1. A House With Four Rooms by Rumer Godden
This is the second part of Godden’s memoirs, a sequel to A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep. Chronically more of her life that bounces between India and England (with speaking tours in the US.) I just love Godden’s writing. I love reading about her life. She’s a fascinating character and so many of her novels are semi-autobiographical so her memoirs have really enhanced my appreciation of her fiction as well. I excerpted a few of my favorite bits in earlier blog posts.
One favorite moment that I didn’t mention that I just love is when an American lady takes advantage of Godden. She cultivated an epistolary friendship and then invited herself to tea at Godden’s house. The gracious Godden couldn’t really refuse when she asked if she could bring a friend. The friend turned out to be a bus tour of American women who had paid money for a tour that included meals with British celebrities in their own homes. Godden put a nice face on it and was a gracious host to her unexpected guests, realizing that the touring ladies had no knowledge of or complicity in their guide’s deceit.
2. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Melissa Wiley was talking this up on her blog a while back. She has a way with making me feel I absolutely must read just about any book she writes about. A book about a literary correspondence… how could I resist? I put it on my library hold list. And then promptly forgot about it.
When it came in I looked at it and shoved it into my bag in a disinterested way. I no longer remembered why I’d wanted it and it didn’t look at all interesting. I was absorbed in my Godden and didn’t much want to read a bunch of boring letters. It fell out of the bag and got shoved under the tv stand and forgotten for a couple of weeks. I uncovered it right before the due date and almost took it back unread. Then one night I was looking for a book to read before bed, something that I could read a bit of and then go to sleep. Well, this was the wrong book for that purpose. I read in bed for almost two hours, unable to put it down.
I took it to Maine and read passages from it to my mother-in-law. It’s the kind of book you just have to share. Helene Hanff has such a personality, reading her letters you can just hear her voice. And there is such a delightful contrast between her New York flamboyance and the rather prim and proper Frank Doel. Their correspondence lasts 20 years and quickly moves beyond a formal business relationship and into a warm friendship. It’s a magical sort of story about the power of the written word.
I’ve stumbled into a few friendships of that kind in my years on the internet. People who began as anonymous blog commenters and who became friends. It’s amazing how it can happen that one can feel such understanding and sympathy with people you’ve never met. Now I understand why when she stumbled upon the book Lissa had to pick it up and re-read it all in one go. I know that the next time I find it I will be unable to resist.
3. Between the Savior and the Sea by Bob Rice
Dom and Bob Rice were classmates at Franciscan University at Steubenville so I was willing to overcome an initial reluctance to read a fictional retelling of the New Testament. Dom said it was good and I am glad he recommended it. This was a great read. It’s the kind of book that stays with you. I often found myself pondering the Biblical scenes long after I’d put the book down.
This book tells the story of Peter as a man who finds himself pulled between two callings: the fisherman he is by trade and the fisher of men that Jesus summons him to be. In his Afterword Rice explains why he focuses on the relationship between Jesus and Peter:
Why Peter? Msgr. Eugene Kevane wrote a book called “Creed and Catechesis” where he casually mentioned that though the Gospel’s primary intention is to let the reader know about the life of Christ, its secondary intention is that the reader would get to know Peter. This simple statement floored me.[. . .]
I immediately started flipping through the Gospels and found it to be true. The focus is on Jesus, but the “co-star” is Peter. Nobody else comes close. Even the other apostles pale in comparison.[. . .]
The Holy Spirit wants to make Peter known to us through the Gospels.
Rice’s novel presents a compelling portrait of Peter. What I loved best was the way Rice shows how all the various incidents in the Gospels can be tied together by a web of relationships between people. These aren’t random encounters, he shows, but all spring from Jesus and the apostles as members of a community. One of my favorite interpretations is that in the novel it is Peter and the others who lower the paralytic man through the roof into Peter’s house.
The apostles in this novel are not a unified group but a collection of individuals who do not always get along. They form cliques. They jockey for position. Judas and Matthew both feel like outsiders. None of them really understand Jesus even as they forsake everything to follow his call.
I read this book on the Kindle app on my iPhone. The second book I’ve finished in that format. While I’m not in love with reading on my phone, it’s often the only thing I can do when I’m nursing Anthony down to sleep. He is too interested and grabby about books. I can hold the phone in one hand and scroll with my thumb without much disturbing him.
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