I have two, excellent books to tell you about today. You may never read them, but you may be glad to know about them. Maybe you will want to pick up one of them. No matter, I hope you’ll find some encouragement, enjoyment, and even inspiration from this post.
I began The Roaming Reader series in March while still in Florida.* I interrupted the series in the last three posts in order to respond to some questions from a reader. Now, we need to get back to the list of eight books that I picked for discussion. In March through May, I focused four posts on just two books. Today, I want to consider two more books. Since I”m looking at two in one post, this roaming reader will shorten her leash!
Which books on the list did I pick for today?
One fiction: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (2016).
One nonfiction: Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren (2016).
Within these selections, what do we find?
- A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.
I received A Gentleman in Moscow as a gift by a friend who loved the book — its literary finesse, its intriguing plot, its characters, and its use of historical location and time. She thought I too would enjoy it. I read it while in Florida in February. Recently, I picked it up again in order to write about it. No matter what page I turned to, I was quickly reabsorbed into the gentleman’s world.
If in your busy life you have time for fiction, you may find this a worthwhile book. Historical fiction can pique your interest in a particular era, region, person, and people. In light of the current Russian-Ukrainian war, Towles’ novel may seem more interesting. Then again, maybe not: maybe the book or real life will seem more confusing. Sigh.
Amor Towles nests his characters in the U.S.S.R. between 1922 and 1954– a nest precariously built within solid limbs, upon the rugged trunk, arising from the deep roots of Russia. Protagonist, the Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, the tenth generation Rostov gentleman, knows his roots and identity. However, the Bolshevik revolution pulverizes his roots, reduces his identity, and restricts drastically his existence. But, amazingly, he is left to live.
I’m left with the need to suspend believability on two, significant counts. Of course, I could be wrong. Nonetheless, for me, such suspension is needed in order to enjoy this artfully crafted, charmingly told tale.
First, in light of the horrors of this era and the destruction of his family’s estate and heritage, the Count’s temperament as developed over time feels too flexible, too amiable. Second, it is unbelievable that after his arrest and refusal to cooperate (not an amiable quality but gentlemanly delivered), that he was not put against the wall and shot. Instead, to be sentenced to live the rest of his life (should he leave this place, he’d be killed) in the famed and historic hotel across from Red Square, the Metropol, stretches credulity.
Suspending believability (or letting it rumble in the far back of my mind) was a price worth paying to enjoy Towle’s lovely sentences, to observe his parade of colorful characters entering and exiting the hotel, and to follow the twisting plot and the cumulative affect upon the aging Count.
From the beginning I observed that the Count’s temperament lacks the emotional depth of virtuous alarm at injustice and evil. In such a gutted world, how does a gentleman stay a gentleman, and even grow as one? Fortunately, fate or providence provides him with an adopted child for which to live, to suffer, and to risk the wisdom, love, and emotional strength that decades of life lessons hewn from within the Metropol Hotel have formed within him. So his character does gain texture. The book ends with multiple hints of hope.
While this novel is set in Russia, this is not a Russian novel. Towles is American (and a very interesting author worth exploring, if you choose to read this or one of his other novels). Russian novelists, such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy would plumb the depths of Count Rostov’s soul and reveal a more complex character. Towles is neither a psychological nor a theological explorer. Nonetheless, his characters are shaped well enough to change and grow, so the reader’s interest in them grows. A Gentleman in Moscow becomes, largely, a pleasant experience (having suspended believability), creating a fascinating “get-away” experience and a positive book club selection.
Sigh. I could indulge myself in a delicious analysis of many aspects of this book, but I’ve run out of leash. You can explore this book online. Towles has a very good website with video of the author describing his thought processes regarding writing historical fiction and developing characters. Explore his website:
- Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
If the gentleman, Count Alexander Ilyllic Rostov, had possessed Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary to inspire him and guide his ordinary, daily routines, so necessarily standardized for over thirty years in the Metropol, then his person may have also grown a depth of spiritual insight and daily meaning, enriching him, so to prepare him for eternity and to provide us with a different kind of character-model.
Yet, each of us lives within our own little circle of existence, our own “Metropol”. Maybe you have a wide circle; nevertheless, it is a circle — the limits of your earthly finity. As a retired person with limiting health issues, I identify with the Count, in some ways, and I appreciate the framework of Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary.
Warren’s work encompasses the passing of one day. Yes, one day. Her eleven chapters progress through regular, common activities of a day, to which she unearths the sacred meaning that can lie beneath.
In theology, her presentation of the daily, Christian life falls under the category of “sanctification” (for those who like to classify ideas/things — I’m one of those, as long as classification is not an end in itself; it simply helps us to think better: part to whole; whole to part. I can’t see or understand everything at one time).
Sanctification has also been called piety, holiness, and now commonly, spiritual formation. Warren sees the ordering of a day as similar to the order of a worship service, the gathered worship of the local church body. Through the order (the liturgy) of the gathered body of Christ, we worship the Lord; through the ordinary order of a day, we also can worship the Lord. There should be no divorce between the sacred and the mundane or the ordinary. Thus, every day activities become sacred practices.
I’m roaming no deeper today into Warren’s thought and spirit – provoking volume. I’m keeping a short leash, as I said I would, yet I want to note that Warren’s work deserves more discussion. If you live a very ordinary life (and I do), you may discover the already existing, deeper meaning for your heart to be beating described in her book. Thus, you may be encouraged, comforted, and strengthened by picking to read Liturgy of the Ordinary.
I’m not sure which one or two books left on my list of eight books I’ll pick to write about next time. We’ll see.
BTW, I’ve been getting weaker the last few months (as my fibro and other issues have gotten more aggressive). I’m finding it harder to fight back, as it were, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’d like to post more often, but I run out of stamina and umph. I’m sure you have your own issues that are forces against you. We must look to the Lord. Wait upon Him. Prayers offered. Prayers needed.
Daily, we pick the best source for reading: The Word of God.
Psalm 121 comes to my mind right now. This Psalm of Ascents has only eight verses. Find it here: https://biblehub.com/bsb/psalms/121.htm . It begins,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
* Of the following books I said I’d write about in The Roaming Reader series, I’ve addressed in some way numbers 1,2,4, and 7 as of today. Number 3 is a large work and huge topic to face; I’ll keep it for last. Numbers 5 and 8 are fun ones that I’ll just briefly present. Number 6 is a little work by the same author as number 1.
- The Roots of American Order, by Russell Kirk.
- A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles.
- Is Atheism Dead?, by Eric Metaxas.
- Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren.
- Everything You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Notebook (Workman Publishing).
- A Concise Guide to Conservatism, by Russell Kirk.
- The Mill River Redemption, by Darcie Chan.
- Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook (1950). (What? A cookbook? Yes. Of course, I don’t read it as I do a novel. But this one is truly amazing to me. A dear Floridian friend who is 92 years vibrant has one in her collection.)
Thanks for posting!…..And for the pic of Paul picking. 🕊🌞😃❤️