2014 Whitneys: General Fiction Finalists

This is a short review/synopsis of the 2014 Whitney General finalists. This year four of the five books seemed more inspirational, and that’s not my favorite genre, so I will tell you up front I’m not the best reader for these books. I have even wondered if the Whitneys should have a separate category devoted entirely to inspirational fiction, so that the General category can be about stories that have no message attached. So if you love inspirational books (or if you wrote them), take my thoughts with a grain of salt (or don’t read them at all). I’m not in your intended audience, but I’ll say my piece anyway.

On to the books, which I’ve sorted alphabetically by author:
plentiful rainA Plentiful Rain, by Elizabeth Bentley. This is the story of Ellis, a Mormon intellectual who has avoided marriage and commitment for many years, but decides to brave the waters of the older singles scene again when his sister and father both get engaged. Initially attracted to the gorgeous Cassandra, he finds that her younger, recovering alcoholic sister has more depth and kindness to her. Continue reading

The Making of Extraordinary

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My children enjoy reading the picture book Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed, by Emily Pearson. It’s a feel-good book about a little girl who does something ordinary–picks blueberries and places them on her neighbor’s porch. This one kind deed encourages her neighbor to make blueberry muffins for five different people who might have left the blueberries. Then those five people feel so happy, they do kind things for five more people. Then those twenty-five each do something kind for five more people, and the kindness grows exponentially from Mary’s simple act to 6,103,515,625 people feeling loved.

Mary’s kindness comes back to her when her aunt, who was given tickets to a show she really wanted to see, feels so happy she decides to bring Mary a surprise gift. My kids’ favorite page in the book shows a pyramid of numbers that shows how quickly her ordinary act became extraordinary, and then we read, “…after everyone had a share and everybody knew that somebody cared, there was even love left over!”

Last week I saw the making of extraordinary in the life of a neighbor, who passed away unexpectedly. He was Primary teacher to  two of my sons as well as over a hundred other children. He taught Primary for so long that young men who are on missions had him as a teacher when they were only 7 and 8 years old.

He was the teacher who, when the music chorister brought in silly hats for the children to place on someone else’s head, always got the first and silliest hat. He helped the children memorize the Articles of Faith and other scriptures by taking the time to make scripture card packets for them. He joked with kids and made sure they knew they were loved.  He would tell me (serving as the Primary president), that I’m doing a good job or that he especially liked a Sharing Time presentation.

Every year that I’ve served as president, I’ve said to him, “I know you’ve been in Primary a long time. Are you still happy to be here?” His response: “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Keep me here.” I wish I could have kept him here. His deep bass voice singing the Primary songs will be sorely missed.

At his funeral, there was a beautiful representation of how his years of “ordinary” service in the Primary have become extraordinary. Children, young men, and young women crowded the front of the chapel to sing his favorite song, “Gethsemane.” The chorus reads: “Gethsemane, Jesus loves me. So he gave His gift to me from Gethsemane.” This “ordinary” man spent years lovingly teaching children about the extraordinary gift of the Atonement. Those children will spread the gospel as missionaries and friends throughout the world, and will one day share that gift with their own children.

His love and the love of our Savior will be spread exponentially, so that more and more people will know that somebody cares, and there can even be “love left over.”

What ordinary turned extraordinary acts have you seen in your life?

where I’ve been placed

P1040977 copyOne line from my son’s letter repeats over and over in my mind, “I’ll do my best here. This is where I’ve been placed.” He wrote those words last fall from Kurgan, Russia, a somewhat bleak place whose name literally translates to ‘burial mound.’ My son will be home from his mission in just 12 days (oh-my-goodness-we-can-hardly-wait!), and I’m still rolling that idea over and over in my mind– “where I’ve been placed.”

As Mormons, we like to have a sense of destiny, of “this is how it’s supposed to be” and that sense especially applies to where we live.

I’ve spent my entire life in Salt Lake City, Utah. For many of my friends, staying in Utah was the ultimate goal. But for me, without any extended family or real ties to Salt Lake, I always thought I’d explore the planet. When I married my husband, a first-generation American, he felt the same way. We would live all kinds of places, help the church grow in remote areas, raise our children with a broad view of the world.

And then, he got a great job in Salt Lake and I had one baby after another. Opportunities to move never came along and when we tried to make opportunities all our plans failed.

I’m starting to realize, this is where I’ve been placed. Continue reading

Grace

IMG_0394I usually read three or four books at a time. Right now, my active pile includes 1) Tony Robbins’ Money: Mastering the Game, 2) a Fannie Flagg novel, 3) What’s so Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey, and 4) Ann Lamott’s latest — Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. I read what I’m in the mood for in the moment. I lost Fannie Flagg for awhile, in the middle of a good story; she got tucked into a door pocket of our other car. And I was plowing enthusiastically through Money when Life smacked me upside the head on a Tuesday evening three weeks ago. I haven’t opened the book since. But I am devouring the two books on Grace, my soul hungry for solace, for divine sustenance, tender mercy.

Mostly, my life moves along like a transoceanic flight — tedious, squishy-kneed, but exciting — hope and adventure awaiting. But then the turbulence hits, randomly, unexpectedly, spilling soda and knocking me off my wobbly airborne feet as I waddle back from the toilet box. Then it’s just Hang on! Don’t lose hope! And don’t jab anyone in the head! Continue reading

To Reread or Not to Reread?

Free image: Girl Reading a Book at Home

I read the Little House on the Prairie Series again and again and again as a child. Without a doubt they were my favorite books. In the slim number of grade school years when I was old enough  to devour chapter books and play pretend (2nd- 4th grade, I think) I would tuck these “guidebooks” under my arm and haul them out back with supplies to set up camp. A few blankets, an old table cloth and a few dress up clothes I considered “old-fashioned enough” to fill in for proper pioneer calico and lawn print dresses were put on and strung up so I could make camp. Opening the books I would shepherd my younger sisters, cousins, and neighbors through the various scenes I’d convince them to enact. I read, reread and role-played those stories until the book covers were weathered and the spines tattered, aching with overuse. I was sure nothing in the text could surprise me any more. I knew them by heart.

My daughter is at the right age for listening. So often in the afternoon, after kindergarten, the playground and lunch, we settle in to read. We’ve reread many of the classics of my childhood: Charlotte’s Web, Pippi Longstocking, and several Ramona books. A few months ago I pulled out the precious books about Laura and Mary and we dove in. She’s loved them just the way I’ve hoped she would; I catch her spontaneously in her own enactments from the book. I’m surprised her reaction is so close to my own so many years ago. However, I’m amazed how different my experience has been upon this rereading two decades since my last reading. Continue reading