July Reads (And Puns)

by RebShang

I am a slow reader and easily daunted by big books. On my brave days, I pick up Anna Karenina and cry out “ha ha! I shall succeed!” after getting through several chapters, only to soon be distracted by alluringly slimmer books such as The Glass Menagerie, of which I justify “well, since I’m not Russian to finish Anna, I’ll Czech out how Tennesee plays out and then come back.” (Ba-dum-ch. Don’t mind me. My brother and I have an ongoing pun war.)

My favorite part of The Glass Menagerie were the notes at the start of each act or within the dialogue that are meant for the director or actors to get the proper sense of the scene. It helped me see the play, rather than read it. (Mortimer would be proud.)

[From setup to Act 1 Scene 4]
The interior is dark. Faint light in alley R. A deep-voiced bell in a church is tolling the hour of five as the scene commences. Tom appears at the top of R. alley. After each solemn boom of the bell in the tower he shakes a little toy noise-maker or rattle as if to express the tiny spasm of man in contrast to the sustained power and dignity of the Almighty.

I didn’t return to Anna, but it was close enough as I still picked up a Tolstoy next. I figured that Tennessee already left me in a semi-depressive state (ba-dum-ch), so why not go all out with The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I’ll admit that I rather like depressing books. But with Ivan, I think I was just as relieved as he was when he finally died. (Spoilers. Ivan dies.) I found it quite beneficial to have read the introduction before starting the novella. I know, nerdy. But it gives context to what was going on in Tolstoy’s life and mind and society that necessitated this book. The edition I had was written by Ronald Blythe who says:

“Everyone until recently knew the actual smell of death. In a big family during the nineteenth century, it was not unusual for it to be an annual smell and to take its position in the odorous year along with springtime beeswaxings, summer jams, and winter fires. When death came, it was the family who dealt with it, not the specialists. Death’s mysteries and its chores became inseparable.”

This made me think of Wendell Berry and the agrarian life. Which, if there was a farm nearby, I would have gone there to pet some horses. Instead, I was spurred (ba-dum-ch) to drag my brother along with me to visit our neighborhood cemetery and ponder life and death and creepy vines. [Cue: Sara Bareilles’ “Chasing the Sun”. Except Staten Island instead of Queens. Close enough.]

David: "Won't we get in trouble for trespassing?" Me: "Nah. We're just strolling. Besides, if anyone asks, we'll say we're paying respects to a family member." David: "This is a Jewish cemetery..." #planB #runfast @dbshang

This month I also read:

  •  Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life by Robert Banks which was, ironically, not a very lively book. Although now that I look at the title and the death-tinged air of this post, it seems like it could potentially be about zombies and theology. That would be interesting.
  • Is God Anti-Gay?: And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction by Sam Allberry which is small book that answers a great deal about a current (and by current I mean not new, but currently in the limelight) issue. Here’s the final paragraph: [in reference to God’s grace] “The invitation is there for everyone. And so precious is this gift that God cannot be truly said to be “anti” anyone to whom this wonderful gift is being offered.”
  • The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin which goes to show you that I really like little books with ridiculously long titles. Let me give you the gist: “Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.”
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou which deserves a post all on its own. Read this book. I recently wrote in my journal to “make a habit of empathy”. I am not a black girl who was raped at the age of 8 who grew up between homes and had to travail over “the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power”. I don’t know what that’s like. But I don’t need to in order to be moved by her story and honesty and trials and triumphs. Maya’s way with words is raw and transcending. Read. This. Book.