Books I Read in July 2018
I've always loved poetry. I write it from time to time, but you'll probably never see it. I'm not a good poet, even if I do enjoy good poetry. And during the month of July, I read a good deal of poetry, with a little theology and fiction sprinkled in.
Here are the books I read in July 2018.
The New York Times had this to say of Glück’s book of poetry. “This is what makes “Faithful and Virtuous Night” so moving: Even as she admits that our forms of knowledge, the stories with which we understand the world and ourselves, are contingent and flawed, Glück suggests such stories are no less necessary or real.” These poems take the reader on a journey from accepting death as a part of life to accepting hardship as a part of artistry. Nothing is easy, but we must move on. Moving on doesn’t free us from the past. Moving on means only the past becomes part of what was that makes what is.
In one poem, there is a man asleep on a staircase. A girl and her grandmother walk by. The girl thinks he’s dead. The grandmother knows he’s not. “Will we see him when we return, the child murmured. He will be long gone by then, said her grandmother, he will have finished climbing up or down, as the case may be. Then I will say goodbye now, said the little girl. And she knelt below me, chanting a prayer I recognized as the Hebrew prayer for the dead. Sir, she whispered, my grandmother tells me you are not dead, but I thought perhaps this would soothe you in your terrors, and I will not be here to sing it at the right time. When you hear this again, she said, perhaps the words will be less intimidating, if you remember how you first hear them, in the voice of a little girl.”
The man presumably awakes, having been conscious of the whole event. And he presumably continues up or down, as the case may be. Whatever his path, continuing is the way. So Glück urges us on: facing death and loss with the road ahead, knowing it won’t get easier, but easier isn’t the point.
“I think here I will leave you. It has come to seem there is no perfect ending. Indeed, there are infinite endings. Or perhaps, once on begins, there are only endings.”
The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar
Matar tells the story of his search for his father amid the imprisoned Libyan rebels during the 1990s. He doesn’t know when, or if, his father died. He knows when the letters stopped. He knows the day he felt as if his father died. But he doesn’t have any proof of anything. It is hard for those living in a free country to understand the terror and heartbreak of life under a terrible regime. But Matar captures some of it in this wonderful book about a man’s search for the truth about his father.
“There is a moment when you realise that you and your parent are not the same person, and it usually occurs when you are both consumed by a similar passion.”
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
This is a story of hate—at least that’s what our narrator, Mr. Bendrix proclaims in the opening pages. But whom is the focus of the hate? Well, that all depends on where you are in the story. It begins with a hatred for a husband, then turns to a hatred for a mistress, and ends with a hatred for God—or at least that’s what Mr. Bendrix would lead you to believe. A hate-filled story this is not, though it does include plenty of it. Rather, this is the story of one adulterous woman’s way to God and the man who loves her is left to deal with the after-effects. He tells God he hates him. But that’s quite the change from before. At least he recognizes someone there to hate. One has to wonder whether he even understands his story of hate. He got it wrong so many times before. Perhaps he’s wrong again.
“It's a strange thing to discover and to believe that you are loved when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or a God to love.”
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
It was a month of reading filled with poetry. Kaur’s collection is a new one focused on the turmoil of a relationship gone bad experienced from a woman with a past of pain and abuse. It’s not a “pretty” collection of poems. But it is a powerful one.
“i am water
to offer life
to drown it away”
Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
I wonder why this isn’t required reading in high schools across the country? We read Shakespeare, and rightly so. Why not also Eliot, the 20th century’s greatest poet? Murder in the Cathedral is his dramatization of the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. It won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The story is breathtaking in style and structure, with enough heart to grab you and enough beauty to enthrall you.
“We have only to conquer
Now, by suffering. This is the easier victory.
Now is the triumph of the cross.”
Versed (Wesleyan Poetry Series) by Rae Armantrout
I’ll admit this collection of poetry went beyond my comprehension. I didn’t enjoy it. I only finished it. There was meaning, but it was too difficult to grasp. The structure was simple, but the words felt too obtuse. I may be in the minority on this one, however. It won a National Book Award.
“Today could be described as a retired man humming tunelessly to himself.”
Holiness by John Webster
Reading John Webster is like diving into the deep end of the theological pool and drowning. But you don’t mind it at all. It’s the kind of theological weight that lights your heart on fire. Webster places thoughts in your mind, wrapped in biblical truth and glory, that come alive and dance in your mind for days. The focus in this volume is on God’s holiness. God’s holiness has never felt so massive to me. If you need a sense of God’s wonder, buy this book today.
“Through the Spirit, Jesus Christ the exalted one generates a new mode of common human life, the life of the Church. To participate in that common human life, hearing the gospel in fellowship under the word of God and living together under the signs of baptism and the Lord's supper, is to exist in a sphere in which God's limitless power is unleashed and extends into the entirety of human life: moral, political, cultural, affective, intellectual. Reason, like everything else, is remade in the sphere of the Church; and theological reason is an activity of the regenerate mind turned towards the gospel of Jesus Christ, which constitutes the Church's origin and vocation.”
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
My journey through the works of C.S. Lewis continues through the forth book of the Narnia series. This was my favorite thus far. It’s the story of Caspian, a boy who doesn’t know he’s the rightful heir of Narnia, who gets some help from the kings and queens of Narnia’s past. When the enemy is defeated, Lewis uses Aslan’s movement to highlight the hope of heaven. It lifts the heart and brings you to longing of Jesus’ touch. One day we’ll have it. This book helps us get ready for it now.
““Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?” “I—I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.” “Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not.”
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Whew. This book has been on my “to read” list for a long time. I’ve never heard a bad review. I see why. It’s beautifully written. The story is compelling without being overwhelming. The truth laced throughout is poignant and profound. Jayber Crow is the town barber, and if you want to know the truth of the world, it’s best to go sit in his shop for a while. You can’t get much better than this novel. It’s worth a re-read for me, probably next year.
“The mercy of the world is you don't know what's going to happen.”