The River author Beverly Lewis (Bethany Publishing House) $15.99 BookNotes sale price 20% off; $12.79.
Although we’ve shouted it out on Facebook and Twitter, we
thought we should share here for those that were wondering that our “Evening
with Author and Activist Jeremy Courtney” went very well. Jeremy and his wife
Jessica, who features prominently in Jeremy’s book Preemptive Love: Nurturing Peace One Heart at a Time, did a great
job sharing with us about their brave work as peacemakers in Iraq, forging
creative collaborations with Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Muslims, Jews and
others… all focused on the audacious goal of finding a structural remedy to the
backlog of tens of thousands of sick Iraqi kids who need heart surgery to save
their lives. The conversation
moved from dramatic stories and pictures of medical staff working in pediatric
surgery theaters to broader themes of peacemaking in such a tense and violent
Through stories and slides, pictures and even a live song (Jeremy
hails from Texas so his love for folkie blues music is strong) they humanized
the people and cultures of what was once the land of Babylon. Yes there is awful stuff going on, but there is also goodness and beauty. Their stories were so good, and I thought of them when I read this powerful, splendid short piece at the High Calling blog by our friend Denis Haack called “The Power of Storytelling: From Understanding Ideas to Indwelling Them.”
Iraq was, of course, once known as Babylon to whom Jeremiah wrote a famous letter (Jeremiah 29:7) from which we have the famous Biblical command to “seek the peace of the city.” Perhaps storytelling is part of that.
We had some lovely refreshments that Beth called “a Pennsylvania Dutch interpretation of Iraqi snacks” — Hadgi Bada, pistachio cookies, cardamom tea and stuffed dates were all fun to share.
Our local newspaper, the York Daily Record, did a front page story the next day, too.
We have some autographed Preemptive Love paperbacks left, and our on-line price here at
BookNotes has been 20% off. They usually sell for $15.00; our sale price is just $12.00. Let
us know if we can send one. Just use the order form which is secure for credit
card digits, or give us a call.
Jeremy left Central PA and headed in to mid-town Manhattan to
tape an episode of of the talk show with Mike Huckabee; I hope the Preemptive
Love Coalition lets their followers know when it will air. Then he was off to London to offer a briefing with members
of Parliament. Pretty great, eh?
And so, thanks for caring about the things we do here at
Hearts & Minds. I know some of
you prayed for us, and others pre-ordered the paperback. And some of you helped
spread the word to others who might want to order from us, or who might even be
able to attend. I know some of our
friends and followers have contacts in our area.
On the heels of that, I’m going to ask you to share some new
information today, too, if it seem right. Is there somebody to whom you could forward this?
We are hosting an autographing reception to meet and greet
New York Times best-selling author Beverly Lewis, this Thursday (September 11,
2014) here at the shop, starting at 7:00 pm. There is free parking available at several lots nearby, and on the street in front of the store.
Her new book is called The River.
enjoyed sponsoring a Beverly Lewis event before, and were delighted with how many
different sorts of folks enjoy her Amish-themed fiction.
As I said at the
Jeremy Courtney gig as I was announcing it – and I’m sure a few of my super
intellectual and sophisticated friends maybe thought I was reaching a bit to
connect the events – it seems to me that the heart of most of Lewis’
easy-to-read, breezy books are, in fact, of enduring, classic stuff: identity
(who are we? to what community do we belong?), hospitality (how do we relate to
others? who’s in and who’s not?) and can we get along despite our differences? And what does it mean to know God’s grace and do right?
From Romeo and Juliet to the profound
work of Chaim Potok to Preemptive Love
(and, just to show off, I’ll add Exclusion
and Embrace the heady, award-winning theological work of Miroslav Volf
written in the context of the Serbian-Croation war and Bosnian genocide) this is familiar and fearful, yet vital territory. If part of the gospel is about showing
hospitality to “the other” and serving “the stranger” and working towards
reconciliation, certainly learning about those who have had to cope with
forgiveness after being excluded, shunned or betrayed, can only
be an asset to our discipleship.
Even if it comes to us in a fun, stirring story.
And so, we can suggest that although Beverly Lewis is a genre
writer and some may find her work a bit obvious with
the Christian messages and sentimental lessons learned, we are very proud to host her,
glad for her support of our shop, and eager to have you tell those who might
enjoy it, inviting them to swing by Thursday evening to meet her. She has an obvious care for her fans, and a heart to share the gospel through her storytelling and writing. Of course you may not know anyone nearby, but you can buy an autographed copy, here on line of almost any of her work — we’ve got it all. We have plenty of her adult and kid’s
books, and we can easily have her autograph some for you or yours. (If you want them inscribed to a
person, just be sure to tell us the name, hopefully before Thursday evening!)
Beverly Lewis was born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch
country, but now lives (where she occasionally writes with her husband David) in
Colorado. Her own mother’s
dramatic story of leaving the Old Order Mennonite tradition is told in her most famous book The Shunning which has sold more than one
million copies and was made into a Hallmark Channel movie. (In 2007 her similarly
popular novel The Brethren was
honored with a Christy Award.)
Here is a wonderful, enchanting video of Beverly briefly talking about her young years and her early love for writing, keeping a journal, doing short stories, and some of the early inspirations of her creative fiction. It is very nice.
Beverly Lewis has written over 25 adult novels, 6 lovely picture books, over 50 youth books, a cookbook, and more…
The River is her newest novel, just released
last week. Beverly is doing a 25-stop tour to promote the new book and to have
the opportunity to meet her fans and readers.
We are pleased to host Beverly in part because she is so
gracious, and because so many of our local customers appreciate her books. (One local Presbyterian leader is
related to her, and vouches that some of the landmarks and descriptions of the
homestead in The Shunning are spot on accurate!)
But I myself am drawn to this new story for a couple of
reasons. Let me explain.
Interestingly, a friend who is herself a sophisticated author
of non-fiction religious books offered a question just the other day at her
facebook page: are there rivers in America that we might consider holy or
sacred? (What does that mean, I asked, as I speculated about the iconic and
mythic role of the Mississippi in Americana roots music, which gave rise to gospel,
blues, and rock and roll, not to mention the title track from Paul Simon’s Graceland.)
Two things worth sharing:
scores of people immediately shared stories of their favorite rivers and why they
are spiritually attracted to them, revealing their own sense of place. This all was quite lovely and reminded me not only of
Wendell Berry and his novels that include a vivid sense of (rural) place, but
it also, oddly, brought to mind that powerful short story of a song, “The River,” by brother Bruce Springsteen. I can hardly listen (especially to the more raw, acoustic
versions) of that song without being overcome with anguish. The river may have some deep, good attraction for many, and maybe even some
redemptive meaning in the Springsteen story, but it ain’t easy, that’s for
sure; at the end “the river is dry” he it continues to haunt him.
One of my
favorite nature writers, Kathleen Dean Moore has a book called Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water which exquisitely explores
the deep beauty of bodies of water and those who appreciate them. I can hardly think of rivers without thinking of that wondrous book. But, again, this excellent writer and serious thinker is aware of the foreboding nature of moving water.
Around here, rivers are dangerous
(especially our own mighty Susquehanna with sink holes and weird currents and deadly low-head dams.) Some around here who enjoy boating and
swimming in rivers travel the tributaries of the Susquehanna, and love the many
streams around these parts, including the namesake river alluded to in this
tragic Beverly Lewis tale, the Conostoga. The Conostoga River winds its way through Lancaster County like a snake,
twisting and curving in geologically surprising ways.
The deadliness of the river in The River novel is not due to exceptionally bad currents or particularly
bad water features, though. No, it
came from human error. We learn in the first few pages that the protagonist,
Tilly, who has long ago left the Plain life for modern English ways, is haunted
by a catastrophic accident in which her younger sister drowned, years ago, while
playing in the river.
No need to explain it all, but the plot of this, not unlike
many others in this genre, explores the tensions of broken relationships and
complex ethical dilemmas as two sisters – both no longer in meaningful
relationships with their Lancaster county Amish parents and siblings – feel
compelled to return home to an anniversary celebration of their parent’s
marriage. Their father is sick and
they surely cannot remain aloof much longer. But there is this unresolved sadness and responsibility for
what happened at the river. As it asks even on the back cover, “Can they face
the future in the light of a past they can’t undo?”
Amish folks with their rejection of modern technologies and
Anabaptist commitments and old order ways are – it seems dumb to even say it –
quite human. They are not caricatures. Any fiction that tells a story from within a subculture – Iraqi Muslims, Jewish New Yorkers,
duck hunting rednecks down South, hipster atheists in Portland — can run the risk of
devolving into stereotype, and good storytelling will be careful. Lewis
runs this risk, of course, in this sort of writing that isn’t attempting
extraordinary nuance. But there are rich
aspects of typical Amish life, and she plumbs them well. From “letting it all loose” during the infamous rumspringa seasons to the difficulties of offering forgiveness (see Donald
Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zecher’s Amish Grace and the sequel, The Amish Way) there are fairly universal human emotions at play, and
to write stories about those who are, or are no longer, within this close-knit
subculture is certainly fascinating.
The River is not only about the consequences of this tragic loss
of a little one, and the large matter of regret, but is also about mended fences, reconciliation, learning to
love across differences. Is the river a symbol of danger? Is it a symbol of the
flow of healing that can wash over us?
Or maybe it is not a metaphor for much, just a huge geographic fact in
the background of this story set in a particular geographic region.
Anyway, I suspect you know about, and have opinions about,
this mass marketed genre of Amish fiction. If you are a brainy type and want to know more, we heartily
recommend Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s important semi-scholarly work, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels (Johns Hopkins
University Press; $24.95.) It studies the
development of the genre and wonders about the appeal. Her thesis is fascinating and her study
– of everything from the book cover designs to the plots themselves, to the
small sisterhood of popular authors in this field – is well worth reading for anyone interested in
the interplay of religion in American commercial fiction.
All of which is to say I’m in the middle of this brand new
book by Mrs. Lewis don’t want to spoil anything, but am eagerly awaiting her visit with us here at Hearts & Minds.
If you want us to ask her anything for you, or want any books — early
Christmas presents for mom or grandmother, perhaps? — just let us know.
By the way, I was struck by the importance of the river in The River (which may be why I get paid the big bucks — tee-hee) and wrote most of the above before I noticed, just a bit ago, an “author’s note” as an afterword on pages 315 – 316 of the book.
The Conestoga River captured my attention one October afternoon two years ago — it seemed to call to my heart. I was preparing for the final shoot of the long day, the last segment of my documentary, “Glimpses of Lancaster County with Beverly Lewis” [which you can see at her website.] We were set up right near the historic Hunsecker’s Mill Bridge, and I had walked down the grassy slope to review what I’d planned to say, inching my way toward the wide river. There, as I stared at the rushing water, Tilly’s story presented itself to me, as did little Anna’s drowning. In that moment I knew I had to write The River, with all of its heartrending yet redemptive threads.
I will long remember the surge of emotions, the power of the story. And the way the river seemed to demand top billing in my lineup of Eden Valley characters.
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