Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Very different reviews

I have been finding more joy in my reading again, so I want to share a couple of reviews from my most recent reads. Enjoy!

Your God is Too Small by J.B. Phillips has been sitting on my shelf for at least two years, and now that I have finished reading it, I'm kicking myself for not picking it up sooner! This classic discussion of Christian thought packs a lot of punch in the 124 pages. The writing is very intellectual and doesn't play down to the reader. It's certainly not a Max Lucado style title with folksy charm and a vocabulary anyone can pick up and enjoy, but the dense text is well worth the effort. I don't know that it would change anyone's mind who doesn't already believe in God, but for me, it helped me to think more deeply about why I believe the way I do while also challenged me to go deeper in my relationship with the Lord. I highlighted passages every night while reading it, and it's a book I know I will read again and again as I grow in my faith. It's the type of book I want to tell everyone to pick up and then form a book club for discussion!

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls is the follow-up book to her powerful memoir The Glass Castle where she shared her story of growing up with her artistic and unstable mother Rosemary Smith Walls. This novel is based on the life of Rosemary's mother, Lily Casey Smith, who began breaking horses with her father at the age of five, rode 500 miles on her horse at the age of fifteen to start teaching school, and never let any of life's heartaches bring her down for long. Walls does a beautiful job of creating Lily's strong and original voice as she relays her life in a matter-of-fact manner that still sometimes feels like a tall tale. The beginning of the book is a bit disjointed as each story is contained in 2-3 pages, and each new chapter tells another story not necessarily in chronological order, but once Lily gets going, the book moves along at a steady clip jumping from her bigamous marriage in Chicago to her sister's suicide to her marriage to Big Jim and their life together running a gas station, a ranch, and later a small town isolated in the Arizona mountains. Along the way, Lily gives birth to Rosemary and Little Jim, both she raises seemingly without tenderness or tolerance for tears. She determines early on in Rosemary's life that she will never tell her daughter that she is beautiful, so the girl doesn't rely on her looks as Lily's younger sister, Helen did. Jeannette writes in such a way as to allow the reader to see the impact of Lily's child-raising techniques on Rosemary without Lily seeming to notice them herself, a neat trick. Lily is a powerful and colorful character (taking out her dentures often in restaurants to show them to the waitress because she is so proud of their beauty) that she seems like someone the reader would love to take a meal with (perhaps not at a restaurant), because she never runs out of things to say, has an opinion on everything, and lived a life of adventure, but not someone you'd want to actually be raised by, especially seeing how Rosemary turned out. Lily tried to use her life experiences to teach her children about life, but some lessons can't be taught. Near the end of the book, Lily confronts her daughter about her boyfriend, Rex Walls, (Jeannette's father), asking Rosemary if she didn't learn anything at all from her mother. Rosemary's response is telling, "When you thought you were teaching me one thing, I was busy learning something else." Readers familiar with The Glass Castle will see just how polar Rosemary's parenting is to Lily's and how Lily's refusal to show softness to her daughter had devastating effects on Jeannette and her siblings. The title comes from what Lily's father called horses that were born wild, caught by cowboys for rounding up cattle and tamed only enough to do the job before being released back into the wild. They weren't tame enough to be good for work, but had lost the wild impulses that allowed them to live free and were good for nothing after; readers can see similarities between the titular horses and Lily, her father, and Rosemary, all a little bit lost in the world but doing their best to get by. Thoroughly enjoyable, the book is an excellent read, whether you have read The Glass Castle or not, and captures the voice of a woman who lived a fascinating life and lived to inspire a granddaughter to want something better for her own.