Week 27: (24) The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver (4.5/5)
“Compelling, lyrical, and utterly believable.” - Chicago Tribune. Right on the money, Chi-town. There really is no better way of describing Kingsolver’s breathtaking novel. The Poisonwood Bible is the story of a Southern Baptist family that moves to the Belgian Congo in 1959, led by their fiercely evangelical Baptist father, Nathan Price. It is written from the points of view of the four Price women - mother, Orleanna and each of her four daughters - Rachel, Leah, Adah and little Ruthie May. Their intertwining stories are tragic and unforgiving, but told with a real sense of compassion and understanding for each other, for the Congolese people, and for the general way of life in a different country, however mysterious.
Kingsolver has this magical way of writing so that you, as the reader, are transported to a different time and place. I know this is so entirely cliche to say, but it’s completely true. Reading The Poisonwood Bible, you can almost feel the intense Congo sun beating down on your shoulders while you walk down the dusty road to the market; your ears are filled with the cacophony of birds crying in the trees, the constant drone of the ever-present mosquitoes buzzing around you, and the rapid patter of antelope hooves cutting across the grass. Even the smell of Africa (I imagine overly ripened bananas…) seems to linger in the air. AMAZING.
Most importantly, what I liked about The Poisonwood Bible was that it prompted me to reflect on my own life. Yes, we all know that simply to be living in the United States, we lead more privileged lives than most of the population. But it’s so easy to take everyday necessities for granted - clean water, electricity, in-door plumbing, grocery stores, money that is actually worth something. I really try hard to be grateful for everything that I have, but there are just those days when everything that can go wrong does go wrong - your car breaks down, you lock yourself out of the house without your keys and wallet, and your computer decides to freeze in the middle of an unsaved document you’ve slaved over for the past 4 hours (Ummm.. YEA, we all know how that feels). I’m not saying that I don’t swear like a drunken sailor and curse my life when these things happen to me, but really, in the grand scheme of things, we are lucky to be able to even have these misfortunates happen to us. To have a car, to have a home and to have a computer. Really puts things into perspective. So…
Some people like to buy stuff online. I like to reserve books online. SFPL.org is my online home away from home. If I wasn’t so addicted to Gmail, I’d probably use it as my homepage.
Borrowing books online can be fast, easy and efficient… if you’ve memorized your library card number. I can spit out my library card number faster than T.I. can spit out his rap verses. In an emergency I will undoubtedly rattle off my library card number before even attempting my social. Quite simply put, I am married to my library card number. Those sweet 14 digits roll off of my tongue like warm butter and I can’t bare the thought of ever getting a new one… Which is why I am fighting with every ounce of me to prevent the San Francisco Public Library from replacing my card.
So what if I’ve “misplaced” my library card for the past 3 years. I don’t know where it is, but it’s not “lost,” per say. Don’t make me get a new card, don’t do it. I’m a good library card holder, really. I always return my books on time and without (additional) stains. Sure, I’ve left a few watermarks here and there, but who hasn’t? (And FYI, I blow-dried that hot mess, thank you very much)
But with each additional visit to the West Portal library, I can feel those 14 digits slipping away from me like sand through open fingers. Yes, there will come a point in time when the library checkout lady will stop accepting my driver’s license in lieu of my library card. And when that day comes, I will mourn those 14 digits like I mourned the breakup of Brad & Jen - excessively, but appropriately.
(I’d post a picture of my library card here but I can’t find it… right now)
I left the house today and like an idiot, forgot both of the books that I’m currently reading. 0 for 2 and not even a magazine in tow. As I sat on the train rummaging through my mostly empty purse, I caught a glimpse of something shiny - oh dear, sweet iTouch, you’re alive! I know, I know, it was wrong of me to kick you to the curb six months ago when I first got my iPhone; I thought I didn’t need you anymore and I was wrong. Now that my iPhone has rendered itself completely useless, I’ve come crawling back to you. And how gracious you were to accept me with open arms.
This morning, instead of sitting on my hands for 30 minutes pretending not to notice the grime on the train seats, I immersed myself in the first three chapters of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel ”The Secret Garden.” Would I have preferred flipping through the pages of a real book instead of scanning back and forth over a 3.5 inch screen? You betcha. But ask anyone on the train with me today morning and they can tell you that my face lit up like Christmas morning when I found my iTouch. Thank God for Apple. Thank God for eBooks. And thank God for sisters that dump their reject technology devices on you without a second thought. In the Lord’s name we pray. Amen.
(Ironically enough, the only good eReader picture I could find was one of an iPhone. Ridiculous? Kind of…)
Week 26: (23) Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut (3.5/5)
“I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone.” Well…. that makes two of us. Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical anti-war novel Slaughterhouse Five centers around the WWII 1945 firebombing of Dresden and follows the journey of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier that is captured and kept as a POW in Germany, and who witnesses the atrocious aftermath of the Dresden bombing.
What was most drawing about this book was the way Vonnegut was able to approach the topics of war and suffering in a comedic and engaging manner, without sacrificing the seriousness of either. The book was funny, but not light-hearted. I liked it a lot considering that it was a war book, and after reading this, definitely wouldn’t mind picking up another Vonnegut novel. (Especially if I was mid-way through “Swann’s Way” again…)
I recently had a conversation with my sister about whether, if were stranded on a deserted island, we would choose books or music. One or the other, no if’s and’s or but’s. To me, the answer was completely obvious… which explains why I nearly jumped out of my chair and exclaimed, “FALSE!!!” when she said music. Music? Pardon my French, but that is complete horse apples. On a second-by-second basis, music just doesn’t provide the same level of intellectual stimulation as reading, and that’s a fact (…probably). Or so I thought.
But today… I changed my mind. As I sat listening to Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s touching rendition of “The Prayer” in my office cubicle, at one point I was so moved that I had to stop what I was doing. I found myself completely mesmerized by the grace and fluidity of their converging voices (oh god, I just realized that this sounds vaguely reminiscent of one of those trashy romance novels.. I said “voices” NOT “bodies”!); my eyes started to water and chills ran down my spine (at that point I was also trying hard not to look like a complete idiot for tearing up at work while watching/listening to a YouTube video of all things). It was then that I realized that while music may not be as intellectually stimulating as reading, the emotional connection that can resonate with sound is truly amazing. There’s something in music that seems to transcend the bodily existence and elevate your thoughts into an alternate state of being. Am I crazy? Too much? I can’t help it - Celine Dion turns me into mush.
So now I’m back at Square 1. Deserted island: music or books, music or books? Judge, can I just vote for my iPhone?