Book reviews: Love Warrior + The Ocean at the End of the Lane + The Dog Stars

Book reviews: Love Warrior + The Ocean at the End of the Lane + The Dog Stars

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I keep a list on my phone titled "books of 2017" because I like to look at it when I'm feeling bad about myself so I can then remind myself, 'hey, at least you're a good reader.' 

At the beginning of the year, I had every intention of writing book reviews as I read for the handful of you that might actually care. It's now almost October and I've written two. Here goes.

Three shortish book reviews today. One memoir and two novels. And hi from Theo's foot.

1. Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton

My sister in law nailed it when she said that this book reads like a diary. It is raw and extremely honest, a story about strife in Melton's marriage and what it was like for her to come back from devastation. That is the lens through which the story is told, but as she recounts it, she turns her pain into universal themes that could easily apply to anyone. I found myself nodding and yes-ing and underlining a lot. This is a book about love, loss, redemption and how to be alive and human. It is not a how to guide, rather, it is quite messy, just like real life. 

It is also about being a woman. It deals heavily with the emotional, interior life and the relationship one has with oneself. This approach embodies exactly what Glennon's message is—that the voices and thoughts and opinions of women matter simply because they are our own. They don't need to be qualified or validated by anyone else. It is about rejecting pre-packaged narratives sold to women  that suggest what a woman should be: sexy and quiet. Or, in other words, look pretty and don't speak too much, because the perspectives of women are inherently overly emotional and thus not worth listening to. Glennon is having none of it. She rejects that women need to be rescued by men, that women must be physically appealing in order to be worthy, and that the role of the woman is to put herself last and everyone else first. 

This is not a book about hating men. It is about recognizing God's likeness in each of us, and learning to trust your own instincts and voice rather than lending that power to outside influences. 

Also, Glennon has golden comedic timing. Despite the painful story she is telling, there are many funny moments. 

"Adults became and so I became, became, became. I became a wife and then a mother and a church lady and a career woman. As I took on these roles, I kept waiting for that day when I could stop acting like a grown-up because I'd finally be one. But that day never came. My roles hung on the outside of me like costumes." (p 164)

2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Gah. This book. So, so good. This was my first Gaiman book to read, and won't be my last. It is kind of in the Chronicles of Narnia/Wrinkle in Time camp, I'd say. A story for children but really for adults, too. The language is beautiful and the characters, memorable and flawed and believable, though the story itself is full of the supernatural.

It's a story set in England, told from the perspective of a middle aged man who travels back to his childhood home and begins to piece together memories he had long since forgotten when he visits his old neighbors, the Hempstock ladies—11 year old Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother. What follows are encounters with a pond that is at once an ocean but also can fit inside a bucket, bird like creatures with red eyes whose purpose is to terrorize and destroy, and the courage and resilience and magic of a young girl in the face of evil. 

This book is weird and lovely and transported me to another universe and I didn't want to leave it when I came to the last page. 

"Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences." (p 56)

3. The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

I loved this book. It takes a bit of getting used to, because the style is very stream of consciousness, but once you get into the rhythm it is really soulful. Again, the language is really beautiful but also irreverent and raw.

I'm not sure why but I am especially drawn to stories about the end of the world and the collapse of civilization, and this book fits that recipe. It is set somewhere in the not too distant future where 99% of the population has been wiped out by a flu strain and then a blood disease. The main character is a man named Hig. He has lost much, as has everyone who is still alive. 

This is a heart wrenching and arresting story about a man grappling with his pain and loss but also about his realization we all know but sometimes fail to remember: that the most valuable things in this life are not money or fame or power but rather, the gift of connection, both physical and emotional, with another human and the opportunity to share in our sufferings and our joys with another breathing being. It's about what is left when everything and everyone is taken, stripped away.

"There is a pain you can't think your way out of. You can't talk it away. If there were someone to talk to. You can walk. One foot the other foot. Breathe in breathe out. Drink from the stream. Piss. Eat the venison strips. Leave his venison in the trail for the coyotes the jays. And. You can't metabolize the loss. It is in the cells of your face, your chest, behind the eyes, in the twists of your gut. Muscle sinew bone. It is all of you." (p 114)

The bathroom reader

The bathroom reader

Dragons in our heads

Dragons in our heads