Category Archives: (story)time

(story)time: The Turner House by Angela Fourney

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I heard this bit on Morning Edition earlier this year, and immediately took note. I had loaded up my 2016 bookbag with nonfiction titles, most of them centering around the issues of race and racism in this country. Important reads, and tough ones. I still have several books on my library hold list, so these titles are in high demand. Post-election season has left my mind spinning, and I’ve been really working on turning off my brain to the best of my ability at bedtime. I needed a couple of good fiction reads, and then this interview came along.

Librarian Nancy Pearl had several under-the-radar recommendations for good books, and I immediately populated my hold list with them. The Turner House, by Angela Fourney, was the first title to show up. Angela Fourney’s writing is impressive, and it was interesting to see her connection to the University of Iowa as well.

At its heart, this is a story about a family, but it’s also about the death of a city (and the legacy of the family home). The Turners left the south during the Great Migration, landing in East Detroit, raising thirteen children in a modest family home on Yarrow Street. On the first page spread, the generations of Turners are spelled out over many decades. In the story, we meet each child, unique, complex, but deftly woven into this very American story. At the center is the family home, too many stairs for the elderly matriarch, too much upkeep for the children busy with their own lives, too isolated by the abandonment of the neighbors, white-flight, redlining, race riots, drug wars, the mortgage crisis, predatory lending. Having recently read The Warmth of Other Suns, The Turner House felt like a natural extension of this story of movement and change within our country and our cities. I could escape within the fictionalized family’s stories, but it still felt like an important story to read.

It is a universal story, it is my parents’ story, it is our story. My goal for this year is to read more books like this. I think it is essential that we all broaden and deepen our bookshelves this year. Thank goodness for librarians, especially the Nancy Pearls of the world. Start with her, and with your favorite indie bookseller, and fill your nightstand with our stories. I’m working my way through Pearl’s list as we speak, and it does not disappoint.

(story)time: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

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The year is winding to a close, whether I’m ready for it or not. I was talking to someone the other day at the bookstore about the books I’ve read this year, and she asked me which book was the most important on that list.

I didn’t hesitate in my reply.

If you haven’t read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson yet, I hope that you can find a place for it on your upcoming reading list. I reserved it from the library, and waited for a few weeks until a copy was available. I took my time with this book, reading just a chapter or two a night.

Isabel Wilkerson transforms the bullet point in our American History textbooks on the Great Migration into a complex telling of a movement of people from the southeastern region of the country to the northeast, the midwest, and the west coast, over the course of sixty+ years, by weaving three personal narratives from that era together into this story. Wilkerson doesn’t merely interview three people for this book, she becomes a part of their lives for the better part of a decade in their later years, listening to their stories, reading their letters, talking to their neighbors and children, driving them to doctor’s appointments and church potlucks and funerals. Each person represents a different genesis point in the south, and different times and circumstances for leaving. All of these factors dictate the course of their migration path, and understanding these forces and these paths provides a foundation for understanding so many issues and struggles of today.

I’m not a professional book reviewer, and I’ve struggled to write this post because I feared that I could not do this book justice. All I can do is speak to the way this book spoke to me on so many levels, and encourage you to add it to your reading list.

The measure of a man’s estimate of your strength,” he finally told them, “is the kind of weapons he feels that he must use in order to hold you fast in a prescribed place.”

harry potter: three things

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This past Friday night we went to Powell Hall to listen to the St. Louis Symphony perform the musical score during the showing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. You might remember that we won tickets to the show at the release party at Left Bank Books, and we were all really excited about the evening’s adventure. I expected big things, but I was completely blown away by the actual performance.

We had amazing seats – the first row of the Dress Circle which is the first balcony. We were just to the right of the center aisle, in the first four seats, and we had about two feet of legroom in front of us. Deluxe. I’ve written a thank you note to the event director for finding those seats for the four of us. The concert was such a treat.

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The movie played with just the dialogue (and subtitles), and the symphony performed every single note of the score. Watching the movie in this way shifted the way I thought about the movie – and highlighted just how important the musical score is to a story like this. There were maybe three dialogue-only scenes in the entire movie when the instruments were still. Even the simplest moments of the movie had some sound. I had chills from the very start when Dumbledore extinguishes the street lights on Privet Drive one by one, and the instruments captured that sound in the most magical way. I’m still floating a bit from the experience.

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Both girls are very immersed right now in understanding and learning about the back story – E’s studying the Hamilton score like she’s researching for her thesis, and F’s nose is buried in one of E’s books on the Harry Potter series. I’m enjoying the connections they are both making to other texts, and am delighting in this immersion. I’m also feeling grateful that they both have educational experiences that allow these sorts of deep dives and immersive studies. I remember the thrill of experiencing those moments myself.

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Which leads me to my third bit here – if you love the Harry Potter series as much as we do, then you simply must listen to the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. The podcast is hosted and produced by an engaging and thoughtful group of former and current divinity students, and each episode is devoted to a chapter in the series, starting with the first chapter of the first book. Using various techniques from a variety of faith practices, they examine the text in a thoughtful and rigorous manner. The text itself is not sacred – but the way in which we can make the time to immerse ourselves within it and make connections to themes in our daily lives and the world around us can be sacred work. It’s truly lovely, and so far I think that it’s certainly appropriate for anyone of old enough to enjoy the books themselves. If they are covering topics that might be inappropriate for younger listeners, they are careful to announce that at the beginning of the episode.

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That’s where we are right now – immersed in the books that we love and finding connections through the text to the broader world we live in and enjoy. A good story is a magical thing, isn’t it?