Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Open Book: Do April showers really bring May flowers?

Happy May! On this beautiful feast of St. Joseph the Worker, I'm diving into the books that I've read over the past month. We have been getting more rain than usual lately, so it's been good weather for reading (and our neighbors' flowers look gorgeous!). In the past month, I mostly read some fascinating non-fiction, though I finally picked up a novel by Flannery O'Connor :) 

Check out Carolyn Astfalk's blog for more great recommendations at An Open Book! 

Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws, by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt.
The authors did tons of research (both English-language and Japanese-language sources) to create this book: a collection of short profiles detailing various historical figures in the history of ninja. This book was very user-friendly, with lots of headings, info boxes, and illustrations (though some pictures had nudity, which I did not appreciate). It was a fun way to learn more about ninja and other figures from that time period in Japan, and I recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic! 

Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor.
Hazel Motes, a skeptical young adult, encounters a blind street preacher and finds himself caught up in the battle of faith. As he fights against the reality of God, Hazel declares that he is a preacher as well-of the Church Without Christ. Hazel's journey definitely has echoes of the Prodigal Son, and this story was beautiful, thought-provoking, and well-written. It was my first time reading a novel by O'Connor (I'd only read essays, letters, and short stories from her before) and I really enjoyed it a lot. I highly recommend it! 

Around the year with the Trapp Family, by Maria von Trapp.
When Maria von Trapp's memoir a while back, one of my favorite parts was a short passage where she talked about how the family observed the liturgical year in their home. So, I was really excited to hear that she had written a book about it! And it had recently been reprinted! I loved this book. In chapters that focus on the different liturgical seasons, von Trapp includes recipes, songs and ideas of how they centered their lives on Christ. She talks about how they did things "in the old country" (Austria) and how they had to adapt some practices when they moved to America. She covers a couple of feast days, but mainly focuses on seasons, which I thought was cool. I love celebrating the feast days of saints, but think that sometimes people can get so excited about the saints that they forget about the actual season's significance. Also, she drew from some of the texts in the liturgy in her discussions, which I liked. There is a lengthy section in here on celebrating Sunday, which I loved, and it's been pushing me to think more about how we commemorate the Lord's Day. This book was such a delight to read, and I highly recommend it! 

How to Fall in Love with Anyone, by Mandy Len Catron.
I first came across this author when I heard about, then read, the viral essay "To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This." I was intrigued to see that she wrote a whole book on the topic of love and how we fall in love, and I started out really enjoying it. But then, the book trickled off into territory that I wasn't a fan of-polyamory and that kind of thing. Still, there is some stuff in the first sections of the book that I am glad I read-her discussion of narratives, of the stories we tell about love, was really interesting. It's caused me to think more about what kinds of love stories I consume, as well as how I tell my own love story to my kids someday. She also talks a lot about agency in this book, which I loved-that we can make choices about who we love and how we show that love. So, this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I don't recommend the entire thing, but the first few chapters are pretty interesting. If anything, I highly recommend reading Catron's essay. 

Camp Austen, by Ted Scheinman.

This book discusses the year-and-a-half or so that the author spent as a "Jane Austen Superfan," immersed in the world of Regency-themed events. He starts out by discussing how he was introduced to Austen as a kid, and later on as a grad student, volunteered at a Jane Austen-themed conference (his mother was a Jane Austen scholar and couldn't attend, due to health, which was part of the reason he was involved). That led to him attending conferences and events for the next several months as he dove into the world of Austen. He dives into the Juvenilia quite a bit, which I appreciated-this has been on my reading list, and it doesn't seem talked about that much. As Scheinman tells his story, he presents some Jane Austen literary theory and discussions, which I really enjoyed-except for the parts of the book where he talks about some Jane Austen erotica and sexual readings of the text. As a whole, I enjoyed this book-aside from the content I didn't like, it was a fun, lighthearted read. 

Zero Waste Home, by Bea Johnson.
This book is a practical guide on how to live a "zero waste" lifestyle and embrace more simplicity and joy in life. The author includes some stories from her life as well as tons of suggestions of how to live without waste in all aspects of life-she notes that she did  bunches of trial-and-error so that we don't have to! I found some of her ideas awesome (I really want to make some reusable produce bags now), some of her ideas overboard (teaching her kids to refuse party favors) and a couple were utterly repulsive to me (recommending that we rethink birthing lots of kids and instead use IUDs so that we can fix overpopulation-she didn't even talk about countries that aren't meeting their replacement levels!). This is a great book with ideas for simplifying life and wasting less, and I really want to implement a couple, but there is definitely some stuff in here that turned me off. 

The Art of Slow Writing, by Louse DeSalvo.
Drawing from the lives (and writing processes) of famous authors-Margaret Atwood, John Steinbeck, and Virginia Woolf, to name a few-DeSalvo discusses the value of being a "slow writer." Of taking one's time to generate ideas, organize thoughts, write and revise. Of making the time to experience life beyond the writing table. As someone who would love to complete a book someday, I found this volume to be a refreshing breath of air and advice. I've observed that there seems to be a lot of urgency out there, at least in the Catholic writing world, to constantly be churning out publishable content. This book was a great reminder to me that it is OK to take a slower route.
My main complaint about this book is that it mostly focuses on a few different famous authors and completely overlooks Tolkien (I think a discussion of his writing process would have been a great inclusion in this!). It is still totally worth picking this up from the library though!

Thanks for joining me in this literary discussion! If you have any recommendations, please send them my way-I love discovering new books.


  1. I love how discerning you are in your reading - able to appreciate the good in the book and dismiss the not-so-good. I've only read O'Connors short stories, so her novel intrigues me.

    And I'm definitely in the slow writing camp - LOL.

    Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

    1. Thanks so much-it's definitely a constant juggling act as I try to figure out when I can appreciate good and when I just need to throw down a book because it'd be a complete waste of time-which I do quite often ;) O'Connor's novel was really cool! Being able to sit with her characters for a longer span of pages than just a short story was really nice. I think I still prefer the short story format for her (plus, there are so many to pick from!) but Wise Blood was excellent and I'm very glad I read it.