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Sunday, April 02, 2017

In Honor of National Book Week

One of the most fun facebook posts of the last week was in honor of National Book Week:  copy the 5th sentence of the 56th page of whatever book was close to hand.  My comment feed ran from snatches of a narrative (a foot on the stair . . or the bad-news look on the teacher's face), to practical advice (hold two short assemblies each week), to memoir (that is as close as I ever got to earthly treasure), to the poetic (whose homeless feet have pressed our path of pain).  The final comment: "It is not, by and large, an endeavor for those who relish a quiet life".  Something about lifting all those lines from their context and stringing them together from around the world leant each a profound weight of truth.  Their diversity quickly showed the power of literature.  Within reach, a plethora of portals to realms beyond imagining.  That's truly amazing.

I'm not sure I've ever heard of National Book Week, though a quick google indicates it is celebrated in South Africa.  World Book Day was either March 2 or is coming up on April 23.  Whoever decides these things, it doesn't really matter, as long as they serve to stoke a thirst for reading.

So, here are a few of the books that I've been reading recently, mostly via the Upshur County Public Library's kindle lending program.  I can borrow a title electronically in Kenya from our West Virginia system.  That is something to be thankful for.

The author frames a series of journal entries and letters that date back to the 1880's within a current narrative of a museum curator to tell the story of American exploration in the territory of Alaska. Basically a very difficult journey into the unknown.  Good writing, strong character development, a variety of narrative voices, a poignant love story, touches of magical realism which lend color and mystery, and an attempt to give a voice to the indigenous American Indian population. There is a sub-story about photography in which the character tries to capture light, in a context that otherwise has much darkness. I didn't want this book to end, and I've thought about it often since finishing it.  Recommended highly.

Suspenseful, gripping, you care about the protagonist.  This is a journey through the terrible realities of our own country 200 years ago.  The author reveals much of the evil that drove slavery.  Worth reading as an American who cares about justice and knows that the bloody stain of slavery still seeps into most aspects of modern culture.  Like the tracks on the cover, the plot tents towards dead ends and sharp curves.  Recommended but wishing for more closure or cohesion.

This novel presents itself as a series of historical documents about a murder trial in a rural Scottish community in the 1860's.  Like the other two books above, the texture of details gives depth to the story and valuable images of a time long gone.  One learns of the massive inequality and injustice inherent in the "crofter" system of labor, and painfully watches the protagonist beaten down by a relentlessly evil overseer.  Reading about poverty in an articulate voice is always worthwhile.  And the intersection of mental illness, social distress, and criminal behaviour seems relevant. But this one is pretty much empty of redemption.

"Dark and redemptive" is my preferred genre in books and movies.  The three books above are ranked best to decent.  All relate to our family in some way:  Caleb will be posted to Alaska later this year, and my ancestry is a mix of African slave and Scotch-Irish immigrant, so the latter two give context to the situations from whence our ancestors arose.  

One more that has no actual personal connection but is also from a subset of that dark and redemptive genre, the apocalyptic tale, that I also enjoyed in the last few months.  How does art help us survive, what is the role of culture when everything falls apart?  Good read.

Books currently open:
The Arensen family have not only done much good on this continent, but possess the articulate gift of telling stories about it.  About half way through; lots of stories from the days when kids rode a steam boat to the rail road to go to RVA, or when you could drive out of Juba and go hunting for meat. 

Each poem is a sonnet related to a saying of Jesus, so I've enjoyed selecting some readings to go with the Lenten devotions.  Also this is a year to remember the poetry of life, so this is one way I'm trying to do that.

I am also about half-way through this one.  One night I had BBC on and the book open and it was hard to tell the difference between 2003 and 2017.  As a journalist for World Magazine, Belz traveled into Iraq and Syria when few others were willing, and tried to preserve the story of the religious minorities.  She's also a really good writer.  

Next on the horizon:  more books by African authors, for the African Reading Challenge 2017.  Join me in reading 5 books this year set in Africa, about Africa, and/or by African authors.   I'll name my five soon.  One will certainly be the next Rwendigo Tales book!

Happy reading!

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