A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
(Penguin Press, 2012, 82 pages)
This short collection from Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver is made up of mostly short poems in dialogue with nature. Human concerns and knowledge are relativized by the vastness and complexity of nature. Human characteristics and foibles are drawn out through comparison to other animals. Among other things, Oliver’s collection reveals that we cannot fully understand ourselves without meditating upon our relationship to our natural environments and the living things with whom we share them. These poems are simple, eloquent, and profound.
Incarnadine by Mary Szybist
(Graywolf Press, 2013, 72 pages)
This is a beautiful collection of poems dealing, in part, with questions of faith and doubt. The Annunciation – the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary the birth of Jesus – is the occasion for many of these meditations on the relationship between God and humanity, the spiritual and the material. Szybist uses a variety of forms, including prose poetry and other more experimental techniques. The most unique of these is found in the poem “It Is Pretty to Think,” which is written as a diagrammed sentence. While these poems are marked by contemporary struggles with the nature of faith, there is something reminiscent of more traditional devotional poetry. Szybist’s forms, particularly the sunburst arrangement of the lines in “How (Not) to Speak of God,” call to mind the marriage of visual form and content in George Herbert’s classic devotional poem “Easter Wings.” This collection will enhance and complicate its reader’s view of faith.
The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origin Debate
by John H. Walton
(IVP Academic, 2009, 192 pages)
John H. Walton is an experienced Old Testament scholar. In The Lost World of Genesis One, he turns his expertise to placing the first chapter of Genesis firmly within the context of ancient Near Eastern literature. The book is written at a popular level and is intended to inform the creation vs. evolution debate at a practical level.
Walton argues that the authorial intent of the Genesis creation account can only be grasped if read in light of other ancient Near Eastern creation myths. Through highlighting the ways that Genesis parallels and differs from other creation myths, Walton sketches some of the assumptions that inform the ancient worldview of the author of Genesis. The major point of the book is that the cosmology of Genesis is “function” oriented rather than “materially” oriented. This means that the Genesis creation myth deals not with the creation of the material elements of the world, but rather, with the ordering of creation to function as a cosmic temple in which God comes to dwell on the seventh day.
The book is helpfully broken down into eighteen propositions which serve as chapter titles. Walton’s argument gets practical as he claims that the functional orientation of the Genesis creation account means that it is not concerned with the material origins of the universe. Genesis does not, therefore, have anything to say about the validity or invalidity of biological evolution.
The book is extremely helpful on a number of levels. Though it is in many ways a distilling of OT scholarship for a popular audience, Walton’s reading of Genesis 1 as an inauguration of the cosmic temple is original and illuminating. His basic take on the relationship between ancient literature and the natural sciences is clear, insightful, and persuasive. I’m not entirely sure that his functional/material distinction is as clear cut as he makes it out to be, but it does shed helpful light on a text that can be difficult to read with fresh eyes.
The Quick by Lauren Owen
(Random House, 2014, 544 pages)
I heard about this book from a podcast I recently started listening to called Books on the Nightstand. At the end of each episode book recommendations are given and this was a title I’d just recently heard highlighted when I was on the search for my next eBook so I went for it without so much as reading a book summary. The recommendation given on the podcast was pretty vague, but I found out as I was reading that it was for a good reason so I’ll do what I can to offer up a summary here without giving anything away…
The novel is set in late 19th century England and we are introduced to brother and sister, James and Charlotte. The siblings take different paths to adulthood – James is sent away to school and tries to make a go of it as an author in London; Charlotte stays in the countryside taking care of her aunt and living vicariously through her brother. Then James goes off the grid and Charlotte heads to London to try and figure out what is going on with him. Charlotte’s search for James leads to her getting wrapped up in a dangerous secret society and finding herself immersed in a world she never knew existed.
All I’ll say is that I was not expecting this book to go in the direction it did and I almost found it off-putting, but I kept going and enjoyed the ride. It was entertaining and even though it was a long book, it didn’t feel that way at all. If you feel like giving it a try the Amazon summary offers up a little more information – or you can go in blind like I did (an approach to books I’m not sure I’ll try again) 😉
The March of the Crabs by Arthur De Pins
(Archaia, 2015, 112 pages)
March of the Crabs is a graphic novel about the plight of the Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris, a crab that can only travel in a straight line, never changing direction. Because of this they can’t form relationships with one another, and, therefore, don’t have names. Their enemies are the much larger brown crabs and, of course, humans, who like to pick them up and pull off their claws. Other characters include a filmmaker and his cameraman who are filming a documentary about the crabs. The art is really good, but the story is just ok. Three of the crabs do, in the end, find an inventive solution to their movement issue (and give each other names). This is volume one, so hopefully there will be more to come about the fate of the crabs.
Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997, 148 pages)
Annie John is a slim novel that is essentially comprised of connected short stories detailing the transition from being a girl to becoming a young woman. Set on the island of Antigua we meet our protagonist, Annie John, who adores her mother. As the book goes on and Annie John enters adolescence we see the relationship between mother and daughter begin to shift. Intertwined with details about Annie John’s life at school and interactions with friends we hear about the changing dynamic between her and her mother and while it can be painful to read about, it’s also very true to what this time of life often consists of for young women. It’s a time of finding your own identity while also tending to rebel against what feel like constraints imposed by your parents.
I appreciated this novel and am glad I finally picked up something written by Kincaid. This book certainly makes for a quick read but I definitely wouldn’t classify it as light-hearted. As the book progressed I found myself feeling a little depressed by the subject matter, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from picking up Annie John – it’s considered a classic for a reason.
A Was Once an Apple Pie by Edward Lear; adapted by Suse MacDonald
(Orchard Books, 2005, 32 pages)
My daughter and I were able to get some quality reading time in this week while she was home sick. We went with an alphabet theme, starting with A Was Once an Apple Pie. This alphabet poem by Edward Lear was adapted by illustrator Suse MacDonald. The bright pictures provide a nice accompaniment to the rhyming, sing-songy poem written by Lear – a man known for his literary playfulness. This was fun to read aloud, especially once I got the right cadence 😉
Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss
(Random House Books for Young Readers, 1991, 63 pages)
I remember reading this classic when I was younger and I loved it then. It made sense to finish up our alphabet storytime with Dr. Seuss. The setup of the book is perfect for building anticipation in the form of repetition. Almost every introduction to a letter begins the same way, “Big A, little a, what begins with A?” and everything about the wording and the illustrations stands out. I could feel this more strongly since I associate the book with my own childhood, but I don’t think so 🙂
Dr. Seuss’s ABC will undoubtedly have a steady rotation in our household. A classic book that lends itself to a vibrant, punchy, and interactive reading experience.