Saturday, December 15, 2012

Books to Inspire You

When I finally turned on the TV yesterday, I was as shocked and saddened as the rest of the country to learn about the senseless and horrific tragedy that had befallen a small CT community.  I don't know what else I can say that others haven't already said, but I do know that there are a lot of hurting people who desperately need our prayers right now.  So many prayers and images dedicated to yesterday's victims, most of them young schoolchildren, came across my Facebook news feed throughout the day; but there was one posted by my sister-in-law that struck me as so indescribably beautiful and comforting that I thought I'd share it with you, in case you haven't seen it.
The caption for this image read, "Jesus is holding the little children today.  Many of them are kindergartners." It does help to remember that twenty new little angels have taken up residence in Heaven, and their pain is over.

Before I saw the news yesterday, I had written up a draft for today's post already--a post with a couple of book reviews (one of which is for a novel written by my publisher).  Now, in the wake of an event that has caused so much pain and suffering, it seemed like such lightweight subject matter.  But when I started this blog almost two years ago, I set out to create a happy place where a reader could go for a quick escape in the midst of a busy day.  I vowed to steer clear of politics and other depressing subjects--and for the most part, I've been able to stick to that goal.  So I'm going to push on today and post what I'd intended to post.  Maybe the timing of it will seem strange to you.  But you know, I believe in the power of a good book to inspire readers to strive to become their better selves--maybe even to change lives.  That might sound over-the-top, but I think it's true.  So here's the post I had all typed up and ready to go, back when the world seemed like a brighter place: 

If you love novels like I do--you know, really good women's literature, or "Chick Lit," as they call it these days--with great love stories that you can really sink your teeth into, but you've had it up to HERE (imagine me making a sort of salute right now, with my hand at the level of my forehead, showing you just how up to here I've had it) with books filled with F-bombs and blush-inducing, totally gratuitous scenes of sexual intimacy between characters (characters who are rarely even married to one another), then you and I are on the same page.

On the same page...get it?

I used that phrase--"I've had it up to here"--more than I should have when my boys were young whippersnappers.   But cut me some slack, will ya?  My first four sons were born very close together, in a span of four years and three months, and I often felt surrounded by a litter of overly energetic and unruly puppy dogs!  Make that bickering, jumping-on-the-furniture, running-around-the-house-like-wild-banshees puppy dogs.  Anyway, once, when I found myself in the midst of all that little boy chaos, I began to say my usual catch phrase.  "I've had it up to--", I said, but before I could finish, my #2 son, who was about four or five at the time, stopped in his tracks and looked at me with those baby blues of his, and he asked in a truly innocent and curious way, "Are you up to here yet?"  With his little hand somewhere in the vicinity of the dirty-blond bangs on his little forehead, no less.  I was so surprised to hear my very own saying--complete with its accompanying hand gesture--being repeated back to me that I burst out laughing, and whatever tension had been building in me dissipated on the spot!  (Remember parents: they're listening to everything you say, even when you don't know they are!)

Anyway ladies, if you've had it up to here because you've come home from Barnes & Noble with a novel that has a lovely front cover design and sounds like a charming winner on the back cover synopsis, then a couple of pages in you were horrified to find detailed descriptions of private body parts and all kinds of raunchy goings-on, then I know exactly how you feel.  I recently told my husband that I wish novels came with ratings on them, like movies.  If a book had an R rating, I would never buy it.  I would know how uncomfortable the "love scenes" were going to make me!  Let's not even get started on that whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon.  I haven't read the New York Times Bestselling trilogy, but I've heard enough about it to know that I never will.
As an alternative to such trashy "literature" aimed at women, today I'm going to tell you about a book that you will lose yourself in and absolutely fall in love with--without blushing and feeling terrified that someone might look over your shoulder and see what you're reading.  It's called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  And don't let the odd title turn you off.  My daughter-in-law recommended this book to me, and I'm so happy she did!  It's an absolutely wonderful story, set on the German-occupied island of Guernsey, off the coast of England, during World War II. I have always, always been a sucker for any novel set during the Second World War--I am fascinated by that era--but I think most women, even if they're not World War II history buffs, would enjoy it.  This book shows the courage, strength, and ingenuity with which people deal with impossible situations.  It's filled with great characters, and it has a satisfying love story thrown in there (always a plus!).  I highly recommend it.  A few years have gone by since I read this book, but writing about it here has made me want to re-read it!  (I always read the ones I love best multiple times!)

Another sweet and entertaining alternative to all the latest R-rated romance novels targeted at women is Cheryl Dickow's Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimage.  Cheryl Dickow is the president of Bezalel Books, the company that published my novel Finding Grace.  Dickow is a well-known Catholic non-fiction writer, and Elizabeth is her first work of fiction.  It is a refreshing book because it deals with a familiar topic--a woman hits mid-life and wonders if her life has meaning any more, wonders if her marriage has gotten so stale that she should just give up on it--but handles it in a whole different way than most contemporary writers would like to convince you is the norm.  The common theme in many works of modern fiction is that when a spouse is unhappy at home, the Rx is to have an extra-marital affair. Dickow's likable Catholic heroine, Elizabeth (also known as Beth or Liz), doesn't start seeing another man to fill the void in her life; she takes a trip to Israel, which has been her lifelong dream.

During the two weeks Elizabeth is away from home on her Holy Land pilgrimage (and forming strong bonds with her new Jewish friends, who provide her with much inspiration), she and her husband have time to think, and both undergo some life-altering changes.  As this book deftly illustrates, it's so true that at times, marriages can hit low points and it's easy to get discouraged and consider giving up.  But Elizabeth's husband Luke remembers the way St. Paul encouraged the Hebrews on this subject: "Marriage, the institution and the daily reality of it, was demanding.  It could take a toll, especially with children and jobs and dreams that did not materialize...But St. Paul wanted them to be re-energized about their calling and that was what Luke wanted of Liz; to be re-energized about their marital vows." Elizabeth is touched by her husband's analogy of St. Paul's letter to the Hebrews, and she begins to see that what each of us does in the small universe to which he belongs greatly impacts the larger universe.  Her life, Elizabeth begins to realize, is far from meaningless. "Liz had always wanted to know that her life made a difference and was seeing, as if for the first time, how very much it truly mattered...She was irreplaceable to her husband and her children...All of a sudden, Liz's universe was bigger and more dramatic than she had ever imagined."

I won't spoil the ending, in case you decide to read this book (which I urge you to do!); but I will say that in this day and age, it's heartening to read a novel where marriage, family, and faith are given so much value.  Elizabeth, A Holy Land Pilgrimage is a quick and satisfying read, and it will inspire you to learn more about your faith.

So those are my "Chick Lit" recommendations for today:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimage.  (If you do read them, I'd love to know what you think!)

1 comment:

  1. Laura, I 100% agree with you. I have no interest in reading the 50 shades trilogy! Not interested, never will be!