Friday, June 21, 2013

I'm Sensing a Theme Here

I have trouble reading one book at a time.

I almost always have three or four going at once; I'll pick one up, read a hundred pages or so, and then wander off and pick up a different book and read a hundred pages of that. I never have trouble keeping the stories separate or anything, but if I try to just read one, I tend to lose interest quickly and may never finish the book at all.

Whatever place I am living is always littered with a trail of my reading materials. The family joke used to be (and I assume still is, since I sure haven't gotten any better about it) that you could guess what I had spent my day doing by following the trail of shoes, books, magazines, water glasses, jewelry, and sketchbooks I left lying in various locations around the house.

I would be told to put my books away, and reply that I couldn't put any of them up, I was reading them.

My mother (or father, or sister, or brother or husband or friends...) would look at the roughly seven books in the living room and ask, "All of them?"

And the answer is yes.

Yes, all of them. All the time. I finish one of my grouping of books, I don't keep reading the others 'til I've winnowed it down to one, I just pick up another one to add to the stack.

I make exceptions, of course, for really amazing books. These I will read one at a time, but then I rocket through them and two or three days later I need a new book anyway. (See: what happened when I read the Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton and stayed up until 3 A.M. reading the last book because I could not put the stupid thing down - or when I read This Book is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Dude Don't Touch It) by David Wong)

So, when I wanted to do a "Currently Reading" post, I realized the problem with that is that I couldn't do a post on a single book. So I decided to do all three, but then I noticed all three books had something in common.

Which, hilariously, I sincerely had not noticed until I started writing this post.

So, currently I am reading three books from my local library system; The Year of Living Biblically; One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs, Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner (who also wrote Girl Meets God, a sweet if inaccurately titled memoir about her conversion from Orthodox Judaism to Episcopalian Christianity; read my review on the blog here and my Amazon review here), and Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill.

While all three are centered on religion, the three books could not be more different in their treatments of it. The Year of Living Biblically sees an agnostic writer (who has made a career out of taking on various challenges; he's read the Encyclopedia Britannica start to finish, lived as a series of experiments, and chased physical perfection, and that's only what he's done so far) begin to spend a year trying to live the life the Bible prescribes as literally as is humanly possible.

It's partially a take-that to those who claim to be "Biblical literalists", when there really isn't any such thing. I've never met a "Biblical literalist" who actually took the Bible literally at all; they just picked and chose a little more loudly than everyone else.

Well, Mr. Jacobs attempts to do the essentially impossible and actually take every single law and doctrine into practice.

I'm only about halfway through, but so far I am deeply enjoying it; and it's definitely a light-hearted break from the other two books, which are somewhat heavier in theme.

Mudhouse Sabbath is a slight book, but a thoughtful one. Ms. Winner has written a small book, partly memoir and partly devotional, about the ways and rituals of Jewish life that she feels add great weight to Christianity as well. She discusses Jewish mourning rituals (the fact that the traditional mourning period in Judaism is scheduled out over the course of a year is definitely something I think should be taken on - mourning continues long after the people stop bringing you casseroles; three years later I am still hit with guilt over not having answered my late grandmother's last e-mail), liturgical prayers, mindful eating, and many other aspects as well. I'm enjoying it a lot. Ms. Winner is always prone to a little more navel-gazing than is absolutely necessary, but in this book it's held mostly in check and adds to her theme and the substance of the book. I am actually considering purchasing this book for future re-reading as well.

Beyond Belief  is an intense book, and I'm not even done. Jenna Miscavige Hill was raised in the Scientology church, the child of two parents deeply involved in their elite Sea Org, herself devoted to the cause. She's the niece of David Miscavige, who is the current leader of the church and whose wife, Shelly, has not been seen in public since 2006 (though the church insists she's just busy). Ms. Hill details growing up at The Ranch, a sort of Scientology live-away camp that treats the children there as essentially free labor to help the church build and grow its land. I have not yet gotten to the point where she leaves the church, but Jenna writes on her childhood well - she mentions questions, concerns, and private criticisms but also makes it clear that she was too young, and had been raised with too much of an emphasis on never asking questions, to really have any clear objections until she was older.

In short, I am reading three books; one on the ridiculous aspects of trying to be perfectly in tune with your religion, one on the quiet peace that comes with its practice, and one on the deep damage that religion can do.

So there you go; there's three.

If it helps, I'm also reading Self, Shape, and InStyle magazines all the time right now. So it's not all important books and ideas on important subjects over here. Sometimes I read about what colors are in season and menu ideas for blasting that belly fat! OMG!

What can I say, I'm a woman with many layers.

Like a parfait.

Everyone loves parfaits.

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