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review 2018-10-13 22:51
Once Upon A Farm (memoir) by Rory Feek
Once Upon A Farm - Rory Feek

Raising their four-year-old daughter, Indiana, alone, after Joey’s passing, Rory Feek digs deeper into the soil of his life and the unusual choices he and his wife, Joey, made together and the ones he’s making now to lead his family into the future. Now two years after Joey’s passing, as Rory takes their four-year-old daughter Indiana’s hand and walks forward into an unknown future, he takes readers on his incredible journey from heartbreak to hope and, ultimately, the kind of healing that comes only through faith. A raw and vulnerable look deeper into Rory’s heart, Once Upon a Farm is filled with powerful stories of love, life, and hope and the insights that one extraordinary, ordinary man in bib overalls has gleamed along the way. As opposed to homesteading, this is instead a book on "lifesteading" as Rory learns to cultivate faith, love, and fatherhood on a small farm while doing everything, at times, but farming. With frequent stories of his and Joey’s years together, and how those guide his life today, Rory unpacks just what it means to be open to new experiences.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Two years after the death of his wife and the close of his first memoir, This Life I Live, songwriter and "gentleman farmer" Rory Feek gives readers an update on where his life is today as a single father raising daughter Indiana, now four years old. 

 

The format here is a little different to his first book, much more loosely structured. Still, it works. Feek shares even more details of his life with Joey as well as pivotal moments in his life before and after her. Some of the big ones being around daily lessons he's taking in raising a daughter with Down Syndrome, and the moment his middle daughter came out as a lesbian and the less than admirable initial reaction he had to the news. 

 

Rory explains that while Joey was a master at traditional homesteading, his life experiences lead him to believe his personal strengths lie more in the idea of something he terms "lifesteading", or "growing love and life and hope in the place where you are planted." This struck me as simply implementing the French proverb "Bloom where you are planted" as a way of life... nonetheless, a cool way to go about living!

 

Image result for bloom where you are planted

 

Lifesteading is about planting yourself in the soil where you live and growing a life you can be proud of. A love that will last. And a hope that even death cannot shake. Like tending a garden filled with vegetables, it too requires preparing the heart's soil and planting the right seeds at the right time and watering them and keeping the weeds of this life and the bombardment of the culture from choking out what you're trying to grow. For us, the harvest has been plentiful. Beyond our wildest imaginations. Dreams that seemed impossible in years past materialized right before our eyes. That doesn't mean there hasn't been disappointments and surprises. Some a lot of people already know about, and some I share in the pages that fill this book. But just because something different than you had imagined has grown doesn't mean that it isn't beautiful. It is. 

 

Through this process, Feek chronicles his experiences and shares them with readers as a way to show others how to maybe find the extraordinary magic woven within moments and places of seemingly ordinary days. Once Upon A Farm also provides Feek a platform where he can give thanks to friends and family (by sharing their heartwarming stories) who have been so instrumental in his various joys and successes. 

 

We also get to see a little more into Feek's creative side, such as the time he enlisted a friend to help turn a former Girls Gone Wild bus into Rory's new touring bus. The story Rory is inspired to write, from the POV of the bus, is weirdly simultaneously hilarious and melancholy. 

 

 

Image result for our very own 2005 movie poster

Related image

*In this book, Rory mentions that the dog featured in 

Our Very Own (and on the poster) was actually

Joey's dog, Rufus. There's a whole story behind how Joey

trained him to ride on the roof like that.

 

 

 

The format of the book features short chapters, so the book as a whole has potential to be a good supplemental piece for daily devotionals. Feek's stories here are all about embracing the now, including who you are in the moment. His own examples: how he is unapologetic about his favorite color being white (*Yes, he points out, the trouble with this has been explained to him. Repeatedly. He doesn't care.) and his favorite day of the week being Monday. 

 

While the first memoir was more about just getting the framework of his life story out there, this one had a much more inspirational vibe to it. Feek's stories here do push for the idea of embracing the now, but he also encourages readers to make peace with their past as well, even our less rosy moments. Lessons we take from mistakes or even all out failures can show us how to move forward and teach us how to best love future loves. 

 

my favorite chapter header in the book

 

 

 

A new addition here that wasn't offered in the first book: an eight page insert on gloss paper of full color photographs. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2018-10-13 18:23
This Life I Live (memoir) by Rory Feek
This Life I Live: One Man's Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever - Rory Feek

By inviting so many into the final months of Joey’s life as she battled cancer, Joey and Rory Feek captured hearts around the world with how they handled the diagnosis; the inspiring, simple way they chose to live; and how they loved each other every step of the way. But there is far more to the story. This is the story of a man searching for meaning and security in a world that offered neither. And it’s the story of a man who finally gives it all to a power higher than himself and soon meets a young woman who will change his heart forever.

In This Life I Live, Rory Feek helps us not only to connect more fully to his and Joey’s story but also to our own journeys. He shows what can happen when we are fully open in life’s key moments, whether when meeting our life companion or tackling an unexpected tragedy. He also gives never-before-revealed details on their life together and what he calls “the long goodbye,” the blessing of being able to know that life is going to end and taking advantage of it. Rory shows how we are all actually there already and how we can learn to live that way every day. A gifted man from nowhere and everywhere in search of something to believe in. A young woman from the Midwest with an angelic voice and deep roots that just needed a place to be planted. This is their story. Two hearts that found each other and touched millions of other hearts along the way.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

I remember following the Feeks musical story years ago on the competition show Can You Duet. More recently, I read Rory's blog posts detailing his wife's battle with cervical cancer, a battle she ultimately sadly lost. Not too long ago, I was sent Rory's most recent book for review, but hadn't read this first one yet. In the spirit of honest reviewing, I figured it was only right to backtrack a bit and take the story from the very beginning. 

 

I am famous for loving my wife....All my life I have been anonymous. A nobody. Now I'm not just somebody. I'm somebody's. I am Joey's husband. Rory. And I am honored. So very honored to have been her husband. To have stood beside her at the altar and be standing beside her still when 'til-death-do-us-part became something much more than a phrase in our wedding vows.

 

This Life I Live does offer a behind the scenes look into the marriage of the Feeks, but it also offers readers a look at Rory before Joey. His hard-knock childhood being raised by financially struggling, emotionally immature parents; his stint in the Marines (enlisting for 4 years, getting out, then deciding to re-enlist to get money to buy a PA system); his battle with being painfully shy and how that affected his ability to be in healthy relationships as an adult; last name struggles; his failures and successes as a songwriter in Nashville. There's even portions on random topics he's got thoughts on, such as the concept of tithing... how his views on it changed and the benefits of incorporating it into one's life (even in ways outside of a church setting). Heck, there's a whole chapter here JUST on how he became such a devout wearer of bib overalls!

 

Medicine can't fix being rejected by a father. Only a time machine can unlock that door. Or an apology. And my father selfishly took that key with him to his grave. 

 

Rory lays it all out... maybe to the detriment of his public image. I know I certainly had a different idea of him by the time this book ended! Some of the stuff he fesses up to fall under my personal "hard to forgive" category: hitting rock bottom emotionally and financially leading him to nearly abandon his then very small daughters, sleeping with a close friend's wife, being unfaithful to his first wife (Joey was his 2nd), leaning on Joey to teach him about responsible money management and save his backside from irresponsible money choices over and over again, even with him being a good decade older than her AND with two kids from the first marriage. Also, him writing of his Native heritage then shortly after going into an "Indian Giver" reference was an automatic star deduction from me. Over and over again I found myself reading these stories thinking, "Dude, you should known better... c'mon!" Highly disappointing and honestly, it dampened my enthusiasm for the rest of the book... but I did carry on. And it did get better. 

 

I've said many times that I think I've spent too much of my life trying to write great songs and not enough time trying to be a great man. It's true. I thought success would bring happiness, but it's the other way around. True joy and happiness have a way of attracting good things into your life. And if you aren't already happy when you find success, it will make you more unhappy. It will amplify what's already there. It did for me, anyway...

 

I did the best I could... I did the best I could with what I had. That's not really true, though, for me... I could've done better. Made better choices. But I didn't. Something inside me kept me from making great decisions with my time, energy, and love, and something was a part of me. So, in a way, the old me couldn't have done any better. He wasn't strong enough. I forgive him. Me. I am disappointed in who I was. And I think about it and remember the mistakes I made and what they cost. Who they hurt. And I try, too, not to be like him. I am me because of me. No one else. My decisions brought me here, good or bad....

 

One problematic aspect of the writing though --- at times it feels like relevant details are skipped over / left out... details that would offer more chronological cohesiveness for readers. For example, there's a casual two page mention of him making a movie at one point ... but it was written in a sort of just-in-passing kind of tone ... where he describes a window of time spent writing & directing a Civil War era film... but nothing really about the inspiration of this film, what compelled him to start this project, nothing. Just mostly a "oh, we moved to Virginia for awhile.." Umm, seems like relocating the family for awhile to create a motion picture is kind of a major story... bigger than why one wants to wear overalls every day (like I said, THAT got a full chapter)!

 

Maybe that's how God's logic works. You have to be okay with not having something to be given it.. Give it away if you want to keep it... It doesn't really make sense on paper, but it works. And that's all that matters....

 

There were things I went through with other people... hard things... that were all for Joey. They were opportunities for me to learn something, so I could be ready when she came along. I didn't understand it then, but in time I would. 

 

Rory's story, in the end, DOES offer an important lesson. His journey encourages readers to become the kind of spouse they wish to have in life. From the start, this man is upfront that he did get a lot wrong and will probably continue to have major fails, but when Joey came on the scene, he did his best to learn how to become the husband she deserved, and now the father their daughter deserves. Whether or not I agree with his choices (and let's be real, it honestly doesn't matter if I do or don't), I can respect this side of him. But I still have to say, without Joey... he might have been much less likeable. 

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review 2018-09-10 19:52
My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
My Life in Middlemarch - Rebecca Mead

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not. In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece--the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure--and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Journalist Rebecca Mead uses My Life in Middlemarch not only as a platform to revisit George Eliot's classic novel, one that proved to be one of the pivotal reading experiences of Mead's teens and twenties, but also as a way to get better acquainted with the famous author herself. Because Mead provides a respectable amount of thoroughly researched material, though this work initially presents itself as a memoir inspired by a great writer, the biographical portions on Eliot are nothing to scoff at. 

 

A book may not tell us exactly how to live our lives, but our own lives can teach us how to read a book. Now when I read the novel in the light of Eliot's life, and in the light of my own, I see her experience of unexpected family woven deep into the fabric of the novel  -- not as part of the book's obvious pattern, but as part of its tensile strength..."The secret of our emotions never lies in the bare object, but in its subtle relation to our own past," Eliot wrote in Adam Bede. The bare object of a book -- of a story -- might also have a subtle relation to our own past. Identification with character is one way in which most ordinary readers do engage with a book, even if it is not where a reader's engagement ends. It is where part of the pleasure, and the urgency, of reading lies. It is one of the ways that a novel speaks to a reader, and becomes integrated into the reader's own imaginative life. Even the most sophisticated readers read novels in the light of their own experience, and in such recognition, sympathy may begin.

 

 

Born Mary Ann Evans (though she preferred going by "Marian" in her youth), George Eliot grew up in the rural region of southwest England. A whip-smart girl, she was already working her way through the works of Sir Walter Scott by the age of seven! Letters she penned during her teen years show a kind of forced maturity. Her opinions are markedly prudish, pious and judgmental. Surprisingly, she claimed to find dancing and novel reading silly frivolities. But Mead has a theory: she points out that at about the same age Eliot was when she wrote these bold opinions, Mead herself would also strongly preach on topics she actually knew little about -- sex, feminism, politics. Mead suspects that at this point in her life, Eliot was likely just a teen working through the standard growing up period of trying to figure out who you are exactly. Part of that means maybe sometimes making claims you might not necessarily whole-heartedly believe in, simply for the sake of trying the idea on for size. 

 

 

Mead might be onto something, as she goes to show that later on in life Eliot swapped out her religious fervor for an equally intense passion for pseudosciences such as phrenology. Around this point in the book Mead also throws in an interesting bit of relevant trivia: turns out the very term "agnostic" was coined in 1869 by a friend of Eliot's! Eliot goes on to settle into what we'd now likely view as a common law marriage with George Henry Lewes. They weren't officially married (by church standards) but cohabited and behaved as an established married couple would, and many a neighbor gave the two a heavy dose of side-eye for it. Eliot & Lewes were both described as being quite ugly by the times' standards (even Eliot's friend, Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev claimed she "made him understand that it was possible to fall in love with a woman who was not pretty"), but haters be damned, they had the ultimate swoon-worthy bookish beginning to their romance when they met in a bookshop!

 

Henry James on Eliot (in a letter to his father): "She is magnificently ugly -- deliciously hideous. She has a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth, and a chin and jaw bone qui n'en finissent pas (never-ending)...Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a few very minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you may end as I ended, falling in love with her. Yes, behold me literally falling in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking."

 

Mead's words on Lewes: Lewes, who was two years Eliot's senior, was "the ugliest man in London" according to one member of his literary circle. He was slight in stature, with a receding jaw, protruding teeth that were concealed by a bushy mustache, and dark, intense, intelligent eyes. Jane Carlyle unkindly called him "The Ape," though her husband gave testimony that Lewes was "ingenious, brilliant, entertaining, highly gifted and accomplished." He was quick and clever. The novelist Eliza Lynn Linton, who was not fond of Lewes and thought him coarse and vulgar, nonetheless said that wherever he went there was "a patch of intellectual sunshine in the room." Lewes' bohemian manners and radical precepts were partly inspired by (Percy Bysse) Shelley, of whom as a young man he had described himself as a worshipper, and whose biography he had tried to write when he was just twenty, a project that foundered because he could not get the approval of Mary Shelley, the poet's widow.

 

 

Image result for George Henry Lewes

Lewes & Eliot

 

 

Eliot hoped to find friendly support in her older, married half-sister Fanny Houghton, but Fanny -- having been displaced from her home as a child by their father when he took up with Eliot's mother -- ended up severing communication with Eliot altogether. 

 

Also incorporated in this work are some extra booknerdish gems where  Mead shares details on Eliot's literary friendships or at least run-ins with other greats of the era. Not only is there a discussion on Eliot's friendship (mostly through correspondence) with Harriet Beecher Stowe, but Mead also ties in connections to the works of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. here and there throughout the whole book. 

 

She (Eliot) was sometimes satirical, as in her secondhand report of Dickens' house on Tavistock Square: "Splendid library, of course, with soft carpet, couches, etc. such as become a sympathizer of the suffering classes," she wrote. "How can we sufficiently pity the needy unless we know fully the blessings of plenty?"

 

So yeah, not quite a full biography of Eliot, not entirely a traditional memoir for Mead, but somewhere in between. I will say it seemed to be closer to an Eliot bio than memoir, thought the title and synopsis would suggest something different. Mead DOES have her own personal connections in here, just maybe not as much as you might expect. Some reviews suggest this was a disappointment to a percentage of readers, but I myself wasn't hung up on that so much. Mead at least keeps things consistently interesting, which, for this book at least, was good enough for me.

 

 

 

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review 2018-09-04 09:17
Falling In Love With Joseph Smith by Jane Barnes
Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: Finding God in the Unlikeliest of Places - Jane Barnes

When award-winning documentary film writer Jane Barnes was working on the PBS Frontline/American Experience special series The Mormons, she was surprised to find herself passionately drawn to Joseph Smith. The product of an Episcopalian, “WASPy” family, she couldn’t remember ever having met a Mormon before her work on the series—much less having dallied with the idea of converting to a religion shrouded in controversy. But so it was: She was smitten with a man who claimed to have translated the word of God by peering into the dark of his hat. In this brilliantly written book, Barnes describes her experiences working on the PBS series as she moved from secular curiosity to the brink of conversion to Mormonism. It all began when she came across Joseph Smith's early writings. She was delighted to discover how funny and utterly unique he was—and how widely divergent his wild yet profound visions of God were from the Church of Latter-day Saints as we know it today. Her fascination deepened when, much to her surprise, she learned that her eighth cousin Anna Barnes converted to Mormonism in 1833. Through Anna, Barnes follows her family’s close involvement with Smith and the crises caused by his controversial practice of polygamy. Barnes’ unlikely path helps her gain a newfound respect for the innovative American spirit that lies at the heart of Mormonism—and for a religion that is, in many ways, still coming into its own. An intimate portrait of the man behind one of America’s fastest growing religions, Falling in Love with Joseph Smith offers a surprising and provocative window into the Mormon experience.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

For years, I've been friends with a handful of people who believe in / practice Mormonism. Whenever we've gotten into talks of their religion, I find myself fascinated with their belief system and the unique culture that develops around this particular line of faith. I think my interest mainly came from a simple place of curiosity, since for so long I knew virtually nothing about the history of Mormonism beyond some dude a long time ago in the woods being sly with some golden tablets... something along those lines. And, of course, who can escape all the polygamy documentaries out there these days. Figuring there was a whole lot more to the story, when I came across this book in a bargain bin one day, I figured what the heck, let's see what we learn.

 

Quite a bit, as it turns out! Joseph Smith, Sr. (the father of the famous one), according to this book, was something of a drinker and a get-rich-quick-schemer. It seems Junior didn't fall too far from the tree, at least in the early years. He took a similar route to dad, having, by the age of 15, already picked up smoking, drinking and dabbling in the occult. At the age of 17 is when he claims to first start seeing angels in the woods who tell him of the whereabouts of sacred golden plates. These angels tell Joseph Smith (the one this book focuses on) that every September he is to visit the spot where they claim the plates are buried... but he won't FIND the plates until he is deemed worthy. It seems said seraphim gave him the stamp of approval around the age of 21. 

 

From there, Smith brings in friend Martin Harris to transcribe the messages on the plates. Harris' wife grows increasingly upset (jealous?) over her mister's obsession with the project, insisting he show her what he's been working so hard on. And then... a scandal is born! On the day that Emma, Joseph Smith's 1st wife, is giving birth to their first son (who sadly died the same day), Smith gets news that the 116 pages of transcribed text he and Harris had compiled so far ... had gone missing! Suspicion falls on Martin's wife. The friendship between Martin and Joseph takes a hit, Emma helps with some of the continuing transcription work until the new scribe, Oliver Cowdery, is brought in to take over.

 

I had thrown myself into the Book of Mormon many times, and it had thrown me right back out. First off, there was the problem of its style. Impatient outsiders always complain about it. But the style was a real  problem. There were a number of phrases that Smith repeated and repeated, though as Mark Twain observed, " 'It came to pass' was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet." ~~ Jane Barnes

 

It was funny to read of how Emma Smith sometimes had doubt over her husband's prophet gifts, as she knew him to be pretty much illiterate.

 

 

As Emma once said, "He could not pronounce the word Sariah," the name of a central Book of Mormon's patriarch's wife. Joseph was unsure of biblical history, yet wrote in detail of things and places he had never been. He once stopped the middle of translating to ask if Jerusalem had walls around it. When Emma, the better scholar, confirmed that had been the case, he breathed a sigh of relief. He'd already written the walls into the text. Could he have "been deceived"? Not according to his wife, who said, "Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon... It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible."

 

 

She also sometimes questioned the actual existence of the plates, since Smith was SUPER secretive over who he allowed to see them. Whoever was doing the transcribing work for him would listen to his words through a curtained area and just write down whatever he said. According to Barnes' research, eleven people signed testimony swearing that they HAD seen the plates for themselves, but oddly, these statement were retracted, then followed by them denying ever making the retracted statements... whaaa? Just weird behavior all around.

 

The part of all this that made me really feel for Emma Smith was the description of Joseph first bringing up polygamy to her. He stood before her and claimed that an angel had appeared to him multiple times between the years 1834-1842, holding a sword to Joseph, threatening death upon him if Joseph did not take up polygamy. The modern wife in me reading this immediately felt a BS induced eyeroll coming on ... but it was a different time for Emma. Perhaps it was more difficult for her to speak up. But let it be said here, Emma was not a fan. And whatever Joseph did or did not see, he definitely took advantage of the situation -- three marriages by 1841, eleven by 1842, SEVENTEEN by 1843!!

 

Emma's reluctance... and later, resistance... to the practice caused definite tensions between her and her husband. Emma would notice that Joseph would send men out on missions for the church... okay, business as usual... but then in certain circumstances, he would keep the men away so he could snatch up the wives and marry them to himself! Come sermon time, Joseph would preach to men to discuss the topic of polygamy with their first wives before engaging in any more, but he was never upfront with his own wife about his. The first few of his wives he already had on the books before he ever made mention of it to Emma! He'd just try to explain them off as "long term house guests" until it just got too hard to dismiss what was really going on. Still, in this book we see Emma really trying to stay true  and dedicated to her husband through it all, even though her heart must have been breaking.

 

One scene of defiance that had me cheering though --- Barnes describes a moment where Emma and Joseph are arguing again about her resistance to obey his polygamy wishes. Joseph writes on a piece of paper that a decree has come straight from God that she IS to obey. Emma picks up the piece of paper with a pair of fireplace tongs and swiftly drops the paper into the glowing fireplace. Yes, girl! Maybe that's as close as she ever got to a middle finger response, but at some point EVERY woman has her limits!

 

By no means did this book strike me as an objective look at the history of Mormonism. Oh no, there is most definitely a bias to the writing, but for someone who doesn't practice this faith myself and had virtually no knowledge of the history going in, at the very least it was an interesting --- and if I'm being 100 here, sometimes laughable -- depiction of the origins of Mormonism. I'm not here to knock anyone's belief system, it's just that some of the stuff Joseph Smith seemed to get away with... I can't help be feel like REAALLY? NO ONE called this guy out, AND he's still considered a prophet?! It's just hard for me to wrap my sense of logic around.

 

Through researching the history of this book, author Jane Barnes comes to discover her own genetic ties to Anna Barnes, the wife of Joseph Smith's bodyguard as well as Harriet Barney, Brigham Young's 49th wife. 49TH. Y'ALL.

 

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review 2018-08-27 12:43
A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeline L'Engle by Sarah Arthur
A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeline L'Engle - Sarah Arthur

Bestselling and beloved author Madeleine L'Engle, Newbery winner for A Wrinkle in Time, was known the world round for her imaginative spirit and stories. She was also known to spark controversy - too Christian for some, too unorthodox for others. Somewhere in the middle was a complex woman whose embrace of paradox has much to say to a new generation of readers today. A Light So Lovely paints a vivid portrait of this enigmatic icon's spiritual legacy, starting with her inner world and expanding into fresh reflections of her writing for readers today. Listen in on intimate interviews with L'Engle's literary contemporaries such as Philip Yancey and Luci Shaw, L'Engle's granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis, and influential fans such as Makoto Fujimura, Nikki Grimes, and Sarah Bessey, as they reveal new layers to the woman behind the stories we know and love. A vibrant, imaginative read, this book pulls back the curtain to illuminate L'Engle's creative journey, her persevering faith, and the inspiring, often unexpected ways these two forces converged.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Wow, this little spiritual bio on L'Engle covers so much about her life in general it is hard to know where to start with a review, but I'll give it a go. 

 

Author Sarah Arthur became deeply invested in L'Engle's works thanks to the recommendation of a college roommate. Arthur even got a chance to get to know L'Engle in person after the author gave speeches at Arthur's alma mater, Wheaton College. Years later, we readers now have this exploration of L'Engle's spiritual legacy, aided by personal commentary from various notable authors, scientists, theologians and friends and family who share their memorable interactions with the famed author of A Wrinkle In Time, one of dozens of books she authored over her lifetime. 

 

The cluster of messages that all of Madeleine's books transmit include: you are loved, you matter, your questions are important, your joy fulfills a promise, fear not.

 

Though not the only topic covered, the bulk of this book focuses on L'Engle's lifelong spiritual journey: how it evolved, how it was worked into her writings, and how she was, at times, vilified by some of her audience for being, as they saw it, a hypocritical Christian. They questioned how she could consider herself a person of honest faith, a true follower, if she continued to publish books that incorporated elements of magic and science fiction. L'Engle was never apologetic for her beliefs or her methods of practicing them and this book illustrates how she would hold her stance against critics. 

 

In its essence, L'Engle's belief system can be boiled down to "sacred can be found in the secular". She insists that faith is a personal experience, so it should be a given that there's no one way to do it. Yet the world is full of so-called believers who will, in fact, happily line up to point at others and say yes, they ARE definitely doing it (religion) wrong. A Light So Lovely rolls out testimonial after testimonial, all these generations of readers who have had their own faith journey strengthened/ renewed / restored by L'Engle's influence, often without her knowledge... usually simply through the readings of her wonderfully whimsical and inspiring stories... that yes, at times, do incorporate subtle Christian imagery, much like C.S. Lewis (who is compared to her quite a bit in this book). Many interviewed for this book explain that her stories helped them feel it was okay to have questions about doctrines or experience feelings of skepticism or confusion. All she ever asked of her readers was to strive to never lose their childhood sense of wonder about the world. 

 

Truth sneaks in through the back door of the imagination, while our defenses are down, when it has a greater chance of changing us from the inside out... Madeline asserted, "...stories are preparation for living in the real world with courage and expectancy.... possibly as a defense against the troubled, everyday world of my childhood, for nourishment I learned to rely more and more on the private world that I discovered in books."

 

The story regarding the development of A Wrinkle In Time I found pretty interesting. L'Engle and her husband had been living in Connecticut with their family up until 1959, when they chose to move the homestead to New York. But before starting the move, they decided to take the family on a cross-country roadtrip, camping and visiting major US landmarks from coast to coast. On this trip, L'Engle toted around a box full of books by scientists and philosophers which she delved into each night after the rest of the crew went to bed. The reading of these books got her thinking which led to the germination of a loose outline of what would become A Wrinkle In Time. When she got settled back into a home, she had a first rough draft knocked out in three months!  When the first book came out, her focus wasn't so much on the accuracy of the science presented in the novel but scientists then (and even to this day) sure weighed in. Once she had a plot idea for the sequel, she realized it would involve cellular biology and so dived into an in-depth study of the actual science behind her ideas months before any writing of the novel even began. 

 

Arthur also gets into a discussion of the writing process itself as well as a look into the dynamics of the creative life in general, comparing L'Engle's process to her own. Much of this portion is to be found in the chapter "Fact and Fiction", the chapter I struggled the most with... mainly because it proved the most thought-provoking for me, being a writer myself. Arthur points out the perhaps controversial choice L'Engle made to partially fictionalize her memoir series, The Crosswick Journals. Investigating this story, Arthur poses the question of how in the right L'Engle was to do this and still publish these books as nonfiction. L'Engle excuses herself by saying its not so much lying, but more like embellishing (part of me argues that her reasoning tiptoes into semantics) but Arthur asks then how far does the writer's duty extend? One should be accountable for their thoughts, beliefs, word choice, etc.. but where does the duty end? Or does it? How far is an author responsible for the potentially damaging reaction a reader might have if their personal truth or belief does not echo the author's?

 

Arthur uses L'Engle's own family as an example: though L'Engle stood by the validity of her journals, her own children repeatedly came forward and said things just did not go down as she said. Likewise, L'Engle would dispute their versions, the children would argue that the journals presented a too idyllic version of their home life, back and forth, back and forth. Surprisingly, a couple of her kids actually pointed to the novels in her Austin Family Chronicles series as more true to their reality, even saying it hit TOO close to home at times. In fact, adopted daughter Maria flat out said she HATED the Austin Family books! It makes one wonder, after reading that L'Engle's youngest child, Bion, died of liver failure induced by alcoholism at the age of 47.

 

With a foreword by Charlotte Jones Voiklis, L'Engle's granddaughter, A Light So Lovely sums up L'Engle's life full of complicated, confusing, sometimes even saddening ideas, thought processes or choices with one basic idea: when it comes to life, just show up and be present no matter what. Don't expect to always have the answers or to even be happy every day. Life is a collection of highs and lows, so ride out the lows so you can be here for the highs.

 

I was really enjoying the first half of this book, even maybe thinking it might make it on my favorite reads of the year list, but there were some slow bits that changed my mind. There's a portion in the middle where the focus goes off the life of L'Engle and just turns more into a sermon on theology itself, to the point where I was starting to tune out a bit, if I may be honest. This trend continues on and off (though less so) for the rest of the book, so consider yourself warned if heavy-handed theology is not your thing. Even so, there's still plenty of fascinating L'Engle focused material here that has inspired me to getting digging into her bibliography again, revisiting old favorites as well as finally getting to those I've not yet tried. 

 

*Something to note: since this book covers the span of L'Engle's life, keep in mind that there will be some spoilers for her books in here, primarily the Time Quartet and the Austin Family Chronicles. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Handlebar Marketing and Zondervan Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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