Big, Fat Novels for Snowy Days

It’s snowing in many parts of the country, and down here in the Smoky Mountains, most schools have closed due to illness.  For many of us, it’s time to stay inside and snuggle with a really good book. 

I don’t know about you, but there’s a time and a place for big, fat novels spanning hundreds of pages – summer vacations, blizzard conditions outside, school out and cooped up inside.  You need a lot of time for a novel of more than 500 or so pages, and you sure don’t want to have to lug such a thing on an airline flight with you. 

Most of my own writing tends towards the short and concise, but I dearly love a good, long novel with multiple plot lines, lots of interesting characters you really get to know well, and a story spanning several years.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt.  This was the “it” book of a couple of years ago.  I couldn’t put it down.  A young boy finds himself in an art museum during a terrorist attack and develops a certain attachment with one piece of art that mysteriously disappears before the first responders arrive.  Arguably too long, but it’s a lot of story for the money. 

Russka, Sarum, London, Paris, and New York by Edward Rutherfurd.  If you like historical fiction spanning generations, these books are for you.  As a history major, I was in hog heaven reading these books and learned oodles of history as well. 

War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky).  Okay, if we’re talking big, fat novels, we’ve got to include War & Peace.  Yes, I’ve read it, and I loved it.  (I confess, I skipped the military history stuff).  If you like Downton Abbey type stories, you’ll love this book, too.  This fairly recent translation has gotten great reviews. 

Stay safe, stay well, Cindy

 

 

 

  

A “Hillbilly” Reacts to “Hillbilly Elegy”

A Review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
I bought this book as soon as it came out. I wanted to love it. Finally, I hoped, someone would write about contemporary Appalachian culture in a positive light.

This book was not about life in Appalachia. This book was about white poverty among people in small towns in the Midwest, many of whom are descended from Appalachia migrants. The experiences of Vance growing up poor were well worth reading, but I expected much more reflection and analysis on “Hillbilly” culture. There was the beginnings of a good discussion on upward mobility (around page 200), and I had hoped this would be the crux of the book.

My own parents grew up in grinding poverty in Appalachia, and I married the son of an investment banker. The difference in lifestyles and attitudes between my parents’ early lives and my adult life were jarring and often difficult to reconcile. My life as a wealthy person in Appalachia is light years away from that of poor Appalachian people living less than a mile away. Yet we do still have the same “culture” in many ways. I had hoped this book would address this culture, including the love of the land, the rich musical heritage, the pride in Cherokee heritage most of us have, and the extraordinary generosity of people in this region. I had also hoped a book such as this would have covered the vast changes in this region in the past fifty or so years.

This idea for this book was a great concept, but it focused too much on the author’s personal story – and that story took place among exiled mountain people in the Midwest, not in Appalachia itself. The focus on violence in this book was real for this author, but I wish he had been able to see this problem in context and understand that hair trigger temper tantrums are, in this region, more a symptom of class, rather than pervasive among everyone in this region. It only told part of the story of the people in this region.

I hope someone will eventually write about contemporary culture in Appalachia in a way that does justice to the subject.  It grieves me that in America, it is still considered acceptable to ridicule “hillbillies” and “rednecks.”  I hope at some point, this will end.

 

 

The Spirituality of Writing – Favorite Books & Authors

Many of my spiritual friends are also writers, and that’s no coincidence.  Writing and spirituality – at least on good days – are both active practices of contemporary mysticism. Like meditation, centering prayer, or lectio divina, the process of writing in your journal, crafting a story, or drafting a nonfiction essay gets in touch with deep truths, essential facts of life, and brutal honesty.

Like many spiritual practices, writing takes place larger in silence and by yourself.  Like spirituality, writing often involves confronting your inner demons, bad past relationships, where you’ve been, and where you think or hope you’re going.  Though writing may sound like a breezy, romantic occupation, it’s actually a lot of soul-baring, emotionally draining work.

Many of my favorite authors have written on this wonderful and mysterious process of writing.  Here are some of my favorites, holding places on my bookshelves like old friends watching me work and get in that mystical state where the best writing happens.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

I’ve read many, many books on the process, craft, and spirituality of writing, but there are my all-time favorites.  What are yours?

Happy Writing, Cindy

Favorite Books on Faith

As I have struggled with my own hard questions about faith (and often finding myself on the fringe of the institutional church), I’ve found the following books most helpful in letting me know that others struggle and question and sometimes feel on the fringe, too.  These books might also be helpful by showing us how many of us feel, whether a part of a church or not.

All of these books are very accessible and easy, engaging reading.  All are in paperback and in the $10-$20 range, available online or in stock or available by ordering from the major bookstores.

Julia Cameron, Answered Prayers: Love Letters from the Divine (2004).  This is a book of short, one-page prayers – but from God to you (not the other way around).  This is one of the most affirming books I’ve ever read and good to digest in very short bites, perhaps as a daily meditation aid.  I also recommend Cameron’s many other prayer books.

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (2000), Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2006), and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007).  Anne Lamott is a trip, pure and simple.  For starters, she has blond dreadlocks and is anything but a typical “church lady.”  She chronicles her struggles with faith, everyday life as a single mom, and the life of her anything-but-conventional local church.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (2007) and An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (2010).  Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest and rock star preacher who takes a break from institutional church life to explore faith in other settings.  An Altar in the World presents spirituality in simple, everyday acts of real life.

Sara Miles, Take This Bread (2007).  I can honestly say this book changed the way I think about things.  Sara Miles is a war correspondent and cook who had a conversion experience while taking Eucharist for the first time after stumbling into an Episcopal church in San Francisco.  She then went on to start a hunger ministry – serving the hungry food off the actual altar in her church. She now has several other books in print, also recommended.

Blessings on your own spiritual journey,

Cindy Coe

Read A Novel, Learn About Creation Care: A Book List of Favorite Environmental Novels

Getting our heads around environmentalism can be tough.  News reports may focus on places and problems far away from us.  The science of climate change is debated back and forth, perhaps leaving us frustrated, confused, or just plain exasperated by all the conflict.

An easier – and undoubtedly more enjoyable – way to get our heads around environmental issues is to read a good novel.  Here are some of my favorites, great for a book group (or just plain enjoyment):

Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer   (Set in the wilderness of Appalachia, this beautiful book celebrates the natural world. Written by a marvelous writer and book club favorite.  Be sure to check out her other books, too.)

Anna Patchett, State of Wonder (This is a page turner. Set in the rainforest of South America, the story is an adventure story involving the hunt for a miracle drug.)

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things (The author of Eat, Pray, Love is such a good writer that she carries off this story of a middle-aged spinster who watches moss grow.  I kid you not.  One of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.)

Theresa Weir, The Orchard  (This was a Target Club Pick I ran across.  Lots of human drama, along with why you really need to rinse apples before eating.)

Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard  (The real Johnny Appleseed stars in this novel, set in the pioneer days of Ohio. The story is gritty, with abusive and alcoholic characters who are not part of the usual Johnny Appleseed tall tale.  Just published in Spring 2016)

And…News Flash: I’ve just reduced the prices of Kindle editions of my two new creation care books.  Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youth is now $3.49.  Earth Our Garden Home: Creation Care Lessons for Children is now just $2.99.  Perfect for gifting all your teachers or youth group members.  If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app for free.

Happy Reading!  If you have additions to this list, please feel free to comment and add your own favorites.  Blessings, Cindy

 

New Youth Resource, Wild Faith, Now Available

A new resource is now available to introduce creation care to youth: Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for YouthThis resource was designed and written as part of a generous fellowship from The Episcopal Church to support Environmental Stewardship.

Wild Faith offers comprehensive resources for camps, retreats, summer programs, and environmental programs.  Along with tips and suggestions for introducing environmental stewardship to young people, Wild Faith offers six complete modules of resources for use by camp counselors, youth ministers, retreat leaders, clergy, and volunteers.  Each module includes a worship service, an active group activity, small group discussion or journaling questions, and prayers for use throughout the day.  Badges related to environmental issues may be earned by young people during, after, or independently of your program.  Most resources may be used with adults as well.  Topics include green spirituality, food security, energy sustainability, green social justice, and good stewardship of resources.

Wild Faith is also available in Kindle editions through Amazon.com.  Materials may also be used by individuals at their own pace, on pilgrimages, and in conjunction with outdoor activities.  Many of Wild Faith resources may be used in schools or with parish or diocesan Sunday morning programs or youth ministries.

 

Publication of Christian Nurture in the 21st Century

Sycamore Cove is delighted to announce the publication of its first book, Christian Nurture in the Twenty-First Century: A New Vision for Christian Formation.  This book, by Cynthia Coe, envisions new ways of nurturing children and young people in the Christian faith – backed up by scripture, church history, and theology.

Christian Nurture in the Twenty-First Century is available in both print and e-book editions through Amazon.com at this link.  This is a great book for Christian educators, clergy, vestry members, and anyone else looking to re-think their Christian formation programs.

Here’s more information about Christian Nurture in the 21st Century:

The light of Christ is passed from one generation to the next, keeping the faith alive. Christian Nurture in the Twenty-First Century imagines a new vision for sharing the Christian faith with young people. Based on scripture and a fresh look at how Christian education was done in the past, this book presents new ideas and models of nurturing the Christian faith of young people.

Cynthia Coe asks church leaders to give the ministry of Christian education a “fresh think” and explore new but more effective means of passing the Christian faith to young people. Coe also gives churches a theological and scriptural basis for trying new ways of Christian formation, such as paying Sunday School teachers – providing well trained, well prepared teachers in a world where volunteers simply can’t or won’t spend the time to provide effective Christian education programs. She also strongly advocates teaching parents who never learned the basics of Christianity before these young parents attempt to ingrain their children in Christian values and morals.

In a series of essays included in this book, Cynthia Coe tackles many specific challenges facing Christian educators, such as quality adult programming, Vacation Bible School programming, and how to reach children most in need. Based on her field experience as a Director of Children’s Ministries and curriculum developer of Christian education resources, Cynthia Coe presents a fresh voice and insightful ideas to better pass the faith to young people in the twenty-first century.

Cynthia Coe is an honors graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Tennessee College of Law. She also holds a degree with highest honors in the College Scholars program of the University of Tennessee, focusing on Honors History.

Welcome to Sycamore Cove Creations

We are a boutique publisher located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, in a lovely cove lined with sycamore trees.

Our first book is coming out soon!  Visit us again for news of our first publications, along with information on furniture designs and hand knit household items.