Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

I love novels like this, when I learn about historical figures through fictionalized accounts of their lives. The Invention of Wings is based on the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and feminists long before women's suffrage or the Emancipation Proclamation.

Sue Monk Kidd quotes Professor Julius Lester in her notes at the end of the novel, "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." Kidd expands beyond the facts and events to put flesh on the stories of four women.

The novel begins in the early 1800s, with Sarah Grimke turning 11 and her mother "giving" her ownership of her very own slave, Hetty, or Handful. From the beginning, Sarah is deeply uncomfortable with her family's legacy as slave owners, and she also chafes against her role as a girl and woman. All she wants in life is to study and become a lawyer and a judge, but her family throws cold water on her dreams. As a female, all she could hope to become is a wife and mother. She rebels in her own way, by teaching Handful to read and write.

The novel weaves the story of Sarah with that of Handful and her mother Charlotte. Both Handful and Charlotte are highly talented seamstresses, spunky and spirited and seeking a way out of their own lives. They are the most fascinating characters in this novel, and they are mostly made up. (Sarah's mother did "give" her a slave when she turned 11, and Sarah wanted no part of it, but that's about all that is known about the slave girl.)

While Sarah struggles to put a voice to her passionate thoughts, Handful and Charlotte have no problem expressing what's on their mind. They weave their own pains and desires in their quilts and pass on their family history through stories. They take chances for the sake of freedom, even if it might cost them their own lives.

Angelina is the sister with the gumption--probably because she'd been mostly raised by Sarah--but Sarah, too, eventually finds her own voice. I enjoyed reading about the sisters speaking out against slavery, even though their family and their own city (Charleston, South Carolina) were horrified by their actions. The schism in the early abolitionist movement between abolition and women's rights reminded me of the division in the 1960s, when women who fought for civil rights were not given their own voice in the movement.

Sarah, Angelina, Handful, and Charlotte are all trying to find their own wings and escape the prisons of their lives. Handful's and Charlotte's restraints were real, while Sarah and Angelina were bound by the cultural expectations of their time.

This novel is not an easy read--Kidd depicted the horrors of slavery without flinching. I was grateful for Kidd's notes at the end, and also for the Internet, so I could learn more about the Grimkes when I was done reading the book. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers of their time, standing up for what they believed was right, even if their voices shook.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

I read this book because it got my 17-year-old son hooked on reading again. Before Hannah commits suicide, she creates a series of audiotapes explaining to 13 different people how they contributed to her decision...with instructions that they pass the tapes along to next person on the list.

The book alternates between Hannah's voice, explaining her "13 reasons why," and the perspective of Clay, one of the people on the list. I found this constant going back and forth to be a little distracting.

Many people LOVE this book, but I was not as taken with it. Toward the end of the book I actually started scanning it...not a good sign! Some people have said that it glamorizes suicide, and I can see their point.

It does shed some light on the plight of a teenage girl who is receiving unwanted attention from boys and is often objectified and not treated with respect. It also shows how desperately teenagers need real friendship and love (she was lacking both).

Typical of many young adult novels, parents hardly ever appeared or were mentioned in the book...which I thought seemed strange. What part did Hannah's parents play in her life? Did she leave a suicide note for them? As a parent myself, I couldn't help but note this strange lack of adult figures.

Some of her "reasons" seemed inconsequential, and in fact they made me think of all the people in the world who endure far, far worse than what Hannah had...yet they endure and survive.

From what I know about suicide, it usually happens because the person is deeply depressed...yet the book does not touch on Hannah's depression. I felt that her relationships with many of the thirteen, including the main character, were not fleshed out.

So I was disappointed. I'm glad it got my son reading again, but it wasn't really my cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

It is telling that I didn't realize Oryx and Crake was a trilogy and was upset to discover its open ending...even though two of my friends (including the book group member who nominated this book) had told me it was the first in a trilogy. I think I heard "science fiction," and I just blocked out the rest. :) But it's the kind of science fiction I'm drawn to: dystopia.

In fact, Margaret Atwood prefers to call this "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction, because science fiction involves things that are unlikely to happen or impossible, while speculative fiction is about things that could actually happen or were possible on earth...not about outer space. And that is exactly why this book is so frightening.

Oryx and Crake are actually minor characters in this book...the protagonist is Jimmy, or Snowman, and much of it takes place after most of humanity has been decimated by a plague brought on by humans' obsession with genetically engineering everything that moves (and doesn't). Cloning has gone wild, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Corporations run the world, and the powerless live in the "Pleeblands," like the "districts" in The Hunger Games. Crake has invented a new breed of (sort of) humans, who are like an open book--they are innocent and dull, and they lack drama or sexual longing. In short, they are incredibly boring, and they are all Snowman has for company in the end of the world.

The characters are deeply flawed and did not experience childhood love, and as we discussed at my book group meeting, brilliant scientist Crake and ethereal, distant Oryx are not particularly likeable or easy to understand. Jimmy/Snowman's and Crake's love for Oryx, whom they first encounter while watching kiddie porn (yes!), reminded me of the shallow foreign men who went to Japan to meet women, and often stayed there...they sought the type of woman who adored them unquestioningly, were more submissive, and didn't question their actions or words. I have a difficult time understanding men who fall for these types of women, like Jimmy and Crake. And I found it all too disturbing and depressing that kiddie porn and sexual trafficking would exist into the future. But as we know, desperate times call for desperate measures...and sex is a commodity.

While I was toward the end of this novel, I read about a timely, depressing NASA-funded study that predicts the collapse of civilization in a few decades and warns about the depletion of the world's resources and society dividing into the elite and commoners (all of which are essential elements of this book). (Now NASA is trying to distance itself from this study, probably because the agency doesn't want to be accused of being fatalistic, even though Margaret Atwood doesn't mind that.)

I've been reading Margaret Atwood for 30 years, and she is an exceptional writer. I've heard that the books only get better as they progress...and now that she's gotten me hooked, I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. But I might have to recover from this one first. It makes me truly worried for my children and grandchildren, because I can see these things happening so easily.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

I've been wanting to read this book for awhile--many of my friends have given it high ratings on Goodreads--and another friend recently urged me to read it after she'd read it for her book group. I'm glad I finally got around to it.

It's the story of Junior, who is keenly intelligent and creative in spite of being brain damaged at birth. He doesn't fit in well on the Spokane Indian Reservation and soon finds a way to go to the white school nearby. His community is not happy with him to say the least, including his best friend, who feels betrayed. It reminded me of a high school friend who got really hurt when I went away to college. 

But in spite of the alcoholism, incessant poverty, and too frequent deaths around him--even making it hard for him to get a ride to and from school--Junior excels in his white school. He has the advantage of two parents (and a grandma) who love him, even though his dad is a sad alcoholic. 

In addition to the stellar, well-crafted writing (which was distinctly better than the last young person's book I read, My Basmati Bat Mitzvah), Alexie has included cartoons by artist Ellen Forney as Junior's art. The drawings bring the text to life and help the reader understand Junior better. 

I love stories of redemption in spite of overwhelming odds, and this is an excellent example of that genre.

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

My Basmati Bat MitzvahMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah, by Paula L. Freedman

Drawn to this book because of its cover and title, I found it to be a light middle-grade read. Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grappling with her combined Indian-Jewish heritage. 

From what my middle grade novelist husband tells me, it's unusual to have an intact, happily married set of parents in these types of books, as Tara does. Her parents are caring, engaged, and funny, and she worries a lot about disappointing them. She also has a supportive extended family, both Indian and Jewish. Furthermore, her rabbi is great--so it's a positive depiction of religion as well.

Her life is full of friendship drama, especially as she comes to realize that her best friend, Ben-o, has a crush on her.

Ultimately, Tara discovers that doubt does not mean a loss of faith, and she finds a way to happily marry both cultures in her Bat Mitzvah.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead



Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

Every woman needs to read this book. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, admits that she didn't
always call herself a feminist. Like many other women of her generation (a bit younger than me), she thought that feminism was not necessary any more because we'd achieved equality. Then she learned how naive she was.

Sandberg has been broadly criticized for being blind to her own privilege, but I didn't find this to be true. She repeatedly says that not everyone has had the advantages she has (including a nanny to care for her children, and a supportive husband). She does have privilege and a very different perspective than blue-collar single moms, but she owns up to that. She has a different perspective than lower-income, less-educated women, but she's writing from her own experience, and many of her lessons apply to us all. It's especially hard for these women to "lean in," but the wisdom and inspiration in the book can help them too.

Sandberg tackles the systemic issues of sexism and backs them up with personal stories and research. The personal stories were fascinating...such as going to financial offices where they'd never had a woman ask to use a bathroom, or discovering--on a corporate jet--that her children had lice, or revealing the fact that she was brought to tears and comforted once by Mark Zuckerberg, who gave her a hug (and she was then criticized for that!). 

Here's just a bit of the compelling research I noted in the book, which is packed full of footnotes:
  • In the last decade, child care costs have risen twice as fast as the median income of families with children.
  • When the Harvard Business School surveyed alumni, they found that 91% of the men's graduates were employed, while only 81% of the women graduates from the early 2000s were employed, and only 49% of those who graduated in the early 1990s were working full-time. Highly educated women drop out of the workforce in droves, contributing to the leadership gender gap.
  • 40% of employed  moms lack sick days and vacation, and 50% of them are unable to take time to care for a sick child.
  • Only 1/2 of employed moms receive maternity leave pay.
This morning I heard on NPR that women make closer salaries to men's when they first start working after college graduation, but the income gap spreads as the years go on. This study explains.

Sandberg's also been accused of blaming women, but I didn't find that either. She issues a challenge for all of us to lean in, to rise to the challenge, to be confident in ourselves and the choices we make, and strive for greater equality in the workplace and in our broader culture at large. 

She also calls on men to lean in and calls out the stereotypes they face if they choose to stay home with the kids. She says that men need to speak up, set new pathways, and demand paternity leave. She quotes Gloria Steinem, "Now we know that women can do what men can do, but we don't know that men can do what women can do."  The revolution will happen one family at a time...younger generations appear to be more eager to be real partners in parenting.

One of the new Getty images from the "Lean In Collection"
She clarifies that "doing it all" is a myth. Women have to make choices, but Sandberg hopes that women will stay in the workforce. In fact, women who work outside the home spend more time with their kids today than our moms did in the 1960s and 1970s. An employed mom spends about the same time on primary child care as a non-employed mom in 1975.

Since I finished the book, Sandberg has been in the news again with her great work with Getty Images to create positive images of women in stock photos (the "Lean In Collection"), and for her "Ban Bossy" campaign in partnership with the Girl Scouts.



”When a girl tries to lead, she is often labelled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend. As someone who was called this for much of my childhood, I know that it is not a compliment. The stories of my childhood bossiness are told (and retold) with great amusement.“

So yes, Sandberg might be a privileged, educated, white woman, but she is doing good work...necessary and overdue work, prompting women and men to look at our status quo and realize that many things are not right. She is using her position to advance the cause of women in the workplace and society, and this is to be applauded.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

I LOVED this book...in fact, it's my favorite so far in 2014. I would not have been drawn to the title, but it was my book group selection for the month.

The story is about "Verity," a female British spy, is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend Maddie, the pilot who flew her into France. The Nazis torture and interrogate Verity (or "Queenie"), and she writes about her friendship with Maddie and their training before and during the war. Slowly, the reader learns the pieces of her story...at least, what she is telling the Nazis.

I don't want to say much more about the book for fear of giving any details away. It did take me a bit of time to get into (I'm not terribly interested in flying airplanes--so the beginning bored me a bit at times), but it is SO WORTH PERSEVERING.

I finished it in the middle of the night before book group...and I found myself crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the few books I've read that makes me want to go right back and reread it now that I know the ending...it will stick with me for a long time.

I think next time I will listen to it so I can hear the English and Scottish accents. It's one of the few books I've read that has the word "gormless" in it (one of my English husband's favorite words, which I'd never heard before I met him).

Some have called it as a "love letter to female friendship," which is an excellent way to describe it. I do think it's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. This is one of my favorite lines from the book:
"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."
Read it!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Ayah's Tale

The Ayah's Tale, a novella by Sujata MasseyThe Ayah's Tale, by Sujata Massey

Sujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an Indian ayah and the English children under her care.

The role of a child care taker is a complicated one. During a few summers in college, I worked as a nanny taking care of my two cousins in Seattle. I also babysat extensively during high school and formed strong attachments to many of my charges. When I left my two cousins at aged 2 and 4 to go to Japan, I sobbed because I knew how much I would miss them. I had grown very attached to both of them.

My situation was different than Menakshi, who was forced to drop out of school and take up a job as an ayah (nanny) because of her father's death and her family's poverty. Although she had great potential, she had to give up her own dreams to help her family.

Even though the children in her care were privileged and spoiled, she becomes attached t to them and they to her. What the children (especially middle child, Julian) don't understand is the complication in this attachment. The children's mother, Marjorie, is snobbish and shallow, and disengaged from her children's lives and inner thoughts. She doesn't want to spend much time with her children, but she also feels resentful because of their attachment to Menakshi, their ayah. The children don't understand that Menakshi is paid to be with them: it's not her choice, and she has her own life.

I always enjoy reading stories that take place in locations where I've lived or visited. Menakshi's story starts and ends in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, a place I visited in 1988. Sujata Massey beautifully depicts the life of an Indian ayah and the complicated relationships that people in the employ of their colonial employers had to deal with--and in fact, still deal with in many countries. 

Even though Menakshi endures great hardships in her life, she finds love in these pages and a more hopeful future than working as an unappreciated ayah. So even though her life improves, she feels some sense of loss as she misses these English children who came to love her.

I'm looking forward to Sujata Massey's next full-size novel. I prefer novels to short stories and novellas, although this was a fun one to read!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Weight of Silence

The Weight of SilenceThe Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf

In this quiet, easy read, seven-year-old Calli Clark is best friends with Petra Gregory. Although Calli does not speak, Petra speaks on her behalf. Calli's father is a mean drunk, and her mother tries to pretend that everything is normal.

When Calli and Petra disappear early one morning, Calli's mother Antonia is forced to face what she has been trying to ignore.

Gudenkauf portrays a family damaged by alcoholism and abuse, with two sensitive children who have been deeply scarred by the disease.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Game of Thrones (and 10 reasons I disliked it)

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

Or as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters

My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention to much else. He loves them.

Then my 17-year-old son, who used to be such a great reader but in recent years has been deterred by electronics, also read the whole book and is now watching the show.

Plus one of my close friends, who doesn't usually go for fantasy, became obsessed with the show and the books, and she told me that I should give them a try.

So I gave Book 1 a try, and I will not be reading any more of the series. Remember, I finished Book 1 of the Lord of the Rings series and gave up during The Two Towers. Fantasy is not my thing, unless it's something fun like Harry Potter. I can take the violence, and I have read many dystopian sci-fi novels. It's just that this didn't hold my interest.

I should have known better when in the beginning, every single chapter was told from the perspective of a different character. I have a 50-page rule (ala Nancy Pearl). I was about to give up, but then on Page 49, we returned to a character that I had seen before. So I plowed on, thinking I might become more engaged.

When I took a break at around Page 625 to read The Chaperone and enjoyed it much more, I should have known better. 

I also should have considered that my husband never thought I would like these books. 

But I was determined to finish the book, much like I felt that I needed to read Twilight. It's such a part of our popular culture, and I wanted to know why everyone seems besotted with it.

So here are the 10 reasons I wasn't crazy about A Game of Thrones:

1. Far too many characters!
I know Martin provides lists at the end of the book, but honestly, why did there have to be so many? I lost track. Many of the characters are mentioned in passing only once or twice. Why include them at all?

2. Lack of character development
Very few of the multitude of characters are fleshed out fully. Even the primary characters...we get very little back story on how they became who they are, with only a few exceptions.

3. Lack of sympathetic characters
The only person I cared about in this book was Arya Stark. That's it. I didn't care what happened to anyone else. Daenerys was interesting, but she was brutal too. Ned was better than most of them, but even he was not loyal to his wife and had a dark past. Nearly everyone in this book lacks morals, compassion, or kindness. These people are unlikable!

4. Rape and brutal treatment of women
I had heard that Game of Thrones had lots of sex, but I didn't expect the huge amount of rape and horrific treatment of women...constant child bride rape, incest, gang rape, and forced prostitution. Is this typical of fantasy? No thank you. I'd heard that this series has more strong female characters than other fantasy books, but even those strong female characters are often powerless in such a patriarchal, misogynist culture.

5. Too much detail
Martin goes way into detail about political posturing, history of various families, and geography, while sacrificing real, valuable information. And then there's the endless, repeated titles of royalty, such as "King Joffrey, the First of His Name, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm," blah, blah, blah. 

6. Way too long
I am not scared of long books. In fact, I loved Vikram Seth's 1,500-page long A Suitable Boy. But you've got to keep me interested to make me feel like the length is worth it. This book could have used a good editor. (See #1 and 5.)

7. Endless plots
From what I understand about this series, each book does not end...it just goes on and on into more books. I need closure. 

8. Lack of geographic perspective
I needed a map, like Tolkien provided. I am a visual person. Where in the heck is "The Neck"? How does the wall divide the kingdom? So much of this book and series is about place and kingdoms. I didn't know where the heck anything was, except sometimes "north" or "south."

9. Does not compel me to read any more
I'm not interested in seeing where this series continues. 

10. Very sad outlook on humanity
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote wonderful villains and complicated characters and had redemption in his books...the friendship in the fellowship of the ring, the rip-roaring fun in the Shire, the wisdom of Gandalf, the great adventure, the beautiful Elfen lands...so many more things to like about that series, even though those books were not my cup of tea either. As one reviewer wrote, "I have bums and alcoholic friends that blaze like Gandalf the White compared to most of Martin's characters." That reviewer went on to say "It is a story mired in filth and obscenity and shines the light on the worst conditions of human experience and offers them up as plot lines, dialogue and personal, social and political interactions."

As I mentioned above, I've read my share of dystopian literature (The Hunger Games series, The Road, A Handmaid's Tale, etc.), but even those types of books have some redemption in them, usually in the relationships between the characters. If I'm going to read a dark, dark book, I need to get some satisfaction out of it. 

My apologies to the Game of Thrones lovers!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Chaperone

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty

I took a break from reading A Game of Thrones to read The Chaperone, and I found it to be highly engrossing (much more so than Game of Thrones)!

It's the story of Cora Carlisle, a small town Kansas woman who agrees to be a chaperone for young Louise Brooks, who heads to New York City to study dance. The story is loosely based on the life on silent film star Louise Brooks, who lived life more freely than her time allowed. Cora has her job cut out for her in trying to keep the reins on young Louise.

Cora has another motivation to go to New York--to plumb the depths of her childhood. She learns about herself as a result, and most important, realizes that her high moral ideals are hypocritical and not all that they seem...and that other things in life are more important than strict morals.

The story is more about Cora's life (which is fictional) than Louise's, which is one disadvantage to the book. After Cora returns from New York, the rest of the book focuses on her life, and rarely touches on Louise's story.

But I enjoyed this book and learned some historical tidbits, always a great thing!
Louise Brooks at age 21

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Best books of 2013

With my family at the City Lights Bookstore
 in San Francisco in August
Here are the best books I read in 2013. Click the title to read my review. These are listed in approximate order of how much I liked them (#1 being the best). I'd love to hear what you thought of any of these books. If you've read any, please leave me a comment.

You can also refer to best books lists back to 2001 here. Enjoy! (This is cross-posted in Every Day Is a Miracle.)


Fiction
1. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki: Canadian novelist finds a diary of a Japanese girl washed up on the beach…loved this lyrical, spiritual tale and got to see Ozeki read from the book
2. The Sleeping Dictionary, Sujata Massey: Pom loses her family in a tsunami, and her life takes many difficult courses around Indian independence (another one of my favorite authors)
3. Cinnamon and Gunpowder, Eli Brown: England, 1819…female pirate kidnaps a male chef…great foodie adventure!
4. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini: vivid landscape and complex, multilayered, and interesting characters
5. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, Gail Tsukiyama: sweeping, WWII-era story of two orphaned brothers in Japan
6. The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith: J.K. Rowling’s new detective novel—worth a read!
7. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson: stiff English major and Pakistani shop keeper fall in love
8. In the Woods, Tana French: Irish literary detective novel
9. Bruised, Sarah Skilton; young adult fiction
10. Cross Currents, John Shors; takes place in Thai desert island struck by the tsunami
11. The Burning, Jane Casey; another Irish detective novel
12. Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear: historical detective novel
13. The Little Book, Selden Edwards: time travel in Austria
14. The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams: young adult fiction

15. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall: coming of age novel of abandoned Native American boy

Nonfiction
1. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber: the title says it all—memoir of a tattooed, alcoholic ELCA pastor with an emergent church
2. Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her HomeLaura and Lisa Ling: one sister rescues the other sister in North Korea
3. Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala: A woman loses her entire family in the Sri Lankan tsunami and battles huge grief
4. Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith, Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, ed.: essays by female Christian leaders about taboo topics
5. The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, Jennifer Worth: Inspired “Call the Midwife,” which I love
6. Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, Piper Kerman: Inspired “Orange Is the New Black” show, even better than the book
8. Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson; author returns to USA after living in the UK
9. The Invisible Girls: A Memoir, Sarah Thebarge: cancer survivor befriends Somali refugees
10. Bruce, Peter Ames Carlin: the life of the Boss
11. Loud in the House of Myself, Stacy Pershall: poignant memoir of mental illness
12. Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer: insider account of what makes the hateful Westboro Baptist Church function
13. Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn: she’s quirky, strong, and fascinating

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Am Malala

I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

What an inspiring young woman! With assistance from writer Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai tells her story...beginning from when she was born. In her village in the Swat valley, people rejoice when a son is born, but not a daughter. However, her father was immediately delighted to have a daughter. Reading Malala's story, it's clear how tremendously lucky she was to be blessed with such a father. Fathers have incredible power in traditional, religiously conservative countries such as Pakistan. “Our men think earning money and ordering around others is where power lies," wrote Malala. "They don't think power is in the hands of the woman who takes care of everyone all day long, and gives birth to their children.” Because of her wise, brave father's belief in women's and girls' potential, Malala was able to pursue her dreams of education. He dedicated his life to educating girls by starting his own school:

“His sisters--my aunts--did not go to school at all, just like millions of girls in my country. Education had been a great gift for him. He believed that lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan's problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls. The school that my father dreamed of would have desks and a library, computers, bright posters on the walls and, most important, washrooms.” 

Throughout her life, Malala has been an ambitious, competitive, and passionate young woman. She emulated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, another strong Pakistani woman who bravely faced her opponents to fight for what she believed in. She has been supported along the way by both her father and mother.

Sadly, it's hard to say whether Malala will ever be able to return to Pakistan. It's not safe for her there, and many condemn her speaking out against the Taliban.

As I was reading this book, I was explaining it to my younger sons, aged 7 and 10. I wanted them to understand how lucky they are to have a good education. My 7-year-old, in particular, is highly interested in the plight of Malala and wants to know why she can't return to Pakistan and why the Taliban fights violently against women's rights to be educated.

I highly recommend this story of a phenomenal young woman, and I admire her passion and commitment to stand up for girls' education in her homeland.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In the Woods

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)In the Woods, by Tana French

I've seen this book around for awhile, and I had a copy of it on my bookshelves that I finally decided to read. It's the story of Rob Ryan, victim of a crime 20 years before and now a murder detective himself. He's on a case in which a young girl is murdered in the same area where his two best friends vanished when he was a child.

My favorite character is Ryan's partner, Cassie Maddow, a tough, tender detective with secrets of her own.

I would describe this book as a literary thriller/detective novel. It took me a bit of time to finish it, but I enjoyed it. After I closed the last page, I looked up the rest of the series. French chooses a different main character to profile in each book, all based in Ireland (the "Dublin Murder Squad"). The next book will focus mostly on Cassie herself. I'm not sure whether Rob ever returns to the plot...but I will be reading more of the series!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro 


I discovered this book when Nadia Bolz-Weber (author of Pastrix) recommended it on her Facebook page. It's a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40 (it's part of a series by young female spiritual leaders). The title immediately caught my attention. These women, many pastors and teachers, share their thoughts on a variety of topics that have been off limits in Christianity. 

Some of the essays by more conservative women wrestle with the teachings of men as the head of the household, women speaking in church or preaching, women as professionals, the decision to live with a partner before marriage, leaving an abusive marriage and being cast out by her church, choosing not to follow in parents' footsteps as a Christian missionary caring for the poor, choosing celibacy, being called to work with refugees, tattoos, freedom without makeup, recovery, dealing with dissatisfaction in one’s marriage, etc. Many of these are even greater taboo topics in conservative Christian circles. We all have our own taboos.

The following essays struck particular notes with me:

"The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children. She has found that her most contemplative time is when her mind is fuzzy and she has no book before her…when she was breastfeeding, for example. She takes her cue from Christ’s own mother, who twice is described as “pondering” at the work of God in her son. “Why else would such a prayer be mentioned in the Gospels unless to call us to such deep work?”

"Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on without disrupting their friendship (or his marriage). “I am beginning to realize how little the churches of which I have been a part have taught me about the beauty of boundaries and the reality of fine lines.” I admired Okoro's honesty on such a difficult topic.

"Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church. We tend to be heavily focused on family and children in our churches.

"High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism. That last one is a particularly strong pet peeve of mine!

"Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality. Perry writes, "Imagine if ALL women were validated for their potential to create life as evident in their monthly cycle…I am seeking ways that we can strengthen and reinvigorate women through the common bonds of blood…I’d like to see our society embrace women’s rituals and reconcile our disconnection with creation.” Have you ever heard menstruation or women's reproductive organs mentioned in church?

"The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. When Stone's friend was in cancer treatment, she acknowledged that profanity had a purpose: “In the midst of my frigid and tedious winter, I needed some good profanity to adequately describe how much it all sucked. Sometimes an f-bomb is the exact, right word.” After seeing several close friends through deep, dark times and experiencing them myself, I can relate. Our God is a God of shit times.

"Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. Tesfamarian writes, "The image of my Maker as a ‘soft, still voice’ or ‘gentle whisper’ found in 1 Kings 19 was comforting and reassuring…I have done the hard work of unpacking God for myself. But that responsibility should not fall solely on me as an individual. The church also has a lot of work to do. Will more churches rise to this occasion, commit to being cutting-edge on matters of gender equality, and go where women of faith dare to take them? IS the church ready for a generation of women who are determined to define God on their own terms?” I went through a similar journey myself when I studied feminist theology in college and discovered that God was so much bigger than one gender alone.

“The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims. Instead the church condemns homosexuality while ignoring sexual assault and domestic violence. She raises the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the fact that instead of addressing the issue of rape in the story, this story is used as a weapon against homosexuality. “Will we continue to read the Scriptures according to our taboos around homosexuality and domestic violence, accepting interpretations that maximize violence?”

"No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church. Messina-Dysert finds a way to identify as Catholic by realizing she is her own agent and will not allow anyone to tell her what her religious status is based on her refusal to accept discrimination. She is also raising a daughter who will fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic church. This essay is important to me because I am married to a Catholic and belong to a Lutheran-Catholic community. 

"The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church. This essay made me think about what the unique journey female pastors must take and how the standards can be very different for them. When I was breastfeeding my children, I did so in church during worship. I'm grateful no one ever questioned this. As a pastor, I no doubt would have been under a microscope and judged for doing this.

"Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure. She asks, ”What would the world look like if every girl and woman knew exactly how her body worked? If it was respected and her enjoyment of sexual behaviors was as important as that of her partner…that would be the world God intended…God created us to experience pleasure for the sake of knowing and loving ourselves better, so that we can know and love others better, including God.” What a wonderful way to look at our bodies and sexuality...and a wake-up call for the church.

"Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church. She also writes about her own loss conducting a baptism right after experiencing her own miscarriage and how she shared her own grief with strangers. I received some support from church friends when I experienced several miscarriages, but it wasn't something I felt comfortable talking about. 

"What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Merritt had to ask for a salary raise at her first church and experienced condescension from church members about her husband being the stay-at-home dad. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.

"My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing. She also wrote about how she is feeling more comfortable with her female pastor body now that she is older and her body attracts less attention.

I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cross Currents

Cross CurrentsCross Currents, by John Shors

In March 1987, my friend Debbie and I spent a few days--not long enough--on an unspoiled Thai island, Koh Samet. The visit was arranged by Debbie's friend, Noi, who worked for Finn Air and whose Bangkok family was very protective of us. Even though Debbie and I were intrepid travelers by this point, they didn't want us traveling on our own...so our time on this island was wonderful because we were on our own, and it was absolutely gorgeous...one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It was so relaxing--all we did all day was laze around reading, writing, swimming, and taking walks. And eating amazing seafood.The owners didn't seem to speak much English, and we had to let them know when we wanted to eat by using sign language.

Me on Koh Samet
The memory of our time on that pristine island, where we had a bungalow on the beach and ate our meals in front of the ocean, was ever present as I read this book, set on another unspoilt Thai island, Ko Phi Phi. It's the story of an American, Patch, who is working for Lek and Sarai, owners of a very small resort (which sounds similar to the one where we stayed).

Patch develops a strong friendship with Lek and Sarai's children and becomes part of their family. But Patch's stay continues longer than any other American...and they realize that he is on the run from the law. Soon Patch's brother Ryan and his girlfriend Brooke arrive to help him, but there's trouble in paradise. Brooke and Ryan's relationship is in trouble, and she realizes she is attracted to Patch.

The climax of the story is the December 2004 tsunami, which sweeps everyone into crisis. It's the second book I've read in the past year about the tsunami; the other one was the heart-breaking memoir Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala


Another photo of Koh Samet (me, age 22)
It's a terribly bittersweet novel, and it moved me at the end. I don't think it's Shors' strongest novel--my two favorites were his first ones, Beneath a Marble Sky and Beside a Burning Sea. At times I tired of the descriptions about everyone's clothing and a bit too much "telling" rather than "showing." At other times the story dragged on, with slow plot development. On the other hand, I liked the way he described the lives of the Thais who lived on the island, the rich family life of Lek and Sarai, the tenuous relationship between the foreigners and the Thais, and the relationship between the brothers--strained but loving.

And most of all, I enjoyed this book because it made me think of that lovely Thai beach...and saddened me to think of what happened to all those people who lost their lives or loved ones in the great wave.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Sleeping Dictionary

The Sleeping Dictionary (Daughters of Bengal, #1)
The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

As a long-time Sujata Massey fan, I was anxious to get my hands on her latest novel, and it did not disappoint!!

Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany (just like my friend Nandita), and she grew up mostly in Minnesota. After working as a reporter, she spent several years in Japan where she taught, studied, and began writing her first novel, The Salaryman's Wife. That first novel grew into a detective series with smart, industrious, and savvy Rei Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer who lives in Japan and solves mysteries on the side. I read every single one of the Rei Shimura novels as soon as they came out and have widely recommended them to friends. In fact, the Rei Shimura series is the only detective series I've devoured in its entirety outside of the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky (my first introduction to detective novels). I'm not naturally drawn to mysteries, so I'm highly selective. Authors (e.g., Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell) lose my attention if their books are not well written or if I get tired of the main character. Of course, Rei Shimura held my attention completely because of the series' setting in Japan (mostly). Loved them!

So onto The Sleeping Dictionary. This book took six years for Massey to research and write, because it involved so much in-depth research into Indian history, culture, and language. Massey's family comes from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and she spent time there as a child (read her wonderful diary entries here!), so it was a natural choice for setting this novel. 

It's the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea. Her family is very poor, but she feels secure and well loved until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. When she befriends a wealthier Indian girl, Bidushi, who she had known as a child, she comes to discover her own intelligence and talents. Although she hopes to become Bidushi's ayah and always stay together, these dreams are soon dashed by tragedy.

Still very young, she next finds herself in the city of Kharagpur, lured into prostitution at a high-class brothel. As an Indian girl without a family, she has few options for survival. She desperately tries to cling to her dignity in the midst of her despair at being forced to sell her body, and she continues to nurture dreams of becoming a teacher. (The title of the book comes from the term for young Indian women who slept with British men and taught them the ways and language of India.)

I hesitate to give away too much of the plot and adventure in the novel, but I will say that she moves to Calcutta where she renames herself as Kamala, begins to work for an English man, and gets involved in the Indian independence movement.

So here are some of the reasons why I loved this book: 
  • Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately and throughout her story. Faced with desperately difficult choices in her life, she does the best she can with what is given to her. While she is certainly a victim many times in her life, she has no privilege to wallow in misery and self-pity, but time after time she finds ways to rise above her difficult circumstances.
  • I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I've traveled only in the north of India (we concentrated our time there in Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan), but I found myself intrigued by the City of Palaces and sad to read about its devastation during the pre-Independence riots and violence.
  • I have read great quantities of Indian fiction (and a bit of nonfiction, too), but this book taught me things I did not know...for example, about the massive famine in Bengal caused by the British Empire hoarding India's rice (millions died), India's amazing female freedom fighters and independence activists, Japan bombing India during the war, some members of the Indian resistance movement joining the Japanese led by Subhash Chandra Bose, to name a few...it also gives the Anglo-Indian perspective on what was happening during that time.
  • Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Hindus, Muslims, and British, and even some of the women who are sucked into prostitution. Kamala herself makes some unfortunate decisions and lies to people because she feels she has no choice. She's a complex character who is far from perfect. Both Kamala and Simon evolve through the story. There's even a Scottish clergyman who is open minded, fair, and compassionate...imagine that!
  • As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. From the moment "Sarah" borrows books from a kind teacher at the British boarding school and her gradual collection of the great masters, to Kamala landing a wonderful job as a librarian for Mr. Lewes...books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life.
I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy, AND that Rei Shimura will be making a reappearance! The Sleeping Dictionary will be near the top of my "Top Reads of 2013" list! If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! 

Here is Sujata Massey speaking about The Sleeping Dictionary, and an interview with her.



Friday, November 1, 2013

Orange Is the New Black

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's PrisonOrange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, by Piper Kerman

I'm completely hooked on the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," so I was anxious to read the memoir that is the basis for the show. I'd heard an interview with Piper Kerman on "Fresh Air" several months ago, so I already knew that the book is notably different than the show.

Here's the plot in a nutshell if you're not familiar with the show. Rich, Smith-educated white girl smuggles drug money for her girlfriend. Ten years later, after she has reinvented her life and gone to the other side (she's engaged to a man), the feds show up at her door. She has to go to prison for 15 months (13 months with time off for good behavior) because of the mistake she made as a young woman.

She serves her time in Danbury Prison in Connecticut, and toward the end of her sentence she gets transferred to even worse places--Oklahoma City and Chicago. While in prison, she makes friends and learns how to survive.

Here's what is most different about the book and show, and what I preferred:

  • When she first arrives at Danbury, many of the other prisoners reached out to her and helped her. Not so in the show, at least not right away. Win: book.
  • In the show, we learn the back stories (and actually see them) of the other prisoners. In the book, this rarely happens. It's mostly about Kerman's experience alone. Win: show, by far (this is the best part of the show!). Apparently in reality, it wasn't cool to ask why a woman was in prison, so Kerman didn't often know the back stories.
  • In the show, Piper is housed at Danbury with Alex, her former girlfriend. They have an affair and she becomes attached to her again. Her long-suffering fiance Larry finds out and breaks off their engagement. In the book, she runs into Alex Nora in the end, as they are rounded up to testify against someone else (part of their plea bargain). But they do not have an affair. They develop a tenuous friendship instead. Win: book, although the show is much more dramatic and interesting to watch.
  • We hear more about prison creativity in the book. Piper becomes an expert at making "prison cheesecake" with a variety of ingredients...in the movie, we don't get this level of detail. Win: book.
  • "Crazy Eyes" is an exaggeration of the show, as are several of the other characters. A woman flirts with Piper in the book, but not so aggressively as in the show. Red Pop doesn't bully her by starving her in the beginning of the stay, but she is an important character. Crazy, meth-addicted fundamentalist Christian who tries to kill Piper seems to be another fantasy. Win: book. The show plays into the stereotype of lesbian (and other types of) aggression in prison. In fact, there's a lot more lesbian sex in the show than in the book.
  • "Pornstache" (a perverted, masochistic guard) is much bigger in the show than "Gay Porn Star" in the book. He doesn't last long in reality, and he doesn't deal drugs or sleep with prisoners. Win: book (reality).
  • Larry is much more neurotic and self-obsessed in the show than in the book. He takes advantage of the information he gets from Piper to go on "This American Life" and share personal stories of the prisoners. He breaks it off with Piper when he discovers she's back with Nora Alex. None of this happens in the book. They are both loyal and much less interesting to a TV audience. Win: the book (for love, at least, if not for TV viewing).

When Piper moves to Oklahoma City and then Chicago to testify, it's much more horrific and bare than Danbury, which seems almost "comfortable" in comparison. It's hard to know how they will address this, if ever, in the show.

As Kit Steinkellner writes in this article on BookRiot,
"Orange is the New Black is a fine memoir. Orange is the New Black is a revolutionary first season of television."
I have to agree. I enjoyed the book, but the TV show is so much fuller, mostly because the stories of the diverse prisoners are so much more interesting than the rich white woman's. I'm glad Piper Kerman wrote her story, though, because it's called attention to the bad conditions of women in prison and their lack of control over their environment.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & SaintPastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Wow. This book brought me to tears so many times. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic and fundamentalist (she was raised in the ultraconservative Church of Christ), and she is now an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) pastor, wife, and mother. She founded and leads a church called the House for All Sinners and Saints, or HFASS (pronounced Half-Ass) for short. In this book, Bolz-Weber shares deeply and honestly about her own personal trials and how she found her way to the Lutheran church: in one word, grace.

I had forgotten this, but when we were at Holden Village several years ago, Bolz-Weber was also there. A few in our group found her to be standoffish and not very warm. She admits this herself and calls herself a "misanthrope." Her grumpiness comes out full bore in her memoir, but that's what I like so much about it: her deep honesty. She's like Anne Lamott as an ELCA pastor.

I heavily dog-eared my copy of this book, and this is what spoke most clearly to me:


  • God's aunt: When she spent some time with Wiccan friends (before finding a home in the ELCA), she said "the goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God's aunt." She goes on..."I can't imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can't imagine that God doesn't reveal God's self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity. In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine."
  • What you were called to be: When she hesitantly shared with her pastor dad and mom about her decision to become a pastor (after being raised in a church where women could not even teach Sunday school to boys over 12, much less preach), her father responded in a way she didn't expect: "At that moment, my father silently stood up, walked to the bookshelf and took down his worn, leather-bound Bible. Here we go, I thought, he's going to beat me with the scripture stick...He opened it up and read. I could tell from where he was turning that it wasn't one of Paul's letters at the end of the book, but something closer to the middle. My father did not read the 1st Timothy passage about women being silent in church. He read from Esther.

    From my father I heard only these words: "But you were born for such a day as this." He closed the book and my mother joined him in embracing me. They prayed over me and they gave me a blessing. And some blessings, like the one my conservative Christian parents gave to their soon-to-be Lutheran pastor daughter who had put them through hell, are the kind of blessings that stay with you for the rest of your life. The kind you can't speak of without crying all over again." Oh, did I ever cry when I read this story!
  • I am baptized, so fuck off: Apparently Martin Luther had a bit of an anger issue. "Luther was known to not only throw the occasional inkpot at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God's promises, but also while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting, 'I am baptized!'" And this is what baptism means to a Lutheran--to be claimed by God and touched by God's grace, no matter what we do or who we are. It's not up to us; it's up to God. This is what she shared with a young transgender man named Asher, who was also raised in a conservative Christian church and who she blessed in a name changing ceremony. She met him a few years later after he returned home from seminary. He said, "I never told you about the dream I had the night after my naming rite"..."It was like so many other nights--a voice accusing me, damning me, scaring me. But this time I talked back," he said proudly. "I said, 'I am baptized, so fuck off,' and when I woke up I was giddy. I called a friend, and we went to City Park and made snow angels." I plan to use this next time my own personal demons threaten my spirit.
  • No fakery: Bolz-Weber is not a fan of praise music or liturgical dance and can barely keep herself of showing her dislike on her face. "Pretending to feel a way other than how I actually feel is not a gift God gave me. I can pull it off for short periods of time when needed, but the effort is exhausting." I can relate! This is why it would be very difficult for me to be a pastor!
  • Radical hospitality does not sell: She addresses the fact that "churches that try to live into the beauty of radical hospitality and the destabilizing idea that Jesus is experienced in welcoming strangers don't tend to be described as 'sprawling.' Jesus wants you to be rich and beautiful is doing great as a message, though. There are shiny millionaire preachers and full attended parking lots every Sunday morning in America to prove it."
  • Strangers sometimes look like our parents: But she also struggled big time with the growing attention her church has received. When they started attracting a lot of white, middle-class suburbanites, she didn't like it. "I wanted the 'us' to be bigger. What I wasn't prepared for was the 'us' to be different." She found it increasingly difficult, as the numbers grew, to maintain a welcoming attitude to some of these newcomers...those who didn't fit her definition of "all sinners and saints" (alcoholics, tattoo-wearers, drug addicts, hippies). "My precious little indie boutique of a church was being treated like a 7-Eleven, and I was terrified that the edgy, marginalized people whom we had always attracted would now come and see a bunch of people who looked like their parents and think, 'This isn't for me.' And if that started to happen, I would basically lose my shit." Then a friend of hers pointed out that her church was really good at welcoming young transgendered people..."but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad." And then young Asher, the transgendered young person, expressed gratitude for those who didn't look like him. "I just want to say that I'm really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can't with my own mom and dad." More tears.
  • What would Jesus do? When a con man becomes a member of her church, her first instinct was to "try to get rid of him. You know, like Jesus would do...Ugh, Jesus. He always seems to be showing up when I want him to politely just keep out of my business." And when this con man, Rick, becomes part of her community and works at a food distribution center at the Occupy Denver outpost, he enthusiastically shares, "Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!"..."Everyone is fed. It doesn't matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn't even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break."..."The only place I've ever really seen that is at communion." Then she hangs up, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. And again, I dropped tears. That's what communion means to me as a Lutheran--everyone is welcome and everyone gets fed.

This book, while it might not appeal to everyone (especially if you are sensitive to salty language), made me glad to be an ELCA Lutheran. I'm so glad that we have tattooed, alcoholic pastors like Bolz-Weber, and that she is spreading the word about God's grace to everyone. I encourage you to watch this long interview with Bolz-Weber by Krista Tippett. It's worth it.