Category Archives: reading

Being Free Now

When the same message arrives from two different women with pretty different world views within a few minutes of each other, it is meant to be shared, I think.

In her Sunday sermon shared via her subscriber newsletter, Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us of Doubting Thomas who questioned the rebirth of Jesus until he saw where the nails had been driven into his hands. The story, Bolz-Weber says, isn’t about not doubting; instead it is about how Jesus reacted to the doubt. He did not judge or condemn Thomas. He showed him his hands and welcomed him as he was. Jesus doesn’t wait until we are perfect to love us.

Because notice that the text doesn’t say “and when they had repented of what complete asses they had been; and when they had perfected their faith and the purity of their doctrine; and when they had achieved the right condition of personal morality THEN they were worthy of receiving Jesus.”

Sebene Selassie practices Buddhism and is one of my favorite writers and meditation teachers. Her newsletter this week was titled We Are Free. She focuses on the present moment and reminds us that we are free. We are not getting free. We are free now.

She encourages us to take a hard look at the beliefs and structures we hold around all the facets of our lives. She and her husband rethought their living space and how beliefs about the functions of certain rooms were keeping them from really using the space for their own needs. She talked about getting off social media for a few weeks and postponing her newsletter, a decision that focused on her self care rather than the needs or expectations of others.

I really needed that. By that, I mean, the autonomous decision to take care of my damn self.

It is entirely up to me to remember this fundamental truth:  I am a grown-ass adult human, and I AM FREE.

Both women, coming from different belief systems and even world views, are preaching the same message. Stop waiting for perfection, for courage, for solutions. I’ll end with Sebene:

We will not get free once everything is resolved; we ARE free, right in this moment… And this one. If we allow ourselves to feel it.

PS I hope the colorful language these women use is not offensive. I have, as I have gotten older, also begun to get a little saltier so that may be why they both speak to me.

A Continuum of Practice in Reading and Crocheting

I have been reading and crocheting so naturally at some point my reading connects to my crocheting.

As I mentioned in this post, I had started working on my first “real” piece of crocheted clothing: a sweater vest for my dad. It was classified as an Intermediate, level 3 on a five level scale.

Crocheted Sweater VestI have made lots of hats and scarves but they are forgiving, mostly one size fits all. The vest had different directions for different sizes and included ribbing and arm and neck openings. It also had a special pattern in front that was a little tricky. All in all, a challenging pattern for me. I am happy to say, I completed it, and it fits! (It wasn’t quite done when I saw my dad but he was able to try it on. I finished up the borders and put it in the mail yesterday.)

Once I finished the vest, I wanted something easy, almost mindless as one friend suggested. It is hard to be completely mindless with crochet as there is usually some counting involved but there are certainly plenty of patterns that are much more mindless than the sweater vest. I chose to make a corner to corner shawl using beautiful self-striping yarn. Once you get the simple pattern going, it is easy to continue and the yarn does all the work. And, in the end, you get a lovely shawl in much less time than the sweater vest.Easy Shawl

Is one bit of crocheting better than another because it is harder? I certainly learned more about my craft from making the vest. But there was a bit more stress for something I am doing to relax.

I was reminded of this question as I read David Denby’s Lit Up, his study of high school English students, their teachers, and the texts they shared. He focused on several innovative, committed teachers who challenged their students with classics but also found ways to connect them to contemporary lives and concerns. The students of one teacher read assigned texts as well as their own choices and, at the end of the year, made a hierarchy of the books from hardest to easiest and then thought about why they were hard and how difficulty impacted quality. It was, for the teacher, a way of helping them understand the difference between an easy beach read and something else.

Their end of the year project required them to combine Shakespearean soliloquy with their own reading. Denby identifies something more about the relationship of the classics and the contemporary: “Some books, they knew, were better than others, but there were strengths in merely good books as well as in a masterpiece, and those qualities could be made to play upon each other. Part of the connection of the classic texts and contemporary books was that they intermingled in the reader’s mind, working on each other–usually in mysterious ways, this time in explicit ways” (p. 182).

The obvious similarity here between my crocheting and the students’ reading is the laddering, starting with easier projects that built foundational skills for the more challenging project.  And that project has built my confidence for even more difficult projects. But what about the other direction? How has my successful challenge changed my attitude or approach to the simpler stuff?  Just like I refuse to label some reading as a guilty pleasure, so I don’t think the easy things are a waste of time. They are a chance to just enjoy crocheting but perhaps, as a more experienced crafter, these simpler projects are better, made with more precision, a higher quality than before.

January Reading Statistics and Reviews

Here’s a snapshot of my reading in January. It was largely white and Western with a 50/50 split between female and male authors. Since I plan ahead, I know the list gets more diverse in coming months. But tracking reading this way can help make sure I don’t just read cozy mysteries by nice white ladies.

The full list is at the bottom along with links to reviews. My goal is to review every book I read this year. I’ll post all of them to the book’s page at LibraryThing along with my thread there. Some I’ll post here as well, either through reflective essays or reading roundups.

Number of Books: 10
Number of Pages: 3,183

Genres:

  • Fiction: 4
  • Travel Memoir: 2
  • History: 1
  • True Crime: 1
  • Historical Fiction:1
  • Mystery: 1

Gender:

  • Male: 5
  • Female: 5

Country:

  • US: 8
  • UK: 2

Race/Ethnicity:

  • White: 9
  • Black: 1

Origin:

  • My Library: 9
  • Public Library: 1

Format:

  • Kindle: 4
  • Softcover: 3
  • Hardcover: 3

Publication Date:

  • 21st Century: 9
  • 20th Century: 1

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
One Good Deed by David Baldacci
Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya by Jamaica Kincaid

I reviewed the first five books here.

The Big Burn by Timothy Egan
Midnight in Siberia by David Greene (Review)
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell (Review)
Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

I also read Book 1 of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World and reviewed it here.

Reading Cookbooks

I have two cookbooks on my reading pile right now and am enjoying taking the time to dig into the stories behind them as well as the recipes.

The first one–Tequila Mockingbird–meets the LibraryThing challenge of reading a book with a pun in the title. This whole book, subtitled Cocktails With a Literary Twist, is filled with punny names for cocktails from A Rum of One’s Own to The Lime of the Ancient Mariner. Each cocktail includes a snarky description of the book and how it connects to the cocktail.

The second one–The Jersey Shore Cookbook–was an impulse buy at Better World Books, touching a nostalgic chord with memories of many summers spent down the shore in Ocean City, New Jersey. The cookbook is much newer and covers the whole coast, but I am still having fun reading about the various chefs and restaurants. Not surprisingly, it focuse on summer food and as we head into February, I am dreaming of summer meals of crab chowder, sweet corn and tomatoes.

I haven’t read cookbooks this way before, from start to finish, complete with bookmark. I might read the description of a particular recipe or the introduction to a chapter, but I’m wondering what other treasures are on my shelf to pull off and read?

Filling In Details with Historical Fiction

Mary Doria Russell‘s fictional story of Michigan’s Copper Country strike that took place overBook covernine months in 1913 – 1914 is painful, violent, riveting and somehow triumphant. The strike was led by Annie Clements, the wife of a miner, who became known as the Joan of Arc of America. The Women of the Copper Country is mainly her story but as the title suggests, it is the story of all the women. They led unbelievably difficult lives, often beaten by their alcoholic husbands and thrown out of their company homes with their children when those husbands died in the mines. But, they managed to make something out of nothing, sharing whatever they had and often going hungry themselves.

Russell’s prose is rich with details, pulling us into miners’ shacks and millionaires’ mansions as she recreates this pivotal time in labor history. It is difficult sometimes for us to realize just how courageous these early protesters were to suggest that they had rights. Russell depicts the coldness of the bosses and upper class towards the workers, their belief in their superiority by reason of birth, and the casual violence they dispense to protect their profits.

Russell stays close to the historical events while providing information about larger history and personalities related to labor strikes. Mother Jones makes an appearance along with Ella Reeve Bloor. But it is the stories of the people of Calumet, focused on Annie, that brings that history alive. Their feelings, their daily struggles, their dreams of a better life. The writer of historical fiction is able to create the specific out of the general in a way that allows us to learn history and connect with the humans who lived it.

And, Clements’ maiden name was Klobuchar!