Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The UU Blogger Book Awards

I saw the Salon Book Awards and figured we could do that.

So I emailed a couple dozen of my closest friends asked them to write about their favorite books they read this year.

Here are the responses I've gotten so far, and I'm open to adding extra responsess as I get more.

Paul Wilczynski who writes Paul Wilczynski's Observations:

My favorite is "Tempting faith: an inside story of political seduction" by David J. Kuo.

Kuo is a devoted Christian who worked with a number of conservative Republicans in what was apparently an honest but naive effort to get the government to assist in solving social problems like hungry by channeling money to faith-based communities. He ended up at the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House, and becomes disenchanted after Bush's promise to devote $8 billion to the cause is followed by virtually no real financial commitment. He finally comes to believe that the entire program was, in fact, a concerted effort to keep the votes of conservative Christians under control by talking the talk - but not walking the walk.

Christine Robinson, who writes Iminister

"I don't know exactly what a prayer is," Mary Oliver wrote, in her poem, "A Summer's Day." It's the one about the grasshopper that ends, "And what do you plan to do with your/one wild and precious life?" UU's like that poem; we like her reminder to appreciate nature, her affirmation of our choices, and, frankly, lots of UU's like the fact that Mary didn't, at that time, know exactly what a prayer is. We like to think that our appreciative attentiveness to nature is a kind of prayer...which, of course, it is.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention...

Mary Oliver has moved on in her spiritual journey. Her latest book, 'Thirst', written after the death of her life partner, is a set of poems about grief and grieving, and about finding God. She says this in one poem:

Pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in which
Another voice may speak.
She's transposed some of her language into a new key. For those who can modulate with her, it's a wonderful book!

Enrique Gomez, who writes The Blue Chalice
Book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond.

When I started reading this book, I put everything off until I finished it. The issue at hand is well encapsulated in the title. It paints both a painful and insightful picture about how people transform their environment to the extent that the change itself becomes a main factor in the decline of their societies.

The scope of the book is epic. The chapters cover the rise of societies as different from each other as the pre-contact Papua New Guinea, post-colonial Dominican Republic, the medieval Greenland Norse settlements, the Anazasi culture in Chaco Canyon, and the modern day Bitterroot Valley in Montana . Everyone of these societies stressed their environment in a different way, and each had widely divergent responses to the precarious conditions their societies fell into as a result. Their stories deserve far more than a chapter in a book, and Diamond does a remarkable job at making them compeling and even moving. What would have been like to be the last surviving Norse in Greenland?

Chapters that I expected would be downers turnout to be spell-binding. Who knew that Montana real estate could be so complicated and troubling? What the hardrock mining industry has done over the years to this country compares to the hardest prose of any horror book I have ever read. I now worry about the history of acid drainage in the hills I live in. After reading this book, I stroll around my neighborhood and wonder what the soil looks like just below. So, I wank on the land a little differently now.

Ms. Kitty, who writes Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show
My favorite book this year has been A SUDDEN COUNTRY by Karen Fisher. I picked it up because the blurb on the back cover described a novel set in country I'm familiar with, the Oregon Trail. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I get impatient with the sometimes-romantic portrayal of the pioneer journey from Missouri and points east, along the barren, desolate, and frightening Trail.

A SUDDEN COUNTRY is at once poetic and fierce; it took me a little while to learn Fisher's style. She writes with grace but with mystery, leaving the reader at times bemused and looking back into previous chapters to refresh her memory of events. The two main characters are James MacLaren, abandoned by his Nez Perce wife and bereaved by the deaths of his three children with smallpox, and Lucy Mitchell, a remarried widow who has reluctantly accompanied her husband on a quest to the Oregon Territory. The story moves from St. Joseph, MO, to the Whitman Mission near present-day Walla Walla WA, at about the time when tensions between native peoples and white settlers was reaching its peak. The book is both beautiful and challenging.

Chalicechick, who writes this very blog:
Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is the most brilliant thing I've read in a long time.

I cannot tell you the number of insights into my own childhood I found reading this book. They are the "Ouch! But at least I understand it better now" sorts of insights.

This is NOT your standard dysfunctional family/mental illness memoir. I've read those and mostly can't stand them. The picture she draws of her father is that of a deeply sick soul, but at the same time the picture is so mixed with love and humor that it isn't a sad story really either. Just a deeply complex one.


Bill Baar said...

Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War by Harry Stout. A book I would buy because I'd frequently reference it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not one of your closest friends? Bah Humbug!

Chalicechick said...

Well, this was a VERY elite group...

who is kidding of course. You were an accidental oversight and she just sent the invitation to participate along.

Write me a book review!