Tag: book review

Book Review {Lincoln in the Bardo}

I requested Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders from the library merely because it had been mentioned on some podcast a while back. I couldn’t even remember why I had put it on my wish list, but I realized when I opened the book that this was going to be a very different read from anything I had ever read before. To begin with, I had no idea what the “bardo” was and I realized pretty quickly that I better figure that out before I continued. The second thing was the writing style. Reviewers describe Saunder’s writing as a “non-traditional narrative”. It is written as a series of quotes from the 300 plus characters in the book. Daunting and strange as this was, I couldn’t put it down once I started reading. 

The Bardo is a Tibetan Buddhist word describing a place between life and death. It wasn’t until I was nearly at the end of the novel, that I realized that I had been reading this novel about being lost in a place between life and death during the season of Lent.

The essence of this entire story centers around the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie. Willie becomes ill and passes away and Lincoln’s grief is palpable. He is clearly not at peace with anything in his life and the death of his young son wages a war within him much like the war that is beginning to rage up around him between the North and the South.

But Willie does not just pass on to heaven, but ends up in the Bardo with all the other souls that are lost there. Immediately Willie’s frustration with where he is is clearly evident; only he doesn’t know where he is; he thinks he is still living. He sees his father coming to visit his “white house” and yet when he tries to crawl into his father’s lap he merely passes through him. He is distraught, because this man who had so often cradled him and brought him peace and comfort doesn’t even realize he is there.

Willie is not alone in this Bardo, there are some 300 other voices that readers hear from throughout the novel, but none are as intriguing as the trio. This trio has clearly been stuck in the Bardo for longer than they even know. They become distraught over the idea of Willie being stuck in this purgatory and they know that if they do not relieve him of this place there will be no peace. The recognize their previous failure with a young girl and come together in order to prevent the same happening with Willie. For the first time the trio come together and begin to hope for something better than this place. If not for them, at least for this boy who doesn’t deserve to be stuck there.

At first glance, this is a book about death. Even worse it is a story about being stuck in a purgatory – a death but not death. But in retrospect, I think it is a story about life. Just as the season of Lent is in a sense a season of death, ultimately it is a season pointing us back to life. We sit in the darkness of our sin and in that darkness we realize how bright the Light is that is coming.

My pastor is a Hamilton fanatic and his Easter Sunday sermon centered around the quote from a Hamilton song: “Dying is easy. Living is hard.” Sitting there, surrounded by the glory of the resurrection, I immediately thought of this story. 

Death was easy for these souls because they didn’t really have a choice. Willie died because there was no cure for his sickness despite everything the doctors tried. Others died in accidents or from battles.  It was easy for them to stay in the Bardo – this in between place. There was a sense of safety there. What scared all of them most was the passing on to the place of “eternal living.” Periodically people around them would just disappear in this earthquake of leaving and this leaving was completely frightening to them. 

It is the same for us. This world that we live in, it isn’t a Bardo, but it is still an in between place.  As a believer, I know that a new Eden is coming. When I see the brokenness surrounding me, I know deep in my soul that this is not what God meant for this world. We live in a dystopian focused world. We look around and fall into just accepting that this is all there is. It is easy to see the evil and then lose hope in the future, because we think the future is tainted and filled with danger.

Living is hard because we strive for comfort. We are all terrified of pain and suffering. Our culture is filled with a million things to distract us from considering the sorrow that we are surrounded with. Those in the Bardo continued “living” on as they could within the confines of their ghostly shapes. They played tricks on one another, they traveled in and out of people, they were angry and selfish with those that took up residence in their “sick boxes”. 

They did everything they could to distract from their suffering and from those around them. They did everything they could to keep themselves from considering how to move on. 

They did everything they could to prevent Hope.

Regret moves in, keeps us stagnant and blinds us to Hope. So we stay in the place of death. We stay in our own Bardo; a death of dreams, death of what could have been, death of expectations. This death is easier than living. It is the same sort of darkness that Lincoln was stuck in and couldn’t pass through because of the death of Willie. It’s the same darkness that Willie was stuck in and couldn’t pass through until he admitted he was dead.  It is the same sort of darkness and death that those in the Bardo were in. In order to pass on to the next place, they had to look past their fears and accept and say the word of truth – that they were no longer living and in that acceptance they were able to move on. They had to hope.

This is the Gospel. When we admit that there has to be more to life than this broken world we finally come to realize that there is a way for us to have hope. There is someone who is the essence of this Hope. He chose to walk through the darkness, he chose a death and a passing through – but he passed through and rose again. 

Every Sunday our church serves the Lord’s supper and our pastor reminds us that we do have a future and we do have a hope. We take this meal as a group, surrounded by fellow believers. But unlike those stuck in the Bardo refusing to admit they are stuck, we take the bread and the wine recognizing that we have all made a choice to believe. Every time we take that meal, we choose to rattle the world around us and break the idols that we use to protect us from the darkness. 

And instead we choose the Light that breaks through.

Reading: July 2018

Currently

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy by J. Birdsall
This is our latest read aloud, which in the summer has been time spent few and far between. I’m anxious to get back into our not summer family rhythm so we can get back to reading aloud more. This comes highly recommended by many friends and so far, so good.

Glass Houses by L. Penny
This is only my second Louise Penny mystery and I’m still struggling to get into it. I love a good mystery and I really love mystery series. People rave about Louise Penny so I’m hoping that the more I read the more I will love her too.

A bunch of astronomy books
I’m teaching an 8th grade homeschool class this year and we do a history of astronomy in the Fall semester so I’m cruising through a bunch of different astronomy books.

The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
This is for my August book club meeting and I’m trying to stay with it, but it’s just strange. I love CS Lewis and I love a good allegory, but this one has been a little bit hard to figure out. Probably because I’m reading so many other things!

Educated by T. Westover
I started listening to this on audio and had to return it and I’m like number 100 in line for the book at the library. I loved the interview on NPR I heard with her, I loved as much as I was able to listen to and I’m almost tempted to just buy the book so I can finally finish it!

Finished

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by S. King
Awesome book. I loved this book as much as people said I would. It’s a fabulous book for write wannabes like me and it was such an amazing insight into King’s process. He’s totally strange, but yet he seems like such an ordinary family guy. He loves his wife and his kids and while what he writes about is often bizarre, his process is totally normal. Highly recommend!

Gilead by M. Robinson
I really wanted to like this book. I know people who love it, but it was so draggy and so somber. It often put me to sleep at night and it was almost drudgery to get through. There were parts I should have totally written down in my commomplace because they were so good, but overall I don’t know. I have one more episode to listen to of Close Reads as they talk about this and listening to the podcast has helped me process the book. Otherwise I would totally not like it.

The Fledgling by J. Langton
Actually we didn’t finish this book, but abandoned it. There’s only a handful of books that we’ve started to read aloud together and then quit and this one added to the list. It’s a super strange book and we really couldn’t figure out the whole point. A girl and a goose who flies. I don’t know. It was weird.

 

What’s Next

Goodness – who knows. I need to keep some good “easy” reads for my afternoon tea time, but I’ve also go so many things I need to read for my class. Not to mention that we’ve started homeschool so I’ve got tons of pre-reading I need to stay on top of too. I’m not going to make the next couple of book club meetings, so I’m not sure that I’ll stay on top of those readings. Who knows!

Reading: April 2018

The angels erupted in song yesterday when I finally put down the book David Copperfield and rejoiced that nearly 900 pages later I was finished. Whew. It was a doozy of a book and the longest one I’ve read in years. I’m so happy to have finished it (and for the most part enjoyed it), but I’m super thrilled to be moving on.

Finished

The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom
Seriously, the best book I’ve read in a while. This one has been on my “to-read” list for years and when it ended up as one of my book club books AND a book that I’m teaching this coming year I was beyond thrilled. It’s an amazing read for the mere story of it, but also for the conviction of it. When I start to look around and become annoyed or dismayed at my life – all I need to do is remember hers. This one is worthy of it’s own review post.

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel
This was good; not my absolute favorite but I’m not a personality guru either. I really enjoyed the first few chapters, but when she started in on all the different personality tests etc, it didn’t quite hold my interest. It is a great compilation of all the different personality type discussions going on and I do believe in at least being familiar with all the typings as being a helpful thing when trying to deal with people (especially those in your family).

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
To begin with, this is Dickens so it’s crazy wordy. I will say, compared the other Dickens I’ve read this one was definitely more light-hearted. There were places throughout the book where I actually laughed and I did enjoy many of the characters. Dickens is amazing at his ability to create memorable characters and it’s where his love of descriptions is so helpful. By the time you are done with the book you definitely have a very vivid picture in your mind of who is who. I will say the character of David was somewhat annoying. I absolutely loved him as a child, but then it was like he never grew up. From his child-wife to the blindness he carried throughout the book for Agnes (come on already!) drove my absolutely bonkers…and his infatuation with Steerforth! I will say that Dickens did a fabulous job leading up that whole story with Steerforth. I knew from the beginning that at some point David was totally going to realize what sort of goody-too shoes he was.

Caddie Woodlawn (Caddie Woodlawn #1)
The chick and I read this aloud and overall it was pretty good. I feel like it is so much a copy of Little House that I had a hard time getting through that. I don’t know that either of us is a huge Pioneer literature fan so I don’t think we will be continuing on with the series. But it was a good read aloud.

Currently

The Fledgling (Hall Family Chronicles #4)
This is our current read aloud. I picked this up last year when I knew we were going to study birds and we finally started it. So far we are only like 10 pages in, so the jury is still out on how good it will be.

Before We Were Yours by Windgate
My mom passed this off to me a few days ago and knowing I needed something “easy” after Dickens I figured I would try this.

Across Five Aprils
We are attempting to do a family read aloud of this book. It’s been on the list all year and one that I wanted both kids to read. I’ve never read it and the reviews are always great.

Fanny Crosby
This is a pre-read for me as the chick is reading it for school. It’s a biography of her life. She was blind and ended up being this amazing hymn writer; she wrote Blessed Assurance for one.

Island of the Blue Dolphins
The chick is also reading this for school. It was one of my favorites as a child and I’m still enjoying it; she’s not. 🙁

Orthodoxy by Chesterton
This book is making my brain hurt.

What’s Next?

I’m going to re-read Hannah Coulter, because the Circe Close Reads podcast is getting ready to read it in May and I love Wendell Berry so win-win. A friend recommended PJ Wodehouse to me, so I reserved some of those books. Our next book club book is The Good Earth by Buck (I think) so I will need to get my hands on that. I’m also hoping to start reading Steven King’s memoir on writing.

Reading: March 2018

I know it’s nearly mid-April, but I honestly have been spending so much time on the computer doing other things that I haven’t felt like writing at all. I also haven’t been reading quite as much either because of this…

Currently

David Copperfield – this monstronsity is our June book for my book club and I started it way early because I knew I’d never finish it if I didn’t. I really loved the first third, the second third has been a little bit “ehh”, but it’s sort of ramping up again. I go in spurts and sometimes can sit and read it for a while and other times honestly fall asleep. I really do love Dickens, but sometimes his descriptions are so laborious that it’s just too much. But I do love the character of David and he’s so humorous, which seems strange to me as he is a Dickens character.

Reading People by Anne Bogel – I really loved the first couple chapters of this book and then it started going into all the personality types and I got all confused. I get it, but sometimes it all just bogs down in my head and I just wonder if it’s really worth it for me to understand it? But it is a good book and I thing she does a great job of bringing a whole bunch of information into a concise little volume.

Caddie Woodlawn – the chick and I are reading this one at night. It’s pretty good; rather Little House-ish, but kind of funnier in some ways.

Finished

Know and Tell: The Art of Narration – hands down the best Charlotte Mason-ish book I’ve read yet (besides CM stuff itself). Totally helpful and something that I know I will use and refer to tons. I highly recommend it!

What’s Next

I need to start reading The Hiding Place, as that is our next book club book and I want to start reading Steven King’s memoir on writing. But first I’ve got to finish this darn encyclopedia.

Reading: February 2018

 

February is typically a super slow month, but it seemed to fly by this year. I think it’s because my kids are getting so much older. Time just flies. It was a great reading month and I actually finished a handful of books. I found myself looking for something to read this week because I wasn’t sure where to go next!

Finished

The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain #1): this was a great and quick read. This series has been on my to-read list for a while to see if it might interest the fantasy loving kids in the house. There were so many similarities between Lord of the Rings and Narnia in this book and I found myself hearing Gollum for Gilgi almost all the time. I couldn’t even get out of my head that Gilgi wasn’t even anything like Gollum – but still. My daughter found the audio version on Libby so she’s excited to start listening to it and hopefully I can gather up the rest of the series to have for our home library.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You: This book was good; very practical. I really think I enjoyed The Shallows more – something about reading what literally happens to your brain when all you do is stare at screens seems to have more of an effect on me! But it’s an easy read and was for one of my book clubs and led us into a great discussion. Honestly I think we could have had multiple discussions about it over the course of months!

Alias Grace: This was my March book for my other book club and I figured out about one-third of the way through that this was the same author of Handmaid’s Tale…which is a book that totally ticks me off. (the ending…argh!!) But I pushed through hoping this one would end better and it did. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I do really love Atwood’s writing style. I’ve started watching the Netflix version and it’s so close to the book! It’s really good.

Uncommon Type: This is a book of short stories by Tom Hanks. I’ve just recently started enjoying short stories – and partially because I’ve told myself that if I don’t like the way the story is going, then I just don’t finish that one and move on. This book was about half and half. There were maybe 3-4 really compelling stories and a few that I didn’t even attempt after the first line and a couple that I tried to push through and didn’t. You could totally hear Tom Hanks reading these, which makes me realize how iconic he really is.

Princess and the Goblin by McDonald
Amazing! I’ve wanted to read this book forever after hearing Tim Keller reference it during a sermon. I don’t often write down lines from children’s books, but this one was full of so many good ones. I need to get my hands on the rest of the books too because I’m eager to know more about Princess Irene and Curdie.

A Touch of the Infinite by Hoyt
This was an excellent resource on ideas for how to teach music in a Charlotte Mason style. The amount of research she put into this book was amazing and found myself taking gobs of notes with the hope that next year as I plan for our composer study and more that I’ll be able to approach it in a manner that will encourage my children to enjoy the music – or at least appreciate it, rather than just bear it.

Currently

Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass
This book came out with much fanfare in my Charlotte Mason circles and I went back and forth on whether I needed it or not – but man am I glad I bought it. This is an excellent book and so super helpful. It’s always a win when the book you are reading about an educational “task” actually makes you calmer about it rather than more freaked.

Caddie Woodlawn by Brink
The chick and I are reading this one and so far, so good! My daughter is so much like Caddie that it’s been fun to read and almost every night discover another way that if she were living on the Prairie she would be just like Caddie and getting into all sorts of trouble.

Orthodoxy by Chesterton
I’ve actually set this one aside while I read a different book of essays for Lent, but I started it and it’s challenging for sure. I feel like he’s having a conversation and I’ve missed the first half. But I’ve already found some gems and I do want to keep going.

What’s Next:

I started Station’s Eleven and so far I’m totally hooked. I’m a sucker for a good dystopian book. David Copperfield is our June book and I know I need to start on it soon, so I’m trying to lay out the rest of my reading spring so I can make sure I leave enough time to read that ENORMOUS book! My other book club is going to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society so I need to re-read that one and we are all going to attend the movie together! Such fun!