All January I have been in denial that it’s January: I’ve been calling it ‘December-plus’. I haven’t made any New Year’s Resolutions, I haven’t chosen my ‘one word’ for the year, I haven’t gone on a crazy diet because I’m already on a crazy diet (no dairy, no sugar, no grains), and I haven’t gone to the gym, though I am now managing to walk a little way on my own at home, which is a real win. So January has flown by in a whirlwind of denial, but there have been some exciting developments along the way:
I wrote a book!
I wanted to write something short (c. 50 pages) so you can read it in a 30-minute sitting, or use it in a Bible discussion group with questions and creative exercises. So I revised and reworked a previous series on Ruth, which is one of my favourite books of the Bible. There are two ways of getting the book:
1) FREE as an ebook when you sign up to my newsletter
There has been a real buzz about the book, and I have been encouraged (and relieved!) by the positive reception. Thank you – and if you have read it and enjoyed it, I would really appreciate it if you leave a review on Amazon.
My boy wrote a book!
It went something like this: Jon and I told the boy we were having a book launch party. The boy, quite reasonably, thought that ‘party’ meant ‘party’, i.e. an event with lots of people to celebrate the launch of my book, but we disappointed him by telling him there were no presents at Book Launch Parties, or in our case, any guests . We were celebrating with a steak dinner and an early night. Nevertheless, the boy was very taken by drinking fizzy elderflower drink out of a champagne glass after bedtime, and decided he would quite like a launch party of his own.
But if you’re going to have a launch party, you first need to write a book. Not a problem – “I’ll publish a book in ONE DAY,” he declared. And so he did. It’s based on a superhero character he invented, Magic Man, and is an eleven-pages long. He threw himself into the illustrations, but when it came to writing the story down, he expanded his creativity into the spelling (he has a predilection for adding ‘igh’ randomly into words at the moment, as a replacement for ‘i’, or just randomly), so I figured it would work better if he just dictated it to me and I acted as scribe. Like my book, Jon did the layout, cover and binding, and in a day, the boy had written his first book, and he got to eat ice cream and drink fizzy elderflower. He got a special Headteacher’s award for it, which he accepted nonchalantly, (in contrast to my bursting with vicarious pride and excitement.)
This may be self-indulgent, so feel free to skip ahead to the other book recommendations, but here is the full text of his book:
“Once upon a time there was Magic Man. He has got transforming powers, and he saves people when he transforms. There was a dragon, and the dragon was trying to kill Magic Man and all of the other people who were there. Then his superhero friends came to help him. Magic Man ate all of the dragon’s fire, and then he saved all of the other people. They were happy. Superman lived happily ever after with Magic Man, and all the other superheroes lived happily ever after with Magic Man and Superman. The end.”
Also – this month my parents celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary. In the photo of them at their anniversary dinner they look endearingly giddy and excited. I am so grateful to have grown up with parents who have loved each other well.
- The St Clare Prayer Book – Jon M Sweeney. After reading Sweeney’s outstanding biography of St Francis, I thought I’d get this book, which is a combination of a mini-biography of St Clare (St Francis’ best friend) and a liturgy of prayers written by her for morning and evening prayer. It wasn’t quite as sparkling as his St Francis book, but still a thoroughly enjoyable biography, beautiful prayers, and a pleasingly quick read. This book would be useful for anyone looking for a breviary, or similar: there are some good Bible passages and written prayers. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Girl with a White Dog – Anne Booth. This is a really good book for explaining the holocaust to 8-10 year old children. It’s quite clever, because it still has the shock of what the Nazis did, but without being excruciatingly horrific. I found the ‘twist’ a little obvious, but guessing it would be a surprise and shock for children. What I particularly liked about it as an adult was the parallels she drew between 1930s Germany in recession, and today’s culture, with increasing hostility towards immigrants and disabled people – it made it current and thought-provoking, which means it’s well worth reading as an adult. It’s well-written, and I read it in one sitting. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- A Christian Survival Guide – Ed Cyzewski. This book is ideal for anyone who has grown up in an evangelical or fundamentalist church but is now thinking of turning away from the faith because it feels too rigid and imprisoning. It asks questions of tenets of faith that we so often take for granted as ‘gospel truth’, and gently shakes the foundations a little, saying that there is perhaps more room for belief than you might suppose. It’s theology, but with a pastoral, gentle, respectful tone, rather than dry and academic. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- I Knew a Phoenix – May Sarton. I enjoyed this better than her Journal of a Solitude, and her writing is so masterful that I keep highlighting things. As a memoir, it places you like a seagull over the action, rather than in the middle of it, and really there isn’t much action, more a beautiful description of several epochs in her parents’ and her life. It’s the kind of book that isn’t a page-turner, but one I like to read when I need good writing flowing through my head. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
On my bedside table
I’m halfway through a lot of good books – will review these properly in February;
- 3-2-1 – Glen Scrivener – This is an evangelistic/apologetics book. So far there is one chapter of apologetics that I think is outstanding. Looking forward to reading the rest.
- This is the story of a happy marriage – Ann Patchett– I devoured the first half, and I’m slowing and savouring the second half.
- Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas – I thought this would be an endurance test, but I’m finding it hilarious. It’s so witty and fun.
On the web:
- “This creates a paradox: ‘real’ disabled people must be completely bedridden in order for their disability to be legitimate, yet if they want to win respect rather than just well-intentioned pity, they must be capable of incredible physical achievements.”
Oh my goodness, but this is good. On society’s expectations of ‘real’ disabled people – Lucy Briton – I’m fed up of having to perform my disability
- “If you’re lying in bed and you can’t move your head and you have to speak in whispers, [Graded Exercise Therapy] is not going to help you, and were you to attempt it, it would most likely kill you.”
Brilliant article from Miriam E. Tucker in Medscape (make sure you read both pages) looking at the recent PACE trial study and the recent press claims that exercise helps ME: Addressing fear of exercise cuts chronic fatigue…perhaps
Film and TV:
- Wolf Hall – I am loving this series, with Mark Rylance as captivating a Thomas Cromwell as everyone is saying, but I suffer the misfortune of sitting next to someone who has read Hilary Mantel’s books. This means that every time a new character walks on screen, Jon says something like,
“Oh – she dies. He ends up having an affair with her sister” or – “Those four all end up burned on the stake”.
So I say, “Um…hello – plot spoilers?”
“But it’s history!” Jon argues. “It’s not like we don’t know the end.”
Personally, I like my history mediated through novels or TV series, remaining blissfully ignorant of plot spoilers. (Though it should be noted, in case anyone is concerned, that I do in fact know that Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn.)
- Funny Girl – there were some scenes I now found excruciatingly patriarchal, but who cares, when you can just rewind it continually back to seeing a young Barbra Streisand sing “Don’t rain on my parade.” over and over. Her voice is incredible.
- Anne of Green Gables – I cried every time Matthew so much as walked on the scene, but I thoroughly enjoyed this trip down memory lane.
- The Musketeers – the swashbuckling returns! We are missing the cardinal, as he was the best one. I guess Dr Who is a bigger gig than playing Cardinal Richelieu, but all the same, the rejection hurts.
- Katy Perry – Prism. I am absolutely loving this album. Previously I really enjoyed her hit songs, but found her albums a bit puerile in places. Finally she has made a darker, more sophisticated album, where I generally don’t mind singing along to the lyrics at the top of my voice. Get it from Amazon.co.uk (£2.99) or Amazon.com
- Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett – Cheek to Cheek. Lady Gaga is not quite up there with the top jazz singers, but what she lacks in depth of tone she makes up for in performance. This is a fun album of jazz standards (though there were quite a few on there that I didn’t know). Firefly and It Don’t Mean a Thing are my favourites. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything. My brother recommended this to me, and it is a superb album – deliciously melancholic. Get it from Amazon.co.uk (£4.99) or Amazon.com
- Debussy – Preludes Books One and Two (Pierre-Laurent Aimard) – these are just enchanting, like slow-running waterfalls. I’m really enjoying this album, and it’s nice to have the preludes in the same place. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Debussy – Etudes (Paul Jacobs). If you’ve heard Debussy’s most famous works, like Clair de Lune, but never heard these etudes, you are missing out big time. If you imagine Claire de Lune as a wispy blonde, standing on a bridge beside a weeping willow, trailing her hand in a stream, the Etudes are her older, brunette sister, upstairs in the lounge smoking cigars and playing poker, entertaining with her witty yet melancholic banter. Because they are etudes, designed to hone technique, they are fiendishly difficult to play, but a true artist sees beyond that to the melodies hidden therein. Mitsuko Uchida’s recording is surprisingly disappointing – with her Mozart albums her technique is light and sensitive, but her Debussy felt to me a little soulless and aggressive. In contrast, Paul Jacobs achieves a rare sensitivity in these pieces, and I felt moved as I listened to them. It’s worth paying extra for this album, even though the sound recording isn’t so good as the newer ones, because his playing is outstanding. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
An unmissable talk
The Gay Christian Network Conference in America is convened by Justin Lee as a conference where gay Christians on either side of the ‘does the Bible endorse gay relationships’ debate can meet in a loving and celebratory environment.
I may be biased, because she is my friend, but this keynote talk by Vicky Beeching, sharing her story of growing up as secretly gay and the emotional cost of coming out at the age of 35, is incredible. It had 14,000 views in just 7 days. Seriously one of the best talks I’ve ever seen – she’s a captivating speaker, and her story is well worth hearing, whichever side of the debate you fall on.
Jeff Chu’s talk was also excellent, and is available as a full script so you can read it.
Most popular on my blog:
The two types of friends really hit a nerve – glad I’m not alone in this!
Good girls don’t get depressed – people were really loving Cara’s Strickland’s frank words on depression.
Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s monthly What I’m Into.
Over to you:
- What were you into this January?