What I’ve Been Reading: Bees, Quitters, and Lamott’s Babies

Thanks to vacation for making this July goal happen.  The Olympics didn’t help at all, but I still got my four!  Some interesting books this month.  My musings are a bit long-winded, but what else is new?

The Beekeeper’s ApprenticeLaurie R. King : I went into this book with a bad attitude. When doing my research on non-canon Holmes works, I stumbled across a synopsis of this series, currently clocking in at 10 books.  I found out what happens to the characters in the future , and I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like it at all.  And yet, I had heard many good things about this book, so I begrudgingly took it along on vacation.

It was a PERFECT beach read.  Shorter chapters, easy to follow, nothing too complex.  The book follows Mary Russell, a bright and inquisitive orphan, who stumbles upon an old beekeeper whilst taking a walk on the Sussex Downs.  Of course, the beekeeper is a retired Sherlock Holmes.  He sees in Miss Russell qualities similar to his own, and Holmes becomes teacher and mentor. Then the danger begins.

I’ve been working on a metaphor for this, and can only get to: It’s the dessert version of Holmes’s meaty novels.  Granted, the Holmes novels are mostly short stories, nothing at this length, and this novel is definitely written in a modern style.  It’s a well-written mystery, very exciting.  But it did take me a little while to get into it, for a few reasons.

First of all, King framed the novel as if someone sent her these letters, she doesn’t know who, and she is just publishing them exactly as she received them.  I HATE THAT.  Write in the voice of the speaker.  We will follow you.  You don’t have to create a situation in which you as the author stumbled upon manuscripts and took it upon yourself to publish them.  It’s FICTION.  We know it’s not real.  Don’t try to persuade us it isn’t.  Especially when it comes to SHERLOCK HOLMES

Also, I couldn’t relate to Mary, and I didn’t like how John Watson was presented.  And yet, as the book went on, Mary became more well-rounded to me, her edges less sharp, and she began to appreciate Watson, albeit in a different way.  And there is a lovely piece in the middle when Holmes and Russell hide out in Palestine that is just exquisite and perfectly brief, just as Russell would have written it.  If she had.  Which she DIDN’T.

So I was won over.  I still grudgingly accept what is to come, but don’t count this as one of the deserving Holmes works.  It’s like Robert Downing Jr.’s Holmes; entertaining, but bearing little relation to the Holmes in my head and my heart.  I can enjoy these non-canon works as they are, without comparing them to the real one of Doyle (and dare I say, Moffat).

Treatise over.

Some Assembly RequiredAnne Lamott : I love Anne Lamott.  I love her so much that I am going to write an essay about it sometime when I sit my butt in a chair to write a shitty first draft.  Those are Annie-isms by the way.  I love her, because I feel like we have the similar self-deprecation and at times hatred of ourselves as introspective writers.  And she has a community that I love, even covet.

Even so, Some Assembly Required isn’t really my type of book.  Let me rephrase.  I don’t necessarily relate to anything in it.  I am not a grandmother.  I don’t struggle with how to be a mother to nearly grown children and their just-born child.  And I am not a full-time writer who travels around to speak and then to visit friends and to write about it.

Yet I heard in her honest reflection the fear echoed in my own heart about bringing young members of our species into this broken and battered world.  About introducing them to the pain that awaits them.  About setting them up for disaster, and by extension, setting myself up for disaster.  I fear that, and I applaud anyone who gets through those thoughts, reconciles with them enough to have children.  Maybe it’s a gift, a calling that I just don’t have at this point.

But Lamott also shows the flip side.  The joy of seeing a small thing become a less-small thing, encountering the beauty of the world around him.  She watches her grandson’s brain make connections and become stronger daily; he becomes more and more of a human being with every neural connection.

Lamott goes to India, and documents the glorious chaos of the country.  And she goes on a cruise to Europe.  These are just pieces of her grandbaby’s first year.  No, her first year with her grandbaby, an important distinction.  She tells how she misses Jax during those times away, but she also shows that she is growing as her grandbaby is.  Lamott is making connections, neural or otherwise, understanding her own world better.  And even as she struggles with losing loved ones, watching them slip away from this earth or away from her grasping arms, she becomes stronger, more of herself.  We’re all just babies, aren’t we?

And through it all, she asks questions of God, her friends, her faith community.  She is thankful and throws parties, she is self-pitying and walks her dogs.  And she is more honest about all of this, about her relationships with her son and the mother of her grandson, than most of us let ourselves be in our own minds.  And for that, I commend her heartily, and love her even more.

QuitterJon Acuff : Full disclosure: I read this book really fast.  There was an issue with the library, and I put it on hold months ago, and waited, and then it came when I was on vacation, and by the time I went to pick it up when I returned, it was due in three days.  Well, I made the ultimate sacrifice: incurring fines so that I could read it over the weekend.

The conclusion is I need to read this again.  I’m considering buying it.  It’s that good.

I’ve been a fan of Acuff’s since he started his blog Stuff Christians Like.  It was funny and poignant, with meaningful examinations of the Christian counterculture from the inside, meaning that it wasn’t mean or biting.  Acuff identified as part of the culture, so his observations were a knowing nudge instead of a slap in the face.

I’m not sure if you know this, but blogs usually don’t make you money.  I mean, if you get enough readers and sponsors, maybe it can supplement your income, but it is not a profitable enterprise right off the bat.  A lot of things aren’t profitable right off the bat.  But what if you feel like you’re languishing away at your day job while dreaming about your ideal job?  Acuff’s been there.  And here are his recommendations.

It’s not about quitting, says Jon.  It’s about using your day job to finance your dream job until you have enough financial stability to launch yourself.  Granted, he works for Dave Ramsey, so of course he’s going to say this.

But there’s a brilliance to this.  A countercultural brilliance.

Our culture admires those who quit their jobs to do something crazy.  We throw them parties, we talk of them admiringly, we wish we had their guts.  But sometimes taking that crazy step isn’t the smartest thing to do.  Acuff proposes a different way.

There are reasons to stay and wait, as per Acuff.  When you start to engage your dream (recovering it, not finding it), you’ll take more risks, say what you mean, not be tied to what others think of you if you’re not worried about money.  And money kills dreams.  Or distorts them.

Acuff talks about a lot of other underrated gifts that working your way slowly toward your dream gives you, among them being able to enjoy the gift of invisibility and learning how to hustle, which is the hardest part.  As you go slowly, you can learn how to be successful at success so that when you do gain your dream, you aren’t destroyed by it.

All in all, it was a refreshing look at following your dreams in a different way than is normally presented.  We can do it without completely ruining our financial stability.  It may take longer, but we’ll be better off in the end, better prepared to do what we love.

Operating InstructionsAnne Lamott : After reading Some Assembly Required and discussing it at book group, I realized that I had never read the “prequel,” or the original story, contained in Operating Instructions.  Both books are written as journals, and both follow Lamott’s first year with an unexpected baby: one her own, the other her grandbaby.

Far be it for me to miss out, so I dove into Lamott’s first memoir (or one of them, anyway), a poignant and honest reflection on single motherhood and the stress and joys of having a baby.  This isn’t one of those gushy, “I love being a mom” memoirs.  She does; she has chosen to be Sam’s mother, even though his father is out of the picture and money is tight.  But being a mom is hard-hard-hard, and Lamott is truthful about the sleepless nights and how sometimes, she can’t stand the little guy.  Sam is a baby, but spoken of as a peer, a little peer who is making Lamott’s life a lot more difficult.

At the same time, like in Some Assembly Required, she is overwhelmed with love and the beauty of her child.  She believes in his being, in what he can do and will do for her life.  She can’t imagine living life without him, and her descriptions of her son are beautiful and funny, like one of your girlfriends telling you a story over drinks or coffee.  I lived Sam’s first year with her and her crazy wonderful community, even two decades later.  And I understood her struggle and her joys and her trials.

There’s a twist near the ending, one I didn’t see coming even though I’ve read other Lamott books, and it’s just like life to take our journeys and turn them upside down, isn’t it?  Even then, Lamott’s resiliency, love for her son, and love for her Jesus are what save her.

This should be required reading for anyone who is thinking about being a mom, is a new mom, or is an old mom.  Or isn’t planning on being a mom at all, but wants to love other moms.  Ladies, read this book.

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