Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Weird Sisters

I don't have any sisters.  I am the oldest of three children with two younger brothers.  I never had sisters, and quite frankly, never wanted them.  I thoroughly enjoyed my "only daughter" place in life throughout my childhood.  On my mother's side, I was also the only granddaughter until I was about 17, at which point I didn't care any longer about my place in my grandmother's eye and was happy to have younger girl cousins with whom to hang.   I now have two sisters-in-law, and one to come next Spring, but I have no blood-bond sisters like the three protagonists of The Weird Sisters

This lack of background, however, did not detract from my experience of reading the book; instead it made me somewhat of a curious observer.  I have seen this kind of relationship with other sisters in other families - that sisters can be simultaneously your best friends and your worst enemies, probably because they know the best and worst of you yourself, better than anyone else, including yourself.  It's an interesting dichotomy of human nature and relationships, and that's really what this book is about - life, change, choices, our place in the world, our place in our family, and ultimately, our relationships.

Thomas Wolfe said "you can't go home again."  But that's exactly what these three sisters do, all for various reasons - all, as the beginning says, having to do with their failures.  Rose has failed to do anything less than exactly what is expected of her.  Bean has failed to create an actual life for herself behind the intricate, criminally formed facade she has put up to the world.  And Cordy has openly, shamelessly failed to do anything useful with her life, coming home with the ultimate physical sign of failure of responsibility - an unwanted pregnancy.  All three of these lives are a product of their own choices, which is made clear, but those choices are also shown to be a product of their placements within their family, and they have simultaneously come to the place of having to reconcile that place within themselves in order to move on with their lives.  The fact that this convergence comes at the moment of their mother's diagnosis of breast cancer points them even more to the fact that it is time, quite frankly, to GROW UP. 

First, let's discuss linguistics.  This book is beautifully, intricately written.  I am not JUST talking about the Shakespearean quotes, although I will be honest - those rocked.   I wish I could quote the Bard like that.  Alas, I am not as quick with the Elizabethan wit.  But besides that, Eleanor's Brown elegant use of the English language is melodic.  It is like a symphony of words.  She picks the most beautiful words that are somehow exactly right - and they create the picture in your head without having to wade through pages and pages of description.  It's just...perfect.  It's intelligent, but not overly so.  I also love the perspective of writing it as "we" instead of "I" or "them."  It's the three sisters telling their stories, woven together because that's how families are.  You experience life together, even when physically apart.  These three sisters are in each other's heads and psyches.  Their decisions come from their place in the culture of their family.  So the idea of "we" being there in the library with Bean or "we" being in London with Rose is beautifully done.  I found myself simply soaking in the blissfulness of Ms. Brown's linguistic ability. 

Next - the story.  These are women making poor choices with their lives - but it portrayed as such.  If Bean was one of these characters who slept around and stole and seduced married men but were perfectly happy with it as if this were all just normal and ok, I would hate this book.  But for these girls, there are consequences for their actions.  Bean comes to realize she can't find the acceptance she is craving through empty relationships and the then veneer of success.  Cordy discovers that maybe living from place to place and guy to guy really isn't all it's cracked up to be - and now she has to  face the reality of her life choices.  Rose has spent her entire life being responsible for everyone around her, creating a cocoon of security in the lie that everything would fall apart if she went out and lived her life.  This too is a terrible choice, and she has to come to a place of accepting that she can't fix it all...and no one is asking her to.  Her mother would have had the blood clot whether or not she had been in London.  And in her absence, her sisters were finally given the chance to step up - and to everyone's surprise, they not only do so, but they do so with great gusto and success! 

I love the complicated-ness of the relationships in this book.  They are real and raw without being comical.  Everyone has these kinds of relationships in their family.  Everyone has these places where they feel they can't live up to their parents' lives - and yet they don't want the life their parents led at the same time.  Siblings love each other and are closer to each other than any other person, yet they can also be the harshest towards each other.  Relationships with men, bosses, boyfriends, old friends, new friends - all are woven together in the story in a way that makes the reader relate to their complexity without getting confused or sunk in the lives of the characters.  Each person is so three-dimensional.  I feel like Rose, Bean, or Cordy could walk in my first door and I would recognize them on sight.  I hope they never try to make a movie of this book.  It would ruin the effect. 

Did I agree with everything?  Absolutely not.  As in most modern novels - and not a few old ones - sex is treated as both a dangerous and casual thing.  It never ceases to amaze me how books, movies, and music all react to sex as something that is perfectly all anytime you feel the moment is right, and yet most story lines then go on to explain how those sexual choices get you into serious trouble.  I am one of a minority, I realize, who still holds out against pre-marital sex.  I personally did, and you know what?  Saved me a whole dang lot of heartache.  That doesn't get said enough.  So I'll say it again: I did not sleep around.  I waited until marrying my husband before having sex, and I have one and only partner.  And I do not regret one iota of that decision for one moment.  I wish others could have experienced what I have experienced in that area of my life, and I wish the Beans of the world would realize that they would not, in fact, "die in a relationship without sex." 

In addition, I wish I could sit these women down and explain that the faith they scoff at is there waiting to be their source of strength.  It is obviously a source of strength for their parents, but they don't really want to mess with it.  I like to think that Father Aidan continues to build a relationship with Bean in which he could approach this and help Bean see that the approval she craves is really found in Jesus.  It wasn't that kind of book, but that is reality.  All these sisters are looking for something they lost.  They can find that in Jesus.  But they won't - and I can accept that in fictional characters who don't actually exist.  But there are far too many Roses, Beans and Cordys in the world looking for love in all the wrong places. 

So, to recap: loved the book.  Thought it was great.  Wonderfully written, wonderfully told, great story, fantastic characters - and SHAKESPEARE!  Now it's your turn.  Here are some questions to jump start your response; also feel free to respond to the things I said above:

1. The Andreas family is dedicated to books, particularly Shakespeare. Would the family be different if their father were an expert on a different writer? Edgar Allan Poe, let's say, or Mark Twain? What if they were a family of musicians or athletes, rather than readers? How might that change their dynamic? Is there an interest that unites your family in the same way that reading unites the Andreas family? 

Actually, reading unites the family I grew up in, much like it does the Andreas family.  We are also bound together by our loves of history and discussion.  For my family now, it is yet to be seen, we are still young and finding an identity as a family.  Another writer would have changed the tone of the family, I think, but not the dynamic.

2. In many ways, the Andreas sisters' personalities align with proposed birth-order roles: Rose, the driven caregiver; Bean, the rebellious pragmatist; and Cordy, the free-spirited performer. How important do you think birth order is? Do you see those traits in your own family or in people you know? 

I think birth order plays a great part in their personalities, and I see that in a lot of families.  It's in my own, although not in the same ways.  I am the oldest, and I am the driven caregiver. My brothers each have their own responses to their birthplace in the family.  I think birth order is very important, although not the answer to everything.

3. Father Aidan tells Bean, "Your story, Bean, is the story of your sisters. And it is past time, I think, for you to stop telling that particular story, and tell the story of yourself. Stop defining yourself in terms of them. You don't just have to exist in the empty spaces they leave." Do you agree with Father Aidan? Is it possible to identify one's self not in relationship to one's siblings or family?  

This was one of my favorite passages of the book.  We all can fall into the trap of thinking our stories are written for us because of our place in the world, what we are born into.  But we can write our own stories - or, even better, let God write our stories for us.  Our identity is best found in Him, not in our family or anything else.

4. Is it irresponsible of Cordy to keep her baby?

First, let me say that I breathed such a huge sigh of relief when we got to the end of the book and Cordy did not abort her child.  I would not have been able to finish the book if that had happened.  That had me so worried.  Having gotten past that - should she have given Ariel up for adoption?  No, she did all right, I think.  Deep down, Cordy knew she would do what she had to do, and she wanted this baby.  So no, I don't think it was irresponsible.

5. Why do you think the mother is never given a name?

Wow.  I didn't even realize that.  Huh.  I think it's because the book is written from the girls' perspectives - and think about your own mother.  Do you ever think of her by name?  Or is she always Mom?  I certainly don't think of my mom as Jenny.  I think of her as Mom.  I think that's why we don't know her name - because, to Rose, Bean and Cordy, she is MOM.

6. The narrator says that God was always there if the family needed him, "kind of like an extra tube of toothpaste under the sink." Is that true, or does the family's religion have a larger effect on the sisters than they claim? How does your own family's faith, or lack thereof, influence you?

I wish the family's belief in God had more of an impact on them than is portrayed, but I don't think it does.  I think if they let it, they would find much of what they are searching for.  My own family's faith is the bedrock of MY faith, and my faith in God is the cornerstone, the foundation of my entire life.  I would want more of that for these girls because I want more of that for EVERYONE. 

Start discussing!  Oh, and throw out ideas for another book! 

Discussion questions taken from:

No, I have not forgotten!

Hello book clubbers!  I have not forgotten you!

But where, you might ask, is my review?

Umm, two words: Game Six.

Two more words: Game Seven.

So, I apologize.  Instead of furiously finishing the book, I was watching David Freese be AMAZING.  Wow.  Such good baseball.  Who's up for a baseball book next? ;)

Anyway, I did finish it today, in between learning how to cook brisket, and a review will be coming before the weekend is out.  I know you all love me and shall show me grace and mercy.  Right?  

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 21, 2011

I Finally Have It!

I got it!

Thanks to my book-loving mother, I FINALLY have a copy of the book I required all of you to start reading!  Yay!!

I have started it, and so far I am enjoying it, but I have not read enough to pass any particular judgement yet.  I have been getting some interesting reviews from some of you, so we shall see how the discussion goes. 

I am a speed reader, so I should get it read this week...even though I have to finish Glory Road first for my 8th hour character ed class.  (Showed them the movie.  Such a fantastic flick.  Great discussions, great participation.  And I got to watch Josh Lucas' blue eyes for five days.  Win-win!)

So check in next week for the discussion of The Weird Sisters!

In the meantime, I leave you with this collection of scenes from Gilmore Girls.  If Rory was, you know, a real person, we would totally get along.  I particularly identify with her habit of hauling around five different books just in case she is in the mood to read a certain one. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Checking In

Hey book club!

Umm...I don't have the book yet.

But I am hearing from some of you.  One reader did NOT like the book until the end.  Another one says it is not something she would normally read, but she is enjoying it thus far. 

Due to the generosity of my rockin' awesome mother, I will have my very own copy by Monday, so I should have something to share next Friday!

In the meantime, SKP is keeping me company via Lionheart.

See you next Friday!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Club Check In

Hello fellow bookworms!  As promised, here is your weekly book club check-in.  This is the time when we all come together and share where we are in the book and perhaps a non-plot revealing thought or two.

That is, of course, unless you don't have the book me. 

Hey!  Not my fault!  (Oh good heavens, the middle schoolers are starting to rub off on me.)  The library only has one copy, and I have generously allowed my friend Amy to be first on the waiting list.  Ain't I nice? :)  Actually, it's just that I am pretty sure my mom has a copy I can borrow.  At any rate, I shall get my hands on a copy soon!

In the meantime, I will be busy with THIS:


My best friend bought this for me for my birthday...TWO MONTHS AGO.  I have been watching the mail for that Amazon box all week...and here it is, along with an Elizabeth Chadwick!!  Yay! far are you in The Weird Sisters?  And what books are you looking forward to these days?

What's up next: Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman
Top Five TBR:
1. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
2. To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
3. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
4. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
5. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Question

"If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads." Francois Mauriac

This blog is not only devoted to books that I read but also the love of reading itself.  I am passionate about reading and love to spread that passion to others.  One of my goals as a teacher is to teach kids that reading does not, as so many of them say, "suck."  It opens ideas and thoughts and awakens passions and callings.  It changes the way we think.  It takes us to other places, places we could never physically go, such as 1066 to see William the Bastard conquer England or Russia during the revolution or Cleopatra's court.  So much can happen when we read.

In that spirit, today I am going to answer a question that my mother emailed out to my family yesterday.  We are a family of hopeless bookworms, and we love to have literary discussions over email.  (Some of them get very funny.  And most of them are nutty.)  My brother, as a matter of fact, is a contributor to a book webpage called the Ultra Manly Book Club.  Even if you are not ultra manly, you should go check out that site, it is awesome!

Anyway, the question is this:

"What book or books have you read that impacted your life, especially in a more indirect way?  Nobody gets to say the Bible.  In fact, I think I am outlawing all obviously Christian books, or at least you have to give one more secular one.  And you need to tell why."

 Wow.  What a great question, Mom!  Today's post is devoted to my own answer to this question.  Next week I will devote a post to other people's answers to this question.  If you would like to be a part of that, either post your answer in the comments or email me - I would love to have lots of input!

So, my answers...

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  This young adult book - about 4th grade level - was not only my first introduction to historical fiction, but it gave me a new sense of the world and its history.  The story of the Holocaust is one that must never, ever be forgotten or glossed over, and we need to know the stories of those brave men and women throughout Europe and the world that fought the resistance movement against Hilter's murderous regime.  The story of Denmark during this time period changed me and made me realize, at the age of 8 or so when I first read this, how important it is to stand up for what is right, even at the cost of your own safety and life.  Everyone should read this book. 

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.   I already wrote a post on why; you can read it here.  Sufficient to say, this was my first "grown up" book, and it made it's mark on me.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  I don't have the space here to explain GWTW's impact on me.  It will get its own entry in time.  This book, by far my favorite of all time, explores so many important topics, such as racism, history, history rewritten, love, romance, tragedy, parenting, culture, sex, women's roles...and it is absolutely beautifully written.  It also marked an important transitional time in my life - the age of 13 - and made an impression on me that will never be forgotten.  I read it at least once a year, and every time I see something new.  I so wish Ms. Mitchell had not met such a tragic, young end, for I would have loved to have seen what else was in her mind.  Love this book.

Dominion by Randy Alcorn.  Sorry Mom, I am breaking your rules, because this is a "Christian" novel.  BUT.  It is a Christian novel that so challenged my thinking that I feel I must list it.  This book challenged the way I look at poverty, heaven, urban ministry, the Church, racism, abortion, and...a bunch of other things.  It is also a fabulous murder mystery.  It changed my life as a Christian, an educator, and a minister of the gospel, so here it it. 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir.  This biography is where my weird fascination with British history began.  I do not defend my love of that island and it's colorful past - it is what it is.  But this is really where it all began.  I picked this book up somewhere - I think at a half price book store - and took it on vacation with me.  And thus an obsession was born.  And yes, I can name all six wives and what happened to well as every British monarch from Aethelred the Unready to Elizabeth II.  I am fun to have around at parties. 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. (Sorry Mom!)  I read this - or, rather, it was read to me - for the first time when I was about six.  I loved it as a story, and I remember hunting through closets and corners of the house, hoping to find a passageway to Narnia.  Several years later, as a sixth grader, I was encouraged by my teacher to read it again because I would see it entirely differently.  And she was so right!  This book represents the first time I realized that books can change for a person over time.  You can see so much more every time you read and re-read a book.  God uses the same books at different times in a person's life throughout their lives.  This was just such a book for me.  (For the record: all of you who read The Magician's Nephew first are missing out and sadly mistaken.  I'm not trying to start a riot, I just want you to know that it is wrong.  One of these days I shall make my case on this blog.  And do not start in with "that's the order Lewis said to read them in."  I read the interview to which you are referring.  I bet you have not.  That's not what he said.)

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
    Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
    Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
    And I'll no longer be a Capulet. 

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
    Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
    What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
    Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
    Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
    What's in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet;
    So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
    Retain that dear perfection which he owes
    Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
    And for that name which is no part of thee
    Take all myself.  

That is beauty itself.  People who "hate Shakespeare" have not taken the time to see the soul of the beauty of language.  You don't have to love it, but don't hate it.  It's like hating a sunset.  Romeo and Juliet is not my favorite Shakespearean play, but it was my first, and it made its impact on my literary life.  (And it is NOT because Leonardo DiCaprio played Romeo when  I was about 14.  Although that did help.)

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  I distinctly remember reading this for the  first time my sophomore year of high school.  I was absolutely captured by the language, and I think that was the first time I realized just how much I love the written language.  Dickens impacted the way I read literature because he became the standard. 

Daughter of Time by Josephine Fey.  Not only did this feed the British obsession, but it changed the way I looked at history as it is reported and taught in the schools.  By the way - Richard III did NOT kill his nephews.

Up a Family Tree by Teresa Bloomingdale.  I first read Teresa Bloomingdale as a teenager, and at that point I just thought she was funny.  Later, however, she became a lifeline for me as I navigated my own early motherhood years.  Teresa was there to hold my hand, laugh with me, and show me it was ok when things got a little crazy.  I look forward to meeting this dear woman face to face in heaven and telling her how much her work meant to me.  She also, indirectly, encouraged me to write, as she was a successful writer as well as a stay at home mom...of 10.

 Theirs is the Kingdom; Secret Believers, Kingdom WorksThese are books, by a variety of authors, that challenged my way of looking at evangelism, poverty, Christians that are REALLY under persecution, and what my role in the world should be as a follower of Christ.

The Sacred Romance by John Eldredge and Brent Curtis.  This shook my preconceived notions of who God is and how He relates to me.  Everyone should read this book.

Ok, so I broke my mom's rules a little.  Sorry Mom!  But I also had some secular ones!!!

Your turn!  Chime in with your contributions!