A Remarkable Portrait

June 30, 2014 at 5:14 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

barabbas book coverTitle: Barabbas

Author: Par Lagerkvist

Genre: Fiction/ Literature

I’m pretty terrible about not investigating books before reading them, even more terrible about not investigating them before buying them (or bringing them home).   Something moves me and immediately on impulse I add it to my collection.  You never know when it might come in handy.  It looks like it could be interesting on a rainy day in summer when I have no internet my daughter suddenly finds herself in a nap and my brain is somewhere between writing historical fiction and flying away in a space ship.  Oh, and look, that possible moment in theoretical time happened this week.

So I picked up Barabbas, a short novel that had some vague ties to an author who had won the Nobel Prize for literature.  A thin slip of a thing that might find itself in the donate pile if it didn’t prove itself worthy in an hour and a half.

It proved itself.  Of course it did.  The concept is too fascinating to not earn itself at least 4 stars in my very critical book.

Matthew 27: 11-26

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood;[a] see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged[b] Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

barabbas book cover 2Unnecessary Summary: Barabbas was the criminal released instead of Jesus.  Jesus was then crucified, the very moment that determined once and for all who would die that day.

Of course that’s a little factoid that almost every Christian knows.  Many non-Christians probably know it too… Barabbas evil criminal let loose and poor Jesus killed.

I never thought about what that would mean.  Not just in the grand scheme of things, but in the small ways that are epic to one and often meaningless to the masses.  Barabbas – how did Barabbas feel? I never thought of it until Lagerkvist made me think about it.  I picked up the book, understanding who the title referenced, but not imagining that it would be a historical piece on the person referenced – on his life, on his feelings, on his thoughts after Jesus took his place on the cross.  Literally, not just in the spiritual salvation way, but physically died in his stead.

So many times we are encouraged to ruminate on Thomas (who doubted) and Peter (who denied).  The thief who was admitted into paradise at the last minute, hanging on the cross next to Jesus, he’s a really big deal in the church.  But Barabbas?  Barabbas was just a bad dude who should have hung and died instead of our innocent savior… Really?  What does that look like?

Lagerkvist tells us his version of what that looks like.

barabbas(If you’re not quite as oblivious as me, you probably already know this by the numerous film productions that have been done based on Lagerkvist’s work.  You probably also know about the Marie Corelli book which inspired its own film versions.  You probably know all sorts of cool things about Barabbas that I don’t.  But if you don’t know anything about it all – keep reading and I’ll tell you what I think.)

This is a fascinating tale documenting the evolution of a person’s heart, the confusion of their mind as they try to sort out philosophical things in the midst of chaos and history being made.  I’m startled by such a remarkable portrait.

It came out of left field.  It’s been sitting on my shelf for God knows how long.  And it was stunning.

It would seem that I am stunned by everything lately.  The truth is, as much as I read and review here, there are four times as many books that I pick up and discard without even making it through the first chapter.  (Those are either returned to the library because I borrowed them in the first place, or are delivered to the library because I am bewildered they made it across my threshold at all.)

The moral of this story: Lagerkvist is a keeper.  There’s a reason he’s an award winning author.  There’s a reason his book appears on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  He’s pretty incredible.

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Life Lessons in Paint

June 15, 2014 at 8:39 pm (Education) (, , , , , , )

HomeschoolP1000786ing is a little more than having a lot of books at your disposal.  Not much more, mind you, because books can answer all life’s questions – but still there’s a little bit more.

Our version of more involves a lot of art supplies.  I wait for great sales, sometimes I even buy used canvases for next to nothing at Goodwill and garage sales and whitewash them, I’ve even been known to pull canvases out of trash cans.  I’m that mom.  One way or another I want to get art supplies into my daughter’s hands, and not the “kid” versionP1000837s – I want her to have real paint, real brushes, and real canvases to work with.

At Christmas we requested that in lieu of toys and other items that will end up donated when she outgrows them or trashed when they are obliterated from use, to gift her art supplies instead.  We’re not depriving her for the sake of enrichment, I assure you.  I believe free play is essential and important.  The girl gets tons of toys on her birthday and throughout the year and has mountains of them.  Does she need mountains of them? No.  Will we use the art supplies? Oh yes.

Thus began our friends and family slowly jumping on board with how we handle our week, our budget, and our holiday requests.  As my daughter started to produce piece after piece (some not shown as they were gifted away prior to me thinking out documenting them)…



She chooses her own colors, even mixes them if she has to and decides which brush she wants to use at any given moment.  P1020187Each piece is entirely her own and we even discuss what she wants to name each one.

Pursuing art in this fashion is a daily exercise in understanding the scientific side of color (what it takes to make a color), as in the beginning we started only with primary colors, though we have been gifted additional ones.  She is learning about texture, movement, and how to convey emotion.

In addition to that, she understands saving and budgeting for things she wants.  How to prioritize certain desires: sometimes she uses birthday money for books, sometimes for toys, and sometimes for her own art supplies.  (Even more often, she opts to put it in the piggy bank or fund an extra trip to Chick-fila.)

It also brings the books we study to life.

Since birth, I have made a point to introduce her to as many of the Getting to Know the World’s Artists as we can get our hands on.  Kiddo has studied Raphael, Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and more.  She had a board book as a baby of artwork from Rosseau and another from Renoir.  We also love reading “Nature’s Paintbox: A Seasonal Gallery of Art & Verse” by Patrick Thomas and Craig Orback, helping kids to see the world through different art media – ink, pastel, watercolor, oil, etc.

We read through The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Monet’s Impressions: Words and Pictures by Claude Monet” all the time.  She seems to like the Impressionists a lot.P1020191

Which kick started our trips to the lake, taking paints and canvases to paint outdoors like they discuss in one of our favorite art books:

Picture This! “Activities and Adventures in Impressionism,” an Art Explorers book by Joyce Raimondo.  The book is an excellent way to help kids understand art history and how art movements begin.  It introduces real paintings and real painters, and inspires kids to do their own projects.


We also have a book on Frida, called “Frida Maria: A Story of the Old Southwest” by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, because all art forms are welcome in our house, as well as every bit of history we can find.

Which is why we also picked up a copy of “Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer” by Robert Byrd at the library.  We’ve been reading a few pages of that every day and I could not be more pleased with a picture book.

More than anything in this adventure through motherhood and homeschooling, I’m realizing that so much of ‘homeschooling’ has very little to do with what I know or what I can teach – it’s about granting access to where the knowledge is.  It’s about handing her the tools and giving her the freedom to figure it out, to learn, and discover.  So many times people argue that homeschooling stunts children to only learn what their parents know, when in reality it is quite the opposite.  When they have so much free time, under a little nudge here and some pointers there, children are much more likely to learn to learn for themselves.  A parent’s job, a teacher’s job, is to provide the tools for them to do that.

I didn’t think these things from the get go.  I merely picked up books that caught my attention.  I got her the art supplies initially because I had taken art in high school and my sister has always had natural talent with a sketchbook.  I wanted my kid to get these things in her hands sooner rather than later because I had a lot of anxiety regarding art supplies – I was afraid to be freely creative because I feared being wasteful with something considered semi-precious.   But over the last year and a half of actively putting these supplies in my kid’s hands, I have shaped a philosophy.

Here is a canvas, here is a paintbrush, here are some paints, here are a few books that show you the glorious nature of art throughout history – suddenly, you have a child who is beginning to understand history, humanity, science, and the world at large.  Imagine the implications when I give her the tools to language and math.  The sky is the limit and the list of people who learned to think through information on their own become the inspiration: Einstein, Curie, Alcott, Da Vinci…



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The Sparrow

December 3, 2013 at 10:50 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

the-sparrowTitle: The Sparrow

Author: Mary Doria Russell

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: Literature/ Philosophical Fiction

Length: 431 pages

In 1996, 2019 must have seemed so far away.  Now, in 2013, while reading Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow I am struck with the oddity of dates in science fiction novels and the disadvantage of time.  Then again, Russell’s novel isn’t science fiction so much as philosophy and a study of human nature and peoples’ thoughts on God.

It is like 1984 that way, a study of the world as it is and always will be, not just one particular society.  And like 1984, The Sparrow is timeless.

More than God and philosophy and all those huge thoughts I’m supposed to have about the book – you know, the ones you discuss in Book Club and during literature courses in college – I was stunned by the humanity of it all.

Quotes about relationships like,

“The antagonism he sensed but could not understand.  And finally, ending at the beginning, the almost physical jolt of meeting her.  Not just an appreciation of her beauty or a plain glandular reaction but a sense of… knowing her already, somehow.”

Russell’s work is full of those moments.  Those gut reactions, nuances, and descriptions of sensations everyone has had at some point in their life – or if they haven’t, they will.   Those epic feelings of “knowing,” the ones people adore having in movie-like surrealism, but are completely caught off guard and unprepared when they happen.

Russell has written something uniquely philosophical and thought provoking, but amidst aliens and Christian theology, atheism, Judaism… in space travel and anthropology, I was caught off guard by the sensation of understanding these characters so completely that I felt like they were my own.  If not my own, a part of me… or maybe, just me.

I am riveted by the emotional anorexic.  I am captivated by the seduction of doing God’s purpose. I am amazed by their choices.

More than that, I wish I could write something like this – something so thoughtful.  But I suppose the reality of my life is that I am stubborn and obedient, curious and creative, but not thoughtful.  No, I am not that.

I seem to be lacking the thoughtfulness and critical thinking skills, the ability to really pursue enlightenment.  Instead, I find myself caught up in the safety and the dogma, and more than anything in the whole book, the innocent friendship between Sofia and DW – that was my favorite part.  How simple of me to read something so profound and I just want to bask in a cozy friendship.


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A Day with the Glass Family

December 21, 2012 at 4:05 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

zooey_tTitle: Franny and Zooey

Author: J.D. Salinger

As much as I disliked Catcher in the Rye, I loved Franny and Zooey.  Apparently a short story combined with an intertwining novella, it reads like a full length novel just fine, and it’s pretty intriguing, unlike Salinger’s more famous work CitR.

Franny and Zooey are the youngest children of the rather large Glass family, and the baby (Franny) starts the book off as a twenty year old histrionic having a bit of a meltdown while out to eat with her boyfriend.  Her brother, Zooey, spends a large portion of his story in the bath tub talking to his intrusive mother about the meltdown that has migrated to the family’s living room.

Surprised that Zooey is a boy? I was.  Apparently it used to be used as a nick name for Zachary and Zachariah.  I spent all of Franny wondering how this mysterious Zooey was going to fit into the story, which at that point revolved around a girl freaking out about Bohemians and Academia the way people in their mid to late twenties today lament the so-called Hipsters.   There’s not much of a plot, more of a theme of self-discovery, religion, and philosophy, and what that all really means.  But I like that sort of thing, and I loved Zooey and his smart ass attitude.

It was actually pretty cold today, completely out of nowhere, so the kiddo and I spent most the day snuggled up and bundled in sweaters while reading and writing.  Basically, the perfect recipe for reading a quick book like Franny and Zooey between lunches and writing sessions and nap times.  I picked it up around noon and after reading tidbits here and there all day, finally wrapped it up around kiddo’s bed time.  I like having books like that around, especially as I finish up my year round Les Miserables Read-A-Long.  It is the kind of book I hope to publish a few of here and there before I die, not in topic and theme, but in mood.  I like getting to know characters in a specific moment of their life, like Virgina Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

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