Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for "Quick Lit," where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.
About Grace by Anthony Doerr (fiction). Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See won the Pulitzer Prize last year; About Grace is his only other novel, written ten years earlier. The main character, David Winkler, has been troubled since childhood by dreams which later come true in real life. When he dreams about his baby daughter, Grace, drowning in a flood, he runs away in a desperate attempt to prevent the dream from coming true. The novel chronicles his years-long estrangement from his family and his past, and his eventual journey back home to Alaska to see if Grace might still be alive. I was completely engrossed by Doerr's wonderful use of detail and his compassionate depiction of a flawed but sympathetic character. This book won't disappoint Doerr fans looking for more of his great writing. I'm also planning to check out his short story collections, The Shell Collector and Memory Wall.
In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker (nonfiction). When I read Steve Silberman's NeuroTribes a few months ago (see review in an earlier "Quick Lit" post), I had no idea that another book on the history of autism had also been published within the past year; a commenter on my prior post alerted me to In a Different Key's existence. This book covers a great deal of the same ground as Silberman's does. It details the varied contributions of autism researchers and addresses changing diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, the vaccination
However, this book comes at these issues from a somewhat different angle: whereas Silberman's overall approach is to celebrate autism's contribution to human diversity, Donvan and Zucker (both of whom have family members with autism) place more emphasis on how families and communities have experienced the mysteries and challenges of autism. Their analysis differs from Silberman's in some key areas, one being the extent to which Hans Asperger might have been influenced by Nazism. And some parts are tough reading, such as the chapter about a desperate parent who killed his autistic son. But the book as a whole is informative and empathetic and, like Silberman's book, is written in a way that creates suspense and humanizes all of the characters in this fascinating story. I would advise those who want a good sense of the ongoing conversation around autism to read both NeuroTribes and In a Different Key.
Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God With the Spiritual Disciplines by Preston Yancey (nonfiction). This book addresses the topic of spiritual disciplines from a fresh perspective, by linking them to the process of making bread. I enjoyed the seamless way Yancey moves from the "spiritual" to the "mundane" (showing, of course, that those aren't two separate categories). For example, he expounds for a few pages on the practice of examen, then says briskly, "We need to talk about your oven," and starts explaining how to prepare an oven and discern its hot spots. As we read, we realize he is still talking about self-examination, mindfulness, and discernment of our own personal hot spots. Kneading dough is discussed as analogous to intercessory prayer ... and so on. I particularly appreciated the part about iconography, which is an area completely foreign to my faith background; in fact, when the topic of icons came up in a Bible study discussion I was involved in recently, I was able to share material from this book and demystify the concept a bit.
While a more rigorous editing should have caught unfortunate errors like "the easy yolk of Jesus," the writing as a whole is warm and engaging. Yancey challenges us firmly yet gently, sometimes pulling us up short with a stark metaphor: "Fasting makes us uncomfortable enough to stop pretending Jesus is somewhere floating in heaven with a smile plastered on his face for all eternity. Jesus is here in the emergency room of our being. Jesus is with us."
Questions and suggestions for deepening the practices appear at the end of each chapter. I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for an accessible yet challenging discussion of spiritual practice and sacramental living.
Epilogue by Will Boast (memoir). Boast is a university student when his mother dies of cancer; soon afterward, his brother dies in a car accident and his father dies of alcoholism and grief. Seemingly alone in the world, Boast is going through family papers when he discovers that his father was previously married and fathered two sons. As he makes plans to meet his "new" half-brothers he is forced to reexamine everything he thought he knew about his past. A very moving and gritty memoir.