The Book Pile: Jesus, “Fiddler on the Roof,” and three novels

So my last Book Pile post was in … January.  Oof.  I’ve been reading; I just haven’t been blogging about it.

Let’s fix that, shall we?

Here are some of the highlights of the last few months.

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The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Power and the Glory was – in a word — powerful.  It’s the story of a priest on the run in Mexico in the 1930s, a time and place when Catholicism was outlawed.  You know what’s coming as you read it — you know there’s no way the priest will avoid his persecutors forever — but it’s the journey that makes this book. It’s a journey not only through Mexico, but also into the heart of an all-too human priest who loathes himself for his flaws but still allows himself to be a conduit of grace to others. The tenacious, sacramental beauty of Catholicism is a big part of this book; faith isn’t an abstraction, but a concrete, and it is lived out in every one of the priest’s interactions with others.  I love it when a novel affirms my faith as powerfully as this one does.

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

This was a very readable coming-of-age novel about a somewhat awkward teenage girl whose beloved artist uncle dies of AIDS.  What I found striking is that the narrator is fourteen in 1987, and I was fourteen in 1987, so the book was an uncanny trip back into the past for me.  It made me remember that there was a time when you never heard the word “gay” in the media without hearing the word “AIDS” in the very next breath (so grateful that is no longer the case).  The book as a whole is a very poignant story about grief and friendship and the complexity of love, and a testament to the fact that some relationships can’t be neatly labeled or categorized.

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Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof by Alisa Solomon

“Fiddler on the Roof,” is near to my heart, in part because I was in a production of it  in high school.  Wonder of Wonders was a  fascinating and very thorough book about how Shalom Aleichem’s stories about Tevye the milkman turned into the Broadway musical we know and love.  What  I found most fascinating was the process by which the play took shape, such as how the song “Tradition” ended up being the thematic key that made everything else fall into place.   The composer and lyricist also ended up discarding a lot of songs, many of them probably very good, when it turned out that they didn’t fit with the overall tone and flow of the play … a good lesson for any writer  who really loves that paragraph she wrote but has to cut it out for the good of the chapter as a whole.

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The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

Saw this one at the library and picked it up on a whim.  Good call.  It’s historical fiction, about a young woman in England who ends up traveling to South Africa, where she finds herself acclimating both to a new marriage and to the brutal world of the diamond trade.   I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but  I think it’s a book that every young woman should read because it is a witness to the importance of sharpening your powers of perception when it comes to men.   The writing is excellent, too, walking that line between being believable for historical fiction yet still feeling modern.

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Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ by Joe Paprocki

I’ve read other books by Joe Paprocki, and I love his  concrete, accessible way of approaching big concepts of faith.  He grabs you with engaging and funny anecdotes, and before you know it, you’re suddenly exploring the core ideas of Christianity.  This book is eminently enjoyable, but also challenging in all the right ways.  It offered some new angles for thinking about my relationship with Jesus, and I’ll be going back to certain passages for more reflection.  It’s really a book for every Christian who wants a spiritual shot in the arm.

Now it’s your turn!  What have you been reading (and enjoying) lately?

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