Category: Religion

Sep 29

The Sparrow Readalong Finish Line

Readalong, Religion, Science 17

Greetings Bookworms!

As you know I’ve been participating in a readalong of The Sparrow hosted by Trish of Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. I took a short break from reading this bad boy in the midst of Banned Books Week and Diversiverse, but now that those are in the history books, as it were, I was able to finish reading The Sparrow and what a ride it was! WARNING: If you hate animated gifs, run away now!

sparrow-Readalong

Where do I even begin? Thanks to some heavy foreshadowing, I knew how things were going to end up… In a manner of speaking. But the way they got there? Holy crap balls! I did NOT see that coming! As far as romantic entanglements I was like:

Rachel_shocked

 

After which I thought, “well, okay, that’s probably for the best then.” But then there were some journeys and some revelations once people got back and I was like:

shocked-gif-529-16641-hd-wallpapers

And THEN we found out the nature of the relationship between the very nice folks with tails and the rather suspicious folks with tails and I was like:

Shocked

Are you KIDDING ME?! And then the rest of the story came out and I was like:

Love-and-Other-DrugsSo basically, The Sparrow shocked, appalled, and ripped me to pieces. And I liked it! The hype is well-deserved, kids! Mary Doria Russeel is the real deal. Big thanks to Trish for putting this party together!

Let’s talk, Bookworms! What’s the last supremely well-plotted book you read?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will NOT be using it to attempt contact with alien life forms, unless I can be assured that they’re only the NICE FOLKS WITH TAILS.*

 

Divider

Sep 15

The Sparrow Readalong Halfway Point

Readalong, Religion, Science 14

Take Me To Your Leader, Bookworms!

I know, I know. Cheap alien joke. I work with what I’ve got stored in the ol’ gray matter, and sometimes that ain’t much. Terrible jokes aside, today marks the halfway check in point for The Sparrow Readalong hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. I love Trish, and not just because she uses the Oxford common in her blog title (but let’s face it, that doesn’t hurt!) I’m actually on track with my reading, a fact which shocks me. So. How is it going so far?

sparrow-Readalong

The Sparrow started out kind of slowly for me. I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps it was just fatigue? Once I got rolling though, I was hooked. I can’t put it down. I hit the halfway point after midnight and forced myself to get some sleep. It was a work night, for heaven’s sake!  I NEED TO KNOW what happened on the mission! I NEED TO KNOW what becomes of the crew! I NEED TO KNOW if certain romantic tensions ever boil over! I also want to have dinner with Anne and George. Anne is easily my favorite character so far. She’s spunky and fun, smart and cynical.

I’m finding all the Jesuit stuff rather fascinating, too. I typically avoid discussing religion because it always turns into A THING, but having been raised Catholic, I’m connecting with this story in ways I didn’t expect. Characters are having crises of faith all over the place and I just want to jump into the pages and give them hugs! It’s refreshing because though the religious aspects are presented with a hefty dose of skepticism, I haven’t found it to be disrespectful. Irreverent, maybe, but never mean-spirited. Some of the lines are downright cracking me up, too, especially when the characters get all philosophical. Here’s one of the many reasons I love me some Anne:

Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before, and most of them had simply missed a dose of Thorazine.

Seriously, how could I not be loving this book? I can’t wait to tackle the rest of this bad boy. I’ll be in touch with a wrap up post in a couple of weeks.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Do you ever start a book slowly only to have it grow on you like gangbusters?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

Divider

May 23

Good Omens, Dogma, and Nostalgia

Coming of Age, Fantasy, Humor, Mythology, Personal, Religion 43

Salutations Bookworms!

I recently finished reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s been on my radar for a while, but I only now got around to giving it a go. Gaiman and Pratchett are both well known authors of the quirky variety, so it seems natural that they teamed up, especially given the cheeky and irreverent nature of the subject matter…

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

So, Heaven and Hell are operating as usual, what with the demons trying to make human life difficult and the angels trying to influence things the other direction. One day, Satan gets all antsy and decides to pull a Rosemary’s Baby by sending the fruit of his loins onto the earth to bring about Armageddon. Thanks to an order of Satanist nuns (who attempt to be as loud as possible to differentiate themselves from other nuns who take vows of silence… Very contrary, Satanists), there’s a bit of a mix up in the hospital. Satan’s spawn is sent home to grow up with an unsuspecting set of parents while a mortal baby is raised in pretty bizarre circumstances. Satanist nannies do their best to influence “Warlock” to embrace his evil, while the angels keep sticking their noses in to try and make him overcome his nature. Obviously their efforts are in vain, as baby Warlock is in possession of no supernatural capabilities.

While the forces of good and evil play a celestial chess game with a frustratingly mortal child, Adam, the ACTUAL demon spawn, is left to grow up like any other human. The only angels and devils perched on his shoulders are purely metaphorical. One angel and one demon in particular (Aziraphale and Crowley, respectively) play an especially important role in bringing about the end of the world, but they’ve become rather disenchanted with the idea of a celestial battle. While Aziraphale and Crowley have been growing weary, War, Famine, Pollution, and Death (the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, of course, Pestilence having retired following the discovery of penicillin) have been gearing up for the end of days. Despite the best intentions of both Heaven and Hell, neither side is particularly well prepared for Armageddon thanks to humanity fouling things up. You try plotting world destruction when your minions are unreliable!

Conflicted!

The Devil and Angel on my shoulders!

To be completely honest (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) Good Omens left me feeling lukewarm. I can’t discuss this book without bringing up Dogma. In 1999, Kevin Smith and his merry band of misfits put together a movie that was heavily influenced by Good Omens, though not a movie version of the book. Gaiman was instrumental in helping Smith craft his tale, and is thanked in the credits. I knew Good Omens and Dogma were in cahoots, but I was disappointed to find out that the story was completely different. I mean, sure. Heaven, Hell, Armageddon, creatures from another realm of existence doing battle- that was all there. But some of the elements that really drew me to the movie like heckling organized religion and giving a little spin on the family history of Jesus were absent in this book. My connection to Dogma is polluted by nostalgia. That movie came out when I was in high school, and Kevin Smith offered just the right combination of humor, intelligence, and bad language to make watching his movies as a teen a safe way to rebel while not getting into any ACTUAL trouble. (Appreciating humor at the expense of established cultural norms does not represent my feelings on religion in any way, so please don’t think that I’m being disrespectful. I simply enjoy revisionist takes on history- biblical and otherwise.)

I recently read somewhere that people who don’t read The Catcher in The Rye as a teenager will never appreciate it properly, and I think this might be the case with me and Good Omens. What about you, Bookworms? Have you ever (gasp) liked a movie better than a book? Were you ashamed to admit it?

Divider

Apr 19

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley… And Katie's Phobias

Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Family, Psychological, Religion 42

Have you heard the good news, Bookworms?

Have I ever told you about my intense, paralyzing fear of religious cults? The Children of the Corn is the most terrifying movie I have ever seen. I have absolutely no intention of ever reading the book, because that would be giving the creepy preacher kid permission inhabit and chew up my soul. When I saw that I’d been pre-approved for Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley on Netgalley (yes, boys and girls, that means I got another free book!) I was concerned, but like the proverbial curious cat, I couldn’t stop myself from giving it a whirl.

Amity & Sorrow is a novel about a woman named Amaranth who escapes a polygamous religious cult with her two daughters. Her elder daughter is named Sorrow, and believes herself a vessel of holiness and a prophet. Her younger daughter, Amity, is a 12 year old girl who is trying to make sense of her life’s upheaval.

amity&sorrow

Their wrists are strapped together because Sorrow has had too much of the metaphorical kool-aid and is a flight risk…

A little about this cult. This is NOT a fundamentalist Mormon sect, thought that’s certainly what I typically associate with polygamy and prairie dresses.  It appears the patriarch Zachariah originally hailed from such a society, and he’s borrowing some of their traditions to create his own little world. Most notable is that instead of this being a community, it is a SINGLE family (if you’re interested in some fiction about a fundamentalist Mormon sect, check out The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff .) Zachariah is the ONLY husband in a community of FIFTY wives and twenty seven children. There are no elders, organization, or other men (over the age of 16.) Every time Zachariah takes on a new wife, every wife watches him ceremonially consummate his union with the new wife (this part reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale.) Now. I am all for freedom of religion. But making your 49 wives watch you get busy with the new one? That can’t be good for anyone. The cops get wind that in addition to the many. many wives, there is something untoward going on with one or more of the underage children. (SPOILER ALERT- there is.) But polygamy isn’t Zachariah’s only passion. He’s also CONVINCED that doomsday is nigh. When the authorities close in? The temple goes up in flames.

BUT! Amaranth escapes the flames with her daughters in tow. Unfortunately, she totals their getaway car in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle and has to throw herself on the mercy of an unsuspecting farmer. Sure, it will be difficult for them to adjust, but they’ll be okay now, right? A farm’s a good spot for people who are used to an agrarian lifestyle to rebuilt their lives, right? Maybe it would have been, if Sorrow wasn’t so FREAKING CRAZY. That cult and her father did a NUMBER on her and she’s just not stable. Not even a little. She is manipulative and cruel and violent and a bit of a pyromaniac.

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.)

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.) Source

Amaranth is an emotional mess because once she’s removed from the cult she sees just how horrifically it has affected her daughters. My dear sweet anti-cult LORD, the girls CANNOT READ! (This also reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale, but Offred is smart enough not to like it…) It doesn’t really help Sorrow’s decent into madness that her mother decides to spend some quality naked time with Bradley the kindly farmer, but nothing short of intense psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs could really have helped Sorrow.

Sound crazy? It is! It was a tough read for me, subject matter wise, because, cults are my personal phobia (that and swimming in fish infested water…) The story sucks you in, and it certainly got to me. I gasped aloud at several points, much like a coached live studio audience at a sitcom taping (do they do casting calls for audience members? Because I’m REALLY good at the gasp, and the giggle. I’d even throw in a catcall if the need arose…) I understood the characters’ motivations, even if I wanted to inject them with tranquilizers have them committed. I don’t know that I would recommend this to everybody, because it’s got a lot of disturbing elements, but the crowd that enjoys tales of psychological trauma will eat this up. You want something to get under your skin? Amity & Sorrow just might me the book for you!

(PSA: It could seriously upset people who have suffered physically or psychologically at the hands of an oppressive religious group, and it’s probably NOT a good idea for survivors of rape and/or incest.)

So, Bookworms. I am very interested in hearing about YOUR phobias so I don’t feel all vulnerable and whatnot. Share with me. What are some of your greatest fears?

Divider

Nov 12

Have a Little Faith in Me: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Book Club, Family, Religion 19

This month’s book club for Wine and Whining took place on election night. Our regular venue was inundated with political cocktail parties… Which was annoying. Our venue is normally a terrible open mike night we hide from in a back room while drinking wine and eating desserts. Plus, it’s not like anyone could DO anything except watch voter returns with like 2% of the vote in. See? Whining!

Anyway. The book we read for this month was Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (oh you like Jodi Picoult? Check out my review of Plain Truth HERE.) From what I could hear over the blare of the bad open mike night, the din of political schmoozing, and the chatter of impecibly coiffed political analysts, it seems that we all agreed on this book (a fairly rare occurrence, I assure you.)

It was great! The novel starts off with us following a somewhat neurotic stay-at-home-mom named Mariah. She builds dollhouses and tiny furniture in her spare time (which CLEARLY is not a pastime you’d expect out of a laid back sort of lady.) She’s married to a traveling salesman named Colin and they have a 7 year old daughter named Faith. Mariah has a history of depression (and really, who doesn’t?) so she copes by keeping her life in methodical order. Each day has its assigned duties, and everything is orderly. Everything is orderly, that is, until she and Faith arrive home during an unscheduled leotard emergency (seriously, is anything involving leotards NOT an emergency?) and catch Colin in a compromising position with another woman.

Mariah crumbles and calls her mom in for backup. Millie arrives and takes care of Faith while Mariah gets back on her meds and spends a week crying in bed. Colin initiates a quickie divorce and takes off to Vegas to marry his newly pregnant mistress. He’s not exactly the best person in the world. Things start to get a little hairy back on the home front when Faith develops a relationship with an imaginary friend she refers to as her “guard.” Mariah was raised Jewish, Colin was raised Christian, but Faith was raised without religion of any kind.

Which is why it gets pretty crazy when her “guard” turns out to be “God.” Faith starts spontaneously healing people and suffering from stigmata. Yep. Stigmata. The literal manifestation of the wounds of Christ. I googled an image of Stigmata, but they were all really disturbing, so I’m saving you some gore here. Also, most of the Stigmata sufferers in google images are Catholic priests and nuns. But Faith? She is a little kid who has ZERO concept of the story of the crucifixion, resurrection, saints, martyrs, or any of the trappings of a Judeo-Christian up-bringing. This fact actually works to her advantage in helping her doctors and therapists  believe the unbelievable. A child from a highly religious household quoting bible verses isn’t really cause for concern… From a kid who’s never SEEN a bible, it’s a bit different. It’s a lot less likely to be a mental disorder and more likely to be… Real.

Enter Ian Fletcher. Ian is a sort of reverse televangelist. He’s like… Mythbusters on religious happenings… Otherwise known as a total buzz kill for the faithful. Colin eventually returns from Vegas and realizes there’s a media circus surrounding his daughter. He decides to sue for custody. I’ve read four Picoult novels now, and every one of them involves a court battle. If you have a violent hatred of lawyers or despise Law & Order, you might want to steer clear of her work. Just a little public service announcement.

Jamie and Adam can sniff out phonies. With science!

I don’t want to be the queen of spoilers, but I will tell you that by the end of the book Faith’s visions seem to have abandoned her. I’m certainly no expert in religious phenomena, but, you know, every reasonably knowledgeable Catholic-raised human knows a few stories of saintly happenings. The Virgin Mary is particularly fond of appearing to children and giving them messages. Unfortunately, celestial visions typically are a short term thing. It’s not like the kids from Fatima got to hang out with Mary every day for the rest of their lives. It’s really up to the reader to interpret Faith’s experiences. Was she really being guided by God? Was she faking it all? Was some other explanation of the events plausible? I myself felt pretty darned warm and fuzzy at the end of this book. The way the story played out gave me a little boost in “faith.”

So Bookworms, let’s be all controversial-like. When presented with the latest instance of Jesus appearing in toast crust or spontaneous healings, are you more the pilgrim type or the skeptic type? Let’s discuss!

Divider

Oct 31

Books That Scare Me: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Dystopian, Religion, Women's Studies 39

Happy Halloween, Bookworms! Today we’re going to discuss one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book combines several of my biggest fears. First, I have an irrational fear of cult activity. I’m ALL ABOUT freedom of religion… Until your religion tries to take over a government. I also fear those who would take my autonomy. I know that it sounds ridiculous in 2012 to think any American male would seek to take away my right to vote, own property, or… read. Frankly though, that isn’t true the world over.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in the USA after a militant Christian group seizes power from the government. Actually, they sort of show up and machine-gun Congress… (I would absolutely not take this book as an attack on Christianity… It’s an attack on theocracy of any kind, but given Atwood’s audience she wisely assumed that biblical references would be most familiar.)  This story is told from the point of view of Offred. Offred was once a typical American woman. She was married with a child and had a career and money of her own. It’s never really explained how it came to be, but it’s strongly implied that something (perhaps radiation?) has rendered a large portion of the female population infertile. Once the cult government takes over, they sift out the “fruitful” females and assign them to “deserving” men as handmaids. Any of you read my review on The Red Tent? The idea behind “handmaids” is Old Testament. Jacob has two official wives, Rachel and Leah. Rachel has trouble conceiving, and sometimes Leah just gets tired of popping out babies. Their solution is to bring on “handmaids” to conceive children in their stead. Like… rent-a-uterus. So the righteous yet infertile women get to have husbands and raise families… But the handmaids are the ones who actually have to birth the children… And suffer through the super creepy copulation ritual Atwood outlines. Gross. (Although, really, it’s sad for the “righteous” women too. They sure as heck aren’t fond of the copulation ritual either.)

The Handmaids are also required to wear a bizarre red costume and a weird white wimple. I guess peripheral vision is also off limits.

Offred and the other handmaids in this tale are stripped of their names, their identities, their possessions, and their families. Literally, their names are changed from things like “Katie” and “Sandy” and “Lauren” to Of-insert-husband-here. So like, assuming my weasely husband was my “master,” I’d no longer be Katie, but Ofjim.  They are treated as breeding stock and denied even the right to READ. Literally. The handmaids are in charge of some of the market duties and the new society has gone so far as to replace shop signs with pictograms to keep women from reading. KEEPING WOMEN FROM READING!!!  The horror!!!

Thanks, Margaret Atwood, Children of the Corn hadn’t quite scared me enough. Just add the scariest cult EVER to the mix. Margaret Atwood is a completely amazing writer, and also Canadian. Politically, at least from my limited (seriously limited, I hate politics) understanding, Canada tends to be a bit more liberal policy-wise than the USA. I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that Atwood is quite liberal ideologically either.  In fact, there’s mention in the book of an “underground female-road,” that spirits oppressed women from “Gilead” into Canada. Don’t worry, Ms. Atwood, I’m not offended that you made my home country into a scary dystopia. The book was too awesome to take offense. Anyway, this book was written in the 80s and Atwood was freaked out by the rise of the televangelist, who are often quite traditional when it comes to women’s roles. I can’t really blame her for being a little afraid of televangelists. I find Jack Van Impe quite frightening, myself.

People listen to that guy. They like send him money and believe him when he says ‘robits’ will bring about the end times…

This post is not about politics though. It’s not about religion either. I’m also not saying that televangelists want to machine-gun Congress and impose theocratic rule. I’m totally NOT CONDEMNING anyone’s universal right to believe in what they hold to be true… Unless what they hold to be true means that I don’t get to read, because I’m NOT okay with that. Seriously NOT OKAY with that. (Apologies to anyone who reads this who happens to love Jack Van Impe. You’re entitled. It’s just he makes funny faces that make for amusing screen caps. And he pronounces “robot” funny. I have a very animated face as well. It’s a good thing I’m not on TV.)

Have any of you bookworms read The Handmaid’s Tale? What did you think of it?

Divider

Oct 16

Mythology vs. Technology: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy, Mythology, Religion, Supernatural 14

Howdy Bookworms! I think you should know that I’m highly susceptible to marketing tactics. Also, highly susceptible to suggestion… From people I admire, anyway. When The Bloggess talks about how amazing an author is and I’ve never read any of said author’s work, I take action. The Bloggess is a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan, so I decided that I needed to read one of his books. If you keep up with cinema (which I do not, but I knew this anyway) you’ll recall a few years back there was a movie released called Coraline. Neil Gaiman wrote that. He apparently writes books for all ages, so I went to his website, picked one of the books targeted toward an adult audience, and promptly bought it on Amazon. (Hey marketing people, I’m your target audience! Send me free stuff, yo!)

Seeing that it’s October and Halloween is right around the corner, American Gods is a festive choice. It’s all supernatural and stuff. The premise of the story is that as immigrants came to America they brought their gods, demons, and superstitions with them. And we’re not just talking Ellis Island immigrants. We’re talking like Ice Age immigrants. All the immigrants ever. These gods, demons, fairies, and whatnot became literal manifestations as they were brought to this new land. There’s like leprechauns hanging around getting into bar brawls and pulling gold coins out of thin air. Unfortunately for the supernatural types, they feed on the belief of people… And in the modern day US, there aren’t too many people making blood sacrifices to Odin.

I googled Odin. He rocks an eye patch. Now Pirate Dog has someone to look up to.

Our protagonist is a recently paroled convict named Shadow. Shadow is released from prison after serving a three year sentence only to learn that his wife was killed in a car accident… And had been having an affair with his best friend. Harsh. When Shadow is approached by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and offered a job as an errand boy, he’s really got nothing to lose.

Mr. Wednesday is trying to rally the old school gods to battle the new school. The new school gods include manifestations of the internet, telephone, media, etc. As people moved their faith from mythological figures to technology, the gods have lost their influence and power. They’re starved for belief.

This is Eostre, Celtic goddess of rebirth and spring and stuff. Her name and festival got all smushed together with Easter so she manages to stay fat and happy even though people don’t realize they’re celebrating her. (Don’t get riled up. Students of history must realize that in order for the world to accept Christianity, early missionaries drew an awful lot of comparisons between monotheism and pagan traditions. That’s just a fact, y’all.)

Shadow’s journey introduces us to Norse mythology, ancient Egyptian traditions, Hindu deities, African gods, Celtic folklore, Arabic demons, and Native American history- and that’s just the beginning. There are twists and turns and cons and mysteries. There’s even a good portion of Shadow’s tale where he meanders through Illinois, pointing out all the ridiculous town names. (I totally dug the shout outs to Peru, El Paso, and Cairo… Because Illinois is more than just Chicago, y’all. There’s also a bunch of farm towns that share their names with other famous places!)

The story is long and involved, and I think giving you a blow by blow account would be doing you a disservice. (That, and my brain hurts so I don’t feel like writing up a whole synopsis.) If you like Tim Burton movies, mythology, or supernatural books, I highly recommend American Gods. 

Divider

Sep 18

Don't Let the Bonnet Fool You: Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

Mystery, Religion 15

I read a lot, obviously,  but I also watch a lot of television. I’m only human. Sometimes I watch cheesy reality television. My latest fascination has been Amish: Out of Order on the National Geographic channel. It’s a reality show about a bunch of people who have left the Amish and are trying to adjust to life in the outside world.

I’ve read a few novels by Jodi Picoult, but my favorite by far has been Plain Truth. It’s about an Amish community being shaken by a shocking crime. As I’m watching my Amish reality show, I find myself saying things like “Ah yes, Rumsrpinga.” Or “listen to their odd accents- they speak a particular dialect of German in addition to English, and due to their seclusion it has morphed into nearly its own language entirely…” Clearly I am an expert in all things Amish thanks to Jodi Picoult (I’m not an expert in anything, but I did learn a lot from this book.)

Don’t let the bonnet fool you. That Katie Fisher is a sinner, yo.

Plain Truth centers on an Amish girl named Katie (I swear this is not the only reason I like this book.) Katie is 18 and unmarried, but appears to have given birth in a barn (a colossal no-no in Amish-ville. They know good and well how babies are made, and shenanigans of that kind are NOT okay amongst the unmarried.) The baby is later discovered by a farmhand, dead. The cause of death is unclear.

It’s difficult for me to write this review without making it a mess of spoilers, and I like this book enough to not want to ruin it for anyone. I’m going to try to focus the Amish-ness of it all instead of spoiling all the saucy bits for you. Not only is it incredibly rare for an Amish girl to get pregnant out of wedlock, Katie appears to have no memory of the conception or birth. That certainly doesn’t help her case when she’s put on trial for the murder of the newborn. It throws the whole community into a tizzy, because the Amish are also devout pacifists. A murder charge?! Against an Amish girl?! Inconceivable!

All I really knew about the Amish before I read this is that they were a quaint religious sect who didn’t use electricity and built high quality cabinetry. I mean, most people know that the Amish dress differently, they drive horse buggies instead of cars, and they make gorgeous quilts, but I don’t think most of the world really pays attention to the religion itself. It can be beautiful and incredibly harsh all at the same time. The Amish are a very peaceful people- they don’t participate in violence and are very focused on the health of their overall community. It’s also a very simple way of life, so it sounds idyllic when you’re up to your elbows in credit card statements and emails.

It has a darker side as well. School is not allowed beyond the 8th grade, which makes it very difficult for those who leave to find gainful employment. Many sects shun those who choose to leave the religion. Like for real. Hardcore shunning. You decide to leave the church and you’re completely disowned by your family and the only life you’ve ever known. You can’t even go home for Christmas. Can you even imagine how much that would suck? No matter how jacked your family is, they’re still your family. Only now, they’re forbidden to talk to you, because you’re going to hell. Way harsh. (The Catholic guilt complex has nothing on Amish shunning. I’m just saying.)

Jodi Picoult takes you into this world through the eyes of an outsider, Katie’s lawyer. The lawyer comes out to the farm to live with the family while working on the case. Eventually, we get to the bottom of Katie’s story. How she came to meet an outsider. How she became pregnant. How she was confused and in denial about the whole process. What really happened to that baby in the barn.

Like I said, I don’t want to ruin the ending, but there are quite a few twists, turns, and discoveries made through the course of this novel. Courtroom drama isn’t normally my thing, but I was so enthralled learning about Amish culture that the Law and Order rigamarole didn’t phase me. It’s definitely worth the read. If you’re looking for something a little different (and you haven’t been reading a bunch of Jodi Picoult, because she can get a wee bit formulaic…) give it a shot!

Divider

Aug 30

Badass & Biblical: The Red Tent

Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 25

Yesterday I wrote about Pope Joan, and I’m feeling theme-y, so let’s continue with the historical fiction/women in religion vein, shall we? The Red Tent by Anita Diamant tells the story of Dinah. Who is Dinah? Yes, that is the name of Alice in Wonderland’s cat, but more importantly, Dinah was in the Bible. I grew up Catholic, so it’s with great shame that I admit that the bulk of my knowledge about Dinah’s family history I learned from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “It’s all there in chapter 39 of Geeeenesis”… (We saw it in Chicago with Donnie Osmond playing Joseph when I was like 11. Then my mom played the soundtrack in the car constantly until the cassette was eaten. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a genius, yo.)

The woman on the cover reminds me of the Statue of Liberty for some reason. I have issues.

Striking a chord yet? Jacob is the patriarch of a ginormous family that includes 2 wives, 2 handmaidens (women who bear children when the wives cannot), 12 sons, and one daughter. Dinah is that daughter. The Red Tent is told from Dinah’s point of view. We get to experience the cameraderie of the “red tent” (literally where all the women in the compound hang out to menstruate) and learn of the women’s relationships in the polygamist family. Since Dinah is the only female child, she’s allowed to spend time in the red tent long before she’s “of age” and is adored by her various mothers.

In the bible, Dinah only gets a couple of lines of recognition. Her lines go something like this.. She marries (or is forcibly taken as a wife- the Biblical text is unclear) Prince Shechem who does not worship the God of Abraham and her family (as you may predict) FLIPS OUT.

Shechem tries to make amends by offering Dinah’s family a bride price fit for royalty (isn’t it wonderful to see women bought and sold like chattel? Of course, her brothers DID sell Joseph into slavery out of jealousy, so…) Shechem also agrees to be circumcised (and volunteers his men for the same treatment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t enough  to placate her brothers, so while all the men of Hamor are distracted by the pain of their newly shorn genitals, Dinah’s brothers show up and slaughter all the men in town. How civilized of them!

In this version of her story, she falls madly in love with Shechem and is absolutely devastated by her brothers’ murderous rampage. We follow her through the aftermath, and the trials that follow. She leads a heck of a life!

This book is wonderful. Historical fiction at its best. Is there a woman out there who hasn’t wished during an especially bad bought of cramps that she could just retire from society for a few days? Who wouldn’t want a metaphorical Red Tent? The one in this book had a lot of wine in it! So my worms, take a chance and read Dinah’s story. You won’t be sorry!

Have you ever felt like a footnote in your family? Did your brother have a famous musical written about him that you weren’t even IN?! Let’s talk about it!

Divider

Aug 29

Pope Joan: More Than Myth?

Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 13

I was a women’s studies minor in college, and as our final project, we had to write a research paper on… anything to do with being a woman. Pretty broad topic, right? I had just finished reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and I was completely obsessed with the idea that women may have been written out of important roles in the Bible. I set about writing my research paper on the subject. My results were inconclusive and random. It’s a fascinating subject-but it’s unbelievably frustrating to try and research anything to do with the Bible. I don’t even know how old the Old Testament is-several thousand years? There is no way to corroborate facts or compare accounts or even find reliable primary resources from that long ago. My grand dreams of unearthing some previously overlooked tidbit to piece together the absolute truth of religion and humanity ended with a wimper.

There’s a silver lining, though! My women’s studies professor, Dr. Stacey Robertson (who is awesome and writes books and can be found here) presented each graduating senior with a book. Because I had been so enthused about my research project, despite turning up no spectacular insights, she presented me with Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.

Pope Joan! Joan of Arc! If you want your daughter to be noted in the annals of Christian history, you’d better name her Joan!

Pope Joan is based on a legend widely accepted during the middle ages that a woman disguised as a man somehow rose through the religious ranks and became Pope. You are taken on Joan’s journey from her poverty stricken childhood to the halls of Rome. At a young age she demonstrates a particular aptitude for learning and is taken under the wing of a rogue tutor in spite of the commonly held belief that girls should not be educated. We follow Joan through school, through a Viking battle (seriously- marauding Vikings!), through her stay in a monastery, and all the way to her work as a priest/physician in Rome.

Joan is eventually elected as Pope, and is only exposed as a woman when she gives birth during a procession through the streets. You read that correctly. She takes a lover, gets pregnant, and OOPS gives birth in the middle of the street. The birth also kills her (so ladies, don’t get any ideas.) It makes for enthralling historical fiction, but could it be true?

The middle ages are nearly as bad as biblical times for digging up reliable resources, so historians mostly dismiss the story of Pope Joan as a legend. What historians agree on, however, is that for centuries the Vatican and much of the population BELIEVED the story to be true. Supposedly, there was even a special chair used during medieval papal coronation proceedings with a keyhole shape in the seat used to check the newly elected Pope’s genitalia. (Lest they suffer another embarrassing birthing episode mid-parade.) If you watch The Borgias on Showtime, you’ll have seen this chair in action. You’ll also have heard Jeremy Irons bellow “LECHERY” a lot, which is awesome.

Personally, I think it would have been entirely possible for a woman to have lived as a man in a monastery. People in the dark ages didn’t exactly bathe often, and bulky brown robes don’t accentuate one’s figure. I think a woman who wanted to learn may have seen a life as a monk as her only option. Convents at this time were hit or miss on allowing the education of their sisters, so taking the male route through religious education would have been a more secure plan. While I have no doubt that there were women who did fly under the radar and join monasteries and the like, I don’t think there ever was ACTUALLY a female Pope. The giving birth during a public procession bit smacks of “cautionary tale.”

But hey- this is historical fiction! That’s what makes it so much fun- taking history and making it pop! I love this book- I feel like it writes women back into a religious tradition that has largely written them out. I know this review sounds kind of controversial, but seriously give this book a chance. You won’t be sorry! What about you, bookworms? Do you think it’s possible that there was ever a female pope? I’m open to theories!

Divider