Wednesday, July 3, 2019

An Open Book: What's been taking me through summer

It's time for another literature roundup! In the past few weeks, I've read about farming, death, space zombies (sort of), and prayer (among other things). Head on over to Carolyn Astfalk's linkup at An Open Book for more bookish blog posts :) 

The One Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka.
Written in the 1970s, this was a pretty interesting discussion of "natural farming," which the author also calls "do nothing farming." Instead of being lazy, however, this approach requires intentionally working with nature and not over-cultivating the ground. I thought it was fascinating to learn a little bit about farming in Japan, and I thought that a lot of the author's reflections could really apply to life in general. I didn't fully see eye-to-eye with all of his ideas, but I still thought this was an interesting and thought-provoking read! 

My Father's Wake: How the Irish Teach us to Live, Love, and Die, by Kevin Toolis.

With gorgeous prose and thought-provoking questions, Toolis describes how the Western Death Machine has separated us from the commonplace reality of dying. Bookended with the experience of his father's final hours through his burial, this story walks us through Toolis' work as a reporter; a life that took the author to war torn countries and morgues. While Toolis includes references to his Irish Catholic family, I got the feeling that his is more of a "cultural" Catholicism, and this wasn't really a religious book at all. Instead, in the author's references to ancient Greek and Roman culture, it seemed more like he was working from the standpoint of natural law to show that honoring the dead is part of the very fabric of humanity. I really, really enjoyed this book. I thought there were so many good and true reflections in here, and it has really gotten me thinking a lot more about death and after-death care. Parts of these books would be tough for people who tend to be squeamish (the scenes at the morgue), but I think this is still worth picking up even if you skip over those sections. 

Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey.

The plot of this 600+ page science fiction book is difficult for me to summarize, but the main gist is that it follows two very different men: Miller, a somewhat cynical detective who is looking to find a missing woman, and Holden, an optimistic captain who-along with his crew-becomes wrapped up with the mysteries surrounding space politics and attacks that have been made. The paths of these men cross, and they need to work together as they fight to save planets/communities from impending doom. The language in this book was very coarse and there was some sexual content (which I wasn't a fan of), but when I got into the story, I was hooked. It reminded me a bit of Firefly, a little bit of The Walking Dead, and a tiny bit of Star Wars. It was a very enjoyable read, and I kind of want to read more in the series, but since that's a huge time commitment to make, I'll probably hold off on the next books for a while. 

The Ways of Mental Prayer, by Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey.

This was an excellent, classic book on mental prayer and its aspects. The author drew a lot from St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Frances de Sales, so for a while it felt like this book was just one big commentary on Introduction to the Devout Life. Later on, the author discussed at length the thoughts of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila (is it possible to have a book on mental prayer that doesn't  discuss Carmelites?). There were many lovely points of reflection on prayer in this book. The style might be off-putting for some people, since it was written in another time, but it was a wonderful book, full of so much wisdom. 

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts.

This is a well-researched historical fiction book about Maud Baum, the wife of Frank Baum (the man who created The Wizard of Oz). The story bounced back and forth between the widowed Maud who, during the production of the movie The Wizard of Oz, sought to work with those on set to protect the story, and the coming-of-age of this woman. I knew nothing about Frank or Maud Baum before reading this book, and I thought reading about her life was fascinating, and I loved reading about early Hollywood. I did not love the few references in here to theosophy (I didn't know that the Baums were connected with that), but that really didn't overwhelm the wider story at all. 

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean.

This was both the author's foray into trying to uncover the truth about the a fire that raged in the Los Angelus Central Library in 1986 and a love letter/tribute to the greatness of libraries. It also dove into some of the history of libraries, and those specific to Los Angelus. I thought it was FASCINATING. I loved learning about the history of libraries, and I loved seeing (through the author's eyes) how big library locations operate. I loved reading about all of the different aspects of library life, and about the process of restoring books after a fire. I also thought that learning about arson was interesting. This book will not give you a definitive answer about who started the fire, but hopefully it will instill in you a greater appreciation for the public library system. I could have done without a couple of the author's comments that seemed a little bit like unnecessary jabs at Catholics, and some of the tone was a bit more supportive of certain agendas than I would have liked (though I wasn't surprised, since libraries seem to be rather supportive of certain lifestyles and choices that I don't support), but I still really enjoyed this book a lot!

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald.
This is a lovely children's fairy tale story about a princess, Irene, the son of miners, Curdie, and a bunch of goblins. Irene is not allowed to go outside at night, since her dad doesn't want the goblins to take her away. She meets a woman in the castle one day who is supposedly her great-great grandmother (and seems a bit magical). Curdie discovers a plot by the goblins to sneak into the castle and whisk away Irene so that she can marry the goblin prince. Naturally, he cleverly and bravely tries to find a way to protect her and defeat the goblins!  I'm pretty sure I somehow missed this story when I was a kid, but I'm grateful that I read it now-it's delightful!

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King.

This was such an interesting and touching biography of the iconic Mister Rogers. It takes the reader through Fred's childhood and college years all the way through his life and work up to his death (and then it discusses a bit of his legacy). I loved learning more about Fred Rogers, and thought the little stories from his life were so fun to learn. I gained a much deeper appreciation for his work-to see how much he put into researching and respecting the development and needs of children was amazing! This book took me back to the joy of watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood when I was a kid, and now I've determined that I need to introduce my own children to that show. 

Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler.

In this delightful modern-day retelling of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Kate-a 29-year-old assistant at a preschool-finds herself caught up in her father's crazy scheme. He's been conducting a research project and is convinced that his lab assistant, Pyotr, is the best (and only) person who can help him work. The problem? Pyotr's visa is about to expire. So, Kate's dad decide that Pyotr can marry Kate, and thus be able to stay in the U.S.A. Naturally, this does not bode well with the independent-minded Kate. This was an enjoyable read, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the quirky relationship between Kate and Pyotr play out. It was so fun! 

Thanks for joining me in this literary discussion! As always, please let me know if you have recommendations-my "to be read" list is huge, but there's always room for it to grow ;) 


  1. I love how varied your reading is and how you readily embrace the good things in the book while acknowledging the parts that didn't appeal. I'm glad you enjoyed The Good Neighbor - I certainly did. I'm looking up The Princess and the Goblin and Vinegar Girl right now! Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

  2. So many interesting reads as usual! Love hearing about them. Have you seen the recent documentary on Mr. Rogers? I never knew how much he researched psychology and such! So neat.