Other Review, Reviews

Review: CABIN PRESSURE by Josh Wolk

When I posted about research last week I was in the midst of reading a memoir for the first time ever. I’m definitely a fiction girl, so I would never have picked up this book without a strong incentive. I’m so glad I did. There were enough things about this book I loved that I’m writing my first non-fiction review. How about that? Here’s the description.

Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk

It’s the countdown to Josh Wolk’s wedding, and he has just one thing left on his to-do list. His fiancee is responsible for the invitations, the menu, and the ceremony. And Josh? At age thirty-four, Josh has to pack his trunk to work as a counselor at his beloved boyhood summer camp. It’s time for one glorious, summer-long farewell to youth and irresponsibility.

A tall kid, Josh was always bigger than his fellow campers, but now he’s also as old as their dads, and he has the gray hair to prove it. Even the other counselors think Josh is wizened. For eight hilarious, uncomfortable, enlightening weeks, Josh teaches swimming by day and lives in a cabin of smart-aleck, wet-willie-dispensing fourteen-year-olds at night.

Reintegrating himself into his childhood utopia isn’t as easy as he thought it would be when he hatched this plan. His many moments of feeling ancient are paired with the unwelcome return of his old nemesis, Mitch. A macho jack-of-all-extreme sports, Mitch is idolized by the current campers, but he revives every one of Josh’s youthful insecurities and then piles on a few more. Throughout all this disorienting regression, Josh’s telephone conversations with his fiancee, Christine, grow increasing intense as their often comical discussions over the wedding plans become a flimsy cover for her worries that he’s not ready to relinquish his death grip on the past.

As always, here are the five things I loved most:

1. The humor – I’ve always had this perception that memoirs were about people with sad or horrifying stories. Obviously I was wrong. What makes this book is the humor. Josh’s way of seeing the humor in almost every situation kept me chuckling continually–probably because I like wry, sarcastic humor. He even made the boy humor palatable to me, and that’s something.

2. The metaphors – It’s no secret I love a good metaphor, and there were an abundance of them in this book. For example, in describing the dining hall, he says:

“The wide-open room was lined with three rows of wood tables with metal folding chairs, normally filled with boys screaming to be heard over boys screaming to be heard over boys screaming to be heard, the auditory equivalent of a nesting doll: the deeper you went, you’d always find another headache.”

3. The descriptions – While the metaphors certainly enhance the descriptions, there’s more to it than that. I could see, hear, smell and hear this camp, along with how he felt about all of those sensory touches. He also made the campers real and familiar. Here’s a brief example.

“Meeting the Bears filled me with a sense of deja vu. While the lumpy Trumps didn’t look at all familiar physically, I recognized his dark seizures of competitiveness from campers I’d known in the past. And every few years the camp got a new Captain Marquee, who would return from rehearsals annoyed at the lack of professionalism of his fellow castmates, convinced that if they’d just let him play every role, this version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown just might have a chance on Broadway.”

4. His journey – What he’s really cataloging is that point when you realize it’s time to grow up and let go of the past. You can’t recapture the past. You can catch glimpses of it, but you’re not the same, and places change, too. The camp was an interesting setting for his experiment, though, as it had changed less than other places might have. I really enjoyed seeing what he learned from the experience.

5. The storytelling – What it all comes down to in the end is that this story was told so well. All of the pieces above added up to a great story. So thank you, Josh Wolk, for making my first experience with narrative non-fiction a positive one.

I’m not sure I’m ready to jump into reading memoirs on a regular basis, but if you have a recommendation for one you think I’d enjoy, let me know. I highly recommend this one!

Other Review, Reviews

Review: THE STORY

Although I don’t make a secret of it, I typically don’t talk about my faith here because this blog is about my writing journey and the books I read. However, today those worlds collide because I have a review of THE STORY: THE BIBLE AS ONE CONTINUING STORY OF GOD AND HIS PEOPLE.

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Wow. That’s a mouthful. Basically, THE STORY is a condensed chronological version of THE BIBLE. As part of a church-wide study, I actually read two different versions–the main one and THE STORY FOR CHILDREN. There also are teen, middle grade, and preschool versions to make it accessible for all ages. I’ll focus on the adult one for the purposes of this review, although I do want to say that the illustrations in the children’s version are beautiful, and it does include some stories that are excluded from most children’s Bibles.

Ok, so back to my review. I’d better start by explaining the format. THE STORY takes excerpts directly from the Bible, without the book, chapter and verse headings so that it reads like–you guessed it–a story. It’s broken up into 31 chapters, starting with creation and going through Revelation. It is not the whole Bible. Parts that don’t fit into the chronological story of creation through Revelation are left out to maintain the flow. Other things are summarized in italicized text that is clearly marked as commentary/outside information. But the main text? Straight out of the Bible.

It’s amazing how smoothly the Bible reads when presented this way. I gained so much perspective reading stories I’d known my entire life in chronological order and in context. So many times at church you pull out a snippet and don’t think about what came before or after that story. The purpose of this study is to really show how the lower story–what happens here on Earth–fits into the bigger picture of God’s upper story.

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I’ve read through the Bible more than once, but THE STORY really helped me put things in perspective. If you’re interested in understanding what Jesus is all about but aren’t up for reading the Bible, I’d recommend this as a starting point. As I said, it doesn’t have the whole thing, so it’s not a replacement, but it’s an easier read if you don’t know where to start. And if you’re like me and have been reading the Bible forever, you can still learn something new from THE STORY.

Feel free to ask me if you have any questions about THE STORY or THE STORY FOR CHILDREN.

Other Review, Reading, Reviews

Why Pride and Prejudice Stands the Test of Time

I’ve read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen so many times I’ve lost count. I first read it in 9th grade, when my English teacher told us to pick a classic to read for extra credit. I selected it because I’d read numerous historical romance novels where the heroines read this “scandalous” new book. I had no idea an extra credit assignment would spark a lifelong love of Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

How much of a love? I wrote my senior honors thesis at Baylor on “Interpreting Jane Austen for Nineteenth-Century and Twentieth-Century Audiences.” Basically this means I got to research what people in Austen’s time thought of her books and compare that to how films interpret them now–well, before 2000, which is when I graduated. (I happily own up to being 35.) People continue to love Jane Austen. There have been several film adaptations of her works and this particular one since I wrote my thesis. If anyone’s interested, I prefer the BBC P&P, but the more recent version is fine for a quick fix. I own both.

Anyway, as I read this time, I considered specifically what makes it stand the test of time. There’s nothing racy by today’s standards. The pace is slower than most books we read today. And yet, there’s a tension that keeps you glued to the page. So, here are the five things I love most about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I expect they’re the reasons most people love it.

1. The love story – I have to start out with the most obvious. The proud Darcy. The prejudiced Elizabeth. Or is it the other way around? That’s the beauty of this story. They’re both flawed. They both make mistakes. But their characters are so well-developed you anticipate how they will act and sympathize with them. Austen builds the tension by showing Darcy’s struggle against his affection, but he has to be the one to love first. Without his struggle, Elizabeth would never have one of her own. Oh, that point where she says, “…never had she so honestly felt that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be vain.” It gives me shivers. It’s the ultimate romance, and there isn’t even a kiss at the end!

2. The Bennets – The portrait of the Bennets is so skillfully drawn. Austen masterfully shows them rather than telling us what they’re like. The dialogue, in particular, between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet is brilliant. It feels like we’re there in the drawing room, watching Mrs. Bennet flit around in agitation while Mr. Bennet makes dry observations. We feel Elizabeth’s embarrassment at her mother and sisters. I cringe myself during the Netherfield Ball scene. It’s an excellent picture of loving your family in spite of their foibles. After all, you don’t get to pick your parents or siblings.

3. The dialogue – I think this deserves a point on its own, as the dialogue is so cleverly done throughout the story. So much lies underneath every word. I can see the way the words are delivered, and that’s not just because I’ve watched the movies a million times. But speaking of the movies, they’re certainly a testament to Austen’s dialogue. Often movie adaptations change the dialogue, but even in the shorter version of P&P, much of the dialogue remains exactly as it is in the book. Austen’s words don’t need to be changed for the screen. They translate in any medium.

4. The character arcs – I alluded to this a bit in regard to the love story, but the way Darcy and Elizabeth change in the book is so well-drawn. While the story is mainly from Elizabeth’s point of view (with a narrator thrown in), we see Darcy’s change through her. They both learn to set aside their pride and prejudice to get through to the even better person they can be.

5. The life observations – It’s one of the best known and loved first lines in a book: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And that’s just the beginning. It’s easy to see why the book would have been scandalous in its time, and now we can look back and see how wise Austen was to point these things out. Many of them even still apply today, but I’m not going to explain them. If you’ve read the book, you already know. If you haven’t, you should go do it now!

What are your favorite classic reads? Why do you love them?