Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer Reading and Random Thoughts

I've been meaning to post all summer about the books I've been reading. Because this was the first summer I've had off in at least six years, I wanted to read as much as I possibly could. But, of course I didn't keep up with things on the blog they way I intended. So, even though I have read quite a few books this summer, I'm only going to post about the first two, the two that started my summer of reading off with a bang.

I read a sample of Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers on the kindle several months ago, but never had time to read it. I, therefore, chose to start my summer with this beautiful and haunting novel. I'm so glad I did! This historical novel brings together the stories of four incredibly strong and different women as they journey to Masada almost two thousand years ago. In the end, (no spoilers, I promise) the reader--and the women--realize that their stories are, in fact, one and the same. (Can you tell I like books like this? Guernsey, anyone?) What can often be a formulaic and trite trope--that of multi-narrative--works here and made me keep reading.

When I finished this book, I couldn't stop thinking about it or talking about it, and it has been a long time since a book has affected me in this way. (I blame grad school!) Part of it's effect, I think, is the subject: both women's stories and the story of Masada. There is something resonant (and perhaps dissonant) about the story of Masada and the Jewish people's struggle, fight, and sacrifice that always gets to me. I like historical fiction and love metafiction, and this novel has both. It's a novel that is, at the heart of it, about storytelling and mothers--all kinds of mothers, those who are born, those who bear, those who are made, and those who long.

The next novel I read is, on so many levels, much, much different. Yet, there is a common theme here. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers is a kind of quirky story about a young woman raised in orphanages and foster homes who learns to communicate through flowers. She learns each flower's symbolic meaning and navigates her relationships and the world through them. The novel opens with Victoria Jones's emancipation from the foster system. She soon realizes that she can touch others' lives through the flowers she chooses for them. While I really enjoyed this book (told in a series of flashbacks) I have to admit that the ending was problematic and predictable. But the unique premise still made it a book I would highly recommend. What this book has in common with Hoffman's is that at its core, it too is about language and relationships with mothers. It raises the questions about what it means to be a mother. Are mothers born? Or are they made? What makes a good mother? A bad mother? And who decides?

Which brings me to my random thought (which in fact is not quite so random). This last year has been difficult and full of hard decisions. And this week, for some reason, things have gotten to me a little more than I would like. I thought I was past all of this. Nothing has happened. It's just been one of those weeks where I feel kind of bleh: the mean reds. Because I have a Type A personality, I am a planner, I'm competitive, and I'm an overachiever. Sometimes these qualities are not pretty. Especially when my life doesn't end it up where I thought it would. I say all of this to also say that I have been working really hard on changing my attitude about a lot of things in my life. But this week, I felt as if I was taking a few steps backward. Then, I heard someone complaining the other day. They were talking about that oft-quoted scripture about God giving you the desires of your heart. This person said that this scripture was a lie, that h/she had many unfulfilled desires. I started thinking. You know, there are so many things I want and even sometimes think I need that I don't have. But this scripture does not say anything about God giving us the things we want. Don't get me wrong, I think God gives us things we want too, sometimes. But, what the verse actually says is that He will give us desires.

Caitlyn, my fourteen year old niece, wanted a cup of coffee near bedtime once. Because I wanted her to have this thing she wanted (even though I knew she didn't need it) I gave her a cup. She couldn't sleep that night and was grumpy the next day. It would have seemed unfair to her at the time, but if I hadn't given in to her desire, we would have had a much better day. I think that's what this verse conveys.

I don't understand everything. I don't understand why some people seem to have all the luck and others work so hard.   I do know that we live in a world full of disease, and trouble, and storms, and full of flawed people. But if I just focus on all of that, then my life will never be anything other than disease, trouble, storms, and flaws. It's easy to get sidetracked, to think that our lives are so much worse than they really are. Yes, there are still a lot of things I want that I don't have. And I don't think I'm wrong for wanting them. But I am trying to learn that although my life not end up where I thought it would, there may be something I don't know. Maybe there is a better plan.

All of the characters in these two books deal with these same issues. In despairing for the things they desire, they often miss out on the miracles in their lives. They eventually learn that some desires are never fulfilled. But sometimes, in a beautiful way, we find something we never even knew we wanted. So, I'm waiting to see what desire will be given to me next. I'm waiting to see what happens when I let go of some of the things I always thought I wanted. I have a feeling that in the end I will have a better day.