This is the long day – the big book slog. We have to be at Book Expo early (for us) and my Publishers Weekly editor, Lynn Garrett, has a day of meetings before moderating a 4 p.m. panel on the changing world of American evangelicalism. I’ll blog separately about that panel later.
I got to the show without breakfast, so took care of that first. The universal complaint among attendees has been the wretched food service at the LA Convention Center. The choices are few and generally unhealthy – burgers, pizza and the like – and they have too few cashiers, so you spend 10-20 minutes waiting to pay while your food grows cold and your feet ache. There are perhaps as many as 40,000 people at this show and only two or three main concession areas, so they are overwhelmed. It seems there was also some kind of a mini-strike among the food workers at noon today, so that didn’t help. Who can blame them? Making, serving and selling terrible food to grumpy conventioneers for minimum wage can’t be a dream job.
After a breakfast of scrambled eggs in a tortilla, I hit the display floor, intending to scan every publisher of religion/spirituality titles. I soon realized this was hopeless. There are two display floors, each bigger than a football field. So what follows here is by no means a comprehensive report on the God goods, but rather just what I was able to see in a very unscientific walk of the floor.
First, I promised yesterday I would blog about th crafting and spirituality titles from Skylight Paths and some prayer books from its sister publisher, Jewish Lights. First, let me say that the publisher of both these houses, Stuart Matlins, is a long-time source of mine and a first-class angel. Let me tell you what he did for me several years ago. I had an assignment from PW just after I suffered the first in a string of miscarriages and had to call Stuart about some new title. I had called him before, but we had never met face to face: he lives and works in Vermont and I am in California. After the interview we made small talk and I somehow confided to him about my loss. He spoke to me with comfort as if he had all the time in the world for an almost total stranger and did this kind of thing every day. Then he sent me one of their books which had a section of prayers, meditations and other writing for women who are suffering just this kind of loss. I have never forgot his kindness to me.
So I was quite happy to see him and his publicist extraordinare, Kate Tregworny, on the floor. Skylight Paths has a series of craft-and-spirituality books including a new one on potting, The Soulwork of Clay. These, like the rest of the line, approach craft from a spiritual, rather than a faith-specific point of view and are quite well done. As the name would suggest, Jewish Lights offers publishing from a more Judaic focus, but with the intent that Jewish wisdom and spirituality can be accessed by people of any faith. They have long published prayers books, and in their booth I found two great ones for prayer beads – The Gentle Weapon and The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy, both by Rebbe Nachman Breslov, who lived between 1772 and 1810. Jewish Lights has offered these books since the 1990s and they are a perennial top seller for them. Stuart likes to tell a story about an Irishman who told him that his Irish Catholic mother counted these among her favorite books and that she had purchased and given away more than 20 copies of them to friends. “It speaks across traditions,” Stuart says.
That it does. Here is a sample from The Gentle Weapon, a prayer called “Crying and Sighing:”
Let my cries and signs heal me and restore me and bring me to joy.
Let me never again succumb to bitterness or depressed thoughts.
God, show me life’s meaning
I think that, and many other prayers in these books, could be arranged for recitation on many forms of prayer beads.
After lunch (again, ick!) there were two things I got very excited about. I walked past Princeton Architectural Press’s booth – the last place I might expect to find a book for this blog – when my eyes fell on a small computer screen running a preview of a new documentary called Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design. I couldn’t hear the audio because of the noise on the floor, but it was full of scenes of people like you and me who, for whatever reason – spiritual or otherwise – are driven to make stuff. You can see the video at PAP’s website here. PAP is releasing a book of the same title in the fall, also by the filmmakers, Faythe Levine and Courtney Heimerl. I can’t wait! Let’s all go see this movie and buy the book and report back here in November when the book and film will come out.
Another “handmade” offering – Storey Publishing was handing out proof copies (that means its in book form, but not the final, proofed form) of Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich. I nabbed one and will blog about it further after I have had time to read it. It is a memoir of many a crafter’s dream – Jenna tells how she went from a desk job in a city to an Idaho farmhouse where she set out to live a more handmade life – raising chickens, growing her own food, etc. The 25-year-old (!!!!) Jenna now lives in Vermont where she continues to live as handmade a life as possible.
While I was in the booth fondling the book, the most hilarious thing happened. There are a lot of celebrity authors at the show – this year’s crop included Brooke Shield, John Hodgman, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and one of the “Skinny Bitches.” I could not care less about celebrities, and I walked past booths where several were signing as if I were walking past a fire hydrant. But on day two of the convention, I visited the Interweave Press booth because, as some of you know, I am a rabid knitter. I wasn’t looking for anything there for PW or the blog, but was hoping to satisfy my own lust for yarn and knitting patterns by getting a glimpse of their forthcoming knitting books. I didn’t see any new knitting books because instead, I was stopped dead by the sight of Stephanie Pearl McPhee, the knitting guru/author/blogger/all-around wunderknitter, a.k.a. The Yarn Harlot sitting in the booth in an apparent meeting with Interweave’s reps. (An aside – if you are not knitter, you may be saying, “Who is SPM?” But if you are a knitter, it is as if I just told you I saw Pope John Paul II. Yes, she is that famous and that beloved). I just gaped. I didn’t say anything (what would I say? “I LOOOOOOVE YOU”???). But later that night, having dinner with my religion reporting colleagues Lynn and Marcia Ford, I mentioned that I had seen her and Marcia suddenly came out with, “I LOVE Stephanie Pearl McPhee! ARE YOU A KNITTER? ME, TOO!” and we were off to the races, comparing knitting stories and patterns and the like. Poor Lynn was completely left out.
ANYWAY, on this day, as I was fondling Made From Scratch in Storey’s booth, I glanced to me left – AND THERE WAS STEPHANIE PEARL MCPHEE AGAIN! This time, I was so startled out of my mouth came, “Oh, my God, I just saw you yesterday at Interweave’s booth and here you are again!” (Another aside: when startled I am not especially clever, though I do tend to be verbose and enthusiastic). Without missing a beat, SPM says, “Are you stalking me?” I must have blabbered something and then she said she was stalking William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (see the pictures on her site), and that she had managed to capture Captain Kirk with her camera. I remembered how, when I heard her read at Copperfield Books in Petaluma a year or so ago, she told a story about seeing Greg Kinnear in an airport and stealthily photographed him with her camera phone. On her wildly popular blog, she referred to this action as “kinnearing,” and last January the New York Times named it one of the year’s best new words. I asked if I could kinnear her and she so graciously agreed to be photographed with goofy me and our knitting. What’s super cool about the picture is I am holding her knitting – socks, of course (no surprise if you read her blog or her extremely well-written and funny books) and she is holding mine, a tank top. So my knitting has had a laying on of hands by SPM! I was thrilled. Stephanie, if you are reading this, I could not make it back to the convention on Sunday for your signing of Things I Learned from Knitting – Whether I Wanted to or Not due to my PW duties. But I love you and our interchange simply made my weekend. THANK YOU!
Okay, now, back to work . . . . In the general religion category, I found some promising books. Continuum Books had two titles that intrigued me. The first, God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith are Changing the World by Katharine Rhodes Henderson says it all in the title, doesn’t it? I would love to change the world through my faith, but it is a bit puny for that. But not for these women – Muslim, Jewish and Christian who have taken their faith into the public arena in the name of progressiveness. The other – kind of a polar opposite, now that I think about it – is Touched by God: Ten Monastic Journeys by Laurentia Johns. Johns describes the lives of ten people, men and women, who have withdrawn from the broader society to live lives of faith and contemplation. Hampton Roads handed out small booklets with passages from Small Pleasures: Finding Grace in a Chaotic World by Justine (hey, that’s my middle name!) Toms. The pamphlet contained an excerpt about the author’s experiences with “women’s wisdom circles” and gave instructions on how to establish one. But the rest of the book promises to contain information on learning to slow down and pay attention to the spiritual side of life, and –according to the table of contents, at least – will discuss creating rituals and celebrations and carving out time to spend with the sacred. I am curious about a chapter titled “The Inner Artist Wants to Play.”
In the prayer book category, Crossway Publishers, an evangelical house, had Teach Us to Pray: 365 Prayers from the Bible edited by Timothy Beals. In Bead One, Pray Too, I talk about gathering your favorite scriptures (from any source, not just the Bible) and organizing them into prayers for prayer beads. This book would be a good source for Christians who’d like to give that a try. The book promises to be a primer on prayer. In a similar vein, Eerdmans has two books, including The Eighth Day of Creation: An Anthology of Christian Scripture edited by C. Clifton Black. It is a collection of 568 biblical scripture passages in the good old King James Version and there are sure to be prayer bead prayers in here for those of us who are comfortable praying in the old, majestic words. The second is A World of Prayers selected by Jeremy Brooks. This is a children’s picture book, but I was drawn to it for its beauty (the graceful illustrations are by Elena Gomez) and that it gathered prayers from all over the world for simple and daily needs – gratitude, love, thanksgiving, etc.
Hazeldon had something that might appeal to those who have been through some form of 12-step program and now use prayer beads – a category of prayer bead use I must explore further in this blog (anyone out there fall into thos category and want to share?). Sought Through Prayer and Meditation: Wisdom from the Sunday 11th Step Meetings at the Wolfe Street Center in Little Rock by Geno W. with William G. Borchet promises prayers, meditations and study that focuses on the 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” And a book that stood out to me because I’ve been there, done that and sometimes find myself going there again is Prayer Power: How to Pray When you Think You Can’t by Marci Alborghetti, a new book from Guideposts. The author lost her ability to pray when she was diagnosed with cancer, and this book is drawn from her experience of battling back to a prayer. It identifies times we need prayer during crisis – times of mourning, periods of illness, when we are caregiving – and offers up specific prayers suitable to those needs. They didn’t have the book in the booth, but it sounded like something that might be of use to prayer bead users.
I blogged about a Buddhist book yesterday and I found another one today. Stone Bridge Press’s Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth by Stuart D.B. Picken had some great prayers in it broken down by the seasons and then by elements of those seasons – waterfalls, fires, trees, stones, etc. After a description of the spiritual values of each season and component, there are “litanies” based on them, and many of these would make great prayer bead prayers. Here is one from “wind and lightning:”
Teach us the meaning of purity, brightness and the uprightness of the soul.
Teach us how to return to our higher origins.
Teach us the power of purification.
There was stuff to be mined in the New Age and alternative religions category, too. Llewellyn, the publisher of all things pagan, has a new book on creating home altars, which, if you are so inclined, could be a suitable place at which to pray with prayer beads. It’s called Your Altar: Creating a Sacred Space for Prayer and Meditation by Sandra Kynes and it describes all kinds of symbolism and meaning behind colors and numbers that one can imbue in a sacred home space.
Then there were a couple of books that had nothing to do with prayer or contemplation or prayer beads that I thought I might like to read. Both were from Harper One – My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of Faith by Benyamin Cohen and Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief by Rodney Stark. The first appeals to me because I love spiritual journey stories and I used to live in the Bible Belt. Plus, I had to laugh at the promo copy: “Shticking with Jesus.” I also admire people who are willing to step out of their own faith comfort zones and to better understand people of other faiths. Cohen is the son of an Orthodox rabbi, and according to the promo copy, feels his time among the Christians made him a better Jew. Intriguing! And I want to read Stark’s book because he has long been a source of mine and I have always admired his writing and this is a subject I am interested in.
By this time it was four and time for Lynn’s panel – that’ll be a later blog – and my feet were throbbing and I needed to sit down. Afterwards, we went to dinner and then to see Lewis Black at the Orpheum Theater. He has a new book, Me of Little Faith, and his performance was a benefit. I love Lewis Black when he appears on The Daily Show, but in this appearance he was a bit too foul-mouthed for me. Say the F-word in place of every adjective for 30 minutes and your listeners become numb. It loses its effect. Nonetheless, I still found him funny and insightful and I think his book could be quite good. I have not seen it yet.
Back to the hotel for bed . . . .