I haven’t been able to concentrate on reading books the last few weeks. Every time I pick up a book I find myself distracted and antsy. That’s not normal for me. During the 2 weeks I had off for the holidays I read a total of one book, although I anticipated spending the entire break reading through a stack that I picked up from the library. Instead of reading, I’ve been watching movies and TV, reading blogs, and listening to podcasts and music.
The one book that I read over the holidays (mostly in front of a big fire in Idyllwild), “The Book of Strange New Things” by Michel Faber, made me think a lot, perhaps too much, so a self-imposed book break may have been necessary.
One of my favorite books is “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. There are many things that I love about the book, but the BEST part about it is the exploration of religion (specifically Catholicism) and conversion in an alien species. Faber examines that same basic premise in his novel, and although it is not as powerful as Russell’s, his novel brings up philosophical questions and made me think a lot about the utter improbability of life.
At its heart “The Book of Strange New Things” explores the marriage of Bea and Peter. Peter is a recovering addict and pastor chosen by a secretive corporation to go on a mission to a different planet to teach an alien species about Jesus. His wife, Bea, remains on Earth because spouses are not allowed on the mission. They stay in contact via a form of email that Peter calls “epistles.” As the book begins their faith and marriage are strong and unshakeable…that all falters as Bea witnesses life on Earth falling apart and wonders where God is in all of the tragedy and chaos.
On the other side of the universe, Peter’s faith becomes reinforced. He becomes swept up in religion. He feels reinvigorated, he is making a real difference and he wants to share it. About a fellow human on the mission, he thinks: “She gave him a look he recognized very well, a look he’d seen on thousands of faces during his years as a pastor, a look that said: Nothing is worth getting excited about, everything is a disappointment. He would have to try to do something about that look, if he could, later.” Peter becomes caught up in complete religious fervor.
The dystopian reader in me found myself more interested in Bea’s story than Peter’s, but it is their collective story and the role of God that form the core of the novel. The book has eerie overtones, and it probably will bring up different philosophical questions for you, than it did for me. I was left at the end thinking of all the unanswerable questions. And I was left with a feeling that everything is so fragile, and at the same time, so much is miraculous.
I finished The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer last week. All three short books, “Annihilation,” “Authority,” and “Acceptance,” came out in 2014 a few months apart. I don’t know how to talk about these weird books. I actually feel a little stupid trying to describe them…like a poem, the books left me with a feeling more than anything else. The covers are all gorgeous, I know that. The books, well the books made me feel nervous, undone, confused, tense, and on-edge. Reading them felt like I was lost in a painting. They possess a surreal beauty and the creepy effects of the book linger. Area X is not a place I will soon forget. Sidenote: Jeff mentions me in this blog post 🙂
The Morning New Tournament of Books starts in a few weeks. I’ve added several nominees to my library list (including the trilogy by Elena Ferrante that keeps popping up everywhere) and I’ll be rooting on “Station Eleven” and “The Bone Clocks.” Follow them on Facebook for updates.
I’ve had a little cough and my studio was closed for about 10 days so I’ve been doing yoga at home more than usual. The classes at Yoga with Adrienne are free, fun, and have lots of variety. Check them out.