Discussion Week 2: "The Old Desperate"

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This is week two of our discussion of Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome.

Week 2 – “The Old Desperate”

In “The Old Desperate,” Glendon and Monte embark on their adventure toward Mexico. Each interaction with the folks they meet along the way—Samuel Cobb of the Globe, Mr. Franco the waiter, Detective Davies and his wife Celia, and their granddaughter Emma—is revealing. Incriminating details begin to surface about Glendon’s convoluted past. His response to being exposed is telling of his character. Monte’s required attendance at the Davies’ dinner party plays a similar, yet more subtle, role in giving us insight into both Monte’s inner turmoil and his deeper longings.

“The charges are bigger than you imagine,” he replied. Morever, they are true. There is no forgiveness for me under the law . . .” says Glendon. – p. 40

1) If Glendon had expanded on that statement, what do you think he would have said? Give it a shot—2-3 sentences max.

2) What response did his comment evoke from you? Have you ever been at a similar place in life?

I [Monte] smiled and Royal Davies nodded, “You’re doing these youngsters no service, you know . . . You authors, I mean—this world ain’t no romance, in case you didn’t notice.”

“So I am discovering.” I replied. It was, I suppose, the expected wry answer, and made my host chuckle, but now I am taking it back. I take issue with Royal, much as I came to like him; violent and doomed as this world might be, a romance, it certainly is.” – p.43

3) How do you think Davies was defining “romance”? How about Monte?

4) Why did Monte default to the “expected answer” both here and in the conversation with Celia Davies regarding the author Boyd Singleton Ample?

5) At the end of “The Old Desperate,” Emma shows Monte a list of her favorite books. He calls it “a peep into her life” and responds by asking her, “Have you a favorite character among all these?” If someone wanted to peep into your life, what books would they see on your shelves, and who is your favorite character?

Bonus Question: What shifts in American literature were taking place in 1915? How is the literary environment relevant to the story?

Discussion Introduction
Week 1: “A Thousand a Day”
Week 2: “The Old Desperate”
Week 3: “Jack Waits”
Week 4: “The 101”
Week 5: “The Fiery Siringo”
Week 6: “The Rarotongans”


45 Comments

  1. Chris

    In somewhat of a response to the bonus question Julie: I’ve been quite struck with just how different the country was just a hundred years ago. Enger presents a freedom and a sort of “wildness” to America that hardly seems to exist anymore. Trains, bounty hunters, escapes on boats–it feels like something out of Mark Twain, yet is placed much later. Maybe that’s just part of Enger’s romantic vision in the story?

  2. Carrie

    I’ll skip to questions #2 & #3 for now, because as soon as I read the line about romance, I knew it would be on here!

    I was delighted by the narrator’s reneging on his agreement to Davies. “Violent and doomed as this world might be, a romance it certainly is.” – I see this as a vivid description of a biblical worldview. We know the reality of this world, but we also know its beauty and its light and its hopeful ending. I think of AP’s “Don’t you Want to Thank Someone.” At Hutchmoot last year N.D. Wilson talked about the Garden narrative in terms of a classic romance – the dragon came for the woman and the hero did not fight him. He compared Adam to Christ, saying that Christ was the great hero, who fought to the death to save his bride from the dragon. *Martin Bligh* seems to be that kind of romance, where the hero goes to great lengths to fight evil and defeats it. That seems to be Monte’s understanding of romance in his decision to take back his agreement with Davies. Davies’ definition comes from the place of the skeptic – the one who looks at those great romances as “escapism” rather than pictures of the greatest reality there is.

    4) Why did Monte default to the “expected answer” both here and in the conversation with Celia Davies regarding the author Boyd Singleton Ample?
    Monte is still becoming the hero who will fight the dragon. At this point, he is still very much the first Adam, whose fight against the dragon is buffeted and strained – he falls into the “expected” answers because he has not yet learned to be the hero.

    I’m still pondering the list of books, so I’ll come back with that later in the discussion.

    Bonus Question: What shifts in American literature were taking place in 1915? How is the literary environment relevant to the story?
    This isn’t related to literature, per se, but I thought it interesting that Enger referenced Christy Mathewson at the beginning of Ch. 2. I did a research project once on the American Hero and Mathewson was one of the real-life figures I looked at. He was one of the last great sports heroes whose life was admirable both on and off the field. With Babe Ruth’s exceptional prowess on the field a new era of sports heroes truly began (Ruth began playing in the majors in 1914 and began his rise to fame in the late ‘teens): what happened on the field began to overshadow what happened off of it. Ruth was forgiven his personal character failings (infidelities, drunkenness, etc.) because he was a hero on the diamond. It was a key point in the separation between personal and public that we see in American culture. I wonder if Enger’s reference to Mathewson relates to the idea of hero he is shaping in the this book.

  3. Carrie

    Chris – You raise an interesting question. My grad thesis was a narrative set in this pre-war period at “the edge of the west” (eastern Kansas), based on the lives of my great grandparents. One of the pieces I found fascinating in the stories about them that their daughters told and in the letters and journals I read was how wild the west still was in the early 1900s. On the East Coast, it was a different world, to be sure, but beyond the Missouri River was a world not far removed from the days of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Erp. While I’m sure there’s some romantic vision shaping it, I don’t doubt that there is some accuracy to the picture.

  4. Dan R.

    I hope it’s ok if I just answer some of the questions. For question 2 part 2, just a resounding “yes.” I think that was one of the parts that takes most advantage of the author’s gift of writing exactly the way that position really feels (if that makes sense). The first part also made me think of the Biblical themes surrounding the Law (esp. in Galatians). The sentence at the very end of this section, when Monte is “bothered” that he didn’t/couldn’t prevail on Glendon to “try the law” (where he mentions chipping away) fits in this vein as well.

    Question 4 brought up something that I was thinking of regarding last week’s question of themes that we have seen emerging. Thinking over Monte’s character, as well as Glendon’s, I think one could argue for a theme of bravery (oh yes, and from the title). Much of the characterization of Monte so far could be said to point out his profound lack of bravery (almost comical at times), and these conversational choices he makes are another part of that. I find it ironic that Martin Bligh (Monte’s biggest success?) seems to be almost impossibly courageous, while at every turn, in all his relationships, Monte himself seems to be a disappointment to himself and/or others. To me, it seems like that might be his major struggle in the story: the pursuit of bravery. Why does he default to what was expected? Maybe he is just trying to meet others’ expectations for once. Why does he give Emma his “best production” of a scene that he admits is “probably… not possible”? Well, because he “had no daughter.” I probably shouldn’t try too hard to comment on that particular, but I feel like there might be a link here between his lack of real-life bravery and his lack of a daughter (someone to be that hero for? (sorry Larry-boy)). And there I told myself I wasn’t going to try getting into question #3.

    Anyway, the same could be said of Glendon: from the frightened way he regards Monte’s house in the beginning to the way he always seems to be running from something – he too might be said to be chasing bravery.

  5. Dan R.

    P.S. No, I did not read Carrie’s comment before submitting mine, and yes, I agree with it.

  6. April Pickle

    I love “the law” quote because it’s true for us as well. Glendon knows he’s sinful, knows he’s guilty, knows that forgiveness is the thing he needs, knows that the law won’t give it to him.

    Monte defaults to the “expected answers” because he’s afraid. I like Carrie’s answer and grace on him to say he is “still becoming the hero.” Just would like add that I think this may be due to the fact that he has just been wounded. He feels betrayed by Glendon. Not necessarily because he high-tailed it out of the train, but because he had given him a different name. And so doubt and fear are being revealed in him now more than before.

  7. David Rees

    If you came to our house, you would definitely see lots of Narnia and Middle Earth on the bookshelves . . . and spilling over into art on the walls, and t-shirts, and mugs, etc. We are nerds. Some other favorites would be Endurace (about Shackleton’s incredible Antarctic expedition), Escape from Colditz, and The Lost Prince. But the Lewis and Tolkien stories are so deep inside us that I don’t think you could take them away and still have the same Rees family.

    We love stories about freedom, and epic journeys, and forgiveness.

    The Lord of the Rings is my most favorite story, and Sam, Faramir, and Aragorn are my favorite characters in that story. I love Aragorn because he is a reflection of the true King, who comes as a servant, and who is returning with healing in his hands.

  8. Sarah Rees

    I think perhaps that Monte gives the “expected answer” at the Davis’ home because of two reasons. One, he wants approval and fears disapproval. He is in an intimidating situation. And two, he doesn’t know his own opinion himself yet.

    Although Royal says that Monte is doing youngsters no service by providing a heroic tale of good triumphing over evil, Monte eventually can confidently disagree and say that there is a storyline that runs through the sadness of life that tells us that there is an Overland and that in the blackest moments if it’s impossible to remember what it is like than the only thing to do is to live as like a Narnian as you can (to borrow from another story).

    David has already mentioned many of our favorite books and characters. Another favorite character is Elisabeth Anne from “Understood Betsy.” Both David and I really identify with her overcoming her fears and learning how to think.

  9. Julie Silander

    Chris – I think you’re right. And I also wonder if the tension between the “wildness” of the west vs. the more subdued east reflects the tension that Monte feels between life as it is vs. the life he longs for. What do you think?

    Carrie – Agreed – Monte hasn’t yet become the hero. There is some irony – professionally, he has been the hero but is now waining. But internally, the best is yet to come. I find that juxtaposition full of hope (particularly when we feel depleted and defeated).

    Dan – Glad you ventured into question 3. Good thoughts. And no doubt, the desire for more (bravery, courage, what else would you add?) shows up at every turn for Monte.

    April – Yes, Glendon knows he’s in need of forgiveness, but do you think his comment was hopeful (he can’t get it from the law, but perhaps elsewhere) or despairing? I’m not sure what his tone would have been. What do you think?

  10. Julie Silander

    Sarah – I just finished reading Understood Betsy with my daughter – I think it’s my favorite read-aloud with her to date. I wouldn’t have drawn the parallel to Elisabeth Anne, but that makes sense. Similarly, her character developed as a direct result of her own venture to a “less civilized” land, and the best part of her was drawn out from unlikely suspects. Great comparison.

  11. Jen

    I’m all caught up! And jumping in on a few of the questions…

    3) I loved that quote about romance. I think Carrie was right on with her explanation… I’d say Davies is looking at the world as the realist, that romance is escapism, a “good old days” way of seeing the world. Monte, on the other hand, is a dreamer enough to still believe in romance, even though he’s giving the expected answer.

    I wonder if some of this may come to his artistic bent too, and maybe be part of the reason he can’t finish his second novel. It looks like Monte is kind of an escapist himself, but will have to truly live and be a hero before he can write about another one.

    4) The whole bit with Celia amused me because I’ve done it before too. 🙂 You know, you’re with friends, or colleagues, or just people you look up to, they ask for an opinion, and you gauge what you *think* would be impressive before you answer. Sounds like Monte isn’t too sure of himself. Perhaps again, sagging confidence after his writing failures? He’s regarded as this author, this person who should be in the know about all things literary, but maybe feeling like a sham because he knows the truth about himself?

    Also, I’m bad at history and dates, so I found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1915_in_literature

    So… Tarzan, Oz, The Thirty-Nine Steps (originally an adventure serial before it was a book), Cather and Doyle. And WWI was happening, motion pictures were arriving. Sounds like adventure and new technology and maybe a good bit of escapism in wartime?

  12. janelle

    I keep coming back to Glendon’s statement from last week’s reading that it doesn’t matter if his wife forgives him, it only matters that he asks. Is he sidestepping the law so he can personally ask her forgiveness? Does he plan to give himself up afterwards?

    I had a stroke when I was 38 that left me paralyzed on my right side and took away my ability to read (I literally could see the words on the page & could not make any sense out of them) and write (I used be the county trainer for writing)–a huge deal for a high school English teacher. My world as I knew it collapsed around me. So I know something of shattered dreams…

    Perhaps my favorite book is The Hobbit, which I taught my first year out of college. I’m also a fan of C.S. Lewis and Jane Austen.

  13. Pete T

    1. “There is no forgieness for me under the law.”
    At first I thought Monte ment this phrase literally only and was simply being realistic with how courts would deem his actions. Reading it now, it’s hard to imagine someone could utter that phrase without implying the Biblical/Romans idea of “the law.” I don’t know what more he would have said, but you have to wonder about how he conceptulizes the forgiveness of God.

    2. What was evoked this quote: “It was, I suppose, the expected wry answer, and made my host chuckle”
    I highlighted that portion because when I first read this, what was evoked was a strong identification with Monte’s people pleasing. Like Monte, I will say something to company, I might even feel I believe it, but on reflecting on it later when I’m alone I think, “Why did I say that? That’s not me.” It’s the disfuntion of people pleasing.

    3. I am very thankful for several of the responses to propmt three.

    Carrie, I think you nailed it when you wrote about Davies’ definition coming from the place of the skeptic. A beautiful story so often looks like escapism.

    And Sarah, what a great description of Monte’s view – living Narnian – so great!

    This is such a great topic for the RR. It’s one I’ve thought about a lot as I’ve engaged more here. Although I was recently reminded how differently individuals can draw these lines between escapism and hopeful true-telling romanicism. I found myself wondering, is there a correct balance between the two? Is one side more right than the other? Perhaps the romantic side is “better,” but can it be taken too far? I would think so, but what’s a proper amount of sketpicism?

    Jen, you pointed this out, but it seem like Monte is going to have to wrestle with these two extremes, and hopefully explore these questions some more.

    4. Sounds like people pleasing again, but that could just be my lense 😉

    5. Great question. Like many of you, Narnia and LOTR have a prominent place on the shelves. Increasingly, the characters from Wendell Barry’s Port William are making it up there.

    As for characters, I’m quite fond of Jody Baxter, Hannah Coulter, Bilbo Baggins, Daniel from “The Bronze Bow” (nostalgic book for me) and if pushed to name a favorite, I’d have to say Gandolf. He’s in too many great stories to say no to.

  14. Sofia

    1. I like April’s rephrasing of Glendon’s words. I also liked Julie’s question about the meaning that Glendon ascribes to his words: Is he awake to the Gospel implications or despairing? While I can’t point to a textual cue for this, I did hear the sentence read in my mind with a tone of resignation, like wearily stating facts that are true, no matter how you look at them. I have a feeling (which I hope is true) that these words will turn out to have the greater Gospel meaning that perhaps Glendon did not intend them to have at the time (like Ciaphas’ prophesy that it was better for one to die for the many…). [Side note: I’ve been wondering the same thing as Janelle–is Glendon’s end goal to turn himself in, but not before seeking forgiveness?]

    3. The conversation about the escapism vs. ultimate reality views of “romance” has been great to read. It reminds me of Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” where he acknowledges that fantasy is perhaps a type of escape, but not escapism, because these romances (in the older sense of adventure story) bring us closer to the reality that the the dailyness of “real life” covers up.

    2/4. Pete brought up a good point about the people-pleasing strain of Monte’s personality that came up in those conversations. I agree with the other comments that mentioned that this may come to show the low point that Monte has hit following his discovery about Glendon.

    5. I have a hard time identifying a favorite character (there are so many I like based on different criteria), but Anne (of Green Gables, Avonlea, etc. fame) is a character that I have continued to admire from my first meeting with her as a child, through high school and college, up to now in my young married life. Anne sparked in me a desire to seek out beauty and enjoy it–in nature, and in the people around me. I grew up with Anne, rereading the series at different life stages, and learning from her experiences as from a friend. Funny how that happens with a character in a book. Besides the Anne books, other books that are arranged on my downstairs bookshelf to give a perceptive visitor a list like Emma’s include: works by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, G.M. Hopkins, John Donne, and Oscar Wilde (plays), and the book Notes from the Tiltawhirl, to name a few favorites.

  15. Lisa

    Great comments here again! Don’t have too much to add but will throw in a coupe things…
    2) I underlined the “romance” quote so was glad to see it highlighted here. I did not grow up surrounded by faith, but in many ways God paved the way for me to Him through those authors that gave me a picture of the great romance through their works and characters. Which leads me to…
    5) I loved this concept too! There’s too many characters crowding my shelves to pick just one favourite one, I’d say. It’s like asking which of my kids I love more. And I’m always finding new ones to add. But certainly Lewis’ characters are up there (Perelandra more than Narnia, just cause I didn’t discover Narnia until I was an adult!) and Frodo, and more recently, Marilynne Robinson’s Reverend John Ames (Gilead).

  16. Dan R.

    For question 5: My senior year of college I had a housemate who we all loved dearly; this is one reason why. One day I, on walking into the campus center, I saw a random pile of books on top of the public coat rack. After one glance I instantly knew whose they were. I snapped a picture with my phone to show him later, and I don’t remember any specific titles now (the feeling I got was somewhere between ‘I love classic literature,’ ‘I love classic Christian literature,’ and ‘I’m currently taking Literary Criticism’), but I remember being very impressed at the ability to be recognized by your books. I think I might have even taken a picture of my own bookshelf at a later date to use as my Facebook profile just because of that event.

  17. April Pickle

    Julie, the Dear Discussion Leader 🙂 : I definitely feel like Glendon is hopeful and not despairing. The gracious way he speaks to Monte before he takes the leap, and the fact that he waves afterward, do not seem like the actions of someone who is panicked and is only thinking of himself. I really like Janelle’s comment about him wanting to ask for forgiveness from Blue, not minding if he doesn’t receive it. What in the world is going on here? It will be interesting to find out. 
    This morning, I was reading aloud to my younger children from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and found myself thinking of Glendon (and Monte, and Mr. and Mrs. Davies, etc., and myself) as I read the following:
    “ …I do assure you that we couldn’t find anything in the way of a spell for taking off the ugliness. …whether we did right or wrong, in the end we see a spell for making people invisible. And we thought we’d rather be invisible than go on being as ugly as all that. … And I do assure you it was a relief not to see one another’s faces. At first, anyway.”

  18. Chinwe

    Such good conversation here! I am definitely being challenged to read this book slowly and thoughtfully. Thanks everyone!

    –> I’m struck by the contrast that Enger seems to make between the easy/confortable/safe life and the difficult/risky/adventurous life. The very end of this section of the book illustrates this very well; Monte thinks: “Well, I’d be back in Northfield in three days. Perhaps it would be easier to tell these things to Susannah in our sunny kitchen over cinnamon rolls.” I mean that sounds wonderful! Easy – Comfortable – Safe.
    But then, out of the darkness, a figure emerges: “A man in a boat, standing up.” Difficult – Risky – Adventurous. Did anyone else smile at this part? What is it that tugs at us (well, maybe I should only speak for myself) and makes us yearn for adventure? What do you all think about this?

    –> I appreciate what others have mentioned about Monte’s lack of confidence in himself and his opinions. I like the thought of him becoming a hero. At the same time, I appreciate Monte’s honest assessment of his short-comings. On the other hand, Emma is so sure of herself 🙂 She tells Monte: “I like you better that Spearman, but not so well as Alcott.” I don’t think I would have the courage to say that to one of my favorite authors.

    –> Speaking of favorite authors, many of my favorite characters have been mentioned here already (Rev. John Ames, Aragorn, the membership of Port Williams, etc). I’ve also found that I’m drawn to stories with loving father-children relationships (e.g. Peace Like a River, The Chosen, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.)

  19. Nathan

    Glendon is near the top of my all time favorite character list. His statement about the law points to the fact that he has to answer to her more than the law. That is to say, I don’t think he sees himself as above the law, but asking her forgiveness will do more to cleanse him than serving a sentence. Again, the straight-as-an-arrows just don’t get it. Davies seems beyond hope, but Monte has just enough grace left in him to bend and curve…to see past the black and white. Here he stands, at someone else’s dock. He has the chance, again, to jump into the river (perhaps I’m stating the obvious here) and really live. I think it’s interesting that Glendon was rowing against the current when we first met him, by the way.

    It’s a dangerous business, jumping off docks. You have to keep your feet, or there’s no knowing where you’ll get swept off to.

    Jump, Monte, jump.

  20. Nathan

    Oh, and favorite authors…Wendell Berry, Henri Nouwen, Charles Dickens, S. Lawhead, George MacDonald, and old Robert Frost.

    And sometimes, I like a good, gutter read. Clive Cussler. There, I said it.

  21. Matthew Benefiel

    Awesome sleuthing friends! It is a joy to take some time and read over these comments. I’m a little behind, though for once I’m actually ahead in reading. I couldn’t put it down, I had to know what happened next (I’ll try not to say anything).

    As far as the two characters, I agree with others, Monte is amiable (as he said himself). He gets along with people and wants to please them. At Davies house he tried to keep up with subjects that he frankly hadn’t absorbed yet and even backed himself into a corner, but was given some grace. At the same time Monte is strong in other ways, he is a good friend. Even when he is hurt he still thinks of Glendon and wishes he could have convinced Glendon to try the law. Monte is one of those men that thinks alot and sometimes speaks to soon, I know that feeling well.

    Davies is certainly the skeptic, looking at life through his worn out job, yet he loves his wife, especially with her analytical gifts and deep questioning. Monte points out his respect for Davies that he could live with a women like that and from the book Davies thrives under it. I really liked that part.

    Glendon is interesting, I really think he is the picture of us all when we fall hard. We know we are wrong and we hit that brick wall, that point where we finally say “Lord help me in my unbelief!” We are given grace, yet we have dug our hole. God doesn’t simply pull us out, pat our head, and send us merrily on our way. No, He gives us grace to climb back out, beaten and bruised, but resilient with His strength. Those first few steps are the hardest. I think that is where Glendon is at. Davies says he is elusive and we know that Glendon ran when the chance came, calmly, but he ran. He knows he needs forgiveness and he is taking those first steps, first with Blue, but I think he is still running in his heart from the law. God doesn’t always save us from the worldly law, in many cases He reinforces it. Glendon is afraid I think.

    My book list is small, but stretches over some strange genres. Favorite character is a hard one, but going off of what I’ve read so many times I might have to say Ender from Ender’s game. A boy who has the resilience to excel and command, yet the tenderness to care (at least in the first book). Samwise Gamgee is certainly a hero and Ged from Earthsea is wise only because he first was full of pride and was humbled severely. Then there is Arther Dent who is simple but funny (sorry I know Douglas was an atheist but his talent for tangents was fascinating and I find my mind wanders all over and has a tendency to silly things at times).

    If I had to pick a character so far form this book I’m reading I would have to say Monte, but then again I’ve been where Glendon is as well, though more along the lines of Monte’s frame of mind (lying to family vs criminal activity).

  22. Lisa

    Matthew, thanks for mentioning Arthur Dent! I have a soft spot for him too. Many times I feel like I’m wandering clueless around the Universe in my bathrobe, with only a book to guide my way….but my Book is a better Guide, methinks….

  23. Matthew Benefiel

    Agreed Lisa. Come to think of it the Book in a way says “Don’t Panic” too, except in our case it is buried in Christ and is real, not just a label on a book that is intended to be ironic because we really should be panicking. Also don’t forget the towel!

  24. Julie Silander

    Jen’s comment gave me pause – If I’m honest, I’ve had a few “Celia” conversations in my own life. . .

    The different characters either 1) reveal Monte’s insecurity and propensity to maintain (or create) a certain image OR 2) stir a deeper desire within him – for true adventure, romance, and courage. Perhaps Glendon’s checkered past freed Monte from feeling the pressure to “measure up” – drawing out his truest self. That’s certainly been true in my life. Community can play a powerful role in our becoming who we were created to be. Friends who know their own hearts and have been transparent with their struggles/shortcomings are often the ones who draw out the truest me. Has anyone else found that to be true?

    We all have some degree of image we maintain… This is a pretty cerebral group – perhaps the more accurate “peep into your life” would include what Nathan called “gutter reads,” or to be put more delicately, “beach reads.” Anybody willing? 🙂

  25. Loren Warnemuende

    Hurray for Arthur Dent! Who couldn’t be taken by great spaceships that hang in the sky like a brick doesn’t? Hitchhiker’s Guide is certainly among my favorites, as well as all things Austin, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, LOTR, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Jane Eyre. (Did I go over five? It’s impossible for me to stick to that.)

    Reading through this discussion has been very good for me as Glendon and Monte’s characters have been developed further. I admit that I tend to be black-and-white in my view of right and wrong. I am like Monte, wanting Glendon to try the law, though I am sure the law will condemn him. I expect that, and in a way, desire justice to be served. I mean, after all, how many people has Glendon harmed in his past? Shouldn’t he pay, likable though he is? I think this is one of the things that rankles me when I read a book like this. I felt it in Peace Like a River as well. I’ve known people who keep getting away with things at the expense of others, and I hate that.

    But it keeps coming back to grace, doesn’t it? And how God extends that grace to all of us. Glendon has probably sinned grievously, but how different is his sin from Monte’s self-deceptions? His response to Celia is a kind of dishonesty because he doen’t want his ignorance to be found out. I can’t count how many times I’ve fallen into that trap….

    I’m going to have to keep coming back to this, I think. God has a lot of teaching He needs to do in me.

  26. Loren Warnemuende

    Julie, this from you just now: “Friends who know their own hearts and have been transparent with their struggles/shortcomings are often the ones who draw out the truest me. Has anyone else found that to be true?” YES!

  27. redheadkate

    I’ll do it…I’ll got there, Julie.

    I’m in the middle of two book clubs right now. This one and a quick 2 week one for The Great Gatsby. But I stayed up until 4am the other night reading Meg Cabot’s Insatiable. That’s right, a campy vampire novel (that sound you just heard was Pete gnashing his teeth in anguish).

    So my favorite authors include Austen, A.A. Milne, Eugenia Price, Lysa Terkeurst, Mrs. Charles Cowman, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Sophie Kinsella. It’s a mix of “light and fluffy” and ones that leave me in awe of their skill.

    For me, I have to keep a balance. I can’t read all of one at the expense of the other. I like fun beach reads and lots of my friends read them. It gives us a connection. But I have to challenge my mind as well.

  28. Carrie

    Julie’s question about “gutter reads” is a good one. I’ve been pondering the list of my favorite books for a week now and perhaps one of the reasons I’ve hesitated to post it is image based. But another reason has certainly been the challenge of selecting just a few books out of the many on my shelves to share…I’ve finally decided that I’ll share the ones I’ve read the most, the books I go back to again and again. There may be some you might consider “gutter reads,” there are definitely ones that fall into the Children’s or YA categories – so, if nothing else, you’ll see my lack of maturity: when I just wanna read, just wanna hang with the characters that make me most comfortable, I go back to these friends:

    The Sherwood Ring, Elizabeth Marie Pope
    Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
    Patriot Games, Tom Clancy
    Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
    The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley
    Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
    Lydia, Clare Darcy (definitely my qualified “gutter” or “fluff” read!)

    As for favorite characters, my roommate and I have been having discussions all winter about how much we really enjoy the slightly cocky male in fiction, so in that vein I’d lean toward Peaceable Sherwood from The Sherwood Ring, but in the end, if it’s a favorite you really want, give me Harriet Vane from Gaudy Night any day of the week (if she happens to be followed by Lord Peter in one of his many attempts to convince her to marry him, so much the better).

  29. Julie Silander

    Point of clarification…

    The intent around asking about “beach reading” (let’s not use “gutter” – too many connotations) was to get a peek at some of the lighter books that folks enjoy, but that aren’t esteemed enough to make the favorites list.

    That being said, I take some small degree of pleasure in the thought of Pete’s gnashing of teeth in response to Kate’s campy vampire novel.

  30. Jen

    Aw man…. the beach reads? hmmm. I do admit that I tried to read this high literary novel while I had the flu once. It was boring. So I read Twilight. It was kind of fun in my delusional fever state. *shame*

    I’m struggling to think of light books, because I am a bookish snob. 😉 Just kidding. But I could totally talk musical guilty pleasures anytime.

  31. Loren Warnemuende

    Carrie, you stole my favorite Wimsey novel!

    I have lots of light reads…and I like books with happy endings. So classic mysteries, particularly Sayers, but also Agatha Christie and Ellis Peters are ones I’m always returning to. And I really, really love Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels (most of them circa 1950s-1970s). She’s so clean, and really writes beautifully, and she has such wonderful settings. They’re my safe books.

  32. Nathan

    Well, thanks for redeeming my “gutter” characterization. Sorry…gutter is full of connotations. I suppose it reflects the bashfulness (read, shame) of admitting to enjoying something so common, vulgar, or base. I often come back to the idea that I only have so much time to read, write, study, and spend time with my family, so I try to be selective about what books I pick up. On the other hand, it’s a waste to be so bent on only reading things I would be proud to read, that I don’t end up reading or truly enjoying reading at all.

    What draws me to characters is complex, but I think one component that owns a controlling share in the draw to me is how much the character aligns with my idealized image, or how much I desire to be like the character (read, be the character).

  33. Nathan

    Loren, I guess we were writing at the same time. Is she the same Mary Stuart that wrote an Arthurian Trilogy? The Crystal Cave, and something or another?

  34. sofia

    I think that most of my “beach reads” are of the “romance” sort that this crowd values, bur that I remember not being quite as valued by other groups I’ve been with. Jane Austen novels, for example, were quite regularly ridiculed by my undergrad Lit-major cohorts. I also remember feeling a bit… immature, perhaps?… when I brought out a Wingfeather book while on vacation with a group that had just heatedly discussed that book about why our food production is bad (forget the title) over dinner, along with other current & political events. Like Loren, I like books with happy endings, and I generally don’t like the “gritty,” “real life” -type books that I feel are the “modern books” that with-it Lit major types read. Oh–and Jeeves and Wooster books are just plain Anglophile fun.

  35. Lisa

    Chiming in again….one of my favourite characters is Sherlock Holmes, so anyone “peeping” into my life would definitely see him skulking around with his magnifying glass. And they would also find a certain vet toiling on the high hills of the Yorkshire Dales, James Herriot. And I love fantasy novels – the Dragonriders of Pern would be there too, and Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Ack – too many to list- there are a whole bunch more from more recent years, but you get the drift, I think…..

  36. Dan R.

    Funny, I was just having a conversation with a friend this weekend about all the people we know who were/are put off by all the “silliness” of the Wingfeather books. I mean, for the uninitiated, of course your impression from hearing about the books would be based on toothy cows and the Fangs of Dang. Unfortunately that makes it sound like there’s nothing very meaningful or enjoyable (maturely) about those particular books. Has anyone else run into that problem, or found a solution to it?

  37. Loren Warnemuende

    Nathan, yep, that Mary Stewart. And wouldn’t you know I have her whole Arthurian/Merlin series but have never read them (though I know from my mom how good they are). They seem to be one of those sets of books I would be proud to say I’ve read, that I want to read, but then I slip back into my easy favorites by her.

  38. Loren Warnemuende

    Lisa, I love Holmes and Herriot! How could I forget those old friends?

    Dan R., that’s a good question about the Wingfeather books. Once you actually read them they’re so rich and deep, but I wonder if the quick blurbs are slightly misleading. I keep trying to push them for our middle-grade readers at church, but I don’t think I’ve gotten too far. Sigh!

  39. Chris Whitler

    I finally caught up to this section (I moved my house last week!). I love this book and have enjoyed reading some of your comments. I’ll try to get in earlier next week so I can enjoy them along the way instead of being all behind and stuff.

    I mentioned in the last section that I work with homeless guys and there is one friend who REALLY reminds me of Glendon. There is no end to the ways Glendon’s admission of guilt could be expanded. With this friend in particular (again, a self proclaimed hobo), it took years of friendship and conversation to get to the nitty gritty of why his life has ended up in such rough shape. He took a long time to believe that if he were honest with us about the past, that we would still love him. He is still a hobo and ornery as ever but he is embracing community, sobriety and healing.

    And I think we’re all like this. We hide behind stuff and hope no one finds out who we really are. We build up defenses and don’t let people in. But with friendship and time, love opens up the doors. I am so thankful for the friends I have walked with that have shown me it’s ok to open up and be vulnerable. It’s a gift I want to give others.

    As far as the comments about romance, this was my favorite part of this section. I was so saddened by Royal’s comments and, I must admit, somedays it rings true. But I got a taste, once again, of the deeper magic in Monte’s response for us that the world is indeed a romance. Love it!

  40. Laura Peterson

    I really enjoyed reading all these comments, everyone.

    Re: light/fluffy, non-literary beach reads – no shame or embarrassment allowed here, friends. We read for all kinds of reasons. I think it’s great to switch up those reasons every once in a while. Be free!

    Something I’ve been wondering about: the title of this section. I assume that “The Old Desperate” is referring to Glendon, but that puzzles me a bit because he doesn’t seem to fit that word. I think of “desperate” as panicky, anxious, unsettled, willing to take wild actions. Glendon is remorseful, sure, but he also seems settled. Resigned and accepting of his actions, owning up to them while sorta squirming away from the consequences. Maybe that’s what endears him to me- he’s not wildly fleeing from his mistakes, just calmly going in the direction he thinks he needs to, with a side step or two if necessary. 🙂 What do you guys think?

  41. Julie Silander

    Laura – Great question! There is an interesting contrast between true freedom/bondage. Glendon seems to be the man who appears to trapped by the past, yet at his core, is the one who is most free from fear and the expectations of others. Monte, who has walked the “straight and narrow” as far as we can see, is the one who actually seems trapped. The inside-out of the Kingdom, perhaps? I hadn’t thought about that as it applied to “The Old Desperate.” Anyone else?

  42. Matthew Benefiel

    For those who wonder how to discuss the Wingfeather Saga, I’ve found it is best to discuss is by stating that is a satire in a way. It starts with a good story, but Andrew scatters random stuff throughout it that makes you laugh and casually mocks certain things, like burnt cookies, forgetting you wife on your vacation, and how mathematics and science are not really part of the THAGS. I compare to Gulliver’s Travels (though sadly I haven’t read it, only seen the cartoon and a movie a long time ago) where in the book the tiny people have a huge war over which side of a soft boiled egg one should start eating.
    Course that stands mostly for the first book and some of the second, I’ve found that the satire gradually declines while the story increases in amazingness. I still love the first book for its humor and I still cannot for the life of me picture what a Gargan Rockroach looks like. Anyway, I try to describe the idea of the book without getting into too much to encourage interest, then let the reader find all the tidbits. Of course I don’t think this ploy has worked yet, but I like it anyway.

  43. Nathan

    I think that “The Old Desperate” does refer to Glendon, but also to the characters in the story that ride the straight side of the law (read, those ‘ol lines without curves and grace). Glendon is marked by desperation…but desperation of a different kind. Those pursuing Glendon are also desperate, and though desperation marks both sides, we see them pitted against one another. But what does winning look like for each? Absolution? Justice?

    I guess Monte is desperate in ways as well. He is desperate in ways he doesn’t even understand. He wants to drink deeply and suck the marrow out of life…even though I feel like if we asked him he would say that he has simply been searching for a story to tell on paper.

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