A first time for everything

Hello friends,

I hope you’ll be patient with me, as this is my first foray into the nebulous world of blogging. I tend toward the Luddite end of the technology spectrum (and am married to a science guy who is currently getting a doctorate in engineering!), so I’ve shied away from anything more demanding than posting reviews on to Amazon.com.

I’m delighted to be here for the next couple of weeks as your guest blogger. Wish I could say that I’ve stored up marvelous philosophical and theological insights to share, but my spiritual journey is primarily one of questions, not answers. So I think that I will primarily be asking some, and also telling you about what I’m reading. My day job is in publishing, and I tend to be a book-a-day addict. (Though I should hasten to say that not all of the books I read are worth commenting on at all. For my job, I have to read a lot of derivative self-help schlock in addition to the Good Stuff.)

In the realm of good reading, though, this weekend I tore through Alice Sebold’s haunting novel THE LOVELY BONES. We are discussing it on Wednesday in my book club, a women’s group that’s about half LDS. I’m very interested to hear what the other women thought of it, and any of you if you’ve read it. As a mother, I found the book so viscerally disturbing that I was actually weeping after chapter 2. (This prompted my husband to ask when we’re planning to read a happy book for Book Club, as our last selection was MYSTIC RIVER, which also involved the murder of a young woman and her family’s wrenching journey through grief.)

In publishing, people are always looking for “fresh voices,” and it’s incredibly rare that we find them. Most NF books are rehearsals of what other people have said, perhaps with a slightly different spin or lens. (This is true of my own books as well as the ones I read. As Qoheleth put it, of the making of books there is no end, and there is nothing new under the sun.) With fiction, we often see plots that echo other plots from novels and especially films, and narration that fails to evoke character, theme, and setting. THE LOVELY BONES took me by surprise for its unique voice and perspective. It’s told from the POV of a 14-year-old murder victim who has just died and watches as her family deals with shock, falls apart, and then slowly coalesces again into new relationships, which turn out to be stronger simply for the knowledge of how tenuous they are.

I was fascinated by the author’s view of heaven. The main character, Susie, begins her heavenly journey in a place that looks very much like what she left, and she’s intimately involved in watching events on Earth. Her heaven even looks like the high school that she dreamed of attending but never got the chance to, where people read VOGUE and GLAMOUR all day and the women are very beautiful. As time passes (eight years’ worth on earth), she is able to let go of her family and her death enough to move on to the next phase of heaven, which the book calls the “wide wide heaven” and is left marvelously ambiguous.

More tomorrow —

9 comments for “A first time for everything

  1. Kaimi
    October 4, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    I envy you. It would be nice to have that much reading time available.

    Actually, I do read quite a bit, but it’s often not books (and often not all that good, either). Subpoenas, briefs, deposition transcripts, exhibits, and of course lots of discovery documents. Mixed in with the occasional law review article or statutory provision. It does have a certain appeal to it, but it’s not as fun as a good novel.

  2. Bryce I
    October 4, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    I haven’t read The Lovely Bones, so I can comment on that. At the risk of digressing from the topic at hand, I find it interesting that the large majority of book clubs that I know of are women’s groups. Also, I’ve seen some reports recently indicating that American men read much less literature and fiction than do women.

    Just an observation. Welcome Jana!

  3. October 4, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    Did Jana get the requisite intro? if she did, I missed it.

    Brief intro: Jana Riess is the religious book editor for Publisher’s Weekly and the author of “What Would Buffy Do?: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide.” She is also working on a Mormon-related project which is referenced in my A Motley Vision interview with Chris Bigelow.

    Hi, Jana. Are we going to talk about Buffy? I would specifically be interested in discussing Angel — esp. the finale.

  4. Kathi
    October 4, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    I’ve read THE LOVELY BONES and her earlier work, LUCKY: A MEMOIR, which is a true story about her rape and its aftermath. Alice Sebold’s works are both lyrical and haunting. Another great writer is Jodi Picoult. I’d recommend her works, too!

  5. Kevin Barney
    October 4, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    Hi, Jana, welcome to T&S. I haven’t read the book, but my wife is involved in a book club (all LDS women), which seems to be the one thing that manages to transcend our ward boundaries (the women come equally from the first and second ward, who otherwise pretty much have nothing to do with each other). I am often envious of their meetings, discussions and goodies, but it does me no good–as a man, I’m not invited.

    (I’m the guy whose daughter won your Buffy trivia contest at Sunstone this year.)

  6. John H
    October 4, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    Hi Jana!

    Looks like I’ll be picking up the Lovely Bones and reading it on top of everything else.

  7. Chris Bigelow
    October 4, 2004 at 7:08 pm

    Darn, I wish I liked Lovely Bones as much as you, Jana. Several months ago I read it aloud to my wife (over several evenings, of course), and I found it too slippery to get a satisfying grip on, in terms of the mindsets of her parents, the nature of her heaven, and some other things. I am right now phoning my wife to see what she says: ***SPOILER ALERT*** “It worked moderately well for me. The thing I didn’t like so much was when she went into the other girl’s body toward the end. But I liked when she was hovering around them and reporting on what she observed. It wasn’t a homerun, but I liked it more than not.” On the other hand, I personally got much more passionate about “Life of Pi” recently, because everything was so explicit and I could relate with it, comprehend it, get inside it, live it, whereas with Lovely Bones I more floated around outside it.

  8. Anonymous
    October 23, 2004 at 12:54 pm
  9. Anonymous
    October 30, 2004 at 11:56 am

Comments are closed.