Like most avid readers, books aren’t just a side-note in my life, a mild but harmless diversion. Instead, books often become the backdrop against which I live my life, the questions facing characters raising themselves in unexpected ways in my own life.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this bookish lens. A couple of weeks ago, I read Rebecca Mead’s fascinating, My Life in Middlemarch, a hard-to-classify book that is part biography, part memoir, part literary history–and all about the transformative power of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. In it, Mead describes how reading this book at different times in her life changed the way she saw herself.
I think we’ve all experienced something of the way language transforms our lives, and the lens through which we view ourselves, particularly with scriptures. But I find it happens with other literature too. Continue reading
Confession #1: I love Jane Austen.
Not quite to the heights of Austenland’s heroine, but still.
In graduate school, I took a course on romantic satire that included a unit on Jane Austen, which began about a month into the semester. That first day, while the dignified middle-aged professor and our male peers looked on in shock (I assume we’d seemed reasonably intelligent and dispassionate to that point), I and a few of my female colleagues went full-on fan-girl about Jane Austen: high pitched voices, fluttering hands, the whole bit. I’m not sure I ever quite regained that lost credibility.
I own at least two copies of her major works. (My husband, in the throes of newlywedded bliss, bought me the entire Oxford Illustrated classics set and set my giddy heart reeling). I’ve even read her unfinished novel, Sanditon, and her short epistolary novel Lady Susan, and own books like The Friendly Jane Austen, Becoming Jane Austen, and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. (And yet, I’ve never been to a Regency ball or joined JASNA).
Confession #2: Sometimes I’m ashamed of my addiction.
Lajos Vajda, Two Faces
A few years ago I stumbled across an essay by Ted Gup “In Praise of the Wobblies,” which I love. In it, Gup talks about his struggles as a young journalist in a field where so many of his colleagues had a clear opinion and he often found himself wavering, compelled by strong arguments on multiple sides of any given issue. But with experience, he began to see that his position was a productive one. He writes:
I preferred to listen rather than to speak; to inquire, not crusade. As a noncombatant, I was welcomed at the tables of even bitterly divided foes. I came to recognize that I had my own compass and my own convictions and if, at times, they took me in circles, at least they expanded outward. . . . An editor and mentor at the Post once told me I was “Wobbly.” I asked who else was in that category and drew comfort from its quirky ranks. They were good people all — open-minded, inquisitive, and yes, confused. . . . But in periods of crisis, when passions are high and certainty runs rabid, it’s good to have a few of us on hand. In such times, I believe it falls to us Wobblies to try and hold the shrinking common ground.
In the wake of the rampant social media attention to the disciplinary councils for Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, I find myself thinking more and more about Gup’s position. Continue reading
The newly released anthology of stories about sister missionaries, Do Not Attempt in Heels, is a book I dearly wish had been available when I was a sister missionary many moons ago. Though I was a third-generation sister missionary (both my mother and her mother served missions), there were still plenty of things I did not know about missionary work, including how hard and how wonderful it could be simultaneously. With the recent upsurge in the number of sister missionaries, this book aims to fill a much needed gap in the literature written for and about sister missionaries.
I knew going into my reading that the book, compiled by Elise Babbel Hahl and Jennifer Rockwood Knight, would be a good one. I had the privilege of working with Elise on another compilation, and I knew she was an insightful and careful editor. But I was still caught off guard by how moved I was by the stories shared. Continue reading
Woman begging, by Tomas Castelazo
The man who sidled into the back of the rented Hungarian chapel was unprepossessing, at best. He was slightly built and dark-haired, wearing a cheap, white button-down shirt and nondescript pants. Certainly, there was nothing in his appearance to explain why the elders straightened to attention, why my companion and I exchanged knowing glances. The members had noticed his arrival, too. A slight rustle and murmuring swept through the small congregation.
The elders had brought an investigator with them that Sunday. I wondered what the young man would make of the newcomer’s inevitable testimony about the truth of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s calling—and the apostasy of every prophet since. Continue reading