Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reading Retreats and Other Varieties

Over the week-end, I was away, helping my mom with a creativity retreat at her church (go here for a full post on that topic). I flew, and while I'll be the first to complain bitterly about all the indignities of air travel, I do treasure the time to read.

I consumed Gail Godwin's latest book, Unfinished Desires. I usually like Gail Godwin's writing, but I must confess I haven't like one of her new books this much since The Good Husband. The characters are richly developed, the places beautifully described, and Godwin moves skillfully back and forth between several time periods. Godwin has always been one of our best writers when it comes to describing the inner and outer lives of adolescent females, and this book shows her at the height of her powers.

I also read half of Zoe Heller's The Believers, which was slow to draw me in. If I hadn't been trapped on an airplane, I might have quit. But I'm finally getting interested in the stories and the characters. The characters are quite unlikable on many levels, and one of Heller's talents has always been that she can make us want to keep reading, even though we find the characters appalling.

With The Believers, I've stumbled across another book that deals with Orthodox Judaism as part of the plot. That's at least two books in a month, which seems odd to me. Are there just that many more books with Orthodox Judaism as part of the plot or subplot, so I'm more likely to pick them up? Is something cosmic happening? Is it just random coincidence?

I read so few novels these days that it seems odd to me that I'd choose two with this similarity. In my commuting by train days, when I read 5 novels or more a week, I might not have noticed, or maybe there would have been more similarities for my mind to glom onto, so the presence of Orthodox Judaism wouldn't have seemed strange. Or maybe, as someone who grew up in the Southern part of the U.S.A. who never met a Jew, Orthodox or not, until grad school, the presence of Orthodox Judaism will always jump out at me.

Now it's back to regular life, with the last week of the quarter upon us, with some retreat coordinator duties pressing down (I leave for the Create in Me retreat in 2 weeks, which seems impossible), Holy Week approaches, and I'm always aware of all the poetry tasks left to do.

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