Monday, May 25, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Four Agreements

For this week's Sunday feature of books about religion and spirituality, I want to share The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  I read this book both in high school and then again recently.  It is centered on four very basic statements.  On the surface, these statements, or agreements, are quite simple, but trying to live by even one of them has proven to be difficult.  The four agreements are:

Be impeccable with your word.
Don't take anything personally. 
Don't make assumptions.
Always do your best.  

I could never explain the full meaning and importance of the agreements like Ruiz does, so I'm not going to try to explain them.  This book is profound in its simplicity and its deep truth.  Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, the agreements are so basic, it's hard to understand why we don't live by them already.  

I think I need to read it again already.  Each time I read it, I think I come a little bit closer to grasping the truths it speaks.  There is also a companion book that I have yet to read.  Hopefully, it will help some of the concepts from the first to cement for me as well.  I could definitely use more peace and wisdom in my life.  

I hope everyone had a relaxing and replenishing Sunday.  I spend a few hours in bed this afternoon reading upstairs while it was pouring rain outside.  I've just started a new novel.  More about that soon...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reading to Get a Job

As I am home now, looking for a job post-graduation, I again find myself turning to books.  Several books have been very helpful.  I'll discuss them over the course of a few posts, so I'll start here with two:  Career Quizzes and What Color is Your Parachute.  I started reading these a few months ago to help me with the discernment process.  I learned a lot about myself and the kinds of jobs that would be fulfilling.  What Color is a classic, and is updated every year. I have the 2004 version, which I found at my favorite used book store in Atlanta, but there is a 2009 version now.  I'm not sure how different they are.  Although I am now in the process of actually applying for jobs, I'm still using these books to guide me along the way.  

Did you read any particularly useful books when you were searching for your first job or a new career?  

Friday, May 22, 2009

You've Got Mail

You've Got Mail is one of my very favorite movies. Although Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are positively delightful and I loved the original (The Shop Around the Corner), I believe the plethora of books and book stores are probably its most endearing feature for me.  It also includes some fantastic quotations about books and reading (my favorites are all from Meg Ryan's character, Kathleen).  

" Once I read a story about a butterfly in the subway, and today I saw one. I couldn't believe it. It got on at 42nd -- and got off at 59th, where I assume it was going to Bloomindale's to buy a hat that will turn out to be a mistake. As almost all hats are."

"So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?"

"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."

The last one is particularly powerful for me.  I read so much as a child and many of those books are still a part of who I am.  I love making lists, and I love having a special place for my lists to live.  I never really thought anything of it until my junior year of college.  I was in the basement of the library looking for books to read for my children's literature class and I found Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.  I read this book many times as a child.  And right there, in the first few pages, Anastasia opens up a notebook and begins to make lists.  They are printed, in her handwriting, throughout the book.  I really think that's where my affinity for a notebook of lists came from.  

Last Christmas, I gave a copy of the novel my then 8-year-old niece.  I love reading my old favorites to my nieces and nephews and to the little kids I baby-sit for.  I hope they can become a positive part of who they are to become.  I know my childhood books did.  

What books were your favorites as a child.  I have so many, I'll probably make a whole other post, but were there ones that still have an impact on you today?  Do events in your real life ever remind you of happenings you read about in a book?  Do tell.  

Thursday, May 21, 2009


In general, I will enjoy just about any bookstore I walk into.  Large chain stores, tiny independent book stores, really doesn't matter.  There is something special and enjoyable about each type of book store.  The big chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble are great for when I want to disappear.  I can just browse and wander around for a long time.  Also, there is something strangely comforting about walking into a familiar store in an unfamiliar city.  However, I probably don't buy many of my books from them.  

Smaller independent stores are fun when I want to find something different--when I don't even know what I am looking for.  I enjoy supporting local businesses and the unique features they offer.  Used book stores are similar, although the prices are generally lower.  I also enjoy imagining the previous lives the books have lived before they found a home on my shelves.  

I had a wonderful bookstore experience today in Austin at BookPeople.  I've been there once before, and can tell I will be there often when I move here.  It has the size, selection, and open space of a large store, but the charm and individuality of an independent store.  

What do you love about bookstores?  What types do you prefer?  I didn't even mention Amazon, or other online book-buying options, which do represent a large chunk of my book purchases.  Where do you get most of your reading material?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Them: A Novel

Sometime over a year ago, a friend at school recommended a book to me called Them.  She said it was about a white couple that moved into a historically black neighborhood in Atlanta and chronicled the community's struggles and experiences.  We had been discussing gentrification and urban development so I was very interested in the book-which I assumed to be non-fiction.  I ordered it from Amazon and then let it sit on a bookshelf for quite some time.  But apparently, I hadn't looked at it very closely when it arrived because until that point, I still thought it was non-fiction.  In reality, the phrase "a novel" is on the front cover.

It remained on my shelf until the freedom of summer.  Finally one night last summer I was looking for something new to read and went "shopping" on my bookshelves.  I picked up Them, and it wasn't until I began to read the first paragraph that I realized it was a novel.  Yes, this is embarrassing.

But I kept reading and found it to be captivating and very moving.  For anyone who is familiar with Atlanta, it almost reads like non-fiction at times.  The descriptions of streets and neighborhoods are very accurate and realistic.  There is one scene where a character is out for a drive to clear his head and the description of his route was so clear that I could picture every turn he made and what he would have seen on his way.  

The book clearly about race relations and gentrification and does a remarkable job of tackling these difficult subjects.  But it is also a compelling story about a marriage, a community, and an unlikely friendship.  I highly recommend it.

PS: I apologize for not having a picture: most of my books are stored away right now!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Prayer of St. Francis

This is one of my favorite prayers/poems/songs:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


As I was typing this out, I could hear the music from the John Rutter version of this text that I learned in church choir back in high school.  There are many different and lovely versions of this prayer set to music.

Although this prayer is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, it cannot be definitively traced back to him.  Nevertheless, it remains a powerful source of inspiration and encouragement to myself and countless others.  

St. Francis' writings can be found along with the works of other remarkable spiritual thinkers in Love Poems from God.  It is a collection of poems and prayers from religious writers of several different faiths.  Each time I pick it up, I discover something new and always put it down refreshed and inspired.  Check it out.  

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Under Construction

I'm trying out some new things with the layout, background and overall look of my blog.  Clearly, I'm not great at it, so it's going to take some time.  I apologize for the less that lovely appearance and hope that I can get it into tip-top shape soon!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Memorable First Lines

First of all, apologies for being silent for nearly two weeks.  I was traveling, then finishing final papers, then packing, visiting friends, entertaining visiting family, more packing, graduating, packing and then driving 998 miles.  I am now back in Texas and beginning the job hunt in earnest.  And will resume my blogging routine.

I was reading my new Real Simple magazine last night and stumbled upon a great article about summer reads.  Then on the next page there was a list of "four fabulous first lines".  And it got me thinking about my favorite first lines of books.  There is of course the classic, "Call me Ishmael", but truth be known, I've never read Moby Dick.  

So here are some first lines from books I've actually read and enjoyed. 

For the first, I must give credit to my best friend, Katie, who introduced me to the book, the author, the movie, the house (Jane Austen's house, pictured above...that's a story for another post), and, well, her obsession.  And she was the one who pointed out the fabulousness of the opening line of Austen's Pride and Prejudice
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune,    must be in want of a wife."

Then there's Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men:

"To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good  
  highway and new."

Also, Catch-22's first two lines--I could stop at just one:

"It was love at first sight.  The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love  
  with him."

And finally, I love the first line of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird:

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

Now for some of these, it's not necessarily that the line itself is particularly fantastic, but it's the way the opening line or paragraph draws you into the story.  In the case of TKAM, Scout describes an event in her brother's life that is not all that uncommon in a child's life.  Kids break bones sometimes.  But the circumstances surrounding Jem's broken limb are most uncommon and the culmination of several years of both childhood and very real adult drama.  And yet, Harper Lee uses this part of the story to introduce us to the events leading up to it.  I think it also helps to establish for the reader that the story is told through the memories of a child who experienced the events.  It makes sense that the broken arm left the most lasting impression for Jem and his sister. 

Do you have any favorite first lines?  Do you read the first line/paragraph/page before deciding to buy/read a book?  Do you ever go back and reread the first line after you've finished a novel?  Sometimes it has much greater meaning that you originally realized.  

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

I don't know that I necessarily always subscribe to this philosophy, but I love this book.  It's a group of essays from fascinating spiritual leaders and writers of all faiths about how they find the sacred in everyday activities, like housekeeping.  The chapters are organized into household tasks like vacuuming, dishwashing, or sweeping.  It is a wonderful reminder about the importance of having mindfulness in even what seem to be "mindless" activities.  My favorite essay is probably by renowned Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, who writes about washing dishes mindfully and suggests imagining that you are washing a tiny baby Buddha.  

Check out this interesting and insightful book.  It has brought a little more peace and calm to my life.  

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Journey

One day you finally knew 
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations, 
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the starts began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly 
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do 
the only thing you could do-
determined to save 
the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver

I posted this poem for my very first post, back when I think my dear Katie was the only one reading (and now she's been joined by a handful of others, for which I am grateful).  I posted it because one of my professors read it for the opening devotional in our first class of the semester.  The same professor read it again for our last class, as our benediction, and its meaning changed for me, even in those three months.  I also quoted it in one of the papers I wrote today.  Now that I am one partially completed paper away from a seminary degree-this poem continues change and grow in its significance in my life.  

Do you have favorite poems that mean different things to you as you revisit them at different points in your life?  Isn't that what great poetry is supposed to do?  

Tomorrow morning I am off to North Carolina to visit a friend from college.  By Monday evening I will be back in Atlanta and finished with all the requirements for my MDiv.  Then I'll have one last week in the city for packing and visits before my family comes for graduation and I follow them back to Texas.  Wow-that sounds weird.  

Well, off to finish my last paper.  Crazy!

A Mom at Borders

So I haven't actually read The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan, but I saw this video on YouTube about her book and her mom, and it was simultaneously the most hilarious and precious thing I've seen in a long time.  Enjoy.