Hope Is the Word books, reading, & home education Mon, 01 Apr 2019 11:14:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.1 /wp-content/uploads/2016/12/cropped-Hope-Is-the-Word-Logo-LARGE-PNG-1-32x32.png Hope Is the Word 32 32 National Poetry Month /2019/04/01/national-poetry-month-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=national-poetry-month-2 /2019/04/01/national-poetry-month-2/#comments Mon, 01 Apr 2019 11:13:13 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=23843 It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Check out some of these poetry books as your celebrate! Animal Poems by Valerie Worth (illustrations by Steve Jenkins) Castles:  Old Stone Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Rebecca Kai Dotlich A Poke in the I:  A Collection of Concrete Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and ... [Read more...]

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Check out some of these poetry books as your celebrate!

Do you have any favorite poetry resources to share?  I’d love to hear about them!

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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri /2019/03/27/the-namesake-by-jhumpa-lahiri/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-namesake-by-jhumpa-lahiri /2019/03/27/the-namesake-by-jhumpa-lahiri/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2019 02:09:23 +0000 /?p=24199 I noticed The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri as a Prime freebie on my Kindle and just started reading it on a whim. I like to have a book going on my phone for times when I don’t have an actual print book with me to read, and there are times when it’s just easier to ... [Read more...]

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I noticed The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri as a Prime freebie on my Kindle and just started reading it on a whim. I like to have a book going on my phone for times when I don’t have an actual print book with me to read, and there are times when it’s just easier to read on my phone. (I’m mostly thinking of times like when I dry my hair. There is no telling how many pages I’ve read with my head upside down. 🙂 ) Lahiri isn’t a completely unknown author to me because she is one who is sometimes assigned by some teachers in the community college classes I teach a few sections of. She was on my radar for that reason alone.

(Warning: this review contains a few spoilers.)

I was fascinated by this story from the get-go because it is such an intimate depiction of life in cultures completely foreign to my own. It starts out with the story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, an Indian couple who moved from Calcutta after their arranged marriage was made official, for Ashoke to finish his education at MIT. Within a few chapters, the story switches its focus from Ashima and Ashoke to their son, Gogol. We follow Gogol into his early adulthood, observing all the ways Gogol first rejects and then begins to value his heritage. Gogol and his sister, Sonia, are completely American, yet because of their parents, their lives are hemmed in by the Bengali culture that is present in New England where they live. Gogol grows up to become an architect, studying first at Yale and then at Columbia. He dates a couple of American women, finally, in his late twenties, marrying a fellow Indian, Moushumi, whom he has known peripherally most of his life. This statement greatly simplifies his romantic attachments and relationships, which are a big focus of the story. Through them we see how he is constantly looking for the thing that his family is not: American, sophisticated, self-assured. Still, his marriage to Moushumi does not ensure his happiness, either, because their interests and ways of looking at the world are completely different due to both their educations and fundamental temperaments. The notion of an arranged marriage is reprehensible to both him and Moushumi, yet what we observe through the story is that Gogol’s parents are one of the most stable and happy couples in the story.

The title of this novel, The Namesake, is the unifying motif of the novel. It is a reference to Gogol’s name. Indian children are given a pet name and a “good” or formal name. Gogol is his pet name, chosen to honor his father’s favorite author, Nikolai Gogol, a Russian (Ukrainian) author with a tragic life story. The name Gogol has special significance for Ashoke because he was reading book by Nikolai Gogol when he was in a terrible train wreck, and it was the movement of a page from the book in the wreckage that alerted the rescuers that he was alive under the rubble. However, Gogol ends up being both the boy’s pet name and his good name. His great grandmother in Calcutta sent her chosen name for him, as was their tradition, through the mail, but the letter is never delivered. Then the grandmother’s health declines to the point that she is unable to remember or say the name she had chosen. Even after his parents decide to give him Nikhil as his good name for kindergarten, Gogol is the name he knows and the only one he answers to. The name Gogol sticks. However, as he grows and matures, he comes to despise his name, first because it is foreign (though not Indian, and not something he can transform into a real nickname), then because it was the name of some pathetic Russian author. As a young man, Gogol goes so far as to legally change his name to Nikhil.

This story falls into the category of literary fiction. It is well written, with meanings that go far beyond the literal and tangible. For example, when Gogol is attempting to take some pictures from an album to show his girlfriend in order to help her understand the Bengali part of his life, we have this description:

He tries to peel the image from the sticky yellow backing, to show her the next time he sees her, but it clings stubbornly, refusing to detach cleanly from the past.

Could that be any more pointed, yet any more subtly appropriate? That one description might be an encapsulation of the complication of the whole story.

I found this story very poignant, for many of the situations in the novel that are made complicated and even painful due to the clashing of cultures might also come to play even in my own life due to generational differences, etc. I loved Ashima from the moment I met her in page one of the story, and Ashoke grew on me. As frustrated as I often felt with Gogol, I could definitely understand why he acts the way he does throughout the story. The Namesake has a complete and satisfying story arc, and I very much appreciate that. The only thing about this story that gives me pause is the adult content. I am not a fan of graphic anything in my books. Thus, I can’t in good conscience give this one a Highly Recommended because of about three very graphic (but thankfully short!) **x scenes. It’s still a fascinating, well-written story. (2003)

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A Long Obedience: Chapter 4: Worship /2019/03/27/a-long-obedience-chapter-4-worship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-long-obedience-chapter-4-worship /2019/03/27/a-long-obedience-chapter-4-worship/#respond Wed, 27 Mar 2019 12:45:13 +0000 /?p=24194 Psalm 122 The Message (MSG)A Pilgrim Song of David122 1-2 When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,”    my heart leaped for joy.And now we’re here, O Jerusalem,    inside Jerusalem’s walls!3-5 Jerusalem, well-built city,    built as a place for worship!The city to which the tribes ascend,    all God’s tribes go up to worship,To give thanks to the name of God—    this is what it means to ... [Read more...]

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Psalm 122 The Message (MSG)
A Pilgrim Song of David
122 1-2 When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,”
    my heart leaped for joy.
And now we’re here, O Jerusalem,
    inside Jerusalem’s walls!
3-5 Jerusalem, well-built city,
    built as a place for worship!
The city to which the tribes ascend,
    all God’s tribes go up to worship,
To give thanks to the name of God—
    this is what it means to be Israel.
Thrones for righteous judgment
    are set there, famous David-thrones.
6-9 Pray for Jerusalem’s peace!
    Prosperity to all you Jerusalem-lovers!
Friendly insiders, get along!
    Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!
For the sake of my family and friends,
    I say it again: live in peace!
For the sake of the house of our God, God,
    I’ll do my very best for you.


The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You’d think that worship would be an obvious thing to me, as a Christian who attends church faithfully each week. Since these posts have already been fairly confessional, I’ll just go ahead and say that it isn’t. I don’t know if it’s because church issues have grown a level of cynicism in me over the years, if a decade-and-a-half of parenting kids who make church a challenge at times has worn me down, or if there’s something even more fundamental at work here, but this chapter called me back to something that should be the bedrock of my life. What’s more, it has clarified it and put it into very familiar and appreciated terms that I have been a part of my self-reflective mental landscape for decades. So far, this has been the most surprising and appreciated chapter of the book.

Peterson describes this Psalm as “an excellent instance of what happens when a person worships.” He outlines three results of worship that are the driving reason that worship is “the common background to all Christian experience”: “worship gives us a workable structure for life; worship nurtures our need to be in relationship with God; worship centers our attention on the decisions of God.”


It is the first reason for worship that gave me the biggest a-ha moment of the book so far–that worship is the thing all Christians have in common. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but it is something I just haven’t thought about it a while. It is my belief that God’s design for us is to live a fully integrated life: that what we are on the inside and the outside should match. While this isn’t the way my life is (not by a long shot!), this Psalm and Peterson’s explanation of it gives me hope that worship is a vital pathway toward this integration. As the stones of Jerusalem are “compact together,” so should our lives be. What I’m interested in here is NOT a Christianity or religion of shoulds; I’m interested in the way things, in fact, are–in reality, not in some alternate, guilt-inducing universe. I’ve had enough of that. Peterson gives me hope that this is possible.

I think getting back to a foundational, functional notion of worship not as something I must feel like doing, but something that is a fact of my life, feelings or not. This leads right into Peterson’s second reason for and result of worship: it feeds our need to be in relationship with God. I might even go so far as to say that it satisfies this need, not just feeds it. He cuts right to the chase: “When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.”

This Psalm’s last reason or result of worship is that it “centers our attention on the decisions of God.” Peterson goes on to point out that

the biblical word judgment means “the decisive word by which God straightens things out and puts things right.” Thrones of judgment are the places that word is announced. Judgment is not a word about things, describing them; it is a word that does things, putting love in motion, applying mercy, nullifying wrong, ordering goodness.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, chapter 4

I love that Peterson explains this in positive terms, not negative ones. I’ve always viewed the word judgment as negative, punitive. Here it just seems like speaking the truth–God’s Truth–about something.

Among the last few paragraphs of this chapter is a discussion of the relationship between the two words shalom and shalvah and yerushalayim, the place of worship. Shalom is a word I am quite familiar with, but shalvah was new to me upon reading this chapter. Peterson explains it exquisitely in this way:

And shalvah, “prosperity.” It has nothing to do with insurance policies or large bank accounts or stockpiles of weapons. The root meaning is leisure–the relaxed stance of one who knows that everything is all right because God is over us, with us and for us in Jesus Christ. It is the security of being at home in a history that has a cross as its center. It is the leisure of the person who knows that every moment of our existence is at the disposal of God, lived under the mercy of God.

Worship initiates an extended, daily participation in peace and prosperity so that we share in our daily rounds what God initiates and continues in Jesus Christ.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, chapter 4

This chapter describes how I want to live my life. It is all hedged about by worship.

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News of the World by Paulette Jiles /2019/03/26/news-of-the-world-by-paulette-jiles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=news-of-the-world-by-paulette-jiles /2019/03/26/news-of-the-world-by-paulette-jiles/#respond Wed, 27 Mar 2019 01:22:41 +0000 /?p=24202 Wouldn’t you know it? What is surely destined to be on of my Best Books of 2019, and I can’t share a single quote from it because I listened to the audio version! From the beginning of News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I was completely mesmerized. I used to be a great reader ... [Read more...]

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Wouldn’t you know it? What is surely destined to be on of my Best Books of 2019, and I can’t share a single quote from it because I listened to the audio version! From the beginning of News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I was completely mesmerized. I used to be a great reader of historical fiction, but I haven’t read much of what I’d considered truly historical fiction lately. This fits pretty squarely in that genre, and even more squarely perhaps into the subgenre of a good, old-fashioned Western novel. I wouldn’t call this my favorite setting for a novel, but maybe I’m changing my mind.

This is the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly retired army courier who survived the Battle of Horseshoe Bend at the age of sixteen (where he was given a battlefield promotion when his captain died right before him), going on to serve for many more years until retiring to Texas to work as a printer, marry, and raise a family. Widowered and living away from his daughters and their families, he now makes his living traveling from town to town in Texas, reading the news to anyone who can pay the dime entry fee to listen. At one stop, he is paid a $50 gold piece to transport a ten year old orphan girl, Johannah, back to her only living relatives after being kidnapped and held by the Kiowa for the prior four four years of her life. Johannah no longer (apparently) speaks English or her native German, but she and Captain Kidd learn to get along together, surviving a gun battle with evil men intent on kidnapping her again for nefarious purposes, as well as the physical difficulties of traveling the open Texas road, fording rivers, and all else such travel would entail.

It doesn’t take long to fall in love with both Captain Kidd and Johannah. He very easily slips into the role of protective grandfather, and she is such an innocent, yet wily, child. Captain Kidd puzzles over her treatment by the Kiowa; she has obviously adapted their way of life with no grief or remonstrance over her lost German ways. Kidd’s voice is wise, grandfatherly, worldly–he has lived long enough and seen enough to judge neither the Kiowa for their actions nor Johannah for her response. He mostly observes her and comes to her rescue when necessary. (For example, she escapes to bathe in the river in one place they lay over, stripping down to her undergarments. One of the proper women of the town is positively shocked by a girl her age doing this and tells a confounded Johannah so, but Captain Kidd both defends Johannah and stirs up enough Christian charity in the woman for her to later find some things to give Johannah.)

The story ends beautifully. No spoilers here, but I couldn’t have been happier with the ending. I was practically sobbing happy tears by the end.

Everything about this story is captivating: the plot, the characters, and the writing. I’d like to read this one, to lay my eyes upon the pages to take in Paulette Jiles’ gorgeous prose. I snagged this quote from Goodreads, just as an example:


She never learned to value those things that white people valued. The greatest pride of the Kiowa was to do without, to make use of anything at hand; they were almost vain of their ability to go without water, food, and shelter. Life was not safe and nothing could make it so, neither fashionable dresses nor bank accounts. The baseline of human life was courage. 

And one more:


Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.

See what I mean? Beautiful!

I must also say that listening to this via audiobook was an excellent choice. Grover Gardner’s narration–the voice of Captain Kidd–made it that much better.

Highly Recommended. (2016)

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The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg /2019/03/21/the-most-they-ever-had-by-rick-bragg/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-most-they-ever-had-by-rick-bragg /2019/03/21/the-most-they-ever-had-by-rick-bragg/#respond Thu, 21 Mar 2019 21:39:33 +0000 /?p=24176 I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices we make as young people–kids, really–and how they affect our futures. I’ve often thought how ludicrous it is for an eighteen year old to decide on a field of study or a job that will determine the trajectory of his or her entire life. My husband ... [Read more...]

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices we make as young people–kids, really–and how they affect our futures. I’ve often thought how ludicrous it is for an eighteen year old to decide on a field of study or a job that will determine the trajectory of his or her entire life. My husband and I have had many discussions lately that, while not being quite the same thing as regret, have at least been of the “if I’d know then what I know now” variety.

It is with the hum of these conversations in my brain, as well as own personal experience as a Southerner, that I read and continue to ruminate on [book:The Most They Ever Had|7173565] by [author:Rick Bragg|31122]. I’ve been a Bragg fan for years, loving every book I’ve ever read by him: All Over but the Shoutin’, Ava’s Man, and The Prince of Frogtown . This slim volume seemed just the thing after finishing The Clockmaker’s Daughter-a nonfiction palate cleanser of sorts.

A reader can’t get much more realistic than Rick Bragg.

The Most They Ever Had is a collection of related essays about the end of an era, of a livelihood, in the Deep South–the shuttering of the textile mills that had brought stability and even comparative prosperity to the former sharecroppers and subsistence farmers of northeast Alabama for decades. While I grew up on the other side of the state, I can relate at least peripherally to much of what he shares. While no one in my immediate family ever worked in a textile mill, my family certainly experienced some of what he discusses in the economic downturns of the 1980s that affected our lives in similar ways. And while, again, my family (to my remembrance) was never as poor as the families Bragg profiles in this collection of essays, I understand his defense of why they chose to continue to work in places they knew could kill them:

[T]hey were bound, many of them, to these mountains with something longer and harder than nails or even chains. Few of them owned more than a few acres of the land they loved, and some of them, as their ancestors had, still went to sleep in rented houses. But the highway led no place they wanted to go.

Indeed, the highway led no place we wanted to go, either, which is what led my daddy to quit a job he had worked for almost two decades, giving up his retirement with that international company to finally come back “home” to work after “getting on” at a near-to-home paper mill, starting over in an industry in his mid-forties after working in another for so many years. My mother and sister and I had lived back “home” for four years by then, long enough for me to traverse the entire circuit of my high school career, back with many of the same kids I’d started kindergarten with before lay-offs and transfers took us out of state twice. It was worth it to my parents to live this divided life–daddy living a state and five hours away from home, traveling home each Friday night after finishing his shift only to get home in the wee hours of Saturday mornings, just to turn around and drive back to his job on Sundays sometime after church. Four years of that. Living back home, not two hundred miles from the places Bragg writes about with such affection, was that important to my parents.

I get him, which is one of the reasons I read him.

Another reason, which doesn’t require one to be a native Alabamian, is that he writes with such empathy, pathos, and lucidity about an existence that other people might disdain. I know these people.

Outsiders like to talk about the working people of the Deep South in cliches, like to say their lives are consumed by football, stock car racing, stump jumping, and a whole lot of violent history. But it is work that defines them. You hear it under every shade tree, at ever dinner on the ground, whole conversations about timber cut, post holes dug, transmissions pulled.

They do not ask for held from outsides, unless it is from a preacher, a lawyer, a doctor, people who have skills they do not possess. They can, most of them, lay block, pour concrete, swing a hammer, run a chainsaw, fix a busted water line, and jerk the engine from an American-made car with muscle, a tree limb, and a chain. If their car breaks down at the side of the highway they do not call AAA. They drive the roads with a hydraulic jack, a four-way lug wrench, and a big red tool box that takes two hands to lift and jangles with one thousand leftover screws. They have installed a million radiator hoses by the glow of a Bic lighter, and would have no more left the house without jumper cables than without pants. They know how a septic tank works, how to wire a laundry room, how to safely pull a tick off a two-year-old, and how to unravel a bird’s nest from a Daiwa reel.

Yes, I know these people. They are mostly not of my generation, for better or for worse. I’m not saying they don’t exist in my generation–just that through choices we’ve made, mostly of the educational variety, doing most of these things would be, by turns, a burdensome necessity or a luxury for us. Maybe they felt the same way, at least about them being a burdensome necessity. The luxury of paying someone else to do many of those things haven’t come easy for those of us raised this way–we grew up watching all the adults in our connection do these things themselves. Isn’t this what adulthood means? And yet, the very choices we made to get an education that would take us out of the mills and the assembly lines, etc., also limited us to careers that sometimes pay less than the skilled labor force but with often greater demands on our time. So something like unraveling a tangled fishing line or even DIYing many household projects lies within the realm of people who have more free time than those of us with careers. And I say this with not one bit of disdain for people who have the mental space for doing the physical work–sometimes I think it’s the smarter of the two choices.

Of course, this doesn’t account for the real problem in the book, which is that in addition to the fact that these textile mills often closed without any warning to the workers who depending on them for their livelihoods, the conditions within the mills were so dangerous and toxic that those who weren’t injured usually ended up with brown lung that eventually took their very breath from them. (Sometimes it resulted in both.) Bragg describes it like this:

The lint crawling up their nose, down their throat had driven them mad. It swirled and floated, light as air, specks and hair-fine tendrils, flung off the ropes of fat cotton in the card room and whirled off the bobbins in the spinning room. It draped their eyelashes, stuck in the corners of their eyes, and found its way, like something alive, under the bandanas they tied over their mouths and noses. Over minutes, hours, it clogged their nasal passages, stuck in their throats, and was drawn into their lungs.

So, my personal philosophical and economic ruminations aside, this is a rich book that evokes the spirit of specific group of people. Some people might see them as stuck, without choices in a world that was harsh, forced to choose the lesser of two evils, either or which would work them into the ground (without much to show for it), chew them up and spit them out, or shorten their lives and reduce the quality of their health to the point that maybe the other two results were better. Still, because staying in communities they loved with people they loved was the most important thing to them, most of them considered the trade off worth it.

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