Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Books (Part 2)

Here I go, with round two in my effort to catch up on my book reports. Just typing that phrase - "book report" - reminded me of writing book reports in fifth grade. We drew book covers, and tacked them, along with our reports, to the bulletin board. I remember writing a report about Huckleberry Finn (or maybe Tom Sawyer), trying to write a witticism, failing completely. Actually, it seems that a lot of my witticisms failed that year. Maybe Mrs. Scott just had no sense of whimsy...

I just googled what should be in a book report. The site I stumbled on (for kids) suggests including setting; characters; story; and your thoughts. Hm. I think I often fall short of that goal; I know that these fast and furious reviews are falling short - and I'm pretty sure I can live with that.

The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew--Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

Actually, this book deserves a serious review, but, it's been sitting on my table for months, and I think this is going to be as good as it gets. If you read no further, know that this book is worth reading.

After September 11, three women came together to write a children's book that would highlight connections between their faiths - Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. They quickly realized that they had much to learn about each other, each other's faiths, and even their own faiths. This memoir followed their shared discussions, their crises of faith, their spiritual growth, and their deepening friendship. It was not a quick read, but it was interesting and informative (I was happy to stumble across a copy at the library's used book store, so I could stop renewing my borrowed copy).

Not only do the women learn about each other's faith, but they find their own understanding deepening. For instance, Priscilla struggled with anxiety, and the events of 9/11 only made it worse. She told of a family trip during which she visited an exhibit of paintings by the Canadian artist Emily Carr.
On the wall of one room, a plaque described the era in which her work was completed, amid the chaos of two World Wars and the Great Depression."The papers are full of horrible horrors," wrote Emily Carr. "And the earth is so lovely."

The earth is indeed lovely, I realized. Including New York city.

And so I decided to take a leap of faith. Life is, after all, a series of leaps of faith. Falling in love and believing that I will grow old with my husband is a leap. Losing a parent and believing I will recover is a leap. Giving birth to children and letting go as they grow, hoping they will lead safe, happy lives is a leap. Living in a world of chaos, believing good will prevail over evil, is a leap.
Ranya not only shared her Islam faith with Priscilla and Suzanne, but worked to find herself a place of comfort in her faith. She observed, "... read in its true spirit, freed from political agendas and liberated from its service to the flawed human heart, Islam, I had come to learn, could be a beacon for true enlightenment, progress, development, and security. Moreover, if Islam regained that voice, it would help to disarm those radical groups who abuse the Quran and interpret it in a way that fits their own political agenda and violent designs."

As I read this book, I remembered an experience I had, a month or so after 9/11. A friend from church knew a Muslim woman, through shared events at their daughters' school. The two of them arranged for  women from both our faiths to meet for lunch one day. We spent some time learning basic principles from each faith - finding much in common - and then mingled together for a potluck lunch. I was so grateful for that chance to reinforce my understanding that there is good in all of us - that it is better to include than to exclude - that we are more alike than we are different.

This book, to a great extent, conveyed the same message.

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe

Schwalbe's mother is dying of cancer, and as he waits with her in doctors' waiting rooms, or visits her at home, they talk about books. He writes about those conversations, and about the books they shared (many of which were subsequently added to my Goodreads list). He mixes in memories of his mother and his family - both their experiences during that period, and while growing up. I came away wishing I had known her - she seemed to be a friendly, caring, involved woman.

I like this anecdote illustrating the significance of books in his family:
There was one sure way to avoid being assigned an impromptu chore in our house – be it taking out the trash or cleaning your room – and that was to have your face buried in a book. Like churches during the Middle Ages, books conferred instant sanctuary. Once you entered one, you couldn’t be disturbed. They didn’t give you immunity from prosecution if you’d done something wrong – just a temporary reprieve. But we quickly learned you had to both look and be completely engrossed – just flipping pages didn’t count.
No life lessons here - just an enjoyable peek into Schwalbe's family, and their bookshelves.

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