Monday, January 21, 2019

Unworthy by Antonio Monda

Firstly, thank you to the publisher for a free copy of this book
as part of the Turning the Pages Goodreads book discussion group.
I seriously doubt I would have read this book otherwise. 
Although I truly enjoyed Monda's writing style, 
I found this book to be thoroughly frustrating. 
I do not currently subscribe to any 'organized religion'. 
Nor have I for almost 30 years.
It no longer appeals to me nor am I interested in it.
The main reason for that? It's simple really... 
The hypocrisy I have witnessed among it's "believers" and leaders. 
I suppose I could best describe myself as a humanist
I do believe in both the collective and individual 
ability of humans to create our own world. 
The one book that opened me up to a whole new belief system was 
I spent the first 5-6 years of my 3rd decade of life reading and studying alternative forms of religion, both organized and otherwise. 
I was searching because the Christian religions to which 
I had been exposed just didn't work for me. 
"Just have faith." 
"You must have faith."
"You must simply believe..." 
The only symbols offered for such unlimited and eternal "faith" and belief 
seemed ethereal/nonexistent, unreliable, and undependable at best. 
If nothing was absolute, then why couldn't I learn 
 to simply develop MYSELF/ME? 
Surely I could benefit just as much, if not more, by simply living my daily life to the best of my ability, since I really have very little to no control over my life circumstances to a great degree. 
I refused to believe some mythical being had predetermined my life. 
Nope. That did not work for me...
Once I began reading about other worldwide belief systems I realized many of the same underlying tenets were present for many, if not most, of them.

Now that you have a bit of my 'religious' history, you can perhaps understand why I would not typically be interested in reading this book. :)
However, I found the writing to be easily accessible even if it was a bit dense and definitely thought-provoking. 
The whole book deals with "Father" Singer (Abram) and his battle with Catholic beliefs, 
especially regarding the personal activities expected  of priests, in his own daily life. 
Firstly, a priest is to remain celibate. 
(Admittedly, this has never made sense to me.)
Whereas, Abram has had relationships with three different women thus far during his priesthood years.
Granted, the first two were very brief in nature, 
but this third woman, Lisa, he truly loves and I believe she truly loves him, even while realizing the limitations of their relationship given his vocation. 
Now, really, I admit that overall, this doesn't bother me nearly as much as the fact that 
he is constantly stealing from the church. 
Secondly, a priest should NOT be a thief!
He steals from the collection plate consistently to purchase gifts for Lisa, meals and even to finance a short trip for them both. 

Abram states that each of these three women have stated to him:
You're a priest, aren't you ashamed? (6)
Though Lisa says with a caress, because she loves me as she loves her own life... (6)
Lisa even undergoes an abortion during the time they are together. I wondered who paid for that. His stolen funds?

Fortunately, this book is relatively short--only 175 pages in length, because I kept wanting to shout out loud about every other page, "WHY?" Why would a person persist in perpetuating himself in such a sham of a vocation and societal/cultural role when he is a total and complete hypocrite? I would agree with some of the Turning the Pages members who cited that Abram's ego was the true motivation for his becoming and remaining a priest. He exhibits this as he realizes that many people recognize him as "Father" even when he is not wearing his vocational 'costume'/robe. He likes that. He very much loves the idea of others viewing him as pious and a good role model, even when he knows he is anything but. As one of the members stated, he loved the idea that he was fooling everyone! Hence it fed his ego... I believe that was a large part of his motivation for remaining in the priesthood. 

Though he describes how he could "see God in everything" when he was working as a construction worker building skyscrapers:
In my fellow workers' eyes, filled with enthusiasm and hope.
In our callused hands, which defied first the sea and then the sky. (8)
Now this I could relate to. We should be able to recognize spirituality in every aspect of our daily lives. However, it seemed that once he entered the priesthood that sensible spirituality left him. Rather ironic... It was then that he became successful at building up the diocese, increasing attendance, etc. I felt he exchanged this "success" for the insightful reverence for everyday interactions and tasks. 

And I must wonder at the author's intent in writing this book. Perhaps Phillip Roth put it succinctly:
With storytelling finesse, Monda has written a compact and forceful book that might be 
a morbid erotic tale out of Boccaccio, exposing the tormented lust of the clergy. (Wikipedia)
Monda is a practicing Catholic. Which seems to make no sense as I feel this whole book meant to undermine the Catholic religion for its unrealistic expectations with regard to the humans who serve as its leaders and champions. Perhaps he would like to incite change? Or is he merely trying to prove that all sinners are absolved even if they never truly change their behaviors? It is this tenet of the Catholic religion with which I specifically disagree. There is accountability to be had for your efforts to improve and change for the better, in my opinion. Without that, there is no real positive change to be had. 

I could appreciate Monda's description of the Twin Towers (at least I suppose that was the construction project he was working on and describing in NYC in the '70's) and one politician's description:
On the day of his inauguration, Mayor Beame declared that at least fifty thousand people 
would work in those two skyscrapers, and that within a few years the buildings 
would be welcoming two hundred thousand visitors every day. 
A monument to the future, he said, a monument that nothing and no one could scratch, 
and would bear witness forever to the power of the city whose mayor he had the honor to be. He thanked us all, Mayor Beame did, speaking in the same vibrant tones that he would employ before too long when begging President Ford to help the invincible city avoid bankruptcy. (10)
Talk about "tongue in cheek"! To me, this whole book was about ironies...

Abram describes confessing to Father John and the "severity with which he absolved" him, followed by the "kindness with which he put his arms around" Abram. 
...I also remember his gray face when he died a few weeks later.
I felt guilty, as if I had been the cause of the aneurysm, and I wept like a baby, 
because...I realized that from that moment on, 
nothing and no one would stop me from going adrift. (15)
How hypocritical! We are to believe that without this one man, Abram is now incapable of controlling himself? What happened to God?!? and faith?!? Or is that a manifestation of the Catholic religion? I have always understood that it is the priest who controls a believer's relationship with God, that a priest is the only conduit, so there is no supposedly personal relationship between "God" and any believer. That makes even less sense to me than the religions to which I have directly been exposed. 

Abram states that he's "always been afraid of losing the privilege of his religion."  That statement caught my attention. I often wonder how many times people simply "go with the flow" and assume or even pretend to have "faith" and "believe in God" simply as a way to "fit in" with society. It has been quite a journey for me to begin to feel halfway comfortable stating that I subscribe to no organized religion, nor do I hold any belief in a deity. But I can state that my own spirituality is very much hands-on and practical, with its foundation in my everyday interactions, behaviors, and actions. This usually shocks people. They appear to be dumbfounded that anyone could state such certainty in such a completely 'unreligious' belief system. 

I cannot say I enjoyed reading this book, though I admit it did make me think. Mostly in an angry and frustrated way, however. In my own world, this book depicted much of what I feel is "wrong" with organized religion, particularly Catholicism. Just keep "sinning" and as long as you beg forgiveness, all is well.

Have you read this book? 
If so, what are your thoughts?

I would love to know the reactions of a Catholic believer to this one...

Happy reading!

Top Ten Tuesday for January 22, 2019!!

    Here are previous Smoke & Mirrors Top Ten Tuesday posts.
This meme was created by The Broke and the Bookish and hosted by that site 
until January 2018 when That Artsy Reader Girl took on the hosting duties!

Today's theme is Books I Meant to Read in 2018!

And trust me, there are MANY!

by Ruth Emmie Lang

A very good friend graciously loaned this book to me 
at the beginning of 2018 
and I am appalled to realize I have yet to read it. 

I intend to change that this year 
and hope to get it read next month, 
in February 2019!

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I have wanted to read this book for several years, 
ever since two of my best friends and I 
sat and watched it in a theater 3 times in a row! 
(And, no, no one ever chased us out or made us pay more...)

I hope I will enjoy it 
since I already own 
the second book in the series, 
The Girl With No Shadow.

 And, of course, if I enjoy those two, 
then I must read the third installment 
in the series, 
Peaches for Father Francis.

And as of April 4, 2019,
the fourth installment, The Strawberry Thief
is due to be released! Bonus!!

Third on this list is Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

It has been about 5 years since 
I read a Kingsolver book 
and I am soooo looking forward 
to reading this one in 2019!

It will satisfy several prompts for reading challenges!

Fourth is Every Note Played by Lisa Genova.

Everyone in my book club adored Still Alice 
and I went on to read and love
Left Neglected and Love Anthony.
I also own but have yet to read Inside the O'Briens.

Fifth is The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin.

I loved Alice I Have Been and 
The Aviator's Wife (this links to my review).
And I have yet to read The Swans of Fifth Avenue or 
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
which Ms. Benjamin claimed to be her personal favorite 
when I met her a few years ago!
She is one of my absolute favorite writers!
And she has another release scheduled for May 21, 2019:
Mistress of the Ritz!

Sixth is Lionboy by Zizou Corder

I purchased this book on a whim several years ago 
from a clearance rack at Books-A-Million
Then in the course of researching books for the 
"book written by two female authors" 
2019 Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge
I learn Zizou Corder is simply a pseudonym 
for a mother-daughter writing team! 
And it is the first of a trilogy... 
Now I am truly fascinated and anxious to finally read it!

Seventh, eighth, and ninth are Giovanni's RoomThe Fire Next Time
and If Beale Street Could Talk, all written by James Baldwin.

I LOVED Go Tell It on the Mountain (links to my review)!
I want to read more classics this year. 
I already know I love this man's writing style, 
so these are definite reads for 2019!
Then I'll be anxious to see the movie adaptation for If Beale Street Could Talk!

The tenth book for this posting follows this theme 
with a reread of a classic, 
Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver. 

I first read this at the 'ripe old age' of 13 and I am CERTAIN
I didn't grasp much from it.
I trust my reading of it some 50 years later 
will prove to be much more enlightening and informative!

What's even more fun is that this year, all of these books (and more!) will fulfill prompts for both the 2019 Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge
and the 2019 Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge.
I have created a page for each of these challenges which I update as I finish reading books 
and it is so much fun to see just how many prompts can be fulfilled with each book!
If I had the time, I would certainly prefer to read a separate book for each prompt, 
but I do not, so I will approach these challenges in this way...
I have listed each book already selected for each of the book clubs in which I participate 
and secondly, am trying to read as many from the current stock of books 
I already own as possible. 
Though I already know I will purchase more books in the year to come as well. 
But I am trying to complete blog posts for books I've read and then give them 
to my favorite used bookstore to be resold, 
hoping to decrease the total amount of books in my household throughout 2019. 
At least that is my goal!

What books did you intend to read last year but didn't manage to get to?

Happy reading!

Monday, December 31, 2018

ATY and Popsugar reading challenges for 2019!

Reading Challenge 2019I have never before participated in one of the more intense long-term reading challenges such as 
But that is about to change with the start of a new year!
I have decided to fully indulge my love of listing 
books to read and 'scheduling' my reading!
Since I do not have a ton of spare time due to 
working full-time and still working out at the gym and heated therapy pool at least 10-15 hours per week 
to fully rehabilitate these new knee joints 
and get in the best physical shape I can accomplish, 
I will approach this a bit differently than I might 
if I had more reading time.
I will list the books I must read for the book clubs in which I participate first. Then books I own... 
Around the Year in 52 Books And then there will, of course, be some books that are new, or at least new-to-me, that I still need to own and read! :)
Rather than select one book for each prompt, 
I will fit each book into as many prompts as possible, 
thereby guaranteeing that I cover all the prompts with fewer books! Pretty nifty, huh?
Did I mention that both of these groups are located on Goodreads? If not, I should have...
And as much as I despise the fact that Jeff Bezos/Amazon 
owns and manages Goodreads, I am still using it. 
Seems as if Bezos encroaches upon everyone's life in one way or another, if not through Amazon or Goodreads, then IMDB...or Whole Foods...or...? 
I just avoid all the other entities except Goodreads, which serves as my "bible" in so many ways!

On to the listing of book club reads 
currently scheduled for 2019!

Although the company has been bankrupt for some years, 
the book club I founded while working there has survived!
I was absolutely thrilled when the core of six reliable members 
chose to continue the book club after our local store closed!
This group meets each month and we currently have books selected through July 2019:

January 2019: We are Okay by Nina Lacour
I am about one-third through this one and am really enjoying it. 
I admit the cover initially confused me--my immediate thought was this was a graphic novel!
It is not... :)
February 2019: Less by Andrew Sean Greer
2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
(We selected this way before the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced!)
March 2019: Chocolat by Joanne Harris
I have such great hopes for this book! I absolutely loved the movie!
April 2019: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Another one I am anxiously anticipating and just hope I won't be disappointed!
May 2019: The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
That name may look familiar--she was the co-author of 
A book this same club read and everyone loved!
June 2019: On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman
The cover image is quite intriguing!
July 2019: Them Bones by Carolyn Haines
This selection is the result of my having purchased one of the later books 
in this Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery series at a library sale for 50 cents.
What can I say? I loved it! 

Sometime this summer we will select another 12 books to read over the following year, 
so there will be at least 5 more books for this book club alone!

The next book club is the Literary Wives online book discussion group.
We "meet" every other month to discuss a book with regard to this question:
What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
Our reviews are posted the first Monday of that month.
The cohosts of this club are rather diverse in their opinions and analyses of these books.
It makes for varied reactions and great discussion!
Check it out on Facebook!
Here are the six books selected for 2019...

February 4, 2019: They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple 
This is a Persephone reprint and my copy has already shipped from the UK to me in the US!
I am hopeful it will arrive this week. I believe this one may be intense!
It is a "classic" originally published in 1944.
April 1, 2019: Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones
The subject is a marriage that has lasted 60 whole years! Wow!
June 3, 2019: A Separation by Katie Kitamura
August 5, 2019: Ties by Domenico Starnone, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri
Interesting cover image! Makes me wonder!
October 7, 2019: Happenstance by Carol Shields
December 2, 2019: The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Another Persephone reprint that is making it's way to the US and my house!
Anxious to read this role reversal where a stay-at-home wife and mother 
is forced to work outside the home to support her children and newly disabled husband. 
Originally published in 1924!
February 3, 2020: The War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen
(I can cheat and read this in 2019! lol)

This club meets monthly at my favorite bookstore!
There is currently only one book scheduled:
January 27, 2019: The Dry by Jane Harper 
I am quite anxious to read this mystery!
I believe it will be a series 
I will want to continue reading!
Never fear, Laura and Justin, the owners, 
will schedule 11 more for 2019!
I have definitely read outside my comfort zone for this group and have had only one DNF! :)

IUPUI Book Club
Perhaps I left this one for last because it is my favorite book club!!
Why? Simple. It offers the greatest diversity among the participants:
including faculty, staff, and students of varied ethnicities, 
geographic origin, and life experience. 
All this variety creates such wide-ranging reactions and opinions! 
I love that!
IUPUI is a joint venture higher-education institution located in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The school is administered by Indiana University (main campus in Bloomington, Indiana), 
but includes Purdue University School of Engineering and School of Science.  
Unfortunately, this group meets just 3-4 times per year.
The next book selected is An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. 
Yes, THAT Hank Green! Brother to and cohost with brother John Green. 
Check it out on YouTube: Vlog Brothers!
There will be another three books or so selected for this group in 2019 as well!

Now that I have this posting done, I will work on a page 
for each the ATY challenge and the Popsugar challenge! 

I have at least one book listed for almost all 102 prompts--
52 for ATY and 50 for Popsugar. 
However, there are way fewer than 102 books listed overall.
Remember, I am counting each book for every prompt it fits!

You are welcome to return to follow my progress!

How about you? Have you ever participated in either or both of these events?
If so, please let me know your thoughts!
If not, why not?!? ;)

Happy reading!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge at Passages to the Past


I am determined to get back into the blogging game in 2019.
I made a restart in 2018, but not nearly as much as I would like...
The good news is that with all the exercising I've been doing, 
both of my knee joints are in considerably better shape 
and causing little to no disruption to my daily activities. 
Though per my surgeon, no jumping allowed, 
Though I honestly don't remember the last time I ever actually tried to jump! ;)
which is hosted once again by Amy of Passages to the Past.

There are six different categories:
Twentieth Century Reader--2 books
Victorian Reader--5 books
Renaissance Reader--10 books
Medieval Reader--15 books
Ancient History--25 books
Prehistoric--50 books

While I would love to think I could read and review 50 historical fiction novels 
in 2019, I am forcing myself to be more realistic! 

My goal is to read and review at least 5 books for the Victorian Reader level.
But I am really hoping to make it to 
the Renaissance Reader level with at least 10!

What are some of these books that I hope to read in 2019?
Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones
Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones
This is a historical fiction novel about a marriage
that has lasted for 60 years. 
Wow...that is unbelievable to me! 
I am anxiously anticipating reading this in March 
for the Literary Wives April 1st 2019 review postings. 
Please join us on Facebook!
Cover image for Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I admit I have always been fascinated by this book and am very anxious to finally read it!
It happens to be the April 2019 selection for the 
face-to-face book club I facilitate! 
There is romance, fantasy, 
and this is also classified as historical fiction! 

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Home-MakerThis is the December 2019 selection for the 
Literary Wives online discussion group. 
I am quite interested in reading this one. 
The main character is a "stay-at-home mom." 
However, due to unforeseen circumstances, roles are reversed when she is forced to work outside the home to support the family, which now includes a disabled husband. This book explores the repercussions for 
her children and marriage in the ensuing upheaval. 
This is listed as a feminist read, so I expect it to be fascinating, given that it was initially published in 1924!
I wonder how it might compare to A Lady and Her Husband 
which we technically reviewed in December 2017, 
though my own review was not published until January 1, 2018. 

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
This is the May 2019 selection for the face-to-face book club 
I facilitate and is another historical fiction novel! :)
(Wow...I may have 5 historical fiction novels just among those already scheduled for book clubs in 2019! Cool!)
I think this will be an excellent read!
Annie was the co-author of 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
another historical fiction novel and one that 
each member of this same book club absolutely adored! 
That bodes well for this book! This is all about secrets!

The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro
Oh, my! I did not realize 
(or remember from watching the movie) 
that this is historical fiction based upon 
the legend of the Amazonian fish-god!
I cannot describe just how much I loved this movie and on so many levels! 
As soon as I discovered the book, 
I had the owner of my favorite used bookstore 
order it in for me! 
This is the book I plan to read on New Year's Day.
I just cannot wait. 
I am fascinated with the whole story 
from watching the movie 
and though I rarely rewatch movies, 
I will definitely be doing so with this one! 

So I know I will at least have 5 historical fiction books 
read and reviewed in 2019! 
Who knows? 
Maybe I will make that Renaissance Reader level with 10! 
And each of these can be used to fulfill multiple prompts
for both the ATY 2019 and Popsugar 2019 reading challenges! 

How about you? Do you enjoy historical fiction?
Have you ever participated in this challenge?

Happy reading!