Dream Kitchen

This week’s other featured books, “Pie Man,” by John Surowiecki and “Unbinding Christianity,” by Jan Linn, can be found by scrolling down below this post. Or, click the author’s name on our Authors page.

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THE BOOK: Dream Kitchen.

PUBLISHED IN: 2019.

AUTHOR: Owen McLeod.

EDITOR: John Poch.

PUBLISHER: University of North Texas Press.

SUMMARY:A debut poetry collection that chronicles the rise and fall of romantic love, the struggle with mental illness and grief, and ultimately the quest for meaning and transcendence.

THE BACK STORY: In 2014, at the age of 47, I began writing poetry. To my amazement, the poems found homes in journals such as Ploughshares, New England Review, the Southern Review and many other places. It wasn’t long before I had a book-length poetry manuscript, which won the 2018 Vassar Miller Prize in poetry and was published in March 2019.

Image result for Owen McLeod poet + photographsWHY THIS TITLE: I think every writer’s mind is a sort of kitchen in which dreams are prepared or prayed for. At any rate, that’s the idea behind one of the book’s poems, Dream Kitchen, which seemed like a fitting title for the book itself. Plus, many of the poems in the book are surreal or dreamlike.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: I think contemporary poetry, for the most part, has abandoned the general reader spiritually, philosophically, and emotionally. I want challenging poems, of course, but not poems accessible only to academic poets and MFAs. I admire poems that display devotion to craft, as well as poems that test the limits of language and form, but what I crave most of all are revelatory poems with emotional punch and a grounding in everyday life. Anyway, that’s the sort of poem I strive to write.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

In Dream Kitchen, Plato, Socrates, and Stevens share space with Nerf balls, Goodwill shirts, and Exxon bathrooms; and of course they do, because there is room enough in this life, and room enough in these poems, for the high and low, the beautiful and terrible, the intimate and strange.” — Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones.

Owen McLeod’s Dream Kitchen is a debut of startling originality, alive with both the relentless sadness and unlikely beauty of strip-mall America. With an astronomer’s eye for detail, and a carnival barker’s sense for the uncanny and absurd, his darkly funny poems grieve for what we lose, even as they pulse with the fantastic. Formally and tonally dexterous, his poems range from a lovelorn magic realism to philosophical inquiry grounded in the gritty details of contemporary America, with the comic ghost of Stevens presiding.” — Mark Wagenaar, author of Voodoo Inverso.

Philosophical and funny and openhearted enough to read the world as a poem, Dream Kitchen is an astonishing book. These are poems for real people who live in real places. They look you in the eye and shake their heads with rueful humor. They hunger for the impossibility of intimacy. They offer risk and wit, and the occasional surreal moments, not for the sake of strangeness, but from a close and tender looking at the world.”  — Michael Bazzett, author of Interrogation and translator of The Popol Vuh.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Owen McLeod is a studio potter and a professor of philosophy at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. His poems have found homes in Field, Massachusetts Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Sun, and elsewhere. His debut collection, Dream Kitchen, won the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry and was published in March 2019. For more information, please visit www.owenmcleodpoetry.com.

Limited Preview:

https://books.google.com/books?id=i3mSDwAAQBAJ&pg=PP4&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, etc.

PRICE: $10.49

Pie Man

THE BOOK: Pie Man.

PUBLISHED IN: 2017.

THE AUTHOR: John Surowiecki

THE EDITOR: Dr. James Brubaker.

THE PUBLISHER: Southeast Missouri State University Press, Cape Girardeau, MO.

SUMMARY: On his seventh birthday, Adam Olszewski tries to leave his family’s house, but can’t. Although the protagonist of the story that follows this unusual state of affairs is young Adam, the fact is he has little to say in it. The narrative is provided by a number of other people: his father, his tutor, his doctor, his neighbors in the Connecticut city where the Olszewskis reside, and a few of the immigrant workers employed by his mother’s Pie Man pie business.

Pie Man (Nilsen Prize for a First Novel Winner)Throughout the novel Adam is a mystery, the subject of rumors and gossip among his neighbors. He will not leave his bedroom, let alone his house, believing that the house is alive and needs him. More than that, he believes that he and the house are the same living entity, and that to walk an inch outside its purview will result in immediate and painful death.

Pie Man explores Adam’s education and coming of age as an island adrift in a humble working-class neighborhood. Eventually Adam’s world begins to expand through his mother’s pie-making business and as he observes the world outside his window. Pie Man is about community (the neighborhood changes ethnically over the course of the story), but it’s also about what’s normal. As Michael Downs put it: the novel is “a reminder that the greatest act of love is to make room for people who are strange and inexplicable.”

Pie Man was the winner of the 2017 Nilsen Prize for a First Novel.

THE BACK STORY: When I was growing up in Meriden, CT, a Polish immigrant family moved in next door. There was a rumor that the young son was a hermit who never left his house. I tried to look for him in one of the windows, but without success. I never knew if the boy ever existed, but the idea stayed with me and intrigued me all those years. Maybe that I’m a bit of a hermit myself could be part of my fascination.

WHY THIS TITLE? Adam’s mother makes fabulous pies and starts her own little business in her kitchen making pies for small grocery stores and other retail places. She calls her business Pie Man Pies (after the child’s poem), but neighborhood kids think it’s Adam who makes the pies. They start calling him Pie Man, even though Adam keeps to himself in his room as his mother and her immigrant helpers make all the pies. The business eventually is a success and the irony of Adam’s upstairs isolation and his mother’s booming business downstairs soon becomes apparent.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? It’s a novel of voices so the narrative landscape changes a lot and the reader, one hopes, is less likely to lose interest. Narrators include: Adam’s father, a chief mechanic at an Aircraft company; Adam’s tutor who becomes his best friend and is quite a card; his neighbor who’s movie-star beautiful and returns from a failed journey to California; a Pie Man worker who imagines she’s seen Adam and invades his room; an intellectually precocious neighbor who befriends Adam; and many others. It’s also a biography of a neighborhood and how it changes ethnically and otherwise over a span of fifty years. And it’s a comment on our future. One day Adam’s father, Adam’s friend and Adam are talking about the future (Adam is behind the closed door to his room). The father and friend say the future will be inhabited with people who have plenty of leisure time, who are super-brainy, etc. Adam says no. The future will be inhabited by people like him, hermits, secluded, isolated. In Pie Man, reclusion is also a metaphor for what we are becoming.

REVIEW COMMENTS

The narrators are humble people of post-World War II America, working in local factories and restaurants and other establishments. These characters are as vivid as the novel’s protagonist, their interior lives just as fascinating and expressed in often passionate riffs.” James Coleman

John Surowiecki gives the reader more than a life, He’s shown how one life touches others and how others touch one life.” Michael Downs.

In focusing on this second generation immigrant family and the successful home-based business called Pie Man Pies, Surowiecki adroitly dramatizes a profusion of sometimes wrenching, sometimes comic, often exhilarating scenes.” John Wenke.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up in Meriden, Connecticut, a city once famous for its silverware industry (it’s called Silverton in Pie Man). Both my parents were factory workers and bartenders (my father claimed he once served Judy Garland). I received my BA in English from the University of Connecticut in 1966 and my MA in 1976 (I am, alas, a PhD dropout). I’ve worked as a journalist, copywriter, teacher, hotel reservation manager, encyclopedia salesman (one day), creative director, freelance writer, waiter, bus boy, filmmaker. I have two children (Vanessa, a former union organizer, and John Edward, a musician) and three grandsons: Jerzy, Edward Stanislaus, and Ishmael. My wife, Denise, is a retired attorney and an avid and tireless supporter of my work. Pretty boring, huh?

 

AUTHOR COMMENTS: This book has a lot of autobiographical material, but it’s not about me. I hate memoirs.Pie Man is mostly a work of imagination and observation.

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

The narrator of this chapter is Beatrice Targonski (known as Miss T.), Adam’s tutor, who take the job fresh out of college. In this chapter she describes a special part of Adam’s curriculum (he’s of high-school age here). As you can see she is very big on dashes.

Now and then I brought up reclusion as a seminar subject, beginning with the early Christian hermits, the Desert Fathers, St. Paul of Thebes, St. Jerome — all of whom had survived in the wilderness in part because of their belief in the purity of the human heart and the primacy of love. It was a lesson that resonated with Adam. He liked it that the ancient recluses were sources of radiance and compassion and spiritual good.

There was a difference, however. The Christian hermits felt dirtied by contact with human society — which just wasn’t the case with Adam. He wasn’t disgusted by the human condition. He wasn’t intolerant of human weakness or repulsed by human folly and stupidity. He was simply afraid of being outside his room — as if the air there was poisonous, as if we —the rest of the world — emanated deadly ultraviolet rays or something. He loved his parents, he liked me and he couldn’t get enough of Mrs. Wrobel next door and her movie stars, but there was something in the outside world that threatened him, promised to do him in — something so frightening, so dangerous, so terrible that he didn’t even like to talk about it — he never brought it up and he wouldn’t discuss it when I did. He said he had to live alone in his room. He seriously believed that the instant he left his room would start the short countdown to the end of his life.

His hero was Jeremy Bentham — the Hermit of Queen Square Place. Bentham wanted nothing less than to create a mathematics of happiness — felicific calculus — then redefine and rework the whole of civilization, basing it all on a single principle — the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

The idea delighted Adam — but, he said, it didn’t go far enough. It was, by definition, exclusionary. Someone’s good fortune would still be accompanied — in whole or in part — by someone else’s misfortune or loss. The Benthamic principle, he said, should be amended to: the greatest good for all — always.

Adam took to another of the hermit’s ideas — the panopticon, a Bentham-designed prison, semicircular in shape like a protractor — in which a single guard could oversee a large population of inmates in a single glance — and do so without being seen. I thought the design repulsive and inhumane, but Adam said I shouldn’t to think of it as a penal model — no one had ever built such a prison anyway — but as a model for his house and his life! The world might buzz around him, an enormous and complex hive — but he was always at its heart. He was always at the center of his own geography — the hermit of 7 Peru Street — all-seeing and unseen.

For Adam the world was what he saw through the rectangle of his bedroom window. I’m assuming this is true, of course, since I’ve never seen the inside of his bedroom — but I had imagined it and dreamed about it so often I felt as if I knew it as well as I knew my own room at home. I knew where his desk was, where he kept his pencils, where the bookshelf — built by Mr. O. when Adam was a boy — was and the TV and just about everything else.

Anyway, I’m deducing — or guessing — that the bottom of the window’s rectangle was taken up by a view of the property-defining wire fence — in the summer overrun with cucumber vines — and a small part of Mrs. Olszewska’s tomato garden. On the other side of the fence and — running through the middle of the window’s rectangle — was the walkway and, behind it, the pale blue cape owned by Mrs. Wrobel. She lived on the first floor while, over the years, renters occupied the second, mostly tired, unlucky, harmless old men whose wives had left them or who had never married — men who pumped gas or pushed brooms and walked down Peru Street with pints of Four Roses or Imperial in wrinkled twisted brown bags sticking out of their pockets — men who paid the rent on time and gave the neighborhood children gifts and candies, thunderstruck by their innocence and gawking at them as if they were angels or rare flowers.

The walkway began at Peru Street with a cement stairway and a right angle of privet hedge that defined Mrs. Wrobel’s modest front yard. The walkway continued as an easement through the Glowac property and ended at the Kosciuszko Club on Jefferson Street — the city’s main thoroughfare and a few blocks east of downtown. Only twenty or so feet wide, the walkway was owned by the K-Club to provide its members easy access to St. Paul’s Church — since a great many of the Club’s functions were Church-related — wedding and funeral receptions, breakfasts, fund-raising bazaars and the like. The walkway also gave neighborhood drunks easy access to the K-Club bar — and it wasn’t unusual on a warm, pleasant night for Adam, staring out his window, to watch the old men stagger home, singing love songs from the war or talking to invisible comrades. In the winter, after a big snowstorm, the neighborhood children would sled the entire length of the walkway — from Peru Street all the way to Jefferson Street. Sometimes the sledders went beyond the sidewalk and ended up in traffic on the thoroughfare, but this was only hearsay — the braggadocio of boys — I’ve heard them myself — returning with their sleds in tow, crowing about how fearless and reckless they had been and how close to death they had come, which neither Adam nor I believed for a second.

Through the far left of the window, Adam could see the front porch of the house owned by the Rocque’s — the noisiest of neighbors — plus he could probably see the duplex at the corner of Peru and Bolivia Streets, with the St. Paul’s spire behind it in the distance. He could also see the horse chestnut tree on Bolivia and most of Kozak’s market — located in the downstairs half of a two-story building. Mr. and Mrs. Kozak and their daughter, Wanda, lived in the cramped quarters upstairs and for years had been planning a move to the suburbs. Visible at the far right of the rectangle were Mrs. Wrobel’s backyard and a huge rhubarb patch — planted long ago by the late Mr. Wrobel — the Glowac’s mighty but mutilated oak and the crumbling stockade fence with it long gray spikes that the neighborhood children occasionally dislodged and used as spears.

OUTLETS: Probably the best way to buy it is directly through the publisher, Southeast Missouri StateUniversity Press, One University Plaza, MS 2650, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701.www.semopress.com.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: I guess Amazon.

PRICE: $18

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: You can reach me at j.surowiecki@sbcglobal.net

 

Unbinding Christianity

Image result for Jan Linn + author + photographsTHE BOOK: Unbinding Christianity: Choosing the Values of Jesus over the Beliefs of the Church.

PUBLISHED IN: 2020.

THE AUTHOR: Jan G. Linn.

THE EDITOR: Jeff Young.

THE PUBLISHER: Universal Publishers.

SUMMARY: Unbinding Christianity is a book that will be good news for some readers while stretching  others in uncomfortable ways. It begins with the premise that traditional Christian teaching is focused on right beliefs while the life and teachings of Jesus was all about right living. The book represents a fresh voice for Christians who struggle to accept traditional beliefs by assuring them that Jesus himself said much more about right values than he did right beliefs.

The goal of this book is to unbind Christianity from the wrappings of creeds, doctrines, dogma, and beliefs in order to make room for an understanding of what it means to be Christian defined by values that invites unity among Christians without the need for conformity of beliefs. One of the important by-products of this values-based Christianity is that it paves the way for Christians with different beliefs to find common ground with one another while also freeing them to build bridges of understanding with non-Christians.

THE BACK STORY: I think I started writing this book the moment I realized I did not believe many of the things I was told to believe growing up in the church. The fact that I was studying for the ministry caused more than a little inward unrest about what the church said and what I believed. All these years later I see that the inward struggle I experienced was instrumental in finding my own way as a persons of faith. Living among other scholars as a college and seminary faculty member gave me both support and permission to think about matters of faith and morals. I wrote this book to assure people who are drawn to Christianity, but cannot accept much of what the church says that they need not hesitate to question traditional beliefs and teachings. The church has sought conformity of belief and in return has driven people away. My book seeks to make the case for a Christianity that is better than that, bigger than that, and more inclusive than that.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The book’s title is a single statement that summarizes the thesis of the book.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Readers will discover a values based Christianity with which they resonate, but have not had words to express before now. For people who are not Christian, or not even religious, this book offers a view of Christianity that is open-minded, open-hearted, and open-ending, a faith that builds bridges between people rather than erecting barriers.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“If you have found it impossible to continue believing in some of the doctrines the church has taught to be essential and don’t know if you can continue being a Christian, Jan Linn offers some much needed guidance. He invites readers to think along with him as he makes distinctions between believing in doctrines and having value-enlivened belief, between being a Christian and being Christian. His message is that just because your integrity demands you give up on some traditional Christian ideas doesn’t mean you need to become a Christian dropout.” — The Rev. Craig Watts, D.Min, author of Bowing Toward Babylon.

“Unbinding Christianity is a thought-provoking argument for expansion of Christianity’s often employed litmus tests of inclusion and rejection. Jan Linn addresses this complex issue in a clear, concise, and easily accessible manner. A great read!” — Joshua Santana, Attorney-at-Law.

“This book is a wake-up call to all of us who choose to follow Jesus, a challenge for us to rethink what it truly means to be Christian. Jan Linn’s thesis is simple, yet profound—it is what we do on a daily basis, not what we believe, that is the core of “a Christian life.”
—Heather Cargill, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Jan G. Linn has served as chaplain and a member of the teaching faculty at Lynchburg College in Virginia, and was Professor of the Practice of Ministry at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky before giving up tenure to become co-pastor with his wife of a new church start in Minnesota. After fourteen years he retired to write fulltime. He is the author of eighteen books, and has a widely read blog, “Thinking Against The Grain,” at linnposts.com.

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

Why A Book Like This

I have written this book for anyone who is Christian, has been Christian, or for any number of reasons has an interest in Christianity. But it is written most especially for Christians who don’t believe everything the church has told them they should believe to be a Christian. My thesis is simple: You can be as Christian as anyone else without letting the church tell you what beliefs you must hold to qualify. I describe it as the difference between being Christian that is focused on living by the values Jesus lived and taught and being a Christian that is defined by “right” beliefs. This difference is about an understanding of Christianity that doesn’t dismiss Christian beliefs, but is free of the church wrapping Christianity into a small package of creeds, doctrines, dogma, and
right beliefs that has squeezed the life out of it for many people who cannot accept those beliefs as “gospel.”

The challenge as I see it is what I call the unbinding of Christianity that shifts its meaning from beliefs, creeds, and doctrines to the values Jesus actually talked about. There is a story in the gospel of John about a man named Lazarus who suddenly becomes ill and dies whose ending speaks directly to what I think Christianity desperately needs. Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived in a small town called Bethany a couple of miles from Jerusalem. When their brother dies, Mary and Martha send word to Jesus of what has happened. Staying in the region around the Jordan River where he had been teaching, for some unknown reason Jesus delays going to Bethany four days. By the time he arrives Lazarus had already been wrapped in grave clothes and placed in a tomb similar to the one in which Jesus himself would be placed after his crucifixion. Eventually Jesus goes with Mary and Martha to the tomb where, the story says, Jesus broke down and wept. He then instructs some men to roll the stone from the grave’s entrance, after which he surprises the crowd by calling Lazarus to come out. To
everyone’s astonishment Lazarus appears at the tomb’s entrance. Jesus immediately says to those gathered, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:1-44).

How ironic that all these centuries later the simple message of Jesus about how to be in the world without being of it needs to be set free of the wrappings of death much as Lazarus was. Not that the church’s statements of faith were intended to function as grave clothing, but I think that is precisely  what has happened. As a result, today’s Christianity is for all practical purposes a religion about Jesus while his own words about the values by which Christians can and should live have been pushed aside. What is more, the divisions that separate American Christians from one another today are largely rooted
in the fault lines of beliefs about Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, the future of the world, and the like. It often seems as if the church is determined to argue and fight over beliefs about Jesus rather than focusing on equipping people to live their lives the way he lived his.

Adding to the problem is that over the centuries church hierarchy has become less tolerant of dissent and more determined to exercise its authority and power to force conformity of belief. If you grew up in the church you were probably taught traditional Christian beliefs such as Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was God in the flesh, died for the sins of the world, was raised from the dead, and will one day return to judge the living and the dead. It is possible your church allowed you to question these beliefs, but it is more likely that you were told to accept them at face value. You may still be in a church that is saying this, or you may have dropped out for that very reason. What I hope this book will show you is that there is an alternative to this kind of Christianity that focuses on values instead of beliefs. Before we get there, though, let’s put our discussion in some historical context.

In significant ways the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was a successful challenge to a beliefs-based faith, but the diversity of beliefs it produced happened more unintentionally than intentionally, a by-product of freedom from church authority that had forced conformity of beliefs for centuries. While the door to theological diversity in today’s Catholic parishes is opened slightly, theological debate and disagreement is more prevalent within and among Protestant denominations and independent groups. This in fact is a major reason for Protestant splintering in the first place. It is why Christian beliefs themselves represent stunning diversity across and within denominational lines.

The upside is that modern Protestant Christians are exercising their right to think for themselves when it comes to matters of faith and morals rather than allowing a church or denomination to tell them what to believe. Instead of seeing this as something positive, though, many church leaders see this as a bad thing. If they happen to be in positions of authority, they often become quite defensive of the church’s right to define Christian beliefs everyone should embrace. I think this has been a major factor in the massive exodus from the church we have witnessed in the last forty plus years, and now we are seeing its effects on the credibility of Christianity itself.

I am not suggesting that there are no normative beliefs in Christianity, only that the  history and diversity of their development don’t justify using them as tests of faith or fellowship. They can serve as statements of faith, which interestingly enough was the original purpose of church creeds in the first place. Conformity of beliefs has never served Christianity well, mainly because it divides rather than unites Christians. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Christian faith is quite capable of being examined and challenged and re-evaluated, if it understands itself to be about values instead of beliefs.

I am not talking about a new Christianity. I am talking about the focus Christianity should have had in the first place. Religions promote specific beliefs, but my argument is that the words of Jesus make it abundantly clear that following him is about a particular way of living in the world. Not that the church doesn’t know this. It just chose to  emphasize right beliefs, in large part because right beliefs served the goal of establishing ecclesial authority that in turn helped maintain at least some control over what Christians believed. (In his argument for the value of creeds in the book, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters, Luke Timothy Johnson makes the point that the value and role of creeds has suffered from the way the church has used them as tests of faith).

One of the criticisms I have already encountered in conversations about my thesis is that I am making an argument that is a distinction without a difference. “We live the way we believe,” I have been told, making what we believe essential to living the lifestyle to which Jesus calls Christians to live. But that misses the point. I am not saying that beliefs don’t matter or have no influence on what people do. My contention is that beliefs don’t matter as much as the church says and not in the way the church insists they do. A values-based Christianity is not in conflict with beliefs. If anything, a focus on values creates an environment that gives beliefs room to breathe and flourish. A focus on beliefs has the opposite effect on values, constricting their power to the point of nearly choking the life out of them. The roots of my realization that beliefs and values represent a distinction that reflects a huge difference in people’s lives go back to growing up in a racist Southern culture where churches taught a form of Christianity that did not believe segregation was inconsistent with being Christian, but that is getting ahead of myself. As we begin I simply want to highlight the primary focus traditional Christian teaching places in beliefs when Christians would be better served by a focus on values.

If you self-identify as Christian or once did because you were raised as one, you have encountered first-hand this emphasis on right beliefs I find so troubling. In the course of my ministry I think I have met about every kind of Christian there is. I know Christians who believe what they believe and nothing is ever going to change them. I know other Christians who are the opposite of the ones just described. They are not sure what they believe so what they believe is pliable and flexible. Still others have strong beliefs, but are constantly reading and studying to learn more than they know and have no timidity in adjusting what they believe to new information. What all these people have in common is that beliefs matter to them. What differentiates them is that members of the first group have a faith defined by beliefs while the others at minimum are  uncomfortable with the beliefs they have been told Christians should believe.

The nature of religion is such that diversity is always present whether it is embraced, resisted, or ignored. This book seeks to make a case for diversity in beliefs being core to the kind of Christianity that is focused on following Jesus rather than “believing in” him or explaining who he was. By the time you finish reading I hope you will at the very least understand that the message of Jesus can be set free from all the wrappings of beliefs that have squeezed the life out of it for people who refuse to have “blind faith.” There is a Christian path forward that makes freedom of thought a gift of faith rather than something to be feared. Christianity focused on living rather than believing need never be afraid of people whose faith is open minded and open ended.

At the same time, though, I want to say unequivocally that I am not at all interested in trying to persuade anyone to give up something they fervently believe or believe in. Changing beliefs is an inside job that happens when people are ready for it and usually not a moment before. It can happen for a variety of reasons, but it seldom happens by someone trying to persuade another person to change his or her mind.

More important is the fact that trying to persuade you or anyone to abandon one belief in favor of another misses the point of the book entirely. I don’t offer alternatives to replace the “right” beliefs you may have been taught or have heard define Christianity. Instead, I try to explain why a beliefs-based faith takes you down the wrong road and, thus, hinders rather than helps you live as a Christian in the modern world.

There are, then, three basic claims I make in the book. The first is the need to understand and accept the nature of beliefs. The second is the need to realize that the church defining what it means to be a Christian by beliefs was a mistake with enormous, even tragic, consequences. The third is the need to see that Jesus said very little about beliefs, but said a lot about living a particular kind of lifestyle based on values he lived and taught to others. What I hope you will discover if you are among those who have trouble believing what the church says you must believe is that you are not the problem. The
church is. As you will see, I have a few things to say about the church throughout the book because it is impossible to talk about Christianity without mentioning the church. At the same time, the real focus is telling you about being Christian in spite of what you believe or don’t believe, not because of it. In these pages I suggest an alternative to a Christian faith bound and weighted down by creeds, doctrines, and dogmas—formal and informal.

It will help you to bear in mind as you go that the chapters are interconnected,  succeeding ones building upon the ones that come before them and questions arising in one chapter being answered in a different one. By the time you reach the end, though, I think you will have a clear sense of where you are and how you got there. My goal is not that you agree with what I have written, only that it helps you to think for yourself about matters of beliefs while understanding that being Christian has less to do with what you believe at any point in your life and more to do with how you live your life all the time. In the process I hope you will see what I see, that Christianity is a rich faith tradition that doesn’t have all the answers, but does raise many of the right questions, and further, that its basic message is not about “right beliefs,” but about “right living.”

PRICE: $16.95.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: janlinn45@gmail.com.

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Weather Report, March 24

Apple Pie — Stock Photo

 

Our currently featured books, “When,” by Katherine Zladek, “The Real People of the Wind and Rain,” by Andrew Schelling and “Think Tank,” by Julie Carr, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.

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One of our highlighted books back on Feb. 25 was “Dottoressa,” a memoir by an American-born doctor now practicing in Rome. Naturally, given the coronavirus situation in Italy, I found myself wondering how Susan Levenstein was doing, and e-mailed her. This was her response:

“My husband and I got stranded in the US toward the beginning of a book tour – conference and events all cancelled, though I did squeeze in a reading at Moe’s Books in Berkeley just before the axe fell. Now we’re hunkered down in the pleasant mother-in-law apartment in Berkeley of friends who usually rent it out on airbnb but are refusing to take money from us. Another friend — actually a college classmate who I hardly knew then and hadn’t seen for 50 years — insisted in giving us her extra car so we could cancel our $400 a week rental. Heaven only knows how long we will stay; covid-19 cases in Rome are still in the exponentially soaring phase and it will certainly be at least another couple of weeks, maybe months, before it feels safe to fly home. Thank god for the computer that is turning out to let me carry my whole life around with me!

“I was invited last week by MSNBC to be interviewed about Italian coronavirus responses on a news program, and spent some time and energy getting oriented for a Skype interview. But they bumped me twice already, the second time for the Orange Wonder’s Friday coronavirus briefing, and who knows whether it will ever actually happen.”

Hope all of you are making it OK so far.

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UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD, MARCH 24-30.

“PIE MAN,” BY JOHN SUROWIECKI

On his seventh birthday, Adam Olszewski tries to leave his family’s house, but can’t. Although the protagonist of the story that follows this unusual state of affairs is young Adam, the fact is he has little to say in it. The narrative is provided by a number of other people: his father, his tutor, his doctor, his neighbors in the Connecticut city where the Olszewskis reside, and a few of the immigrant workers employed by his mother’s Pie Man pie business.

Throughout the novel Adam is a mystery, the subject of rumors and gossip among his neighbors. He will not leave his bedroom, let alone his house, believing that the house is alive and needs him. More than that, he believes that he and the house are the same living entity, and that to walk an inch outside its purview will result in immediate and painful death.

Pie Man explores Adam’s education and coming of age as an island adrift in a humble working-class neighborhood. Eventually Adam’s world begins to expand through his mother’s pie-making business and as he observes the world outside his window. Pie Man is about community (the neighborhood changes ethnically over the course of the story), but it’s also about what’s normal. As Michael Downs put it: the novel is “a reminder that the greatest act of love is to make room for people who are strange and inexplicable.”

Image result for Owen McLeod + photos“DREAM KITCHEN” BY OWEN McLEOD.

Writes Owen: “I think contemporary poetry, for the most part, has abandoned the general reader spiritually, philosophically, and emotionally. I want challenging poems, of course, but not poems accessible only to academic poets and MFAs. I admire poems that display devotion to craft, as well as poems that test the limits of language and form, but what I crave most of all are revelatory poems with emotional punch and a grounding in everyday life. Anyway, that’s the sort of poem I strive to write.”

“UNBINDING CHRISTIANITY,” BY JAN LINN.

From Jan: “Unbinding Christianity is a book that will be good news for some readers while stretching  others in uncomfortable ways. It begins with the premise that traditional Christian teaching is focused on right beliefs while the life and teachings of Jesus was all about right living. The book represents a fresh voice for Christians who struggle to accept traditional beliefs by assuring them that Jesus himself said much more about right values than he did right beliefs.

“The goal of this book is to unbind Christianity from the wrappings of creeds, doctrines, dogma, and beliefs in order to make room for an understanding of what it means to be Christian defined by values that invites unity among Christians without the need for conformity of beliefs. One of the important by-products of this values-based Christianity is that it paves the way for Christians with different beliefs to find common ground with one another while also freeing them to build bridges of understanding with non-Christians.”

 

 

 

When: Stories

When: Stories (The Journal Non/Fiction Prize) by [Zlabek, Katherine]This week’s other featured books, “Think Tank,” by Julie Carr and “The Real People of the Wind and Rain,” by Andrew Schelling, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.

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THE BOOK: When: Stories

PUBLISHED IN: September 2019.

THE AUTHOR: Katherine Zlabek.

THE PUBLISHER: Mad Creek Books/The Ohio State University Press.

SUMMARY: A bull’s heart simmers in a crockpot, echoing the household’s tension in a retelling of Biblical Jacob’s trials. A priest observes his congregation’s descent into madness and wonders at his own role. An elderly woman imagines herself into her boomtown’s history and eventual abandonment at the height of the Gold Rush. Towns and people vanish, daughters return, women prepare escapes, and animals invade. In this collection of stories situated within the mythology of the Midwest, the past is always present, tangible and unrelenting, constantly asking these characters whether they will be a sacrifice or a martyr, daring them to give in without a fight. Here, transcendence is a tonic hard-earned by the battered soul. The atmospheric stories in When illuminate the customs of rural America, a part of this country that’s been asked to risk the best of itself in order to survive, revealing with humor and weight fears about wealth, worth, and the dignity of home.

Katherine ZlabekTHE BACK STORY: I was born and raised in the deep and rural Midwest. I wanted to join the canon of authors who feel compelled to represent the area’s complexity.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Originally, the book had longer, and likely more enticing, titles. In the end, When seemed to present itself. In the stories, the characters all seemed to be waiting, pointing to some time when things might have been—or could be—different.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Without intending to, I wrote a book about women confronting the limitations relationships and communities offer them. The book explores what is gained and what is lost in the struggle against conventional female roles.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

In these lovely, compelling stories, the Midwest is a place both plain and fantastical. Seen through the dreamy, even hallucinatory, vision of Katherine Zlabek’s characters, traffic accidents and church fundraisers—the stuff of daily life—become magical, ominous, tragic. This is a writer with a singular, beautifully strange vision.”—Leah Stewart.

Katherine Zlabek is a writer with an honest style. Her prose is so clear that you can see the ache and hope shimmering at the bottom of these stories. This is a sad, lovely, and utterly convincing collection.” —Chris Bachelder.

In Katherine Zlabek’s terrific debut, When, one finds elements of Iris Murdoch (the stories’ astringency and darkness and verve) and Tom Drury (their idiosyncratic wit, often remote rural settings, sense of the shambolic picaresque, and their loving attention to the foibles of Midwestern speech). But one finds much more, too: Zlabek is an original, and the ways she combines these elements with her own quirky, antic, delightful voice(s) and with her depiction of strong, tough, quirky women make this book a revelation. Bravo!” —Michael Griffith.

Each story in Katherine Zlabek’s collection, When, is a revelation of character and place. Many of the stories are set in rural Midwestern towns and intimately dramatize the experiences of female characters from childhood into adulthood: Two girls drag a dead pig into a cornfield; a young woman stands alone over a stove in the night and savors a bull’s heart that’s simmering in a pot. The stories often deal in histories, and move skillfully through time. No one is who they seem to be—in family, friendship, and love. The collection is filled with clear-eyed and often humorous observations about the masks we all wear, and the many ways we fool ourselves so that we might fit in. When is artistically risky, deeply felt, and beautifully written.” —Patrick O’Keeffe.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Katherine Zlabek, a native of Wisconsin’s driftless zone, earned her MFA from Western Michigan University, and her PhD from the University of Cincinnati, where she was a Taft Dissertation Fellow and a recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award. Her stories and essays have appeared in Boulevard, The Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, and other journals. Ricochet Editions published her chapbook, Let The Rivers Clap Their Hands in 2015. She currently teaches writing and literature. Find her at http://www.katherinezlabek.com.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Available at amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Katherine-
Zlabek/e/B07R7D6KZ2/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

WHERE TO BUY IT:The Ohio State University Press website; Amazon.

PRICE: $22.95.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Website: http://www.katherinezlabek.com; Instagram: ohkatherinemykatherine

Think Tank

THE BOOK:  Think Tank.

PUBLISHED IN: 2015.

THE AUTHOR: Julie Carr.

THE PUBLISHER: Solid Objects.

SUMMARY: Think Tank is a love poem with no object. It was written in conversation with Cesar Vallejo’s great modernist poem Trilce (1923). The poems were generated with sound as their fundamental language, rather than story or image, though there are fragments of stories throughout.

THE BACK STORY: I had recently written a book called 100 Notes on Violence that deals directly with intimate violence in the West (I live in Colorado). That book was hard to write and left me weary and sad. It was spring, and the plum tree was beginning to bloom. I had been reading Vallejo’s joyous, passionate, and wild Trilce, and decided I needed to shift my mind and heart by writing something that celebrated pleasure and love. I didn’t want to write a traditional love poem, so I wrote this, trying to “tank” my reasoning brain and let language be the guide.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I was thinking of the problem of thought – how our minds take us to dark places, places that we sometimes don’t want to go. I wanted to “tank” thought, to draw myself more towards the body and pleasure. Obviously I was also punning off of Washington think tanks- the places where supposed rational thought happens. This book was an opportunity for a different kind of thinking.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone who likes poetry might like it, especially people who ejnjoy poems that play and are curious about language itself!

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“This is a volume of extraordinary discipline, cerebral yet appealing, loose and playful… Some poetry books are meant to be read slowly and a second time; this is one of them.” — Johnny Payne for Cleaver Magazine.

“Carr employs parataxis, not ellipsis. But this trepidation is also a form of perfection. It is the perfection of breathless elision.” – John Trefry for Entropy

“Think Tank is real-to-reel-and-back-again writing, an actual reverie, a thing of thought and song.” – Graham Foust.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I live in Denver where, with my husband Tim Roberts, I help to run Counterpath (www.counterpathpress.org), a community art space, performance space, free library, food bank, and community garden. I teach at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I’m the author of nine other books of poetry and prose. We have three kids and a dog.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: http://www.juliecarrpoet.com/think-tank;
https://www.amazon.com/Julie-Carr/e/B001JP1NRY%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
http://www.juliecarrpoet.com.

WHERE TO BUY IT: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780984414291/think-tank.aspx
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934103683/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

PRICE: $16
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Twitter: @Carrcarrjuli
Julie.Carr@colorado.edu

The Real People of Wind and Rain

THE BOOK: The Real People of Wind and Rain: Talks, Essays, & an Interview

PUBLISHED IN: 2014.

THE AUTHOR: Andrew Schelling.

THE EDITOR: Paul Naylor.

THE PUBLISHER: Singing Horse Press. The press was founded by poet Gil Ott, to publish a range of experimental or avant-garde poetry. Ott died sadly young. On his deathbed he questioned Paul Naylor rigorously about what Paul would do should he take on the press. Satisfied with Paul’s answers, Gill handed it over with a blessing. Some of the press’s authors over the years include Rae Armantrout, the Zen priest poet Norman Fischer, Rosmarie Waldrop, and Ed Roberson.

SUMMARY: The Real People contains talks and essays that cover a number of years. Themes that run through the book are ecological concerns with land in the American West, what use poetry and mythology are to protection of wild life, archaic poetry as it erupts into contemporary life, a long cool view of baseball, and of course those secret beings I call “the real people of wind and rain.”

THE BACK STORY: I write many essays, often drawn from talks I’ve given in various places such as The Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University, or at festive gatherings of eco-activists and poets, or in India to a collection of students who speak various languages besides English. At some point these pieces began to arrange themselves into a structure that did not seem haphazard. A friend who teaches in a tough public high school gave the baseball & Zen essay to his students; he told me their favorite authors that year were Shakespeare and myself.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I got the phrase from a poem of Joanne Kyger’s. It feels like it is halfway to locating a new mythology for North America, animating the forces of weather, peopling this continent with its archaic powers. Call them by their names and they might be pleased.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The Japanese have a literary category, zuihitsu, often translated as “follow the brush.” It refers to a grouping of prose essays, musings, memoir, philosophy, that finds its own order. The most famous might be Sei Shonagon’s “pillow book.” I find such books refreshing, each piece contributes something new to an order drawn out of random groupings. You could say, with Allen Ginsberg, “Mind is shapely, art is shapely.” But the only reason someone would read this book is because its themes already color their emotional lives: poetry, ecology, myth, archaic languages.

REVIEW COMMENTS: The book got no reviews that I remember. But I do like what Eliot Weinberger once wrote for another book: “Andrew Schelling is the latest in an American poetic lineage that began with Transcendentalism and moved west with Rexroth and Snyder: the unlikely and fortuitous conjunctions of wilderness expertise, the observational precision of a natural historian, homegrown radical politics, and an immersion in Asian philosophy and writing.”

AUTHOR PROFILE: Most of the time I prefer to climb in the Rocky Mountains or camp at winter solstice on the icy desert of southern Utah. What keeps me at the writing desk is an old enjoyment, by old I mean quite archaic, that certain stories and poems not only have durability, but they need people to fight for the ecosystem of ideas in which they occur . I write poetry and essays, and have one lengthier book, a folkloric account of wilderness, bohemian poets, indigenous lore, and languages, titled Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo and Pacific Coast Culture. I teach at Naropa University, a smallish place with roots in both European and Asian traditions, and with a uniquely optimistic set of students. I also translate poetry from Sanskrit and related Indian languages. These are surely my most popular books. Many of the poems are quite delightful love poetry, with a very light touch. That is due to the original writers who lived a thousand or more years ago. Three of the books are with Shambhala Publications, which is happily stationed in Boulder, Colorado, near where I live. You can see them at: https://www.shambhala.com/authors/o-t/andrew-schelling.html

AUTHOR COMMENTS: The wizard of book design, JB Bryan of Northern New Mexico, laid the book out, and arranged the cover. I think it the loveliest book I have, and at every moment you can see how it collaborates with friends. Not a single-author book, but an ecology of people who practice the most lovely and most endangered of arts: poetry, conversation, translation, wilderness skills, pictographs, black & white photography, emotional clarity.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Sorry folks, no Amazon page. But if you want to sample a bit, the essay “Post Coyote at Orono” is on the website for Jacket2: http://jacketmagazine.com/36/schelling-seventies.shtml

LOCAL OUTLETS: Support your local independent bookstore!

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Small Press Distribution, or order it from a local shop.

PRICE: $18.95.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

aschelli@naropa.edu

or

Naropa University: Religious Studies

Naropa University

2130 Arapahoe Ave.

Boulder, CO 80302