Emily’s Book Reviews, August


emily's book reviews button


(I love the sparkle, don’t you?)

What I’ve been reading of late. Some of these are “new” reads, and some are old friends, and some I’ve just started!

Dakota, The Virgin of Bennington, Amazing Grace, all by Kathleen Norris: These are all religious books, which are written as memoirs, and tell the story of the author’s “reversion” to Christianity, starting with her life after college as a poet in New York City, moving to her grandmother’s home in South Dakota with her new husband, and finally, becoming a Benedictine Oblate and diving deep into the history and movements of Christianity. I’ve read her two previous books The Cloister Walk and Acedia and Me, and loved them both. These three were harder to find, but I was well rewarded, especially in the case of Amazing Grace, which is a bit of a “dictionary of Christianity”. Norris takes common phrases in religion (i.e., salvation, Hell, grace, creation) and writes about what they mean to her. Dakota is a spiritual memoir, which links family and religion. Virgin is a bit of an odd read, at least for me; I thought it would be more religious in tone and less about her post-graduation life in New York City, but if you like poetry, this is an excellent read. They are all well-written, but Dakota and Amazing Grace gripped me more than Virgin did.

The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais: The movie previews lead you to believe that the movie is about Madame Mallory, a Frenchwoman with a Michelin two-star restaurant in France, and her trials when a raucous Indian family move in across the street and open their own restaurant. Well, that may be the crux of the film, but it makes up quite a small portion of the novel, but with lasting repercussions for the protagonist, Hassan. If you like to watch Food Network and read cookbooks, like I do, you’ll like this book. It will also make you hungry!

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom: I wanted to like this more than I did. It had a lot of promise in the beginning– Lavinia, an Irish orphan, becomes an indentured servant on a southern plantation in the late 18th century. Though she’s white, she works with the black slaves, and soon considers them her family, even though the master and mistress of the house try to raise her “properly”. Lavinia and Belle, a slave, are the two narrators of the book, and I don’t think it worked very well, in this case. Belle’s portions of the story become less and less, and Lavinia’s become  more central, but since the book is told from only their perspectives, there are gaps in the story as it moves towards its climax. When it ended, I felt as if several chapters were cut from my copy, which was a shame, because I did like it in the beginning. It loses steam, however, and sort of sputters to a close, and I felt several characters were ill-drawn.

The Way of Perfection, by St. Teresa of Avila: I had previously read The Interior Castle, and this book was sitting on my shelf, quietly waiting for me to pick it up, which I finally did! It’s an excellent book, written before Interior Castle, so it obliquely deals with some of the topics in that (probably) more famous work. My copy was very heavy on notes and summaries, which made a bit of slow reading. They were helpful at times, but sometimes I just wanted to move on to the next chapter! St. Teresa is to be read slowly, and not raced through, so this took me awhile due to the deliberate pace I set when I was reading it. Have a pen handy so you can make notes.

Following that: Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul, by Cathleen Medwick: I’ve seen a lot of my friends reading this book, so I thought I should read it too, and get to know more about St. Teresa. I joke that part of my soul is Carmelite, so why not know more about them? (My Confirmation saint is indeed a Carmelite–St. Therese of Lisieux).

(And wow, lots of Cathleen/Kathleens this month! Well, the past few months, anyway)

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldman: This book was a Christmas gift, and I’m really diving into it now. I love books about writing (see the next entry, too!) and I’ve heard such good things about this one!

The Writer’s Way, by Julia Cameron: again, a gift; again, heard great things. Starting this tomorrow.

The Year of Pleasures, by Elizabeth Berg: This is one of my desert-island books. I just adore it, and it’s what got me started reading Elizabeth Berg’s novels. Betta Nolan’s husband has died, and she decides to sell her brownstone in Boston and move to a tiny town outside Chicago, sight unseen, and have a “year of pleasures”, living in a small town and reconnecting with her three roommates from college. Berg’s trademark attention to detail, dialogue and character are richly displayed here, and I wish the book would’ve had at least 150 more pages. You’ll want music, tea, and bubble bath while you’re reading this!

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan: A re-read, but it’s been about a decade since I read it, so it’s overdue.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds, by Jen Wilkin.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane: Part of the Jane re-read. The end of the book always makes me smile. Next up is Mansfield Park.

Swann’s Way , by Marcel Proust: I keep dipping into it, but it’s time to Get Serious and Read it. 🙂

Wish You Were Here, by Amy Welborn: Another re-read, another book I love. Welborn writes exquisitely of the time immediately after her husband’s sudden death from a heart attack. She took her three children to Sicily, so the book is part travelogue, part journal of grieving, and part religious meditation. It’s fantastic and has many C.S. Lewis like passages.


One thought on “Emily’s Book Reviews, August

  1. Emily,
    if you get a chance, read A Satirical Critique by St. Theresa of Avila. It is in the 3rd volume of her collected works (by Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh) as a minor work. It shows her personality and her wicked sense of humor to perfection.

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