There is this bargain store about 25 minutes from my house that my mom and I visit on occasion. Surprisingly, they have a good selection of books. It had been a while since we shopped there so we took a drive over. The store is kind of chilly, and the farther back you walk it starts to smell a bit. The aisles are so narrow that when another person vacates it is hard to maneuver around them, or they around you. Yet despite these grievances, I was able to find not just one but 11 books! The pile became so heavy that I had to return to the front for a basket. I don’t know why I haven’t learned my lesson. 9 out of 10 times this happens.
Bebb is not a book I bought at this store, though it always feels like the type of book I would find there. The shelves are all lined with books that are wonderful yet strangely forgotten or overlooked. They range from sci-fi to literary to cooking to sports to religion, and their selection isn’t bad. It reminds me a bit of Netflix streaming. I bet tons of people would walk into the store and say the book titles carried are awful, but if you actually take a look there is some really good content to be found.
I don’t know if you remember but when I was in college I took a seminar on Christian Fiction and was introduced to some amazing Christian authors, Buechner being one of them. Though we ended up having to drop his book on our reading list, I still looked him up on Amazon and bought one of his most famous titles Telling the Truth, a book analyzing the Gospel as tragedy, comedy, and fairy-tale. First off, it is an amazing book and one of my favorites in non-fiction. But it is also what introduced me to Bebb and led me to buy it soon after.
There is this scene Buechner includes in the book from one of his own books (Open Heart) where a professor is talking to his class about the Shakespeare play King Lear and they are discussing a scene in which it appears Lear may be in prayer. It is such a delicate and simple scene that carries so much weight. I was enraptured by it and quickly went to the notes in the back to see what it was from. Turns out it was from this second Bebb book, Open Heart.
I wish I could say Open Heart as a whole was as amazing as that particular scene, but I didn’t enjoy it all that much. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It is a book I could see myself enjoying if I studied it in a class or something. There were some great moments. But it just didn’t have the same flare as Lion Country.
Perhaps my disappointment comes from the fact that I really do not like the character of Bebb…at all. I was sitting in my reading corner when I lit a match to light a winter candle. Once the flame had snaked its way up the small piece of wood, I shook it vigorously and held the match to my right so that the smoke would drift away and not cloud around my eyes and nose. As the flame disappeared, the smoke hovered in a thin white cloud beneath my bedroom light. It just sat there. I can’t begin to explain what an odd sight it was to see. The smell brought me back to days of my youth of blowing out birthday cake candles and burning leaves. And I just wanted to sit there and watch that smoke hover as if it were a ghost settling in next to me, rather than continue reading Open Heart. Encountering Bebb for a second time was like watching that smoke. It felt like he was hovering over the narrative, yet all the while I wanted to shake him off.
All I could think while reading was, 2 more books of Bebb? I’m not so sure I can take him. I find him to be invasive, ignorant, selfish, and way too much of a talker. I hate that I was thinking this way, considering I loved the first book so much and love Frederick Buechner. But after getting through Open Heart, I was ready to move on.
Luckily, the third book Love Feast was a lot better. I credit this to the fact that the book’s focus was more on Antonio rather than Bebb, and I have a lot of thoughts on the narrative as a whole.
Out of all the books in this collection, this one seems to starkly stand out as a reminder that Bebb is at it’s heart a period piece. It takes place during the 70’s, a time when religion is changing in America. Antonio gets a Super 8 camera with no microphone and is splicing film and taping the good roles together. There is a demonstration carrying banners against the Vietnam war. It is all very culturally interesting.
There is so much I want to say about this book in particular so I hope you don’t mind if I gush a bit. After all, one can’t fault a person for gushing about a book, right?
There is this one moment when a bunch of demonstrators march past Antonio and company and see Bebb carrying a cloth that reads “Open Your Heart to Jesus.” They ask Bebb for the cloth because of what Jesus preached and so he gives it to them. There is this beautiful quote he then says that I have to include here…
“Even rigged out like crazies and hair all over their faces, they’re no two ways about it. They’re beautiful. They’re beautiful and they’re young…”
Another scene I took a liking to was after Antonio and his wife Sharon, Bebb’s daughter, split up, Bebb visits Sharon and kneels with his hand on her head in prayer. Antonio is reminded of bus boys kneeling and putting their hand on a large pile of dishes to carry them to clean. The mundanity and simplicity of the scene is just gorgeous.
Then ANOTHER scene I loved was this scene on Thanksgiving Day. Bebb, Antonio, and some other people decide to have this community Thanksgiving dinner and they spend the morning finding people to join them who maybe have no where to go. Then they eat and celebrate each others company and it is just such a beautiful image of what community should be and I loved it.
The letter A seems to be of prominence is these books. We see it all over the place. The Eiffel Tower where Bebb spills his ice-cream, Antonio’s sister in her body cast is shaped like an A, it is the first letter in Amen, Armadillo, and Adultery (all big themes or places in these books). It makes me think of The Scarlet Letter.
The book brings Christianity into question. At one point a character says that Bebb closes his eyes to injustices and helps others do the same by telling fairy tales about heaven. Then at one point, someone asks where God is in all this shit. It’s so real and powerful and in a way, reaffirming.
When I was on a Harry Potter high, I used to read and listen to the John Granger (the Hogwarts Professor) discuss literary alchemy in the Potter books. If you forget what this is, just look it up on Google. I guarantee John Granger’s website will pop up. It’s just too much to explain in an already long letter. As I finished reading Love Feast, it occurred to me that perhaps these four Bebb books fit into the idea of literary alchemy. It is a stretch, but here is my thinking.
The first book, Lion Country, is the black book. Antonio’s intentions are black. His sister is dying. Antonio himself is in a black / dark place. Then he sees light / white when he becomes a part of the Bebb family by marrying Sharon which leads into the white book, Open Heart. There are new beginnings in this book, new endings, and new life. Bill, Antonio and Sharon’s son is born. Bebb opens a church. White is the book that uses the symbolism of cleansing and water a lot. There is a scene that takes place on a rainy night and Antonio is lying awake and Bebb is going around blessing the sleepers in the house, almost a reminder of baptism. Then they take a vacation which is another new beginning. Love Feast is the red book. It is the symbol of love, as it is in the title and love is usually seen as a red heart. It was at this point (since I had not read the final book yet) that I took a guess that Treasure Hunt would be the gold book which makes sense since treasure is literally in the title. I know, I know. It isn’t a perfect idea but I think it is really cool to analyze and ponder about these things.
Reading Treasure Hunt was like experiencing a punch in the stomach. It was as if the third book were a cruel joke and then I was suddenly getting this horrible book. Out of all four books, this one has to be my least favorite.
I was reminded of my hatred for Bebb. Like, I really dislike him. A lot! He is easily my least favorite character and yet he is the character this collection is named after! Such irony! I found myself asking, am I supposed to like him? To me he continues to come off as a self-centered, unhealthily nationalist, sexist, ageist (yeah, it’s a thing), and an aloof human being. The book seems to give the impression that at the end of the day he is a good person and I just don’t buy it.
I think the reason I disliked this book so much was its focus on the Bebb family. Like, we got to meet Bebb’s brother who is to aliens as Bebb is to Jesus. I was so over reading this book and still had a long way to go. I haven’t mentioned how long it took me to read this book. I would sit for an hour reading and hardly mark it through 20 pages. It was that difficult. So you can image at this point I was growing frustrated. It didn’t help that I had just started lifting weights to improve my upper body strength. My arms ached so badly, making it a nightmare to hold his heavy book up.
But alas, I have finished it. I know I didn’t write much about it in our letters and I wish I could spend more time talking about it but time waits for no one and I want to move on to talk about different books.
I won’t lie, I am really feeling the pressure of this challenge. I didn’t expect it to be easy but I hoped it wouldn’t be this time consuming. And yet, I am enjoying it immensely. I wonder what my mindset will be at the end of the year?
Until next time, friend. Danielle.