now, onto books i enjoyed reading, but didn’t make my “best books” list:
a short history of nearly everything, bill bryson. i’ve always loved bryson’s witty travelogue writing. but this was a very different animal: 500+ pages of the history of science (including stuff that was very newly being discovered at the time of the writing, a couple years ago). he’s still a travel writer, really, and admits that in the intro. so the book is really a bit of a travel diary through the history of science (and the history of the earth), complete with interesting and/or funny stories about the real people who did things scientific. i really enjoyed most of this, and learned a ton; but in general, i would have enjoyed it more if he’d trimmed it back an additional 100 – 150 pages. a few less rabbit-trails would have kept my attention more.
embroideries, by marjane satrapi. i stumbled onto satrapi’s illustrated autobiographies, persepolis and persepolis II, a year or two ago, and really enjoyed them. they tell the story of the author/illustrater’s childhood in iran, the cultural revolution there, and eventually (as a teenager) being sent off to france. the second book tells of her return to her family in iran. so, when i saw she had a new book, i ordered it. this one is completely different — it’s an illustrated account of a single conversation between satrapi (as a young woman), her mother, her grandmother, and various aunts and female family friends (about 8 women or so), about intimacy, marriage and sex. ha! kinda caught me off guard! but, really, it’s a rare glimpse into a real discussion between real women (surprisingly helped along by the illustrations) in a completely different cultural context than our own. it’s a very quick read, and worth it.
my faith so far, by patton dodd. a friend who works at jossey-bass (the publisher of this book) gave me this when it was hot off the press, and it’s been sitting on my shelf since (in fact, i think i have two copies of it). i didn’t only want to read fiction on my sabbatical, and throught this spiritual memoir would fit the ticket (it made me wish i had a copy of russell rathbun’s book post-rapture radio, but, alas, i didn’t and don’t have a copy — how can that be? i approved a book release party for that book at the emergent convention a year ago, and everyone got a copy, but i don’t have one!). i almost put this book in the “books i loved” category above — because i truly did enjoy reading it. dodd’s story is summed up as: became a christian as an older teenager, became a rabid charasmatic putting in major hours on church/faith/religion, went off to oral roberts university, got disillusioned, left and started searching for a new kind of faith. personally, i don’t have the charismatic piece in my own story, but there were enough parallels in here (as there would be for many of us who grew up in evangelicalism) to hitch a ride on dodd’s emotions and thoughts. i’ve been pleased to see the emerging church start to define itself more by what it wants to be, rather than what it isn’t. but, as much as i did actually enjoy reading this memoir, the book leaves us pretty much limited to the parts of his story that define what he no longer wants to (or can) be, without going to the new promised land. still worth reading, though.
marked, by steve ross. my friend bob carlton, one of the most generous people on earth, sent this book to me as a gift recently, knowing my love of illustrated books. it’s a comic, in every sense except the binding — a modernized telling of the gospel of mark (get the title?). i TOTALLY dig this guy’s illustration style, and really enjoyed some of the ways he re-envisioned the gospel story taking place in a more modern (though totalitarian) context. probably my only disappointment (and what kept it off my “books i loved” list) is the ending, where the resurrection is symbolized by the springing up of a large sunflower. the gospel of mark clearly includes the resurrection story, so this ending was a bit of a let-down, and maybe showed a theological bias of the author.
the mermaid chair, by sue monk kidd. i read sue monk kidd’s the secret life of bees about a year ago, and loved it. jeannie and i have had this newer book sitting around our house for months — so last week i grabbed it. i’m 3/4 through it now — so don’t know the ending yet. i’m conflicted (which, i suppose, might be exactly where the author wants me to be 3/4 the way through the book). i’m fairly doubtful the book is going to resolve in a way i’ll be happy with — two possibilities being just too sappy, and a third (more likely) being one of those “see, our lives are all really messy and that’s why i’m ending the book with this mess” kind of endings. her writing — both her sentences and word choices, as well as her storytelling ability — are so excellent. she reminds me of a humorless anne lamott at times. i’m not comfortable with her (implied) proposal that the path chosen by the fictional narrator is — while admitadly destructive to her husband and others — also somehow good and right (and even unavoidable). so i’m enjoying the book, but am a bit uneasy about it.