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Cozy up with a good book
Staff and students suggest books for whiling away chilly fall daysBooks

What better place than a college campus to find a community of avid readers? Members of the Messiah College community find more to read than just textbooks and lab manuals, and several members of the college community are offering up book suggestions in this issue…just in time for chillier, darker fall days when a good book is the perfect companion to a warm blanket and steaming mug of tea.

The suggested books are as diverse as the individuals who thoughtfully recommended them. Certainly you are bound to find one recommendation that peaks your interest.

Night by Elie Weisel
Recommended by Louisa Mfum-Mensah ’12
Elie Weisel’s “Night” is a powerful story that illustrates the importance of maintaining humanity when tried in extraordinary situations. “Night” is a story about a Jewish boy named Eliezer who finds his world shaken when his family is taken from their Hungarian home and placed in Birkenau, the gateway camp to Auschwitz. Through the cruelty experienced at the hands of not only the Nazi soldiers, but also fellow Jews, Eliezer discovers the importance of faith, loyalty, forgiveness, and family.

This book is significant because of the themes it draws out. It forced me to focus on the circumstances that cause people to behave out of character and to register that not everyone is immune to the difficulties of life and the effect those difficulties have on us. It opened my eyes to the fact that statements such as “I would never do that” are very unrealistic, because at the end of the day we are humans with faults. We are not perfect, and when placed in difficult situations, we might react in a way that is not pleasing to our ideals. This book indirectly challenges the reader to think about issues of forgiveness and the call of the Bible to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
by Marie Howe
Recommended by Gillian Smith ’11

“A Thursday—no—
a Friday someone said.
What year was it?
Just after the previous
age ended, it began.
And although the scientists still studied
the heavens
and the stars blazed—if the evening
wasn’t cloudy—
what happened did not occur in public view.
Some said it simply didn’t happen,
although others insisted they knew
all about it
and made many intricate plans.”

Poet Marie Howe’s book, “The Kingdom of Ordinary Time,” allows readers to experience life as a mother who’s pushing 50 and trying to find God in her weekly grocery shopping. Although I’m not a mother or pushing 50, I am trying to find God in what can be the most mundane of tasks. This is not to say that Howe’s poems are a glorified theological shopping list. In fact, she only mentions a grocery store once, in the poem “The Star Market.”
Along with Howe, I seek to answer the questions that separate the self and the soul, the sacred and the secular, and most of all, the kingdom of heaven and the small moments of ordinary time. Each poem offers an image — for example, driving her daughter home from preschool—which Howe uses to mediate the forces that are most present in her life: her mother’s death, errands, and playing with her daughter.

French dramatist Jean Cocteau said, “The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.” Marie Howe’s poetry gives me hope that excellent poetry and reflection are born from such honesty, and that ordinariness is miraculous.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Recommended by Jon Stuckey, director of development
“The Power of One” chronicles the life of Peekay from the ages of 5 to 17 during WWII and the ensuing post-war years in South Africa. Peekay is English and must navigate the tensions among the English, the Afrikaners (or Boers), and the Black South Africans. In many ways the book is about the power of ones, i.e., in a community.

Throughout the book, persons came alongside Peekay to provide strength and comfort. Harry demonstrated true kindness. Hoppie instilled a passion for disciplined boxing. Doc, along with Mrs. Boxall and Miss Bornstein, nurtured a respect for learning. Geel helped Peekay become an outstanding boxer. Morrie provided friendship. Rasputin saved Peekay’s life.

Each of these people was marginalized for being something other than the group with the power to govern. Harry, Miss Bornstein, and Morrie were Jewish; Hoppie worked the railroad; Doc was German; Mrs. Boxall was a librarian who fought for the rights of prisoners; Geel was Black; and Rasputin was Georgian. And yet collectively, each of them contributed mightily to Peekay’s life. There may be power in one, but there is even more power and potential in community.

The book lays painfully exposed the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. The atrocities of hate and apartheid are ever present and provide a disturbing backdrop. Some of the boxing images (particularly the final match) and the depiction of Christianity are also disconcerting. Nevertheless, the book is well written and a compelling read. In part because of his success in boxing, but more importantly because of the power of community, Peekay ecomes an inspiration for all of South Africa — English, Afrikaner, and Black.

Love Walked Among Us and A Praying Life by Paul Miller
Recommended by Nance McCown ’85, assistant professor of communication

In “Ever After,” one of my favorite cinematic versions of Cinderella, the prince takes Cinderella (aka Danielle du Barbarac, played by Drew Barrymore) to a nearby monastery’s library. When he inquires about her favorite tome, she replies, “I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens.” My sentiments exactly! How could I possibly recommend a single book from the thousands I have savored?

Of course, for a great summer read, there’s nothing like nearly any Tom Clancy novel, fast-paced and full of intrigue. Classics by Charles Dickens or Jane Austen transport me to another time and place. Jan Karon’s “Mitford” characters made me chuckle, guffaw, weep, and appreciate the quirky simplicity and deep roots of small-town life. And over the past few years, Bill Bryson’s wacky tales of travel in Australia, Europe, and the Appalachian Trail had me calling my husband during lunch to read portions out loud and snort with laughter over the phone. I heartily recommend all of these!

But this summer, I am re-reading two books which literally have begun to change my life: “Love Walked Among Us” and “A Praying Life,” both by Paul Miller. I often struggle in truly demonstrating acts of love to those I love the most, and like no other book I’ve read (other than the Bible), “Love Walked Among Us” gives a clear picture of the best example I can follow: Jesus. “A Praying Life” also hits at another of my struggles — praying regularly and faithfully. Miller’s candor regarding his own roller-coaster prayer life, and his non-legalistic, practical, realistic ideas for growing in conversation with the God of the universe have encouraged, enlightened, and excited me to speak more openly and listen more fervently to my Creator.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Recommended by Jonathan Lauer, director of Murray Library

This novel is a 2009 National Book Award winner and has been called the “first great 9/11 novel.” This is an alluring claim, given that the novel is set on and shortly after August 7, 1974 when Philippe Petit mesmerized New York City commuters and later electrified the world press by his incomparable act of bravado and courage, spending nearly an hour on a cable suspended between the tops of the brand new Twin Towers in New York City. He didn’t simply walk across the wire with a balancing pole. No, he lay down on it and gazed at the sky, he jumped, he danced, and he finally ran into the custody of police officers who grudgingly arrested him.

This story has been immortalized in a number of books and through the release of the recent film documentary, “Man on Wire.” McCann never names Petit, but through the points of view of a dozen characters, this feat is the thread tying their disparate stories together. Among others, we meet a Catholic worker, several prostitutes, admiring computer geeks experiencing the events from across the country, a stoic judge, and his grieving wife. The reader can never forget what none of the characters can know: The World Trade Center towers will be reduced to rubble on a perfect September day just 27 years into the future.




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