How fast do you read?

pile of books

AJ thinks I read really quickly. He bases this on when we are reading in the same room and I turn 4 pages to his 1. I think I read faster than him purely out of necessity – my time to read is so limited that I try to get as much done as I can when I can! According to this reading test I read 540 words a minute, making me 116% faster than the average with 100% comprehension (it is a massively flawed test, but fun to do!).

And therefore, I could read:

War and Peace in 18 hours and 8 minutes.

The Lord of the Rings in 14 hours and 46 minutes

The Grapes of Wrath in 5 hours and 14 minutes.

Ha! I’m sure I can’t read The Grapes of Wrath in just over 5 hours, but maybe I could…!

How did you go?

Bed Side Table

I haven’t been reading much over the last couple of weeks. Nights are the only time I have to read (uninterrupted) and I have been too tired to commit to long nights, fully immersed.  So I have slowly been working my way through Arnold Zable, ‘Scraps of Heaven’ and ‘The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 1: 1907-1922’, (Ed. Sandra Spanier).

I am a big fan of Arnold Zable. Reading ‘Café Scheherazade’ was boarding on a spiritual experience for me. His words are haunting and beautiful. He takes you on a journey gently but persuasively. You have little choice but to follow his words. Needless to say, I had high hopes for ‘Scraps of Heaven’. It is not letting me down.

scraps of heaven

Reading ‘The Letters of Ernest Hemingway’ is the ultimate in decadence. These are a collection of his private letters to his parents, his siblings and friends. They are revealing and delightful. They also demonstrate that Hemingway had a way with words from very early on.

hemingway

I have also recently read:

‘An Ice-cream War’ by William Boyd. Loved it. Boyd is quickly become a favourite author.

‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce. Nice, easy read (although, it did make me cry, so not completely ‘easy’).

‘Surprised By Oxford’, by Carolyn Weber.  I’m not sure what to say about this. I had really high expectations (never a good thing) and the girl can write, but…it just didn’t gel with me. I was disappointed but I’m not sure why. I obviously need more time to think about it.

 

And in fun news…

I have the all-important, highly coveted, ultimate privilege of choosing our next book club read! We have a very democratic system of choosing our books and it is always fun to be the one responsible for the next month’s short list. We only read Popular Penguins and each month someone picks 3 possibilities and then we vote on which of the 3 we want to read.  Recently we have also been running with a theme for each month. For example, last month’s theme was ‘Lesser Known Works’ and included ‘Summer Crossing’ by Truman Capote, ‘Hard Times’ by Charles Dickens and ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ by George Orwell.  Capote won.

I have been thinking about themes and have come up with a couple of possibilities.  Theme options, so far, are: ‘Cat didn’t know’, ‘Obligated’ and ‘Let’s do it to it’ (a not so veiled reference to ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’). Thoughts?

Here is your chance to influences what we read!

You are a Writer

I have been reading Jeff Goins blog for a little while now and what strikes me about him, more than anything else, is how generous he is.  He is constantly encouraging and urging writers to write. I recently read his book, ‘You are a Writer (so start acting like one)‘, and I really appreciated, once again, Goin’s generosity, his insights and his words. I did receive the book in exchange for my unbiased review – it was a good deal for me!

The Amazon Review is here. And the text is below. I highly recommend this book, for inspiration and for insights from someone who is making it happen. Check it out!

I was somewhat dubious when I read the introduction to the book. There were some big promise’s made!I wondered how Goins was going to justify his big claims!

But as I read on I realised that while being incredibly practical, this book was also greatly ideological and philosophical. And for me, that is where the strength of the book lay. It was refreshing to read a book that encouraged you to pursue your heart and dreams without the layers of cynicism and pessimism that often encroaches on this topic. Goins dares you to believe – I am so glad that he does. This is a book that I will come back to again and again. For inspiration, for encouragement, for a kick start and when the time comes, for those practical next steps.

I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review.

 

words of grace and beauty

index

As an exercise in deciphering ‘my voice’ and what influences me, I have been thinking about my favourite books and writers.  It is a curious thing to sit down and explore why you are attracted to particular books and authors. It is awfully revealing.

I tend to have an ever rotating list of ‘5 favourite books’. There is never just one all time, overshadowing favourite (‘The Secret History’ is coming close though, it has been in my ‘top 5’ list for the last 5 years).  So my current top 5 books are as follows:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (East of Eden is also BRILLIANT)

The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, Vol 2

Dialogues with Silence, Thomas Merton

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

Honourable mention (as I take it off my shelf on such a regular basis and refer to it so often), Beyond Words by Fredrick Buechner.

 

Favourite authors are easier for me to identify, John Steinbeck, Mary Oliver, and Thomas Merton are all high on the list. As are Ruth Jones and James Corden who wrote the TV series ‘Gavin and Stacey’. Ernest Hemingway, Robert Graves and Leo Tolsty, they all rate highly too.

I like writers who discuss the shadows and the light, who see beauty in the everyday and acknowledge that life is complicated and layered but it can also be tedious. They use words well and with grace and effect.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, Stasiland by Anna Funder and The Stories of John Cheever all do this – they are gritty, unswerving in their honesty and at times devastating. They explore moments which are wrapped in lightness and bathed in heartache.

I love themes of beauty and truth found in dark and hard places.

I appreciate good words, used well, but simply.

I’m not sure how this currently effects what or how I write. But it does ring true that I desire that same kind of simplicity and grace with words that these writers have. I want to translate life into words that people resonate with and recgonise. I want truth and beauty to chase away the dull and ordinary.

Here is some of what I have to live up to! –

‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ Ernest Hemingway

‘There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.’ John Steinbeck, East of Eden

‘Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.’ Donna Tartt, The Secret History

‘There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty – unless she is wed to something more meaningful – is always superficial’. Donna Tartt, The Secret History

‘Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?’ Mary Oliver

Coincidence

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in ordained moments and orchestrated encounters. I subscribe to Frederick Beuchner’s type of coincidence, ‘Who can say what is going on? But I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: ‘You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever think that you have been forgotten’.

I was sick last week and didn’t have the energy to read or to watch tv. So I decided to work my way through my saved TED list.  Top of the list was Brene Brown and her talk on ‘the power of vulnerability’. I don’t remember where I first heard of Brown but I knew of her TED talks and some of her books (maybe a blogger I read had talked about her?).

Her TED talk was fascinating and engaging. I don’t think I quite understood all of it – I’m blaming that on being sick. But the general gist was that wholehearted people are people who are able to be compassionate, be courageous and who are able to connect, and to do this, you need to be vulnerable. And being vulnerable is the antitheses of shame and fear.

I liked it. I liked the idea of living ‘wholeheartedly’; I liked the implication that courage, compassion and connection are all expressions of being fully human. I liked that Brown is a researcher and backed up her ideas with years of study and personal experience.

So far, so good.

Until she said this,

The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart.In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”’

To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.

To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.

Is that not the very cry inside all of us? To feel safe enough to tell all of our hearts?  (is that not the reason for this blog?)

After the TED talk I thought and prayed and decided that I needed to go deeper with this, I think that there is grace to be found in the midst of this for me. I thought about buying one of Brown’s books. I chatted with AJ about the whole idea of ‘wholehearted’ living and what that might look like.

The next day a package arrived.

It was Brene Brown’s book ‘The gifts of imperfection’.

Um, what?

Yep, apparently I had already bought it and I had (and have) no recollection of doing so!!

It is underlined and dog eared and scribbled on already and I’m only two chapters in. There is something good for me in these pages. There is something to be learnt and embraced. I am in the right place at the right time. I have not been forgotten.

on my bedside table

If there is one thing my Book Club knows about me, it is that I do not like short stories.

And that I can’t read books about children being hurt or lost. And that I don’t like goats cheese. And that I have issues with Jane Eyre. And that John Steinbeck floats my boat. And that dytstopian novels confuse and annoy me.

Ok, so I guess they know more than one thing. But high on that list is that typically I don’t like short stories.   Which is why this book was such a surprise.

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A lovely, unexpected, delightful surprise.  John Cheever! Who knew? Cheever manages, in most of the 63 (!) short stories, to engage you immediately and decisively.  On the surface you could assume that the book is about a host of middle class, cocktail drinking conservatives – but it’s not. It is raw and gritty and Cheever does not shy away from the realities of depression, alcoholism, death and dysfunction. He is insightful and funny, profound and tragic.

This little treasure is also on my bed side table.

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I am trying to read a little each night. It is like the sweetest honey. Pure and good.

From The Book of Hours – “Be content, be content. We are the Body of Christ. We have found Him, He has found us. We are in Him, He is in us. There is nothing further to look for, except for the deepening of this life we already possess. Be content”.

I am also reading ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf (for Book Club) and I am waiting on my friend to finish ‘Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art” by Madeleine L’Engle to hear her thoughts (I’m guessing that they are going to be very good thoughts).

My Book Depository wish list has gotten out of control…again.  But my birthday is coming up…!

‘Writing down the bones’ by Natalie Goldberg, ‘Pursing Justice’ by Ken Wytsma and ‘The Bellwether Revivals’ by Benjamin Wood are all about to be popped in my shopping basket, handed over to AJ to be wrapped and given back to me with a birthday card attached!

What else should be on my wish list?

x

 

 

 

 

Reading In Transit Book Club

I have become quite the fan of Kelley Nikondeha. Not only is she a voice for justice and equality, she gets her hands dirty ‘doing’ justice and fighting for equality. And more than ‘doing’, Kelley is able to back it up with a solid, gracious, well thought out, sound, theological understanding.  Part of starting this blogging journey (again) is that I have been so encouraged and impressed by the good theological work I have seen being worked out through blogs.  Kelley is one of these bloggers.

I have shied away from theological books and discussion in the last few years. Certainly any public discussion. I know that at times my silence has been motivated by fatigue, fear, ignorance and wariness. This silence and hesitation has stunted my understanding of God, community, grace and myself.

I am being tempted to wade back in. Tempted by these great writers, writing out their faith and lives, encouraging discussion, disagreement and grace.

So I thought this might be a good way to begin – Kelley Nikondeha has put together a book club based on her 2013 reading list. And what a reading list it is! I am going to jump in for April with The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann and see how I go. Just reading great, chunky, solid theology will be good. Link in, jump in, read along – it will be fun!