Albums that attract dramatic critical attention tend to be those that set themselves apart from the music of the day. Listeners are often caught by a newcomer’s brilliant debut or seasoned artist’s bold departure of form. Love Letter for Fire – an indie-folk collection of duets by Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop – doesn’t fit any of these descriptions. But I don’t think these musicians were aiming for a shocker or chart topper. I say Fire is worth a listen – repeated listens, even – precisely because it has such classic warmth and familiar ease of style. Continue reading
Jane Austen’s Persuasion is a subtle, small-scale novel compared to her other five classic works. The cast of characters is slimmer and there are fewer humorous moments. The heroine, 27-year-old Anne Elliot, is mostly serious and introspective; she doesn’t even speak a word of dialogue until Chapter 5. Even so, Persuasion captivated me upon my first reading. Every few years, I return to Austen’s insightful rendering of a nuanced love story that begins on a note of regret – a story that expertly reveals the values of 18th century English society.
Anne Eliot may not display the buoyant wit of Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet or even the amusing foolishness of Emma’s heroine, but she is quietly wise and has an intriguing past. Persuasion begins seven years after her great error of judgement: ending her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth, a man she deeply loved. She was convinced (persuaded) by her dear family friend, Lady Russell, that his seafarer position and modest financial means made him an unsuitable match. Years later, Anne still sees the social logic of this choice, but she is remorseful. The descriptions of her faded youth and lost bloom are about more than her age – they point to the pained, retreated state of her heart.
British novelist Chris Cleave has proven his ability to write sprawling, thoroughly researched stories about people struggling to build a stable life in an often violent world—his international #1 bestseller about a Nigerian refugee, Little Bee is a prime example. His latest novel, the wartime epic Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, perhaps his most personal book, is rooted in his own family history. As Cleave explains in the preface, the story is partially inspired by the life and letters of his grandfather, a WW II artillery captain.
Reading a WWII novel in which one character is an art restorer turned solider, and found myself researching paintings destroyed in the war. This one by Klimt is on my mind today.
Farm Garden with Crucifix
I read Adam McHugh’s first book, Introverts in the Church, shortly after it was published in 2009. I had known for a long time that I was an introvert, but I hadn’t taken a direct look at the challenges and gifts that come along with this particular aspect who I am. I found the book to be an affirming and balanced look at the role personality types play in our quest to embrace our unique, God-given identities.
Just to expand on that “balanced” description a bit. I am a fascinated fan of the Myers–Briggs Indicator and other such theories of psychological type. But I also believe that personalities are too complex and nuanced to be too swiftly or tidily pinned down. So even as I nodded along (and nearly said aloud “that’s me!”) to the descriptions of introvert preferences and behaviours, I also deeply appreciated Adam McHugh’s attention to the introverted and extroverted elements inside us all. This approach makes his book a relevant, important, and appealing read for people of all types (which is why I find myself recommending it to a wide variety of friends to this day).
Anyway, I kept up with Adam through his blog and social media. A few years ago, he kindly invited me to write a guest post about being an introvert and writer. Now he has a new book out on the art of listening, which I read and loved. You can read my review of The Listening Life below.
As of January 12, it has been six years since the devastating Haiti earthquake. But there are signs of resilient hope in this country. Part II of my reflections on literacy, poetry, and my time in Haiti has been posted over at Relief Journal. Here’s an excerpt.
Believing in Poetry in Haiti – Part 2 (Read Part 1 here)
“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”
A group of Haitian men and women sit around tables in a classroom with small windows. Fans are whirring, cutting some thickness from the warm morning air. The instructor, Lunise, is teaching Chapter 4 of a literacy program in a language I do not know. She translates for me when she can, but her main focus is, as it should be, on her class. Despite the distance of my foreigner’s ear, I am grateful to be among these attentive literacy students for an hour. I make a note to try and use “we” and “our” when I write about this later.
We are learning in Creole. I have been told this is not the educational language of choice for most Haitians. Most of them would prefer to learn in French, since it is considered the language of the elite. But French would be an extra step for learners who already know word meanings and organize their thoughts in Creole. The incorporation of poetry helps make the familiar fresh. “Poetry makes Creole attractive and new for them again,” Lunise told me. I like that, a familiar language reborn through a literary form.