Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong

When she was 17, Karen entered the religious life in preparation for being a nun. Seven years later, she left with lots of baggage and some of her own instability. “My years as a nun had somehow made me unfit for the world, had broken something within me, and now I seemed unable to put myself together again….I felt that I was a soft, mollusklike, hopelessly vulnerable creature who needed a thick shell in order to survive, and I was learning to use words to create this carapace.” Thus academia became another form of cloister for her. All of this is backdrop for her “climb out of darkness” which she does in her own distinct way. Karen Armstrong is an extraordinary person. Her writings about the world’s religions are profound and (unlike much academic writing) readable, and knowing this part of her story makes me thankful that she was able to push through her difficulties into light.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

There is nothing special about Ed Kennedy. He describes his unambitious self this way: "Taxi driver. Local loser. Cornerstone of mediocrity. Sexual midget. Pathetic card player." His accidentally heroic intervention in a botched bank robbery changes it all and he has to add to his self-description: "weird-shit magnet." Mysteriously, after the bank incident, a playing card arrives in the mail with three addresses on it. He feels compelled to pursue this unknown task, follows his hunches, and begins to carry "messages" to variously afflicted people, following the clues on the playing cards. And the story takes off from there. Redemption always comes in unpredictable ways, often refreshingly so. This book is a lot of fun. In addition to Australian slang, it's full of flamboyant metaphors: "my words land on my feet and slip off, to the grass...the days and nights come apart. I feel them corroding at the seams," and brief telepathic conversations with his dog named the Doorman. A bit of mysticism, an edgy Fight Club quality, and full of Stargirl heart. A dazzling read.