Finding Light in a Dark Book

“There is not enough darkness in the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”

Robert Alden

Some of the best books I’ve read focus on the darkest subjects of murder, war, and genocide. I used to wonder if my gravitation toward reading about dark things was weird, but I’ve since learned that every person is weird in her own ways, so I won’t worry too much about my gloomy reading habits.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I read just about every children’s book about54283 the Holocaust. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss. Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl, of course. The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Although these stories are mostly geared toward young readers, they are all, at the crux, about experiences of genocide and its horrific effects. What drew me to these books was the presence of hope in the midst of terror – the people who persevered through so much hardship and those who hid and protected families from the Nazis. Every time there is terrible evil, there is always a good contingent fighting against it.

I recently read Dave Cullen’s Columbine, which delves deep into what happened before, during, and after the school massacre planned and executed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Cullen’s reporting of the massacre’s details is impressive and clears up several widespread myths about the event. It was eye-opening to see through Cullen’s examples how strongly the media’s portrayal of an 5632446event can influence the public’s impressions of it.

This year I also read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, my first book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge. This true crime classic is about the murder of four members of the Clutter family in Kansas and the search for, trial, and conviction of the killers. Capote portrays the story with reverence for the victims and empathy for the killers. I always appreciate when writers go beyond the good guy/bad guy story to show the complexity of each human.

While dark books are not necessarily fun to read, they’re important for many reasons.

*They memorialize difficult chapters of human history that shouldn’t be forgotten. In telling heartbreaking stories and evoking an emotional response from the reader, the best books in this genre honor the victims.

*By going deep into the details, dark books can help us to understand the circumstances that lead to hatred and crimes on small and large scales and to find ways of preventing them in the future.

*They can even identify some glimmers of goodness within perpetrators and draw out the causes of their behavior – not excusing it, but acknowledging the complex factors that contributed to it. This is important to me because I believe one of the biggest barriers to progress out there is the mindset, “He’s bad, and I’m good.”

This week is the end of the Lenten season, in which we reflect in a solemn and special way on our own humanity – “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – and are always lifted up into the light on Easter Sunday. It’s a good time to remember that there’s a place for dark books on our shelves and that there’s always some light to be found within them.

candlelight-1077638_1920

Other dark books I’ve been meaning to read:

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

The Innocent Man: Murder and Justice in a Small Town by John Grisham

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

 

How To Read More Books in 2016

“We read to know we are not alone.”

C.S. Lewis

In the past few months I have stepped up my reading game. Although I’ve always loved to read, I’ve found that it takes some discipline until I get into the habit, and then it gets easier and more enjoyable. Several people have asked how I make time to read, so I’m sharing the strategies that have helped me to read more books in 2016.

read-652384_1280

  • Wake up and read. Almost every morning at least one child, a dog, and/or an alarm clock wakes me up sometime between 4:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. I would love to get up before everyone else and sit at the dining room table for 15 minutes with a cup of tea and a book, but I just can’t drag myself out of bed that early. When someone or something starts to make noise at the crack of dawn, I try to pick up my book and read for a couple of minutes before I start meeting demands. It makes me feel like I have a little control over how the day starts and puts me in a reading mindset for the day.
  • Read and eat. Books and food go together well. Sometimes I read a few pages of my own book while we eat breakfast or lunch, and other times I encourage my kids to stay at the table and finish the meal by reading a book out loud. Miss Manners may not approve, but I’m OK with that.
  • Read and ride. I’m one of those people who can read in the car without getting dizzy. If we’re heading out on a family drive and I’m not at the wheel, I’ll often bring a book or use my Kindle app. It’s a great opportunity to get in a solid chunk of reading time. Car rides are also a good chance to listen to audiobooks on CD or another device.
  • Books on the treadmill. We have a treadmill in our barn, and occasionally I walk at a moderate pace on it. Sometimes I listen to podcasts, and sometimes I read my book. I should probably switch to audiobooks on the treadmill for safety’s sake.
  • Keep track of progress. I keep track of my reading life on Goodreads, including the books I’m currently reading, want to read, and have already read, as well as progress on individual books. It provides some accountability for meeting my reading goals.
  • More Reading, Less Facebook. Lately I’ve been trying a new challenge: “No checking Facebook or Instagram until you read X more pages.” I like the double benefit of more reading time and less mindless scrolling of social media. But I don’t always obey my own rule. It’s hard to stay away from “The Facebook,” as my husband Dave calls it.
  • Midday reading break. If I can get my little one to nap and my older child to be occupied for a bit in the afternoon, I’ll sit down and read for 20 minutes. When I was working, I would sometimes take my lunch break with a book. It’s refreshing to escape for a few minutes.
  • Drop everything and read. Every once in a while in the evening I’ll ignore everything I should be doing (dishes, picking up, exercise, making lunch, etc.) and just read a good book for as long as I feel like it. I’m a rebel.
  • Fiction by day, Non-fiction by night. While I love the idea of reading before bedtime, fiction puts me right to sleep at that time of day. I’m so tired that I can’t follow storylines, and I start dozing within five minutes. For some reason, I can keep my eyes open a little longer for non-fiction on my Kindle app. It’s good to know what works.

These strategies have all helped me to make time for more reading lately. While I’d love the chance to relax on the beach with a book for hours at a time, that’s not possible right now, so I have to squeeze books in when I can. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Great reading tips from other book bloggers:

Ten Tips To Help You Read More Often from Jessica at The Quirky Bookworm

How I Find Time To Read by Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy

 

 

 

Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable, and the Nature of Good Fiction

“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Last summer I read Harper Lee’s much-talked-about draft novel, Go Set a Watchman. There are varying opinions about whether or not the draft should even have been published; I don’t know the answer to that question, but I did love reading the book. Ms. Lee’s first, raw attempt at exposing the reality of racism in her world (in our world still) is fascinating, especially to a former book editor.

24817626What I appreciate most about the book, and what’s at the heart of any good book, is the truth revealed within it: all of us are far from perfect, some are seriously messed up, and most can’t get away with pretending everything’s rosy forever. Our beloved Atticus Finch is no exception to this rule.

I’ve been thinking about this lately while wrapping my head around the allegations that surfaced against longtime American entertainment icon Bill Cosby. Like many, I grew up watching The Cosby Show. I cried through the last episode, especially during Cliff and Clair’s final dance across the living room and off the TV set. At one point during my teen years I mailed a fan letter to the man himself and received an autographed picture in return. Two years ago, I took an early lunch break and hustled down the street to catch a glimpse of Bill cutting the ribbon at the opening of Ben’s Chili Bowl in Arlington, Virginia. I’d call myself a fan.

When the allegations first hit the news in 2014, my heart lurched and I hoped, of course, that none of it was true. At that time, it seemed like there was some possibility of serious misunderstanding or gross exaggeration or a pandemic of made-up stories. I had just finished packing a hospital bag, including season one of The Cosby Show, for my second baby’s birth. Shortly thereafter, as the allegations were building, I took the DVD out of the bag and put it back on the shelf.

Now, more than a year later, it seems probable that Bill Cosby did some terrible things. Setting aside the real problem – Cosby’s alleged actions and their effects on the people involved – I can’t help but wonder how to handle my relationship with Bill Cosby. Should I throw away all of my DVDs and pretend Rudi’s goldfish, the Gordon Gartrell shirt, and all of Denise’s crazy boyfriends never existed? Should I return the autographed picture? Are my good memories ruined because they never should have existed in the first place?

For me, the answers lie in separating fact from fiction, man from character. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I’m so personally disappointed, and I think it’s because in my mind, Bill Cosby was Cliff Huxtable. I transposed the character qualities (admirable father figure, standup citizen, just the right balance of smart and funny, someone you can trust) onto the actor himself. And maybe Cosby does have some or all of those qualities to some extent. But Cliff Huxtable, not Bill Cosby, was my childhood TV hero.

Back to Atticus Finch: many people have been severely disappointed by how Atticus was portrayed in Go Set A Watchmen, as a racist who barely resembles the favorite hero-Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird, and there is some resentment that this “bad Atticus” exists. My own take is that Harper Lee created two Atticus Finches: one hero and one anti-hero. One doesn’t cancel out the other. Our favorite, classic Atticus is still a fictional hero to celebrate and emulate.

Like good Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable has already been created and can’t be undone. He is still and always will be a fictional hero who loves his five kids and wife and eats giant submarine sandwiches and delivers babies. The man who played Cliff may have done some terrible things, and hopefully he will be held accountable for any and all true allegations. But Cliff Huxtable is the epitome of good comedic fiction, which exists separately from the real, much more complicated world in which it is created. It teaches us lessons, keeps us company, and makes us laugh, even if the real world is breaking our hearts. We may choose never to watch The Cosby Show again. I’m still not sure where I stand on that. But no matter what, I think we can keep our good memories.

The 4 Books I Finished Last Month

13526165* Linking up with Anne Bogel at Quick Lit *

My February reads were a mixed bag. I was underwhelmed by a couple. (Harrumph!) I loved one. And the fourth – although it was well written, I picked the wrong time to read it. C’est la vie. Without further ado, here are the four books I finished in February:

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

My Thoughts: I wanted to love this book, as so many others did. I laughed out loud quite a few times while reading the first third, but my laughter quickly turned to eye rolling. The story was too ridiculous for me. One thing I did appreciate was the steady stream of exaggerated Seattleisms based on the idea that some Seattleites tend to take themselves quite seriously. (It’s something you can’t quite understand until you experience it.) I say that with love, as I spent almost two years in the city when I was a graduate student at University of Washington and met many wonderful people during my time there. I understand the appeal of this book, but I didn’t like the story.

Page Count: 330

When I Read It: January 31, 2016-February 10, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the local library/read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “It’s like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. “You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.”

2. The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

4569522My Thoughts: I loved Manning’s voice and message throughout this book and his honest portrayal of his own failures and lessons learned about the power of God’s love. The structure of the book seemed scattered, which bothered me a little. I’m glad I picked up this Kindle deal and look forward to reading more of Manning, especially The Ragamuffin Gospel, which I’ve heard is excellent.

Page Count: 144 pages

When I Read It: January 18, 2016-February 14, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Took advantage of a Kindle deal/read it on the Kindle app on my phone

Favorite Quote: “To affirm a person is to see the good in them that they cannot see in themselves and to repeat it in spite of appearances to the contrary. Please, this is not some Pollyanna optimism that is blind to the reality of evil, but rather like a fine radar system that is tuned in to the true, the good, and the beautiful. When a person is evoked for who she is, not who she is not, the most often result will be the inner healing of her heart through the touch of affirmation.”

3. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Thoughts: I had high expectations for this book, as Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is one of my all-time favorites. The story was beautifully written and I appreciate Strout’s depiction of the complex relationships between Lucy and her family. This book was melancholic, though, and I wish I hadn’t read it in February, when I always need a cheering up rather than a dragging down. I also wonder if it would have worked better as a short story. Overall, I would recommend this book with the caveat that it might make you a bit glum.

Page Count: 193

When I Read It: February 10-16, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Placed a hold at the library/read it the old fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “I have said before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

4. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty19486412

My Thoughts: This is the second Liane Moriarty book I’ve read and LOVED. She is so good at balancing serious issues, great characters, good humor, and true suspense. Big Little Lies is an easy read without being cheesy. I just read that HBO is making the book into a series starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon; I’m cautiously intrigued and hoping they don’t ruin the story. I plan to read one Moriarty book a month to pace myself through the awesomeness of her novels. I hope she’s hard at work on her next book because she is just so good at this.

Page Count: 460

When I Read It: February 16-24, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the library/read it the old fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “Bonnie is so ‘calm,’ you see. The opposite of me. She speaks in one of those soft . . . low . . . melodious voices that make you want to punch a wall.”

————————————————————————-

One non-fiction book and three novels in February. I’m satisfied with the books I chose, but I hope March yields a few more favorites. You can friend or follow me on Goodreads for the latest updates.