Still Alice (Lisa Genova) - cliché, I know, but I enjoyed this book and keep on recommending it to people I meet.

5.  Mornings in Jenin (Susan Abulhala) - a beautiful, heartbreaking book that again changed my perspective on the world - in this case, the situation in Palestine and Israel.

6.  Little Bee (Chris Cleave) - another cliché, but a book that manages to be funny and heartbreaking at the same time.

7.  In One Person (John Irving) - people either love John Irving's books or hate them.  I happen to be in the faction that loves them.  So of course, his latest is going to be on my list.

8.  Adventures in Solitude (Grant Lawrence) - a memoir about growing up on the west coast.  Solitude vs. loneliness.  I am a big fan of solitude.

9.  Death Comes to Pemberley (P. D. James) - one part Jane Austen, one part P. D. James - who wouldn't love this book!

10.  Arranged (Catherine McKenzie) - I discovered this author this year and read two of her books - I'm not usually a fan of "chick-lit", but books like these keep me coming back to the genre to give it another try.

A few notes:

  • I struggled a bit to come up with this list.  My 2012 reading was filled a lot with reading for the course, interspersed with fluffy books to give my brain a break.  But I still managed to read some gems this year!
  • I think that this is the first year that a non-fiction book has placed in the #1 position on my list.  And in the #2 spot.  I have been doing more non-fiction reading this year than usual (given the course), though with only 3 out of my top 10 being non-fiction, I don't think that they were proportionally represented here.
I finished up 2 books in the past few weeks and still have to get some reviews posted - maybe later this week.  Plus I did go on a boxing-week book-buying spree, so have a fresh stack of books on my TBR stack!

Happy New Year to everyone, and may your 2013 be filled with lots of time for good books!