Book Review (sort of): Wild in the Hollow, by Amber C. Haines

wild-in-the-hollows-413x6001

I don’t know if it’s because Amber C. Haines is a poet, or because reading this book is a little like breaking open a pomegranate and exposing ripe seeds clustered in their hollows, the red of their juices lingering as stains on your fingers after you bring out the fruit—but this memoir, Wild in the Hollow, calls for something other than the typical way I do a book review. Instead, I’m sharing twelve found poems taken from Amber’s words (including page references to the book).

What is a found poem? The Academy of American Poets defines it:

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.

IMG_9376

1. From pages 49-51:
It didn’t take me long to see how different I was in the church

So tidy and clean
the church so aware of how it looked.

No one talked about brokenness. I did my best
to look good enough for the keeping, but—

How broken I was. How I didn’t fit. It seemed the rest
of the church had healed up good. Either that

or no one knew how to grieve
the stories, the rumbles of despair. Most days I thought

I would drown. Fresh in the memory of wild back roads
I walked in and asked, “Will you love me now?”

—–

2. From page 54:
My mamaw

She rocked in her chair.
She told me secrets. We became
so close in our brokenness, spoke
in secret language before she slipped away
into her real life. Her confessions
unified us, her perfect love for me
cast out fear.

IMG_9381

3. From page 54:
So much hammered doctrine

was an effort to control,
to harness the Holy Spirit so we could feel
better about ourselves—
a measuring stick superimposed into
the very hand of God.

—–

4. From page 56:
What is Scripture?

What is Scripture if
it doesn’t pour in,
transform,
and then
flow out from the depths,
especially
as love?

IMG_9377

5. From page 57:
I wish I had known

The depravity of man is only
the realization of the hollow,
the need. Depravity
should only imply that we
can be filled
with God.

—–

6. From page 58:
Mercy

Isn’t it sometimes
God’s mercy
that we crash?

IMG_9385

7. From page 111:
Friendship Beginning

a long, silent pause
like an orchestra
before the music begins

like a cellist holding position
with the bow hovering
just above the strings

—–

8. From page 141:
A Word of Truth

Do not forget
that the Spirit of God
indwells you.

And just like that,
the ash blew over, and I began
to burn.

IMG_9386

9. From page 173:
Repentance

a sorrow
a recognized need
a change of mind, the turning point
a place of release
a place to go

—–

10. From page 173:
After Repentance

obedience
moving forward
into righteousness, peace, joy
propelling the kingdom of God

—–

11. From page 186:
Good News

Isn’t brokenness
the fertile ground for the seed
of hope? We are weak ones, but
this is not bad news.

—–

12. From page 197:
In this one moment

I have seen my children
run naked and wild. I have seen them
without a drop of shame.

Book Review: Dancing Priest, by Glynn Young

dancing-priest-cover-thumb

I find greatest satisfaction in a novel when it inspires me with admirable (but not flawless) characters, and when it makes an internal connection. As author John Green has been quoted,”Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” Glynn Young’s Dancing Priest wins on both counts—and this novel was so riveting that it kept me up way past bedtime. Immersed in its multiple layers that reach into the histories and current lives of Michael Kent, Sarah Hughes, the people who are and become part of their lives, and the geographical settings of Edinburgh, London, Athens, San Francisco, L.A., and Santa Barbara, I couldn’t put the book down.

The story of Michael Kent—student at Edinburgh, Olympic cyclist, then Anglican priest assigned to a San Francisco church—shows, unadorned, his steadfastness, integrity, and seemingly foolish love toward others. All this comes through without hiding or sanitizing his struggles. If you carry an enthusiasm for cycling, you will especially appreciate this book. But, cycling fan or not, you may find that Michael Kent’s life in Dancing Priest feels a bit like a cycling race: fast pace, determination, struggle, exhilaration, team dynamics, defeat, victory, gratification at crossing the finish line. This story challenged me to persevere in pain, love those who are against me, extend a hand to others in distress, practice art and exercise any God-given abilities, and deepen relationships with those I love. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, A Light Shining.

Book Response: The Water Hole, by Graeme Base

waterhole-graemebase

I feel thirsty for something, so I go to The Water Hole. I have been here many times before, whether in drought or just after a heavy, refreshing rainfall, and at this water hole I always find and drink the something I was searching for.

The first thing I notice when I turn the page is not the astounding art on the right-hand page, though the artist-author’s work draws me strongly to look there. I first notice the big number “1” on the verso. Under the number I read:

One Rhino
drinking at the water hole.

“Snort, splosh!”
(Mmm, delicious!)

The “1” is big enough for me to see that Graeme Base has painted a rhino skin on it. I feel a fullness in the sparsity of words. I turn the glossy page.

The big “2” wears tiger stripes. I read the words, and the fullness now comes with anticipation. Something is going to happen. Something is already happening.

2

Two Tigers
lapping at the water hole.

“Grrrrrr!”
(Goodness gracious, how very delectable!)

I feel comfort in the repetition, friendliness in the pattern, winsome humor in the “translation” of the animals’ talk. Before I turn to the page with the big “3” I am expectant, because I know what to expect.

There will be a big number. There will be that many animals in the painting on the recto, and one simple sentence fragment. Below that, the animal sounds, and then in parentheses, the “translation.” Like this:

3

Three [Animals]
[verb ending in -ing] at the water hole.

“[appropriate animal sound]!”
([some clever line from the animals’ conversation])

Graeme Base is witty. He makes me laugh, and I like him for it. (You should hear the goofy moose on the “5” page, and what the 8 businesslike ladybugs say while they are “meeting at the water hole.”)

I once read a book on writing that mentioned “the economy of words,” and I marvel at how, in four lines, Graeme (pronounced gray-em, by the way) is able to build a plot. He incorporates a full-fledged story arc in a counting book, a simple picture book about animals he saw on his safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. Genius.

The water hole shrinks with every page turn, for the drought is coming. Graeme Base takes the comfortable, exciting pattern he introduced in the beginning—and breaks it. “Ten Kangaroos looking at the water hole. There was nothing to say. The water was all gone.”

I am thirsty again, and beginning to panic. Where is the water I came for? Suddenly I have “cotton mouth” and my throat is parched. Do you want to know what animals he features on the next double-page spread?

The extinct ones. Ten of them, including Dodo, Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk. These extinct animals are not drawn directly; the artist forms them from the voids in a painting of a land parched like my throat, with withered trees and dull color.

Then a shadow fell across the sun.
Clouds began to gather.

A single drop of rain fell.

And the water hole returns, and all the animals came back.

I did not even mention the strip of ten animal silhouettes lining the top and bottom of every page; those same animals cleverly hidden in the main painting, creating a kind of scavenger hunt that would delight and challenge a reader of any age; the little frogs wearing aloha-shirts, also hiding. Even his signature is fun to look for on each illustration. I did not mention every aspect of Graeme Base’s The Water Hole that captivates the senses. Maybe, like the animals, I will come back and do that next time.

Book Review: Fierce Convictions, by Karen Swallow Prior

11

It’s a shame I had never heard of Hannah More before I read Fierce Convictions, but I’m glad Karen Swallow Prior was the one to introduce her to me.

20

We learn from her acknowledgments that Dr. Prior’s doctoral dissertation was the seed for this book—and the careful research is obvious in every chapter.

17

Yet she has also made Hannah More’s story accessible to readers (like me) who don’t read history easily. This book is not just a biography; it is a page-turning, good story for a wide range of readers.

29

Fierce Convictions can challenge the scholar already knowledgeable about the abolition of Great Britain’s slave trade, and it can engage a 9-year-old girl reading through the book with her mother. (And both scholar and 9-year-old can learn more than a few vocabulary words along the way!)

07

Taking in More’s story for the first time has not only taught me about a little-known heroine’s immeasurable sway on her nation’s and the world’s history, but it has also opened my eyes even more to the creative ways a single person can influence his or her community.

26

I was especially impressed at how More used her writing and poetry for cultural impact.

10

I also appreciate how Dr. Prior gives me More’s story unsanitized …

06

… which inspires me all the more to live as one who, with all my imperfections, can still powerfully influence the world for good.

02

For more, visit the book’s website. (All images above are from the “Media” page.)

Book Review: The Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp

the-greatest-gift-cover-300h

Ann Voskamp doesn’t start the Christmas story with a baby in a Bethlehem manger. In fact, with 25 days of readings and devotionals starting on December 1, you won’t get any New Testament readings until Day 20. Only about the last one-fifth of this entire book on Christmas comes from New Testament passages about the baby Jesus.

Perfect. Because any Christmas story that starts with Jesus’ birth is incomplete and lacking in richness. Ann gives us the whole story from the beginning, and she gives it with fullness, with thoughtfulness, with depth.

The Day 1 reading is from Isaiah 11. Day 2 is from Genesis 1, when in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Ann writes on page 12: “This Christmas story—it begins in the beginning, this love story that’s been coming for you since the beginning.”

What Christmas book highlights the Baal prophets performing for their idol? This one does, and it fits just right for the way Christmas happens in our culture, doesn’t it? Many who struggle and rush through the Christmas season would be blessed by the December 15 reading and devotional on First Kings chapter 18.

What Christmas book has us pondering the life of Esther, who used her position and risked her life to save the lives of others? Ann says on page 179, “You’ve got to use the life you’ve been given to give others life.” The December 18 section on Esther is one of my favorites in the whole book. That, and the message of God’s love consistent throughout. The book’s subtitle is well chosen: “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas.”

Yes, this is an Advent book, perfect for the Christmas season. But you can use it as a devotional for any time, in every season. Please do.

Book Review: Playdates with God, by Laura Boggess

Playdates-with-God-cover

I play tennis with my husband once a week. I wouldn’t normally associate tennis with forgiveness, but as I swung back my racquet, or reached high for a serve, or ran to the net for a quick approach shot, my tennis lessons from Coach Bob (my coach from age 9) and Coach Karen (my college coach) came flooding my mind to dovetail with some of what I had read in the Bible over the past couple of decades. Does that sound weird—playing tennis helped me forgive and overcome bitterness?

Yet it happened; different aspects of tennis served as a metaphor for certain aspects of my spiritual life (Scripture memory, focusing on God, acknowledging sin, forgiving quickly).

Bread-making, too, has been part of my spiritual life. I’ve associated kneading bread dough not only with a particular Psalm I memorized, but also with verses in Habbakuk about rejoicing in hardship.

And again, with hiking. One summer we went on backpacking in autumn at the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and that, like the tennis and homemade bread, helped me grow in intimacy with God.

On one of these hikes I decided to start photographing flowers from behind. Did you know that the backs of flowers are just as interesting and beautiful as their fronts? As I noticed this about flowers, I thought of how God values the beauty of the hidden person. I thought of how God delights in and rewards secret acts of righteousness. It made me want to be like the back of a flower.

Laura Boggess helps me understand that when I play tennis, or make bread, or hike through the Sangres and position my camera behind a Columbine, it is a playdate with God—and these playdates doubly enhance my relationship with God. These playdates both rekindle and cultivate my love for Him to make it “the love that endures—the excitement of new love and the security of old love all twined together” (Playdates with God, page 111).

Since 2008, I’ve been reading Laura’s words. With her lyrical, tender voice, she always stirs a deep part of my inner life and makes connection with my own ponderings, struggles, longings, and celebrations. Laura’s book is new (launches today!), but her living-out of the book’s message is not new. For a long time now, she has been intent on noticing and embracing every moment as sacred. And I’m going to be one of her playmates.

The stories we tell ourselves matter. When we are able to communicate the wonder God drops into our lives, others are drawn into our story. And when our stories hold rich tales of intimate times with God, people will want to step into that bigger story of the gospel. What better story to tell than the one Jesus lived and died for? Are you letting the gospel story lead your internal narrative? Am I? Because when we do, it will change our focus. It will change our lives. When we live our story in tandem with the narrative of the gospel, God is given the place in our lives that he deserves. And spending time with him becomes the most important thing.

– Laura Boggess, Playdates with God, 123-124.

Watch the book trailer for Playdates with God!