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Reading Maketh a Full Man...

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The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Canto)
C.S. Lewis
Boys and Girls Learn Differently!: A Guide for Teachers and Parents
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Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet
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Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw
Keith C. Burris
Daring, Trusting Spirit
John De Gruchy
The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church
John Thavis
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
Orlando Figes

A Widow's Story: A Memoir

A Widow's Story - Joyce Carol Oates Joyce Carol Oates ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Carol_Oates ) wrote this book after the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Raymond Smith in 2008 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_J._Smith ). They had been married 47 years, she was 70 and he was 78. As other writers that I have read, the author uses her writing as a way to deal with the shock of death. She writes very skillfully and with great mastery. If you have ever known a widow, then you will recognize the crushing grief combined with the need to take care of the next task. Copies of the death certificate are needed for everything. Probating the will. Paying the bills. Taking out the trash. Well meaning friends send baskets of fruit and sausage and cheese. People offer to help, but they do not know what the widow needs, and the widow cannot communicate what she needs because of the crushing sorrow she is experiencing. Re-living the final hours. Re-thinking the final decisions. Writing thank you cards or choosing not to write thank you cards. First conversations with strangers who do not know your husband has died. While reading this book, it struck me that Joyce Carol Oates must never have had any friends who were widows. Has she never offered friendship or love to someone crushed by sorrow? It seems not. She and her husband had no children, and it seems no close family. Friends did come to stand in the gap, but the majority of her book seems spent in alone times. There is no "where is he now?" or "will I see him again?". Death is final, the end. There is no hope of seeing Ray again, no hope of anything after death. No wonder she is crushed and contemplates suicide.The irony about JCO is that she is a very prolific writer of fiction, yet her husband Ray never read any of her fiction. None. They were both writers, although Ray left writing to become an editor, and yet she never shared her fiction writing with him. And it seems that he did not share his writing with her either. After Ray's death, JCO pulls out a book that Ray had been writing in the early years of their marriage but never finished. He told her that he had written most of it before their marriage and then set it aside when he turned to editing over writing. She begins to read "Black Mass", and discovers many things about Ray she never knew. The book is semi-autobiographical. Ray was from a very devout Irish Roman Catholic family. He even entered Roman Catholic seminary as his father had hopes that he would become a priest. But Ray has a nervous breakdown and leaves seminary and leaves the Roman Catholic Church and becomes estranged from his family. Ray's nervous breakdown has roots in the treatment his older sister received when she rebelled against the strict Roman Catholic upbringing. She eventually was lobotomized and then institutionalized. Ray witnessed all of this as a young child. Ray also bears the burden of his father's terror of not doing "enough" to warrant entrance into heaven. Ray's father pressures him to become a priest because having a priest in the family would be "good" and that would ensure Ray's father a closer chance of acceptance and approval in the Roman Catholic Church. When Ray rejects this path, his father literally becomes terrified that his salvation is in jeopardy. What a horrible burden of guilt to place on your child! And no wonder he fled from his family. What I feel is most tragic about this is that JCO knew none of this during her 47 year marriage to Ray. She was simply content to accept Ray into her family and never extend friendship or love to Ray's family.Her success by the end of the book (and I must confess that I skimmed the last 1/3rd of the book, it is almost 400 pages long!) is that she has survived the year after Ray's death. That is the high point of the book. I heard the author say that at some point she wanted to call her book "A Widow's Handbook", but based on her own experience she would not have read it. Then to whom is she writing? I have read other widows and widowers write about their grief at the death of their spouse, and those people seem to have written from positions of hope that lead them out of despair eventually into an understanding of their suffering. JCO points only to THE END. No hope. Her grief has no purpose. As such, why read her book? While she writes well, she instructs poorly. The example she provides is selfish and narrow, grasping merely for survival and accepting that there really is no meaning in her grief. If you must read about life as a widow, there are many other books to turn to that are written just as well (or better) and contain wisdom, something JCO's book has none of. In an effort to provide a bit of contrast, I thought about books that would be worth reading from those who had been there, and done more than just survive but point to hope. I thought of three people: C.S. Lewis, Kathleen Norris, and Elisabeth Elliot. Here is a bit of information about each person, and the book they wrote to make sense of the grief they experienced. C.S. Lewis wrote "A Grief Observed" after the death of his wife, Joy. Lewis struggles every bit as violently with his grief as JCO does with hers, but at the end he recognizes that there is something beyond him and his own grief, and in that "something beyond" there is hope. Lewis says, "God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down."Kathleen Norris wrote "Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life". (see my review at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/104755048 ). Norris is also an accomplished writer, as is Joyce Carol Oates, yet Norris also struggles with the death of her husband yet emerges as more than just having survived. Elisabeth Elliot wrote "The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way through the Wilderness to God". After experiencing the sudden death of her first husband Jim Elliot in 1956 on the mission field in Ecuador when he was murdered, she marries a second time to Addison Leitch and then helps her husband through hard years of agonizing cancer until his death in 1973. Currently married to Lars Gren, Elisabeth Elliot's book on understanding grief comes with hope and joy. (see http://www.elisabethelliot.org/about.html andhttp://www.amazon.com/Path-Loneliness-Finding-Through-Wilderness/dp/0800732065/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1300979272&sr=1-6 )So seek wisdom from those who have proved themselves wise. I'd avoid foolishness, and thus would avoid Joyce Carol Oates "A Widow's Story: A Memoir".