Summer Reading

When I was in grade school, there was nothing I abhorred more than assigned summer reading. I’m not even sure why, though I think it has something to do with the fact that I don’t like being told what to do. It could also have stemmed from the complex that my mom loves to call “expecting to be a prodigy” without putting in the time, which is completely true. But more than anything, I avoided summer reading like the plague. I remember how sweet those first few May days of freedom felt, when school was done and I could wander about the house completely weightless, turning on the television or rolling around on the carpet or sitting on the balcony for hours with my stuffed animals. Ah, summer! 
And then inevitably, a few hours later, came that infamous complaint: “I’m booooooooored.” 
“Why don’t you start reading one of your summer reading books?”
“Just kidding, I’m not bored anymore.”
And the cycle continued, through June and July, through picnics and summer camps and family vacations and car rides. 
“Mel, why don’t you do some reading for a few hours.”
“I can’t, I have to perfect my witches broom” or simply, “No, I don’t want to” without any better excuse.
I still don’t understand why I was so obstinate. I was a fairly imaginative kid, and I did read a lot, but I read a lot of fantasy and then as I got older, that horrible bastard child of fiction, Teen Fiction. I wish I had had better taste as a youngster!

All this is to say, that when I spent last semester off, I essentially forced myself to read, because I was convinced that nothing could be a more productive use of otherwise useless time. And I still believe that. And now I’m in love with reading. (Hear that, Papa!)

And so once again, I find myself with very few responsibilities, something that I don’t handle very well. And once again, I said my prayers, read Psalm 103, took a shower, and remembered that God is in control…I am not. As obvious as it seems, for me it is very easy to forget that God is ultimate and I am small. For a long period of time, when I was coming back to Christianity and Orthodoxy, I immersed myself in philosophy and theology because I needed to logically arrive at the paradoxical conclusions of Christian faith. And I have grown stronger in my faith, much stronger, and I feel completely overwhelmed with love and gratitude for that faith that God has given me.
But now comes another challenge, less philosophical and far more practical (which I have trouble with as is): how does one carry this faith in one’s heart inside a world as bent and broken and narcissistic as ours? Essentially, how does one keep the faith? I hear in my head the usual responses: prayers, fasting, alms giving. It seems so simple. But how can one remember one’s own limitations when this world is choking us and pleading with us to become larger than life?
Once again, I turn to CS Lewis. The Screwtape Letters became my mantra for getting me through last semester, and now I find Perelandra a beautiful, if not horribly authentic, painting of our own God-complexes:

“‘But how could anyone love anything more? It is like saying a thing could be bigger than itself.’
‘I only meant you could become more like the women of my world.’
‘What are they like?’
‘They are of a great spirit. They always reach out their hands for the new and unexpected food, and see that it is good long before the men understand it. Their minds run ahead of what Maleldil [God] has told them. They do not need to wait for Him to tell them what is good, but know if for themselves as He does. They are, as it were, little Maleldils.'” 

The more I read of Dr. Weston and he egoistic God-complex, the more I shudder and become nauseous, not because what he is saying sounds so foreign, but because it sounds so real! I can’t stand the fact that I understand exactly what he is saying.
But I suppose this is one of the many, many beautiful gifts we receive as readers. We go outside of ourselves and enter the worlds of others, and inside those worlds we find wonders and parallels that we otherwise would never have known. And there is no better way to go on adventure without ever leaving your back yard. 
So, with that, I list my own, slightly grown up summer reading list, to the perseverance of knowledge and hopefully humbling of self:

Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, books two and three of The Space Trilogy by CS Lewis
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, recommended, ironically, by my English professor

I also have several books on the history of Israel as well as a Go Israel tour book that will make for some delicious twelve hour plain reading.

Praise ye the name of the Lord. All ye works, praise the Lord. Alleluia!


Recipe for Enjoying a Weekday Afternoon, September Style

September is a fickle month in the Mid-South. Mother Nature can’t quite make up her mind whether the season is summer or fall. The air is crisp and clean and definitely open widow friendly, and yet the sun is still hot enough to make you yearn for a swim in your newly closed pool after a short jog. 
In the midst of worrying my face off that I’ll never be accepted back in to school, I am learning to read again–for pleasure, for fun, for “staycation” sake. 

Afternoon Coffee:
Serves one 
One cup (a real cup, not the American oversized bathtub mugs that give you digestion problems) freshly brewed strong coffee (I use Seattle’s Best, level 5)
One or two splashes half and half
One peppermint candy

Combine ingredients in your reasonably sized mug. Serve with a book and a Grannamae cookie. Use as fuel for your newly rediscovered passion for writing:

Always, Always…
Always, always, bliss on paper. A book and a warm mint coffee? Nothing better. It used to be I could not read, I would not read. Reading merely passed time when I was not consciously doing something we like to call “productive.” My eyes would merely skim the words while my brain ran laps, thinking volatility of the tasks I had not yet completed, the people I had not yet impressed, the weight I had not yet lost. Now on temporary leave from school, after an hour of computer time I feel my energy drain away, so I quickly stand up to shake myself. What to do now? My “tasks” can only go so far in one day, so I decide to read for a few hours–outside I go, with my new friend Frances Mayes:
“How to quantify happiness? Any loved house you’ve personally slaved over feels like an extension of yourself. Many people have told me that when they arrived in Italy, they’ve surprised themselves by thinking, I’m home. I, too, had that sensation when I first came here. By now, that feeling has magnified. And, as for a loved one, I have that scarier feeling, I can’t be without you. Meanwhile, the house just stands here, indifferent, facing the changing light and weather.”
I smile, and I can’t stop smiling, because I love reading stories of triumph over self, of succumbing to the natural order of time and space. I love that I know that I am enough to be happy–to exist within the close confines of happiness. I close my eyes and drink in the clear sky above me, the sky I feel was made just for me today. I want to stay with it forever, under the Tuscan sun like Frances. I wish I could. I know I can’t, at least not yet–I am too young. I am ripe, and my duties in this world are numerous. I face years of overcoming challenges, meeting people, moving forward. I have degrees to earn, pictures to take, many tears to shed, cuts to bleed, God willing. And children to foster. That is just fine with me.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”

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