Monday, May 29, 2006

"The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown, 2002)

The Lovely Bones is the best book I've read in a long time. It sat on my shelf for several years, because I knew it would be difficult to read. And it was. In fact, I haven't read this vivid of a depiction of grief since Jacquelyn Mitchard's Deep End of the Ocean. I read that book in Mexico; I took this one to France. Maybe I need to leave the confines of home to read stories that are this hard, though they both were ultimately hopeful and redemptive.

The story is told from the persepective of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, whose brutal rape and murder we learn of in the first chapter. But that isn't as emotionally gut-wrenching as are the stories of the people she leaves behind, especially her parents and two siblings. The book follows them in the years after her death and portrays their grief in such haunting accuracy that anyone who's suffered that level of loss will be brought back to the immediacy of their own grieving.

In the Lucky Bones, Siebold (the author of the memoir Lucky, which also deals with rape) describes heaven, where Susie gets anything she desires, whether it's fashion magazines or dogs. The only thing she can't get is to go back to earth and join her family. And it's this longing that keeps her from the "higher level" of heaven. She watches helplessly as her family falls apart (as in Deep End, the parents' marriage breaks apart after the loss of a child).

In the end, it is Susie's inability to let go that keeps her locked in this "purgatory" of sorts. How she escapes that is rather unbelievable (the ending is pretty fantastic, even for fantasy), but it does provide a hopeful, redemptive resolution not only for Susie, but for her family and friends.

The title refers not to the never-found body of the murdered Susie but to the connections-- "sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent--that happened after I was gone. " These "lovely bones that had grown around my absence" forced Susie to "see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life."

In the end, as her family gathers to celebrate a new beginning, Susie wonders if this is what she had been waiting for: "for my family to come home, not to me anymore but to one another with me gone. "

Sebold writes beautifully about grief but even more beautifully about the new life that can come out of it. Her depection of heaven may not turn out to be accurate, but her description of grief, loss, and new life certainly are.

Friday, May 26, 2006

"Home for the Holidays" by Debbie Macomber (Mira, 2005)

My secret is out: I read junk fiction, especially mysteries. Maybe because I read heavier stuff all day for a living, I need some escapist literature on my off time. My Aunt Sherry gave me Home for the Holidays last Christmas and since it's a mass-market size paperback, I brought it along for some airplane reading on the way to France.

I know Debbie Macomber, because she is the author of a series of books about a yarn shop, including A Good Yarn (which I read last year) and The Shop on Blossom Street (which I haven't read yet).

Home for the Holidays has no craft connection, unfortunately, because without that, it's just another sappy romance. Actually, it's two romances: "The Forgetful Bride" and "When Christmas Comes"--and they have similar themes of women who thought they'd never find love finding it in surprising places and during Christmas. Of course, everyone lives happily ever after. The best I can say about this book is that it did help pass the time on a trans-Atlantic flight. It goes to show that those silly content connections--whether it's knitting, recipes, or even garage sale hunting (see Sharon Fiffer's "Stuff" series)--can help boost an otherwise boring book. Or maybe I can only tolerate junk fiction when there's a mystery plot. I've never been much of a romance reader.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What I read on my spring vacation

Just got back from 10 days in France. That's me and the hubby in front of the Eiffel Tower, where I had a mild fear-of-heights attack at the top. What was I thinking? We did a bit of siteseeing in Paris, chanted in Latin at the monastery at Taize in the Burgandy region and then relaxed for four days in Provence, including a few days right on the Mediterranean at La Ciotat. Of course we ate lots of bread and cheese and drank lots of wine.

My idea of a good vacation is having plenty of time to read, and this one delivered. I finished two novels and two non-fiction books. (Also did some catching up on reading Publishers Weekly magazine.) Look here soon for my opinions of:

  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  • Death by Suburb by Dave Goetz
  • Brother Roger of Taize: Essential Writings by Brother Schutz
  • Home for the Holidays by Debbie Macomber

Monday, May 22, 2006

"White China" by Molly Wolf (Jossey-Bass, 2005)

Knitters know Molly Wolf as the co-editor (with Linda Roghaar) of the Knitlit series: KnitLit : Sweaters and Their Stories...and Other Writing About Knitting (2002); KnitLit (too) : Stories from Sheep to Shawl . . . and More Writing About Knitting (2004); and KnitLit the Third : We Spin More Yarns (2005), all from Three Rivers Press.

Wolf not only finds spiritual meaning in knitting, she discovers the divine in all kinds of everyday life in Ontario, Canada. And she has been writing about it for years, first in her e-mailed "Sabbath Blessings," and now in three books, the most recent of which is called White China.

See my review of White China on

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"Our Endangered Values" by Jimmy Carter (S&S, 2005)

A lot of people say Jimmy Carter is a great man--but was a bad president. I've never been sure both could be true. I've had the pleasure of "meeting" Carter twice, for a millisecond at book signings. Some co-workers and I joined hundreds of other Chicagoans for a signing last fall of his his latest book, "Our Endangered Values." I ended up giving that autographed copy to my father-in-law, who said he loved it. I finally got a copy from the library to read myself.

This book is a succinct summary of what's wrong with our country today: The U.S. is losing its moral authority because we haven't lived the values upon which we were founded, including truth, peace, freedom, and human rights. Incidentally, although Carter believes in the separation of church and state, he sees these national values as rooted in his own Christian (Baptist) faith.

The problem, as he sees it (and I concur) is that today we don't walk the talk. While there's plenty of discussion about moral values, democracy and freedom, and human rights, we consistently make policy that contradicts these ideals. We disregard international law and treaties about nuclear weapons and the environment, wage preemptive war in the name of "peace," and give the least of any developed nations to help those who live on less than $1 a day. Even our churches discriminate against women, support the death penalty, and try to "save" marriage, not from its greatest threat--divorce--but by condemning homosexuality.

Although religious fundamentalists and corporate business interests currently have the power in our government (and some churches), Carter believes the majority of Americans share these "endangered values" yet are unaware of how they are being subverted. "I am convinced that our great nation could realize all reasonable dreams of global influence if we properly utilized the advantageous values of our religious faith and historical ideals of peace, economic and political freedom, democracy, and human rights," he writes.

Although he definitely does some defending of his own presidency throughout the book (and highlights the excellent human rights work of The Carter Center), this is an honest plea for Americans to wake up to the dangerous direction the country is going. If we can ignore nuclear proliferation treaties, if we can wage pre-emptive war, then others will follow our lead--to our detriment.

"I prayed more during those four years in the White House than at any other time in my life, primarily for patience, courage, and the wisdom to make good decisions," Carter writes. Perhaps it's time to storm the heavens once again.