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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: anne tyler

Books I've read this year (and my top recommendation)

jenmichel@me.com

I began the year with an ambitious reading list. You can find it here and laugh at the foolish notions January can put into a woman's head. So far, I've read:

The Fruitful Life by Gerald Bridges (My most recent issue for Today in the Word was about the fruit of the Spirit. This book was a good resource for that particular topic. I'd recommend it as a resource for newer believers.)

Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller (This book is especially appropriate for me since the book I'm writing is on the subject of desire. Keller has terrific insights to help us explore what motivates some of our chronic sin patterns.)

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (I am now an official Smith groupie. This book is a more academic and theologically profound treatment of desire than mine will be, but you'll probably see lots of Smith in my book. And Jamie, if you're reading, will you write my foreword??)

Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson (Ok, confession. I've only finished the introduction and half of the essay on Darwinism. She's brilliant. And I am not.)

Still by Lauren Winner (I blogged about this book here.)

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (I felt good for having read it, but this, unfortunately, was the biggest pleasure of the experience.)

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler (I blogged about it here.)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (I started out LOVING this book. I was listening to it on audio, but I got tired of it and didn't finish.)

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (I am reading this now. Can you believe I have a Master's in Literature and this is my first Wharton?)

And finally, the BEST book I've read so far and one that I suggest you IMMEDIATELY reserve at the library or buy on your Kindle:

Lit by Mary Karr

I love spiritual memoir, and I suppose this book fits into that genre, although it certainly wouldn't figure as "typical."

First prayer that Mary Karr ever prays?

"Higher power: where the f--- have you been?"

This is a book that is jarring and raw. Mary Karr has bled this book from her veins, and I cannot believe how stunningly powerful it is without the least hint of having been overwrought. I am in LOVE with this book. I want everyone to read this book. And if it didn't break every rule about writing, I would now end this sentence with a thousand and one exclamation points.

!

Later, I'll tell you more about the writing wisdom I took away from Karr's book. But for now, get the book and READ IT.

!

Book Blurb: Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

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I’ve finished my first Anne Tyler novel – Saint Maybe - and I’ve been mulling over it the last couple of days. (Well, that would make it sound like I’ve been thinking hard about something other than organizing closets, measuring rooms, and pricing new couches, which wouldn’t exactly be true.) To be honest, I thought that I would like this novel more. I couldn’t remember exactly who had recommended it to me, but after I finished it, I was totally underwhelmed. Because I had been reading it on my iPad and had lost any real sense of where I was in the novel, when I came to the final scene and turned the final page, I was shocked. It was an ending with so little fanfare.

In fact, the novel is itself a work of understatement. It wasn’t until I realized this that I realized I had almost missed what Tyler was doing very, very deliberately.

It also helped when I remembered that it was Eugene Peterson who had suggested I read it. (No, no, I haven’t managed a personal face-to-face yet with my favorite American pastor, but I do have a copy of his Take and Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List.)

Here’s was Peterson says about Saint Maybe: “Each new novel by Tyler is a fresh exercise in seeing behind the labels and clichés that stereotype people and prevent us from seeing the “image of God” that is there. She creates characters in her novels that are always just a little quirky, not quite fitting into what we think a human being ought to be. Most of us are so used to fitting into the categories supplied for us by hospitals, schools, shopping malls, and social services that we raise no objections when we are treated similarly by other Christians, and especially by Christian leaders. But insofar as we acquiesce, we lost the capacity to realize what God is most interested in working in us: sanctity, which means becoming more our created/redeemed selves, not less, not being reduced to what will fit into a religious program, not being depersonalized in the cause of ecclesiastical efficiency.”

Though this really gives you no specifics about the actual novel, Peterson is explaining the redemptive thread that is woven so beautifully and painfully in this novel: holiness.

Do we believe that is really what God is after?

And what is holiness? Is it keeping all of the rules? Keeping our religious ducks in a row?

Or is holiness love?

Ian, who is the novel’s protagonist, is a man who grows into holiness. At least I think. Because the novel’s prose is so common, because Ian is such a commoner, holiness doesn’t bedazzle you as a reader. There really aren’t explosive moments of insight for Ian. There is just this steady narrative drumbeat, and Ian plods forward.

You hardly admire him. At times, you may even pity him.

- until you put the novel down, take a few days away from it, (read a better, more insightful review), and realize you almost missed it.

Holiness can even be this: feeling exhausted and perplexed, sometimes feeling trapped, sometimes wondering why God feels so distant, often wondering if you’re on the right road - but keeping at the work God has given you.

“For the first time it occurred to him that there was something steely and inhuman to this religious business.”

Ian is one the road to finding forgiveness, and he’s missing it for a good part of the novel. He’s thinking that forgiveness is earned.

But along the way, Ian learns to pray. He is like us: so human, so frail, but growing in his capacity to see and receive God.

“To steady himself, he bowed himself and prayed. He prayed as he almost always did, not forming actual words but picturing instead this spinning green planet safe in the hands of God, with the children and his parents and Ian himself small trusting dots among all the other dots. And the room around him seemed to rustle with prayers for years and years past: Let them get well and Make her love me and Forgive what I have done.