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Grace Notes Paperback – October 1, 2011
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Brian Doyle must have been listening intently when poet Mary Oliver proclaimed, Attentiveness is the beginning of all prayer. In this collection of 37 essays, Doyle, whom readers will recognize as a frequent contributor to this magazine, dives into the odd and ordinary moments of daily life, plumbing their spiritual depths. I lucked into work that has everything to do with listening and hearing stories and catching stories, Doyle writes. [A]t age 50 I conclude that I was born and made for stories.
Doyle s first piece, about a tense moment between father and son, begins, Committed a sin yesterday, in the hallway, at noon. The searing honesty of that line has stayed with me since I first read it, years ago, in Portland Magazine, which Doyle edits. The book goes on to visit sons, shrines, silence, marriage, homework, and a host of other stops on this wild ride. The author s wit, his humility, and the joy he takes in words shine through on every page. --U.S. Catholic
From the Inside Flap
Brian Doyle, the editor of the award-winning Portland Magazine, has written a bestselling and critically acclaimed collection of stories about discovering the incarnated Spirit of God every time he turns around, often in the most unlikely of people, places, and things.
In this new two-Cd set, Chicago actor Frank Gaughan reads 15 of these stories, which capture the spiritual essence of everyday life from the perspective of a committed Catholic who loves this faith, his family, his community, and his church, even with all their warts and failings. (Hence the beautiful Argentine tree frog that graces the cover.) Be prepared to take a beautiful, breathtaking, tear-jerking ride on some of the most accomplished, outside-the-box stories you've ever heard.
Advice to My Son
Their Thin Bony Shoulders
The Next 11 Minutes
Why Do We Say One Thing
The You of You
A Note on Pornography
The Terrible Balance
What Am I Doing Here? --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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I was genuinely moved by this collection. I had little tiny post-its to mark the essays and lines that I particularly liked...and then I realized that just about every other essay was marked. Hardly a useful exercise. I should just put a regular size Post-it on the front that says "really good stuff." Anyways. Brian Doyle has a way of writing ideas that seemed so familiar and so fresh at the same time. I could hardly choose a favorite line, but here's a really good passage:
"I believe with all my hoary heart that stories save lives, and the telling and hearing of them is a holy thing, powerful far beyond our ken, sacramental, crucial, nutritious; without the sea of stories in which we swim we would wither and die; we are here for each other, to touch and be touched, to lose our tempers and beg forgiveness, to listen and to tell, to hail and farewell, to laugh and to snarl, to use words as knives and caresses, to puncture lies and to heal what is broken." (p. 145)
Don't you feel that? I read that and thought, I feel that way and I have my whole life, but I've never been able to put it into words quite like that. Brian Doyle's language isn't hard to read or understand, but it's beautiful and hard to ignore. To put it in his own terminology, Brian Doyle's writing understands "the power of powerlessness." And that's why his insights were so... I don't know? I don't want to say life-changing, but refreshing and thought-provoking might describe what I'm feeling.
And it just doesn't hurt that he quotes my favorite, Mary Oliver. He loves her just as much as I do. And I have a feeling that this volume will sit next to hers on the bookshelf, and when I pull hers down to read a poem or two at night, his will come down after.
I recommend this book to everyone.
Ratings that start out with a clause like this are also usually untrustworthy, but....this one's different.
Doyle has a style that will engage you immediately. The intensity and sincerity in his voice is clear to the reader, without being embarrassing.
Every story was published at a different time and tackles a different theme and still feel like they were all written to be so nicely lumped together into this book. Forgiveness, divorce, birth, children, marriage, God, and everything else that we can all relate to in some way or another. I'm not Catholic, but this didn't end up being important. My respect for the roots of Catholicism and "a skinny Jewish guy" has grown. I imagined reading the story "The Order In Which People Are Admitted Into Heaven" in Sunday school and either being praised or cast out for being so rational. I laughed in "Six Women" imagining the Priest who learned what he knew about love from dating and Doyle's suggestion that "maybe a better way to prepare priests is to raise the age limit and accept only men who have loved and lost and loved again."
From a writer's standpoint, one can learn a lot from Doyle and I especially recommend this book to writers.
This book is great if you're looking to be better at your religion, to be a more decent and interesting person, or just want to spend a few enjoyable hours laying on a hammock in your backyard like I did.
Along with his truthful voice, Doyle is also concerned with honest, ingenuous, universal stories. In Grace Notes, he begins with "A Sin," which is a striking essay that touches on guilt as decently as any I've read, revealing himself as a father whose imperfections expose both his vulnerabilities as well as his love for his family and the grace of God. "All Legs and Curiosity," another piece in this collection, documents the worries of a loving mother and her inability to part with her daughter who is clearly the most important thing in this world to her.
Grace as a result of our honest imperfections is Doyle's theme throughout this collection. He shows how we can love so much but we fall short in understanding and showing that love, and eventually we all rely on God to fill that gap.
Grace Notes is a remarkable collection of essays by Brian Doyle. He demonstrates impressive writing ability and an even more impressive listening ability as he tells his readers what he's seen and heard in a voice so familiar and graceful that it is almost overwhelming.