Monday, April 06, 2009

The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

This is another book my mom recommended. Three women living in New York decide, shortly after 9/11, to get together on a regular basis to talk about their faith. One of the women is Muslim, one Jewish and one Christian. Their idea was to collaborate on a children's book discussing the three faiths, but they ended up writing this book instead.

They met kind of a like a book club, discussing topics of faith. They'd all write about the topics separately and then bring their writing to the meetings and discuss them. They had some rough times getting through some things.

They talk about some of the stereotyping they did, and do. I realized I don't know very much about Islam at all. A co-worker of mine, who's very bitter toward the Muslim faith, told me many times about how he'd read many things by Muslims and his conclusion was that Islam is the only faith in the world that says if you don't believe what I believe I have the right to kill you. I also read the book Infidel and the life of that author growing up in a Muslim household is very oppressive.

In this book, the Muslim woman is the one who starts the club. At the beginning of the book she is trying to find a Muslim community that is not like the ones you most often hear and read about. She doesn't wear the hajib and doesn't want anyone to say that because of that she is not Muslim. She and her husband do not believe in the oppressive things about women in that faith. This woman is Palestinian, her family's home was taken over by Israeli's. She has some feelings about that, of course, but she's very American and even talks about the need for the Muslim faith to have an American experience.

One thing I didn't know, although now I see I should have, is that the Muslims read the same Old Testament stories as we do. Her kids have kids books about Noah, Moses, Abraham and so on. I was telling my minister about that and he said that they claim to be descendants of Ishmael. I've heard that but I guess it didn't click with me what that meant.

The Muslims, according to this author, believe that as a Muslim you must believe in the Jewish stories and the Christian stories but they don't believe Jesus was the son of God, just a prophet, in a line of prophets that leads to Mohammed, also a prophet.

People reading this book might accuse the three women of picking and choosing what they will and won't believe, and making up their own religion. I guess this could be true, but in a way we all do that, at least to some extent.

The book goes between the 3 women writing about the various topics and times of the faith club. They taped their sessions so the book also includes some of the actual recorded conversations, verbatim.

I recommend this book. I plan to reread it some day.

The Nazi Officer's Wife by Edith Hahn Beer

My mom recommended this book to me. A friend of hers had recommended it to her. It's a very interesting story of a Jewish woman who kind of hid in plain sight during World War II. She lived in Vienna when the war started. She took on the identity of a friend and went to Germany under that assumed identity, then ended up marrying a man who eventually was forced into becoming a Nazi soldier, an officer.

It's pretty unreal that that could have happened. She did tell the man that she was a Jew before he married her. Somehow he still married her although he also bought right into the belief that Jewish blood is bad blood and all that sort of thing. They had a child and once he saw that it was a girl he was pretty much finished with the whole thing.

Jewish people who did this kind of thing, hiding in the open, were called "U-boats".

It's really a good read, I thought. I enjoyed it.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

My other bookclub chose the book Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I had sometimes wondered what kind of writer Salman Rushdie is. I imagined something much more political and strident. His writing is very enjoyable and good and easy to read. However, I did not finish this book.

There were a couple reasons. One was I am a little tired of India. India's popular right now. I've read several books and seen movies about India, fashions are even being influence a lot by India right now. I didn't feel like reading yet another book about India.

The other reason was I got impatient. The writer is telling the story not just to the readers but also to his relative or maybe she's a nanny of some kind or something. Anyway, he sort of writes cyclically, saying something, remarking how it will matter later, circling back to an earlier time, going forward. It was just annoying me.

At our book club meeting discussing this book, some others expressed my same feelings. Others, though, said that if you kept reading, past "Book 1", he stops writing that way and they enjoyed it much more.

I'm not feeling like continuing to read to find out. But there you are. I'm sure they're right.


So, I thought I'd write about some other books I've read in addition to those for the book club. One is Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, a very popular books especially for "tween" girls. It's been made into a movie.

A co-worker of my daughter's recommended it to her and she liked it. A while back I saw it on a bookstore shelf and thought I'd get it and see what I thought.

Well, I can't say I think so much of it. My daughter did enjoy it and went on to read the others in the series. It's interesting, in a way. It is interesting that a story can be written about a young girl falling in love with a vampire who is part of a small group of vampires who are sort of "vegetarians" of vampires. They don't drink human blood, only animal blood. It's pretty bizarre that anyone thought of it (and strange that there's also a t.v. show out with a similar thing, only the vampires on the show drink a man-made, sort of substitute blood and have come out in the open claiming that they should be treated better now that they don't harm anyone).

Anyway, I can see that this is an intriguiging concept, and it does say something that the story in no way grosses you out. But I just didn't feel a compelling need to read more of the story. I did complete the entire book, but I'm okay with that being the end of it.

I don't plan to see the movie because people who adore the book say the movie is so-so or don't like the movie, so I am pretty confident I would not find the movie any more compelling than I did the book.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Not a Genuine Black Man

And now we're up to the one we're reading for our next meeting, Not a Genuine Black Man. This was chosen as San Jose's book for the city to read. The author grew up in a white neighborhood in Oakland.

I'm looking forward to hearing what the club members will have to say. The author writes about several instances of prejudice, where he's stopped and mistreated simply because he's black. He writes about how often now people accuse him of not being a "real" black man. I think that happens because he doesn't talk with a black accent or maybe because he grew up in a white neighborhood. It's an interesting read.

The Good Earth

I read The Good Earth years ago. I don't think I read it as an assignment, just on my own. But I could be wrong. Anyway, I know I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it now again. It, too, is very much a "be there" book. It's fascinating to live in the world of China.

I sometimes think of some scenes in this book when I see scenes on t.v. with hundreds of people -- such as the scenes in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan when masses of people are at a temple or on a pilgrimage or at a funeral. I remember the times in The Good Earth when the characters were in that kind of a situation, just a small family in the midst of hundreds and hundreds of others. It makes me remember that each of those persons is living a life as important as mine. They're loving their family members and friends as much as I do. They're caring about what happens to themselves and those they care about as much as I do. So often when you hear about things far away with unknown people, it's hard to remember that.

The Good Earth also is interesting as a story of a woman who is such a strong character in spite of being looked upon as a simple, ugly peasant. Her unbound feet make her even more ugly in others' eyes. Yet she is the center of that family. After she dies, things go downhill.

It's another one that is just a really good story, moving along at a good pace.

Flannery O'Connor

O boy, Flannery O'Connor. Everyone who knows me and talks to me about books knows my sad story of Flannery O'Connor. I love to read and when I went to Calvin I thought I would major in English. My first English class, though, was taught by a professor who ONLY had us read Flannery O'Connor, the whole semester. I was so sick of the grotesque.

And then on top of that, I could not get an A in that class, no matter how hard I tried. In high school I was basically an A student with little difficulty, even taking honor courses. But in this class, I couldn't get above a B+ on my papers. I even met with the prof and asked what could I do to this paper to make it an A- instead of a B+. He couldn't give me an answer except that it wasn't A material.

So, stupidly, I told myself I shouldn't major in English if I couldn't get an A. How dumb. I majored in Elementary Education but you also chose a subject major. I chose Psychology and History. I didn't even like History. How stupid was that?

Anyway, to get back to Flannery O'Connor, the group decided to read some of her short stories because they are classics. Dan, one of our members, taught high school English and included a unit on Flannery O'Connor. He brought along his materials. We had a really good discussion. If I'd have kept up on my blogging I could have written more about it. One thing I remember is he said that her stories point out the need for grace. And I guess that is certainly true. I, though, like the stories to actually include grace, and hers really do not.

So, I liked our discussion of these stories and I'm glad we read her. But I don't plan to read her again unless it's some similar situation as this. I was talking to my mom and dad about it and said I didn't enjoy her stories at all. My mom said, "Do you have to enjoy what you read?" And I think my answer is yes, if not have to, I want to.

Some catch up - The Chosen

Well, it's been forever since I've blogged. I'll try again. I've found that quite often now in the evenings I decide not to even turn on my laptop. I can check emails on my blackberry so I can see if something urgent comes up that way.

So, looking back over the list I see that I haven't written anything since The Shack. We read The Chosen after that. What can I write about that book except that I love it? It seems like such a simple book, just a really good story about two Jewish boys, one who is Hasidic and one Reform. They meet at a baseball game where they both get caught up in a competetition that turns into hate. After one of them seriously injures the other with the ball, they start a friendship.

Why do I love it so much? I love the way it brings me so much into the boys' world, Jewish neighborhoods in New York. I collect teacups and some of my favorite teacups I call "be there" cups. They have a picture on them of a scene that I can imagine actually being in, the way the girl goes into the blue willow plate scene in a book I read as a girl. Good books like The Chosen are "be there" books. You are there in the world created by the author. And it's not done with a bunch of fancy descriptions. If there are descriptions, I tend to skim them. I can't remember any big passages of descriptions in The Chosen but I can picture the streets, the houses, the ball field, the hospital ward, the places in the book. So I guess one reason I love it is that "be there" phenomenon.

I also love it because it's just such a good story. It moves at the right pace. It doesn't rush to tie all the ends at the end, as so many books seem to. I also love the conversations. When my mom would bring me to the library as a girl, I remember opening books and looking for quote marks. If there were lots of quote marks I'd check further because to me that was a sign of a possible good book.

I also am fascinated by the life of Jewish people so that is probably another reason I like The Chosen so much. I went through a stage in high school of reading not only Chaim Potok books but also Leon Uris books and probably others that were about Jews. Even now I really enjoy a detective series by Faye Kellerman where the main characters are Jewish.

None of those reasons, though, seem like a good enough explanation for why I like them so much. But there you are.