Do you ever have those days when you lay out everything you need to do in that one day and it seems completely possible and then everything turns to shit? Yeah, that has been my day. I did not anticipate computer issues, reorganizing my room, the clean up of reorganizing said room, and I certainly did not expect that the next time I would be sitting down to write to you would be at almost 9 o’clock at night. I was sure that I would be writing to you three times today, but alas it is only two. I apologize.
So, the Book of Bebb. The book is a compilation of four novels bound into one copy that exceeds 500 pages. That counts, right? Of course it does silly. I make the rules.
Reading Lion Country, the first book in this book of books, I was taken back to several different moments in my childhood that all amount to the same feeling. One might call it nostalgia but I am still not sure. It is spring time and I am on the bus. I am in my bedroom. I am outside on the front lawn. The air is crisp and clean. It blows through the open windows and smells of hamburgers on the grill and fresh flowers. The birds are chirping loudly. The sun is rising in the earning morning and casting rays of heat onto my face. The crickets and birds have formed a choir. The bus comes to a halt, its tires screeching loudly and the sound of exhaust shooting out in a great, loud puff of air. The exhaust smell is strong and I am racing home, my backpack hitting my back from the movement. We are driving to the park on a weekend and the windows are down. I sit and watch the cars drive by us on the other side of the road, my hair blowing wildly around my face.
Maybe it is nostalgia. I don’t know. All I know is that when a book transports you in such a way as this one did, you know it is going to be a favorite. It also helped that the day I was reading this we had such perfect 60 degree weather (this was before the big snow storm I mentioned earlier) and I got to drive with my windows down and for the first time in four months wore something other than Uggs on my feet. How glorious.
Friend, as a reader I am sure you will know what it feels like to hold a book in your hand and bring it close to your face to smell the pages. Some aren’t so pleasant. But this book smells wonderful. I can’t help but flip the pages beneath my nose and take deep breaths of the beautiful fresh book smell.
But enough of my rambling. Lion Country is about a man named Antonio Parr who, after playing his hand at various professions, decides to answer an ad to become an ordained minister. Unlike many men who do the same thing, Antonio (Tono for short) doesn’t do this for authentic reasons but rather to dip his feet into journalism and expose this degree service for what it really is in his mind – fraud.
He is ordained by Leo Bebb, a round and pudgy man who is Bible loving (he recites biblical passages as if it is required to breathe) and also a bit of a conspiracy theorist (believes a man with silver hair serving them at a restaurant is from outer space). I can’t say he is a character I particularly like. At times he sprouts out words of wisdom and others he is a real ass. Plus he puts sugar in his chocolate milk. I don’t know whether I should be disgusted or if I should try it out myself.
Tono is a character I really adore. He is a classic writer character who has dabbled in novel writing, journalism, and teaching English and is very laid back and observant. I’ve seen plenty of characters of this caliber and for some reason I am always fascinated by them. Perhaps this is because as a writer and somewhat journalist, I have always admired the profession of teaching upper level English but could never muster up the courage or academia necessary to do it myself.
Who Tono most reminds me of is Jack from White Noise. This novel is written in a very similar style to that book, which is another reason I love it. The writing in this is so freaking, over-the-moon, deliciously good! And of course, the themes presented are also pretty darn yummy. I’m sorry if my food metaphors are distracting…I just love making food metaphors so dang much.
Buechner is primarily dealing with the idea of grace and using his narrative to put forth the idea that grace is messy business. I mean messy in every sense of the word. Like, he actually uses the word “fuck” in this book. You don’t find messy grace such as this in most “Christian” fiction. “Christian” fiction is often spoon fed pieces of garbage. The characters are overly blank and goody two shoes (or honest rebels) in ways that don’t challenge the reader or give any real depth to the story.
And don’t think that this is a “Christian” book. It is written by an author who is very interested in the Christian faith and is a Christian himself, but he also has a firm grasp on literature and good writing. He gives faith depth and doesn’t hand you a message like a sermon on Sunday. Like any good writer, he weaves his message throughout the text and it requires the reader to make their own decisions. Yeah, I’d say it is pretty groovy.
There is a podcast I listen to that I would recommend to every single person and that is called Interfaith Voices. I was listening to an episode talking about White Jesus and the guest on the show talked about how Jesus is never properly given an outward appearance in the Bible. All we get is his message. Way back when, people used to visualize Jesus not as a person but an animal. Often times they would picture him as a Lion. Besides the obvious Narnia reference here, it is also very relative to this book.
The book has a scene where Tono, Bebb, and Bebb’s adopted daughter Sharon go to a zoo called Lion Country. There, visitors drive through the zoo that has no cages and is completely open. Tono has flown down to Florida to visit Bebb and catch him off guard, but finds himself participating less in his own research and more with the Bebb family and their lifestyle. How I understand it (and I am usually wrong so don’t take my word for it), the book is called Lion Country to symbolize grace country. It is a place where his ideas of the world are challenge and he is fascinated by it. Again, I’m most likely wrong. I wish to be the scholarly type who understands themes in novels instantly without taking a course but sadly, that is not the case. Say, why isn’t there a course on this book?
Since this book is compiled of several books, I want to give each one a rating and then I will average them out for an ultimate score. This book was great and it is definitely getting 5 out of 5 stars from me. Buy the book purely for this first novel alone. It is well worth it and a great, stimulating read.
The night is growing old, my lips are chapped, and I still have so much to clean up before I go to bed. I hope your night is going better than mine, friend, and I hope that you are curling up with a good book.
Until next time, friend. Danielle.