Thursday, December 29, 2016

How Well Do You Really Know Your Neighbors?

Heres what happened when I started reading Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris: I opened it up on my Kobo and began. Three hours later I was still at it. I picked it up in the morning, after having dreamt about it, I am sure, and after picking it up several times during the night to read hidden under my covers so as not to wake my husband.

I drank my morning coffee with the book opened beside me. It wasn’t until the very last page that I was aware of the breath I’d been holding. It’s that good. It’s what I’m recommending this week.

What makes it good is the ever escalating suspense, from the carefully controlled first chapter where we meet the couple, Jack and Grace to the horrific ending.

Jack is smart, good looking, a lawyer who specializes in helping abused women. And, oh, he’s never lost a case. How lucky is Grace to be his wife? Grace, to all appearances is the perfect wife, always beautifully turned out. They live a huge and gorgeous home and host lavish dinner parties. Too good to be true. 

It is.

Behind Closed Doors is something I am calling a “psychopath captive prisoner story,” which is just the name I’m giving to this genre. If this genre has a real name, someone please let me know.

I think part of our fascination with these types of stories is that we like to think of ourselves as Macgyvers able to get out of any scrape and situation. I would do it this way. No, I would do it that way. As I read Behind Closed Doors, I wanted to yell at Grace. Why don’t you try this? Wouldn’t that work?

We have read the stories, seen the news about the horrific true tales of children kept in closets for years, of women imprisoned in dungeons to be repeatedly raped. These horrific events make us want to hug onto our children more closely, and keep hold of those we love with tight arms. It’s one of the more horrible of crimes that people seem to be capable of.

And it is also reflected in our fiction.

Room by Emma Donoghue is the story of a mother raising her son within the confines of a room where they are being held captive. 
 It has also been made into a movie.

Do you remember Flowers in the Attic, that YA book from a number of years ago? It was immensely popular with young people, and when my teen daughter brought it home back then, I read it, too. It's about a family of children who are hidden away in the attic by a mother intent on getting the inheritance which is hers only if she doesn’t have children.

There are more in this genre. Stephen King’s Misery is a tale which is not soon forgotten by those who read it.

I even had a "captive prisoner" novel in The King James Murders.

I will close this brief analysis with a look at the short story The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I remember reading this years ago, probably for a school assignment, and it still holds onto its fearfulness. This short story is about a woman suffering from some undiagnosed illness, and whose husband keeps her in a room with yellow wallpaper - which eventually drives her insane. It’s a great psychological suspense tale and you can read it in its entirety here.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite captive-prisoner stories.

In two weeks: On the one year anniversary of I Like It, I take a brief look back.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Four Important Reasons to Read Thrillers

Today on "I Like It,' I am happy to recommend the mystery/thriller, The Long and Far Away Gone by Lou Berney,

After all the nonfiction memoirs and books of spirituality that I have recently reviewed here, some of you may wonder how I can shift so easily into the thriller and mystery genre. My intention when I began this blog has always been to recommend some media that I especially enjoyed. So yes, I read nonfiction, but I also read mystery and thriller. I enjoy the books, mostly literary novels, I read for my book club. I enjoy poetry. And I enjoy thrillers. I like to read widely. I especially like to read stories. And so should you.

Here’s why:

1. Because you’re more than one kind of person. I’ve been to book signings when pastors (don’t know why it’s always pastors, but it's been only pastors who have said this to me) have picked up my novels, turned them over and have said,  “I only read spiritual books. I don’t have time for anything else.” I'm sorry to tell them I'm never impressed by that. I’m more impressed by a minister or busy person saying they escape into a mystery after a busy day.

2. Because escapism isn’t a bad thing. If it was, we wouldn’t go on vacations, take holidays, spend time kayaking, sailing, sitting by the ocean, walking in the woods or playing with Thomas Trains on the floor with our kids or grandkids (or neighbor kids.) We do a heck of a lot of things in the name of escapism. It’s good for re-charging the brain. I’ve always enjoyed mysteries but I began reading them in earnest in th 1980s when I was taking university courses. The courses were heavy, the reading material heavy. I needed something to get my brain to relax, to get it to move into an  opposite directions. Sometimes you just need to “think differently” to recharge your thinking.

3. Because you learn things. Plain and simple. You will learn new things. With every new setting, and every new story you pick up small and surprising details - even what kind of wine to serve with what kind of main course (something I just learned.).

4. Because stories are how we change. For the most part debate never changes our opinions about much of anything. Measured and carefully thought out arguments don't really change us. Apologetics doesn't change us. And as we know from this past election cycle, even a presentation of facts doesen't change us either. Stories do. That's why we're a people of stories from sitting around the campfire at night and bragging about the day's exploits, to sharing one's innermost secrets. Here's a link which supports my point.

So that's why I would challenge you to pick up a mystery, a thriller, a well-written one—even if you’ve never read one before. The one I am recommending today would be a wonderful place to start! The Long and Far Away Gone deftly weaves two long-ago stories together and will have you guessing and loving the characters. Wyatt wonders how he was the only teenager who managed to survive a massacre at a local theater in 1986. As soon as he could, he left that town, became a private investigator, vowing never to return. 

Until the story begins. 

That same summer of 1986, Julianna becomes separated from her beautiful older sister Genevieve at the state fair. The older sister was never found. The case was soon closed, all trails and clues gone cold. But Julianna has tried to keep it alive by yearly meetings with the police. It has haunted her. She has gone over every second of that last State Fair visit. 

Both Juliana and Wyatt need closure. Both want to move on. Neither know how.

I will tell you no more. Go out and buy it. You will not be able to put it down. And maybe, just maybe, it will change you, even just a little bit. 

Next time, another mystery/thriller: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

When Everything in Life Should be Highlighted

This week I am endorsing a book about getting older, gaining wisdom, and growing closer to God. The book is Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by the Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr who is with The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Before I read this book I had never fully appreciated or understood that there were two parts of life. You work hard when you're young and then you get to sit around in rocking chairs when you get old.
It's been strange for me - navigating this thing called "aging." I spent an awful lot of my early life obsessed with my "career", and "making it" as a mystery author. I am slowly letting go of that dream. And it's okay. I can finally say it's okay. This book helped me a lot. I highly recommend it to anyone who is on the other side of 50.

Our culture is obsessed with what Rohr calls, “first-half-of-life thinking.” Books, the web and magazines abound with self-help checklists–how to get ahead in your career, how to manage your money, how to chose the right spouse, how to prepare for your job interview. These are necessary. It’s good and important to set up house and home and family, but our culture revels in it to the detriment of “second-half-of-life thinking” which is about suffering, loss, giving, and the gaining of wisdom through these life experiences, and sharing.

In most all cultures—except our own—the aged are revered. It’s where we get the word “elder” from. I’m always amused when fresh-faced young missionary men come to the door wearing name tags which proclaim them as “elders,” and twenty-somethings are elected to the “elders” board at a church. Really?

We’ve gotten these things completely turned around in our thinking and and Rohr’s book attempts to set things right again.

Since I am a definitely a woman “of a certain age,” (or maybe even beyond—ahem), I found myself quite interested in his book and read it twice. I’m sure there will be more readings, for there is much to learn as I travel on this journey.

He explains something that most of us know - that is that when we are younger we see things in black and white—things are either “right” or “wrong.” And that’s it. We sometimes surprise ourselves when we are older and things become more nuanced, more gray, more light, more shadows, more bright spots. The elderly person who continues to see things in black and white only, is still lodged in “first half of life thinking.”

As I went through this book I began highlighting portions of it as I read. Now with me, I’m not actually highlighting with a pen. Lately I’ve been read most of my eBooks either on my large-size iPhone or on my Kobo eReader. With both, I have the ability to “highlight.” But it got rather ridiculous when there was so much good information that I found myself highlighting every single page. 

I'll share a few random quotes and thoughts and things I learned from Falling Upward:

-He writes: “The first half of life is discovering the script and the second half is actually writing it and owning it.” Or more simply, the first half of life is building and the second half is living.

-Rohr admits that it’s quite possible to live your whole life and never get past “first-half-of-life” thinking. The movie Grumpy Old Men  comes to mind. Grumpiness, as well as clinging to the first-half-of-life achievements and possessions - yes, it is quite possible to grow old and not to be wise. I think of King Midas in Greek mythology hoarding his gold to himself, or Gollum’s My Precious in Lord of the Rings.

Rohr writes,

The supposed achievements of the first half of life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way or we will not move further. Why would we? 

- I remember a poster I once saw - He who dies with the most toys wins. Rohr would characterize this as first-half of life thinking for sure. The wise person sees no need for “toys” whether physical accumulations or the black and white emotions which characterize youth. The wise person will give all his toys away. Not necessarily the physical things - although those, too - but the spiritual things gleaned and learned through the suffering of growing older, the experience of death, of loneliness, of failing health.

-He calls the path to this growth a “downward path.” I found this to be quite different than all the first-half-of-life self help where one is to strive to make it up the ladder of success. True spiritual growth comes from going down the ladder, falling off of it at times, and maybe staying at the bottom rung and helping those who are stuck there. The Bible seems to echo this:

 He who gains his life shall lose it. This biblical advice runs counter to everything we are taught in our culture.

-You cannot grow up until you have experienced weakness, until you know what it is to suffer. 

It is when I am weak that I am strong - 2 Corinthians 12:10 

I’m currently reading another book which is reminding me very much of Falling Upward, and that book is The Time of Your Life by Margaret Trudeau. She is the mother of our prime minister here in Canada and during the 1970s was married to our then prime minister, Pierre Trudeau. A week ago I heard her speak here at our local university. She is an amazing and gracious woman who has struggled most of her life with mental illness. She says that she didn’t really “find” her life until she was over 50, and Rohr would maintain, that’s just about right. At some point I will be reviewing The Time of Your Life for this blog.

I will end with this quote from Rohr’s book:

Once your life has become a constant communion, you know that all the techniques, formulas, sacraments, and practices were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing—life itself—which can actually become a constant intentional prayer. Your conscious and loving existence gives glory to God.

An ancient native American proverb says that “No wise person ever wanted to be younger.”

IN TWO WEEKS: More mystery with The Long and Far Away Gone by Lou Berney