I went through a strange romance novel-horror story phase in early adolescence.  While other girls my age were reading Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, I inhabited a literary world of heaving bossoms, throbbing members, kitten-killing ex-Nazis and evil clowns. Danielle Steele and Stephen King make strange bedfellows. My mother frequently confiscated this contraband and bought me titles like Exodus: The Story of Moses and Kittens! Look and Learn! to read.  Fortunately, I knew where she hid the banned books, so I read what she wanted me to read when she was looking and read what I wanted to read when she wasn’t. This odd combination of influence in my formative years probably explains a lot about my psyche. 

Eventually I phased out of the romance novel-horror story combination when I realized romance was too fake and horror too real. This was around age 16. I moved on to mystery novels and other genres. 

These days I take a more mystical approach to reading:  I read what finds me.  Though it’s usually random, sometimes themes emerge.  Here are some of the books that found me this summer. 

  I kicked off my summer reading with The Red Diary, a romance novel that a friend had passed on after she’d read it. It has been years since I read the genre.  Things have changed.  Someone should do a study on how the lexicon describing body parts in romance novels has evolved over the last two decades.  I flew through the novel.  It was more modern than I expected. The plot was simple: Rich girl falls for her house painter. It was light and fluffy, yet full of all the sexual tensions you’d expect in the formulaic romance plot. Honestly, it was a nice change from my usual fare.

 

Next came Go Tell It on the Mountain.  This one was recommended by blogger Robert Bruce of 101 Books, who is currently reading and reviewing his way through Time Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest novels since 1923.  His review of the book sparked my curiosity, so I checked it out of the library and  read it on my way to the ashram.  I finished the book as the plane’s wheels touched down in Florida. It was a churchy book with a dark, despairing tone that resolved in a sort of redemption-through-surrender ending. The language was lovely.  My favorite line was, “She moved in a silent ferocity of dignity which barely escaped being ludicrous.”

 

Oddly, the spiritual theme continued with strange contrasts and parallels in the book Georgia Bottoms.  I finished reading this one exactly as the plane wheels touched down in Tennessee on my way back from the ashram.  I grabbed this one from the library because I liked the pair of shoes on the cover. Plus the title was cute and there was a review by Stephen King on the dust jacket: “Funniest novel I have read in ten years!”  I didn’t find the book all that funny.  Maybe Stephen King was in on some joke I wasn’t.  Still, it was an enjoyable enough read – very Southern, sassy, and irreverent.

The main characters in Georgia Bottoms and Go Tell It on the Mountain couldn’t have been more different.  Miss Georgia Bottoms is a white, small-town, church-attending prostitue, while John is the illegitimate son of a  black inner-city preacher. Despite the drastic difference in character and tone, both books address hypocracy, faith, redemption, and what it means to be a good person.   Both books were relevant reading for my own physical and metaphysical journey.   They got me thinking about all the weird stuff we do to try to understand this crazy world and to simply deal with being human and all the conflict that entails. All the different language, metaphor, and ritual  — how divisive those things can be!  How we latch on to made-up ideas and refuse to let go. How we go to such great lengths to defend what is largely a figment of the imagination (i.e., language, semantics, concepts, ideals, etc.).  It’s kinda weird. Ok, ok, enough waxing theologic.  Moving on the next book…

There are romance novels and then there are tales of love.  Of Love and Shadows is the latter.  It is about the kind of messy, horrible love that leaves battle scars on the soul.  Isabel Allende is rapidly becoming my favorite author. She is a master story-teller.  Brilliant.

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