The stories of Elizabeth Smart and Stephanie Nielson are not that similar. Yes, both had a hard year that they wrote about in a memoir, and both are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). But there the similarities end.
Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bed at knife point as a 14 year old and raped repeatedly before being reunited with her family 9 months later; Stephanie Nielson is a mother who was burned on over 80% of her body, and yet lived to experience the pain and joy of rejoining the world afterwards.
But despite the differences in their stories, both memoirs celebrate the strength of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Reading the two books at this time of year seems just right. It’s helped me appreciate the blessings I do have and to prepare myself to enjoy this next year of my life as well as I can. The human spirit is strong in the face of adversity.
After all, a lot can happen in one year. (more…)
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is a biography of the 1936 Olympic mile-runner Louis Zamperini. Zamperini came in seventh place that year, so he was not the winner in that respect. But his subsequent story is incredible and inspiring. (more…)
Like historian Matthew Bowman, I am an active participant in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Bowman’s recent overview of the history and people of the Church, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (published January 2012 by Random House), provides a different perspective on the history of the Church in America. He shares the history by discussing the people that joined the Church as believers and those that interacted with the Church from the early 1800s until today.
I consider myself fairly well read about the history of the Church in the United States, so I was pleasantly surprised by how Bowman’s perspective gave me a new view of Church history. The different personalities of the Church leaders throughout the eras of the Church’s history certainly had an impact on how the Church was administered, how doctrines were taught, how believers were encouraged to live, and how believers and nonbelievers interacted with one another. (more…)
I have not read many gothic novels. The only one I’ve read is Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, which I was not a fan of (thoughts here). Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (first published 1831) seemed far above The Monk in terms of quality. In addition to the better writing, there was the symbolic centrality of the imposing image of Notre-Dame, the multi-faceted characters, and the balance of the horrific action of the story with the symbolic and romantic resolutions.
Notre-Dame de Paris is often translated with the title The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I don’t like that title as much as the original. Quasimodo, the hunchback of the story, is not the only focal point: the architecture of Notre Dame and the relationship between the two societal outcasts, Esmeralda and Quasimodo, is what drives the novel.
Although much in the beginning of the novel bored me, the action in the last half brought me around again. By the end, I liked it. The novel is firmly in the gothic Romantic tradition: a medieval setting, a wicked monk, outsiders seeking their place in society, attempted rape, horror and murder, and convenient resolutions.
This post contains spoilers of Notre-Dame de Paris. (more…)
For my book club this month, we decided to take it easy and read a holiday short story, since many of us feel overwhelmed and limited on time during the holiday season. We settled on “The Mansion” by Henry Van Dyke, a Christian short story about a wealthy man who has a life-changing dream, much as Ebeneezer Scrooge did in Dicken’s classic.
In “The Mansion,” however, the main character is not a “grinch” being greedy. John Weightman is a very generous man, having donated to charities such as hospitals and orphanages throughout his life. Yet, as the opening scenes with his grown son reveal, he’s still missing the meaning behind the giving. He believes himself to be a Christian well-worthy of a mansion of heaven, but he gives because he expects financial return or a social “Thank You” that recognizes him as such.
In his Christmas Eve dream, John Weightman gets to see his mansion in heaven as he walks with some of the people he knew throughout his life. As I mention, his dream changed his perspective and while I don’t want to reveal the end, let’s just say, yes, it’s a bit predictable and dramatic, but satisfying nonetheless.
My book group enjoyed discussing the ways in which we can adjust our attitudes toward giving; are we giving for that Christmas morning “reaction? are we giving for worldly recognition? What does it mean to give selflessly? Is a generous John Weightman selflessly giving when he’s giving as he thinks about that mansion in heaven that he hopes will be his reward? How can we adjust our attitudes the year round to be more generous and sincere?
The story is a predictable, somewhat sappy one, but it was perfect short Christmas story to talk about this holiday season. I enjoyed it for the most part.
Read The Mansion” online.