Topics covered: religion, social justice, social change, family, community organizing, politics, Indiana and the midwest, film, international relations, etc.
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2012 Notable Book Score 3/100
Something called The Catholic World Report had this to say in a byline about this book: “Colm Tóibín’s book won’t tell you anything about Mary. It will tell you plenty about its very sad and very angry author.”
Tóibín’s Mary is definitely not your average Mary. There is bitterness, fear, and deep regret. Her son was the Messiah, some say predicted by the prophets, and she doesn’t think it was worth it. Instead of the ancient God of Israel, Mary finds comfort in Artemis, the many-breasted Greek God of fertility. Late in her life, near the time that she could taste her own death, Mary was becoming a polytheist.
She loved her son Jesus and craved to be around him. But, Jesus, the radical son, always had other plans, plans she didn’t quite get.
My son gathered misfits, although he himself, despite everything was not a misfit, he could have done anything…. he was grateful, good-mannered, intelligent. And he used all of it. I said, so he could lead a group of men who trusted him from place to place. I have no time for misfits….
I probably owe this book–a novella really–a rereading. But if I am going to get through my 100 book reviews I probably won’t get to it anytime soon. Before it became a novella, the Testament of Mary was a one women play. I hope I get to see it in Indy sometime.
“A Land More Kind Than Home”
By Wiley Cash
And these signs will follow those who believe. In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. Mark, Chapter 17/18
Apparently, a few Christian preachers still handle venomous snakes to prove their faith in the good Lord. Like this preacher man who died in West Virginia in May 2012. I guess that is better than guy in Florida who died after winning a cockroach eating contest. Thanks be to God that the bible is silent on the matter of testing your faith via cockroach diet.
Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home (New York Times book review here) centers on a secretive church were snake handling, among other things, is a normal Sunday experience. The church is smallish and the windows are covered in newspaper. The congregation never really did a background check on their pastor but an old church matriarch is smart enough to keep the kids away from the snake handling fun. Moral of this story: always do a background check.
The novel takes place in Cash’s home turf, the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina just over the border from Tennessee. It is a place that truly is not that kind. Marshall, North Carolina and surrounding areas are full of bored kids and broke down dreams. A place where a snake handling church with some suspicious activity is ignored instead of confronted and people mainly keep to themselves.
Problems fester until they become too big and a few too many sons die of easily avoidable accidents.
In A Land More Kind than Home, things go terribly wrong when a miracle really isn’t a miracle and the believers want to believe.
I go to church a lot. I know a lot of pastors and church people. I wanted to read this book as a bit of a warning, even though about everybody I know is scared of snakes and wouldn’t want them anywhere near their church or kids. I spent a good part of my late 20s and early 30s being part of a small church. This was a progressive place, on paper anyways. I started attending there on a Martin Luther King Day nearly seven years ago. The church bulletin read “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
There was a young pastor and we were going to turn this run down, forgotten church into a place full of life. Good art, fair trade coffee, and social justice galore. Skip ahead a few years and things were changing. The young pastor was gone–too many snakes–and most of the congregation. Anyway, we kept going, led by volunteers, and the snakes for the most part disappeared. We got voted the best church in Indianapolis by NUVO newsweekly, our film series got mentioned in Indianapolis Monthly. We had an event where probably 800 people showed up, and then it was not common for the church to be a beehive of activity.
Things started to change when people wanted to play the role of “pastor” and ”executive director.” These became unaccountable positions. The (metaphorical) newspapers went up so nobody could see in. (Metaphorical) Dead bodies started to pile up . Nobody really talked to each other about the bodies. Instead of confronting problems and figuring out what was wrong, most people left, including myself and I had been a leader in this community.
When things look and feel wrong, they probably are. Do something about it. Demand answers. Talk to others. Don’t let your community be hijacked.
Notable Book Score: 1/100
I posted last week that I was going to try to read/listen to each of the New York Times 2012 Notable Book of Year. There are a 100 of them and this is my first review.
Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. Experienced via Audiobook via audible.com.
If you are looking for a work of fiction that does a good job describing the realities of our current economic system as it relates to actual human happiness or the lack of it, Dave Egger’s Hologram for the King does a good job.
The book is sorta about jobs–and it is the hope of a job, well a commission anyway, that sends business consultant Alan Clay to Saudi Arabia to try and sell a Hologram communication system to King Abdullah and the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), a 86 billion dollar project, which basically involves building a 2 million person city by 2025.
Alan, himself, is a mess and kinda of a jackass. He is alienated from his father who hasn’t forgiven Alan for his past work at SchwinnBicycles where he closed down American factories and sent the jobs to the third world. The move, in the book anyways, didn’t pay off for Schwinn. His ex-wife is crazy and his daughter is about to drop out of college because he can’t pay the hefty tuition fees. He also owes friends a bunch of money that he can’t repay. Going to KAEC and trying to sell the Hologram thingee is a last chance shot for Alan.
I recently read another book about Saudi Arabia, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein. That book, which heavily features the kingdom and its involvement with some of the shadiest and saddest arm deals. Of course, England, the United States, and Germany, are all involved too. It feels that Hologram bumps up against Shadow World; a global economy that only creates human misery, whether it is through terrible working conditions for migrant laborers, the proliferation of small and large arms to the highest paying dictator, or the gross opulence of places like Dubai and the yet to be realized KAEC.
Is this the world that we want?
Anyways, as it looks like the hologram deal is fading, Alan develops friendships and relationships with some of the everyday people who live in Saudi. It is through these relationships–even though Alan seems to screw most of them up–where Alan experiences something stronger, more beautiful, and more powerful, than the bullshit world of “economic cities” and holograms.
It’s not just clear what side Alan will land on.