Review: Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

This was the first book I ‘checked out’ through the employee loaner program at the book store I just got a job at – and I’m so glad I did! I’m going to talk about religion in this post, which is something I’ve never really done before on the blog, but in the interest of being honest for myself in the future (man do I go back and read my own blog posts way too much!), this book came along at just the right time in my spiritual life, which is perhaps the thing I love most about it.

This book came in to my life at a time when I was again thirsting for Christ – stronger for ever before – and this book just put fuel on the fire. It’s Katie’s memoir about giving up everything good she had as a thin, white, pretty, smart American girl in order to move to Uganda, adopting 12 young orphan girls, and starting multiple branches of a not for profit organization that serves some of the poorest children of the community with food, education, and faith. Katie adopts not only these young girls, but also the belief that, in order for “the least of these” (as Jesus calls them) to know what Jesus’ love is like, they have to know what love is like – what it’s like to have a parent, someone bandaging your ouchies and keeping the nightmares away and laughing with you and telling you you matter. That’s what God does for us. That’s what Katie believes, and I’m overjoyed to be able to say it to you all that I believe that, too. And I don’t judge you if you don’t. I don’t condemn you if you don’t. I pray for you and I love you and I hope there’s a way I might be able to help you see what I see. That’s why it was so awesome to read Katie’s book. She see’s it. She helped show it to me.

“God reminded me how beautiful we all are to Him, after all, we were created in His own image, and He looks at me, at you, in all our sweat and dirt and brokenness, and says, “I choose you. You are beautiful.”

“The truth is that the 143 million orphaned children and the 11 million who starve to death or die from preventable diseases and the 8.5 million who work as child slaves, prostitutes, or under other horrific conditions and the 2.3 million who live with HIV add up to 164.8 million needy children. And though at first glance that looks like a big number, 2.1 billion people on this earth proclaim to be Christians. The truth is that if only 8 percent of the Christians would care for one more child, there would not be any statistics left.”

I find Katie inspirational – and her book uplifting – because it’s an example of what can happen if you get up every day and just ask “What can I do for You and Your people today, God?”. Katie founded Amazima, sponsoring over 500 Ugandan children in providing their education and school supplies, raising money for local medical treatment, and while she say’s it’s never easy, it’s truly easy to be jealous of the happiness and joy that shines from her eyes in every picture you see. I don’t know yet if my calling is to leave my life and journey to a location like Africa. I don’t think it is. But I know that my calling – all of our calling, really – is to show love. And I can do that right here in the life I’m living.

“We bend. I bend to sweep crumbs and I bend to wipe vomit and I bend to pick up little ones and wipe away tears… And at the end of these days I bend next to the bed and I ask only that I could bend more, bend lower. Because I serve a Savior who came to be a servant. He lived bent low. And bent down here is where I see His face. He lived, only to die. Could I? Die to self and just break open for love. This Savior, His one purpose to spend Himself on behalf of messy us. Will I spend myself on behalf of those in front of me? And people say, “Don’t you get tired?” and yes, I do. But I’m face to face with Jesus in the dirt, and the more I bend the harder and better and fuller this life gets. And sure, we are tired, but oh we are happy. Because bent down low is where we find fullness of Joy.”

Thoughts On: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, the First Four

Everyone wants to see the pictures, and yet nobody wants to see them.

The Illustrated Man is a collection of eighteen short stories published by Ray Bradbury in 1951. The stories are all connected through the man on the cover above, a wanderer and part-time circus worker whose body of deep, illustrious tattoos move and come alive at night, predicting the future and revealing the past. And, while I’m not completely done with the collection at this point, I’m starting to seem some major themes of religion, spirituality, technology, and the value of both life and death beginning to develop! It’s impossible for me to discuss short stories without spoilers, however, so beware now!

“Prologue: The Illustrated Man”

It’s in the prologue that we meet both our narrator and the Illustrated Man. Our narrator is a traveler just completing a hiking trip, and the Illustrated Man describes himself as a part-time carnival worker who occasionally finds work, but inevitably ends up losing it do to the tattoos he bears all over his body. He shows the man his tattoos and explains that at night they come alive, begin to move, and tell the stories of both the past and the future. On his shoulder, however, there remains a jumbled part section of skin that will begin to predict the future of whomever the Illustrated Man is around, given enough time. Night begins to fall, and as the Illustrated Man settles in to sleep, he warns the narrator to not spend too much time staring at the tattoos, or he may get lost in them and learn things he doesn’t want to know.

He was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voices murmuring small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body…There were yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains and stars and suns and planets spread in a Milky Way across his chest…The colors burned in three dimensions. They were windows looking in upon fiery reality. Here, gathered on one wall, were all the finest scenes in the universe; the man was a walking treasure gallery.

I LOVED the prologue that Bradbury provides us with! I immediately envied our narrator the chance to look at all the beautiful tattoos, and cursed the lack of detail on the cover of my copy, lol. I also liked the kind of sadness and almost-terror that the Illustrated Man seems to embody, a feeling that I think takes over a lot of the work, making each story a gut-twisting turn towards the least expected, or the most saddening. On the whole, I also enjoy the use of the mans body and his physical tattoos as a semi-psychological bond between the stories being told. Because while each tattoo and story are different, there is a basic commonality they do seem to share.

The sun was gone. Now the first stars were shining and the moon had brightened the fields of grass and wheat. Still the Illustrated Man’s pictures glowed like charcoals in the half light, like scattered rubies and emeralds, with Rouault colors and Picasso colors and the long, pressed-out El Greco bodies.

“The Veldt”

This story is TERRIFYING. We meet the Hadleys, George and Lydia, and their full-on technological smart house. Including a nursery that belongs to their children, where the walls turn in to whatever lands and characters and realms occupy the imagination of their two kids. When the story starts, the nursery has begin displaying a real, scorching, life-like savannah complete with hungry lions, where before it had displayed Wonderland and Aladdin’s cave of wonders. For many days in nights in a row, George and Lydia go to sleep and wake up to the lions, and occasionally hear screams that sound awfully familiar. Afraid of what this could indicate for the children’s imaginations, the parents decide to board up the nursery and shut down the house and take a “vacation” from technology for a few days. The children pitch a fit, and George consents to one last night in the nursery before the shut down begins. But when the parents hear the screams yet again, but louder, the rush in to the nursery hoping to help. What the find, however, is the door locked behind them and the lions prowling closer and closer. The two believe that it’s only an image on the wall until they realize why the screams always sounded so familiar.

How often had he seen Pegasus flying the sky ceiling, or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard angel voices singing. But now, this yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with murder in the heat.

Like I said, I thought this story was truly, chillingly terrifying. Not in a, like, serial killer or GOTCHA! movie kind of way. In a Poe or H.P. Lovecraft kind of way. The coldness behind these two children, who clearly spent weeks imagining their parents death by lion eating, only to orchestrate in the end. And then! AND THEN! At the end, when a friend of the parents drop by, the daughter just offers him tea like nothing happened! Freaky Damien Demon Child! Plus the whole idea of your “smart house” somehow turning on you has always been something that kind of freaked me out about technology. I think that Bradbury does such a good job drawing the reader in to stories only to turn the tables and pull something gut-punching. Some people find it emotionally manipulative or schmarmy. I find it totally. addicting.

Long before you knew what death was you were wishing on someone else.

“Kaleidoscope”

This is so far my absolute favorite story in this collection. This is the only story that, so far, has kept me coming back to it, thinking about it day after day. It’s haunted me because the idea of just floating through space to your end is just…haunting. Daunting. It gives me the chills on a deep level, and one that I think will be with me for quite some time. It’s got a fairly simple plot: the story begins with the explosion of a rocket, and the crew members don’t have time to attach their gravity packs, so they all go floating off in to endless space. We follow one of them, Hollis, as he floats to his death, the only of the astronauts on a path for Earth. The astronauts communicate by radio, going through phases of regret, remembrance, apologies, and cruelty as they float further away. As Hollis hits the atmosphere, he burns, and on Earth a young boy makes a wish on what he thinks is a shooting star.

When life is over it is like a flicker of bright film, an instant on the screen, all of its prejudices and passions condensed and illumined for an instant on space, and before you could cry out, “There was a happy day, there a bad one, there an evil face, there a good one,” the film burned to a cinder, the screen went dark.

I’ve already explained some of the reason that I love this story so much. If this were to happen, I think that the emotional overload is nicely portrayed by Bradley. So many different phases, from anger to bargaining and finally to acceptance, when you know what is coming and there is nothing to do but wait and…well, make peace. I think that the writing speaks for itself. It most definitely speaks to me.

There were differences between memories and dreams.

The quality of death, like that of life, must be of an infinite variety, and if one has already died once, then what was there to look for in dying for good and all, as he was now?

Hollis looked to see, but saw nothing. There was only the great diamonds and sapphires and emerald mists and velvet inks of space, with God’s voice mingling among the crystal fires.

If only I could do one good thing to make up for the meanness I collected all these years and didn’t even know was in me! But there’s no one here but myself, and how can you do good all alone? You can’t.

“The Other Foot”

Of these first four, this was actually the story that I liked the least. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it. Of course. Lol. This story again takes place in the future, in space, on the planet Mars. In the alternate history of this story, the African Americans left Earth for Mars shortly after the Civil Rights movement, and have been living there sense. On the day the story opens, white people are landing his rocket ship on Mars for the first time in history. Hattie and Willie and their neighbors are going to see the landing, and Willie puts in to action a hateful plan to remind the white people just how horrible they were once treated: he paints WHITES ONLY on the back seats of buses, and has the town begin designating sections for white eaters. He essentially establishes the Jim Crow south. And then the rocket lands. And it’s just one white man, an emissary from an Earth that is destroyed by nuclear war. As the man continues to talk, Willie learns that all the places he ever knew – his home town, the house where his mother was shot, the tree his father was lynched from – were all destroyed in the war. And, he realizes, with Hattie’s help, if the places that held his memories of hate are gone, perhaps he can let go of his hate. Willie tells the men to dismantle his racist plan, and Willie claims to have finally, for the first time that day, to have truly seen the white man.

She wanted to get at the hate of them all, to pry at it and work at it until she found a little chink, and then pull out a pebble or a stone or a brick and then a part of the wall, and, once started, the whole edifice might roar down and be done away with.

This story was nice! It was nice to see Willie realize how silly has plan of revenge racism had been, and I was glad that Hattie was basically vindicated, since she’d been trying to make him see that all along. I also thought that the story made an interesting point on hate and memory – if the peoples, places, or things that remind or embody what we hate the most are gone, destroyed, don’t we essentially punish ourselves by keeping that hate alive in memory only. I’m reminded of that scene in Forrest Gump where he takes Jenny back to the house where she was abused as a child and she just keeps throwing rocks at it until she’s emotionally broken, and then later in the film he has it torn down for her. That example has always been a great example of how we, as people, tie our memories up in things, in objects and places and even people.

Nothing, nothing of it left to hate – not an empty brass gun shell, or a twisted hemp, or a tree, or even a hill of it to hate.

I’m sorry all of that was so long! I won’t make it any longer by apologizing more, but needless to say I’m having a GREAT time really digging in to these Ray Bradbury stories, and am excited for what I’ve officially decided will be my summer of Neil Gaiman!

Thoughts On: The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

“It is not the emotion of love, solely and independent, that is important. It is the people I love who hold the world steady for me.” – Nina Sankovitch, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

This book is part of the reason I finally came to terms with the fact that my original purpose for this blog was no longer working, and I needed to change it up drastically if I wasn’t going to abandon this blog – and perhaps even reading – for a good long while. Hearing Nina’s story of a year spent reading a book every day for a year (literally. She stops working, cuts way back on cleaning the house, and delegates responsibilities to her family, all so she can sit in her purple armchair in her study everyday, starting and finishing at least one book) made me realize that reading wasn’t supposed to be a task or a chore – even if you’re making sure to carve out time for it every day. Reading is a life-affirming action, with the capacity to take us to different places and times and, while we’re there, teach us things about the how and now we’re living. And these lessons don’t just reside within the “classics”, but within all stories. After all, humans are a story-based creature. Long live the narrative!

“As old Aunt Elinor states in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, ‘Books loved anyone who opened them, they have you security and friendship and didn’t ask anything in return; they never went away, never, not even when you treated them badly. Love, truth, beauty, wisdom, and even consolation against death. Who had said that? Someone else who loved books.'”

Anyway, Nina decides to read a book a day for a year a few years after her sister, Anne-Marie, passed away of cancer. Anne-Marie went from diagnosis to losing her battle with the disease very quickly, and although Nina spent the next few years afterwards rushing from place to place, person to person, trying to live double in order to make up for the life that Anne-Marie lost, she realizes that what she needs to do more than anything is to just. stop. running. To sit down and deal with the things she’s been feeling since Anne-Marie died: responsible, guilty for living, and, above all, heartbroken and missing her sister.

“Words of love will keep us warm, even through the last days of winter.”

Wow. Let me tell you. Reading about Nina’s journey through books was powerful in a number of ways. I didn’t recognize a single book title she mentions, but she made each one of them seem like a work of art, and there have been quite a few titles added to me Immediately To Be Read book pile (as opposed to my Read Soon pile or my Want To Read When I Have The Chance Between Other Books pile). But there is more to it than that. The way Nina writes about losing Anne-Marie, the pain and the feelings of guilt because she remains and Anne-Marie is gone, it was hard to read. It brought to mind thoughts of what it will be like to one day lose my mother, an inevitability that I don’t dwell on, but that frightens me more than any other possible event. There were some passages that were almost too hard to get through – moments when Nina describes the last few days she spent with Anne-Marie, both of them knowing that there wouldn’t be countless hours left or endless time to say what needed to be said. It was agonizing, but it was beautiful.

“Anne-Marie is defined by everything that she was to me…she will continue to shape me, direct me, and advise me. She pulled me toward my year of reading a books a day, spurring me on with our shared love of books and my desire to read all the volumes upon volumes that we might have read together. I have learned, through books, to hold on to my memories of all the beautiful moments and people in my life, as I need those memories to help me through difficult times.”

The second thing I loved most about Sankovitch’s writing is her ability to create multifaceted, deep, sensory-filled scenes. When she writes reflecting on her summers as a child, it’s enough to make me picture similar days of my own, and although our childhoods were spent years and miles apart, there is a kind of nostalgic longing and romanticism about remembering. Part of my love for these sections may come from the fact that, having recently graduated, and with my college town buzzing with impending summer graduation (I was a winter grad), its getting easier and easier to sink in to that year-end reminiscing that always seems to accompany the warmer weather this time of the year. Take this passage, which was one of the ones I’ve gone back to re-read about a dozen times in just a day or two:

“I remembered lying in bed at night with the windows open to let in the warm summer air. From the bed, I could hear the traffic on Gold Road and the radio playing on the neighbor’s porch. I smelled the dankness of freshly turned earth in our garden, the sweet scent our our grass, and the smoky smell of barbecues. The smells and sounds were like an invitation to me, a summons to run out and join the universe. I was older then, beyond hide-and-seek games and waiting for the ice-cream truck, but I still believed my future was limitless. I knew that the breeze coming in from the window was full of promises of adventure and love and fun, promises just waiting to be fulfilled.”

My sounds may have been railroad tracks and my sister and her friends’ hushed quiet conversation drifting up from our deck, but I know those smells she’s talking about, and I know that breeze. And the best part is, every now and then I still get that feeling of limitlessness. So damn, Nina. Way to hit that one, and just about every other not in this book, right on the head.

Finished: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

(Believe it or not, I had the hardest time finding this cover, which is the cover of my actual book!)

So, in addition to STILL plugging my way through Gone with the Wind (I’m loving it! That’s what’s making it so hard to read – I don’t want to leave Scarlett and Rhett behind!), I’m also working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia as a kind of “light” alternative so that my brain doesn’t start feeling too muddly! After getting through The Magician’s Nephew a week or so ago (has it been that long? longer? being unemployed has this weird effect of making time pass weirdly) I was SUPER EXCITED to start reading this book because, while I’ve read it a bunch of times, it still has some of my favorite scenes from possibly the entire series.

Okay. Lets start this off with a little character de-briefing. Now that there is a movie out, and given how popular this volume of the series is, I’m going to skip the summary part. So the Pevensie children – I love two of them. I don’t really care for the other two. Peter and Lucy? Duh-obvs, these two are adorable. I feel like Peter does such a good job of being a big brother and trying to be the High King Peter that Aslan inevitably turns him in to. And Lucy? Well, her pure heart is the one that discovers Narnia and starts us all on the adventure, and she’s really treated so horribly in the beginning, that even from a young age she’s always been one of my favorite characters. But then there are Edmund and Susan. Obviously, Edmund is totally priggish and spoiled and rotten, but I feel like he gets his by the end of the book. And then there is Susan. Susan is just such a stick in the mud (I admit that this reaction may have something to do with knowing how much worse this gets in later books) and she’s just always so willing to give up and turn back, and she just doesn’t seem to have any gumption. Edmund may be horrible in the beginning of the book (I hesitate to say “evil”, because I really don’t think he has a bad heart) but at least he’s got gumption!

And we can’t talk about the characters without talking about all the animals. Mr and Mrs Beaver are just the most adorable couple, and exactly how I picture a cozy little English couple to be. I kind of found something creepy about Mr. Tumnus, something I don’t remember feeling as a kid, but maybe it has something to do with more mature ‘cynicism’ than with the way Lewis meant him to be written. And then there is Aslan. I can’t help but to read him as a Christ figure (I blame confirmation and intro to literary criticism when I was in high school), but I just love him none the less. The fact that even his name brings up different feelings inside people – feelings that help to set thematic themes throughout the novel, serves to illustrate the fact that some part of his power lies within each of us. I love that, while he can be a playful big cat, the scene where he is sacrificed to the White Witch still brings tears to my eyes.

And that’s probably the strongest testament to why I added these books to my list, despite the fact that I’ve already read them. There are some books that you read entirely for one or two scenes. Scenes that make you wish at that moment, more than anything, that you could actually jump in to literature and be there, too, even if just for a moment. And the final scenes of this novel – where the four children are crowned at Cair Paravel, and all of the good animals and creatures of the world, the spirits of the water and earth, the mermaids and giants, all gathered in music and food and color…I’d jump in to that scene in a heartbeat. What about you? What scene would you jump in to? Are there any books you read solely for one scene that gives you chills?