ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS, by Ocean Vuong, is an incandescent, devastating novel/prose poem. Written as a letter from Little Dog to his mother, a letter she cannot read because she’s illiterate, the story explores language, family, identity, and what it means to be seen.
Little Dog’s mother, Rose (Hồng in Vietnamese), left school at five when a napalm bomb destroyed her school. At nineteen, having worked as a prostitute to feed herself, and pregnant with another man’s child, she married a US serviceman. She named her son Little Dog, hoping to trick evil spirits into overlooking something insignificant and of little value. His name, like language, like the novel itself, became a screen to both protect and reveal.
"The goshawk is staring at me in mortal terror, and I can feel the silences between both our heartbeats coincide...She breathes hot hawk breath in my face. It smells of pepper and musk and burned stone."
H IS FOR HAWK, a memoir about grief and loss, through the training a goshawk, is brilliant, unexpected, and deeply satisfying. It is a testament not only to Macdonald’s talent, but to her profound connection to life, and to us, earning it an unqualified spot on my Books I Love bookshelf.
Lila is the third in Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy of novels that takes place in the small Midwestern town of Gilead, and both Gilead (2004) and Home (2008) explore the lives and friendship of two Iowa preachers. In this latest novel, Lila, the wife of the preacher, John Ames, tells her own story, earning an unqualified spot on my Books I Love bookshelf.
Lila’s life in Gilead begins when she enters the town church to shelter from the rain and first sets eyes upon her future husband, John Ames. Flashbacks to Lila’s past weave through the narrative, and as she struggles with loneliness, belonging, and faith, Lila’s past remains potent and alive.
In the following post I discuss two recent books on Jesus. The first is the much hyped Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. The second is The Wife of Jesus, Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals by Anthony Le Donne, which, while garnering less media coverage, is, in my opinion, a better book. Both, however, offer valuable and interesting information about the historical times in which Jesus lived, and, in Le Donne’s book, about the shifting cultural mores influencing how Jesus has been viewed in the centuries since his death.
Would I recommend The Wife of Jesus, Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals by Anthony Le Donne? Yes!
Would I recommend Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan? Metza metz, or, in Italian, mezzo mezzo, i.e. half and half. Historically fascinating, but distorted by the author’s agenda.
The following is the first of what I hope to be a regular feature, in which I recommend a new book each month that I absolutely love and can whole-heartedly recommend. There are so many places to find book recommendations, but I still sometimes find it difficult to know what to read. Bizarre, but true. I hope that by slowly building a list here, it might be a useful place for my fellow book lovers to turn for ideas. To read more, check out my Books I Love page.
Would I recommend THE RAINBOW? Yes!
THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence, published in 1915 and banned in England for eleven years, is a family drama that follows three generations of the Brangwen family as England moves from a rural to an industrial society. The narrative arc of the novel provides the scaffolding upon which Lawrence explores a wide range of philosophical and psychological questions, such as the relationship between spirituality and sexuality, industrialization and nature, and personal freedom and society. Ultimately, however, THE RAINBOW is about yearning for truth and beauty in a messy world.