Stone by Design by Lew French, Gibbs Smith, 2005. (non-fiction)
Stone by Design must be the best book yet on building and landscaping with stones. Considering French’s work gives welling joy, even if you can’t do what he does. His stone walls, walks and fountains are lavish with earthy elegance, perfectly balanced in weight and patterns of light, because, as he says, “Good stonework has a sense of being solid and grounded, but also has a rhythmic, flowing lightness about it.” Photos of his work captivate the viewer because they reflect the natural beauty and grace of stone where he places them in harmony with their surroundings. For one of his large projects, a client on Martha’s Vineyard asked him to design a garden that now thrives among the boulders and stone walkways he built. I want it! Most of his work is found on the island, but he grew up a few miles from where I live in Minnesota. I feel the vibe. All he does could easily be part of what Adam and Eve did in keeping Eden. I hope, one day, perhaps in the next life, God will give me a quarry, hand me a stone mallet and say, go ahead, create. I was going to give this book to a friend who shares my interest, but I couldn’t part with it. (Sorry, John.)
The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin by Garret Keizer, Jossey-Bass, 2002. (non-fiction)
A book on anger may seem like disturbing a sleeping black mamba – better to leave it alone. Giving this as a gift to someone you think needs it, may not be a safe idea. So unless you are sure, consider this for yourself. Anger is an unreasonable emotion and it sometimes breaks through in me, despite my niceness veneer. Keizer, an Episcopal priest, thoughtfully leads us toward a “break through to the rocky depths, to the matrix itself.” Using his own experience, accumulated stories from life and literature and wisdom, he draws us in to consider anger’s causes and manifestations which are sometimes violent, disproportionate, unreasonable, depressing or, yes, even justified. His insights are not all equal, nor do I necessarily agree with him in every case, but there is enough here to make it a worthy dig. All year I’ve been reflecting on his thoughts, so if you’re lucky this might be my final plug. Another favorite quote: “… many of our angry outbursts are the result of grief that never comes to sobbing.” Yes.
Guido’s Great Coloring and Drawing Book by Guido Van Genechten, Clavis Publishing, NY, 2010. (Ages 4-ll. I’m guessing.)
“Give this boxer a black eye.”
“Make labels for these jars full of delicious food.”
“Draw an unlucky person.”
“Draw a lucky person.”
This book has lots of quirky, fun ideas for drawing and coloring. I know. Coloring inside lines stifles creativity, but kids like coloring books and this one really is different. It was first self-published in Belgium by Genechten, who is an artist and author of children’s books. It is a large book printed on good drawing paper which means markers won’t bleed through to the other side to stain your tabletop. Available on Amazon. I’ve seen it listed for $8.00.
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, and Okoro, Zondervan, 2010.
For a year now at Toad Hall, we’ve used this patchwork quilt of prayers, quotes and Scriptures to greet the day. Not every calendar day, but many. It’s meant to be used in communities, families or by groups of friends anywhere – all kinds of folks from the over-churched to the under-churched. It is pan-denominational, which is good – we need the reminder that we are part of something larger and more diverse than the little holes we live in. Each day’s structure includes Scripture and an appropriate quote ranging from ancient church fathers like Augustine to contemporaries like Frederick Beuchner. Each one ends with the prayer: “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you; May he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm; May he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you; May he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.”
Children of the Forest, Peter in Blueberry Land, Emily and Daisy, (or any book) by Elsa Beskow, Floris Books, Edinburgh, 2005. (Picture Books)
Beskow’s books were first published over a century ago, and only recently discovered here at Toad Hall when a friend gave us a copy of Emily and Daisy, the story of a girl who must find their cow who has escaped the pasture and bring her home. Beskow proves that some authors get it so right they become favorites for children of any time or age. I gave a copy of Children of the Forest to our five-year-old granddaughter, who went to bed with it hugged to her chest every night for weeks. Both kids and adults are charmed by her illustrations and pleased with her characters, who like us (most of us), love animals and miniature worlds. We easily imagine the adventures of little people who live under mushroom caps, wear sweaters knit with thistle down, eat acorns as big as their heads, and ride the backs of butterflies. I am a firm believer in keeping books for children whether you have them or not. It’s part of the hospitality you give the occasional child who strays into your life.
The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball, Scribner 2010. (Memoir)
When Kimball, a NYC hipster journalist, took a writing assign- ment to interview a young Pennsylvania farmer, she wasn’t looking for a mate or a new career. But it was almost as if she had a conversion experience and before she realized it, she impulsively shed her old life and joined Mark to achieve the dream of establishing an organic farm that grew everything their CSA members needed. As much as I should know better, this story might be my ultimate romantic dream. However, the rawness of the physical labor, the random nature of weather and animals and the eternal dirt would kill me in three days. But Kimball makes it clear (with humor) – there is a fulfilling pleasure in hard work and the wonder of food that comes directly from garden to table.
“It was Shane who dispelled the rumor that had been circulating around Dale Ranger’s barn in the valley west of ours … I think it started because at the time I was still wearing the standard-issue city clothes that I’d moved with, tailored shirts and skirts cut above the knee and boots with a little bit of heel, and this is a town where lip gloss is considered daring, a special-occasion accessory. Someone decided I was formerly a high-end prostitute in New York City, and this news was fully believed and widely disseminated by the men at Dale’s barn until Shane got to know us and reported back that I was not an ex-whore after all and had graduated from college, to which, … Bud Campbell had replied, I don’t know, it’s just what I heard.” (p. 74)
Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture by Makoto Fujimura, Navpress, 2009 (Personal essays)
Fujimura, an artist living near Ground Zero, began a blog several years ago. From his home and studio near Ground Zero, he sends out a collection of dispatches from various points on his journey. One of his paintings hangs in our dining room – a simple trout, subtle, refracting light from her hiding place in the depths of the paper – just a small sample of his internationally recognized art. We are blessed to look at it every day. In one sense, it hardly seems fair that he is also an artistic, thoughtful writer. Ah, and yet, Christ speaks to us through his reflections, helping us bend light into the corners of life to find that we indeed “carry the dust of Eden in our DNA.”
“I have learned from Scripture to pay attention to works in my life of which I am not proud. They speak to teach me. I have learned that what the ancients called “repentance” is a journey of coming home to a place where all of our wretched works rest, but also where our wretchedness is overcome by light. This reality can powerfully alter how we view our lives and our art. Even our wretchedness cannot confine us, ultimately, or keep us from reaching across boundaries of cultures. But indeed our wretched state may be what draws us together.”
The Sabbath World, by Judith Shulevitz, Random House, 2010. (Non-fiction)
If you are edgy, tired, hurried, over-committed, no margins in life, maybe it’s because you don’t take a Sabbath rest seriously? Shulevitz is hardly one to make you feel guilty about that, as she can’t keep it perfectly herself but calls it a torturous dangle between two orders of time – a kind of “time sickness.” As postmoderns, it’s not easy to disconnect long enough to have meaningful rest one day a week; perhaps I’m drawn to this subject because of my own failures. This book on the Jewish and Christian day of rest is part history, part philosophy and part personal experience.
“Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.”
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2005.
I definitely didn’t want to read another WWII novel about Nazi Germany, there are so many, but Zusak’s rich, artful writing sucked me in. The main character, Liesel Meminger – a little girl taught to read by her foster father grows such an appetite for books that she begins stealing books from Nazi book- burnings. Death, who is the unlikely narrator, is exhausted from carrying souls away by the thousands, and yet his stories are about Life: the ordinary lives of ordinary people making choices of consequence – seem- ingly small choices that reflect the landscape of their hearts – some pondered and carefully reckoned, others spontaneously springing from bitterness and hate or kindness and love. They pedaled ahead of the parade, toward Dachau, and stopped at an empty piece of road. Rudy passed Liesel the bag.
“Take a handful.”
“I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
He slapped some bread onto her palm. “Your papa did.”
How could she argue? It was worth a whipping.
“If we’re fast, we won’t get caught.” He started distributing the bread. “So move it, Saumensch.”
Liesel couldn’t help herself. There was the trace of a grin on her face as she and Rudy Steiner, her best friend, handed out the pieces of bread on the road. When they were finished, they took their bikes and hid among the Christmas trees.” (p.440)
As death hovers in the background for all of us, by faith we receive mercy and look beyond for a greater Justice.