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ICYMI, Summer 2017 edition

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I’m still in a bit of denial that school starts next week. Not in such denial that I haven’t finished my syllabi and first day plans, mind you (I’m too neurotic about planning ahead).

But still, as I imagine I don’t actually need to say, 2017 has been…words sort of fail, don’t they? In all the craziness of current events, summer seems to have been especially brief this year.

So before it completely escapes, I thought I’d draw your attention to a few things you may have overlooked, given what else is dominating your news feed. And maybe a couple of other things you noticed, but bear another look.

Memes of the Summer

For me, there were two:

  1. When times are hard, Angela Merkel is everywoman.

2. When one of my favorite grammatical error gets a shout out by Ser Davos on Game of Thrones

A Movie You Might Have Missed

This summer, I loved two of the big favorites: Wonder Woman and Dunkirk (which, yes, you should splurge to see in IMAX to get the full effect). A smaller film, only released this month, is the wonderful documentary, Step. The film chronicles the senior year of a group of young women attending an inner city academy in Baltimore. We follow the trials and triumphs of the step team (and if you don’t know about the rich heritage of step as a dance tradition, you need to), but as importantly, watch the members of the team work towards their academic goals. The young women in the film are incredible, but just as incredible are the women (coach, counselor, principal, mothers) who are committed to their success. As a professor, I was reminded of the things our students have already accomplished  by the time they arrive at college. I was reminded too of the privilege those of us in higher ed have to be the next part of students’ stories–as well as the responsibility to make their undergraduate experience the best it can be. And the work that continues to need doing to make college accessible for all students.

Music Probably Not On Your Radio

Two summer favorites have been Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “The Nashville Sound” and sisters Shelby Lynne/Allison Moorer, “Not Dark Yet.” Two albums of really solid, thoughtful music. Also this summer: a new cover album of the music of the late, lamented Mark Heard, entitled “Treasure of the Broken Land.” Call me old, but I’m not sure I like it as well as a similar project, 1994’s “Strong Hand of Love,” which featured artists like Bruce Cockburn and Phil Keaggy. Still, twenty-five years after his death, Heard deserves to be better known and this latest collection demonstrates the staying power of his music.

British Binge-worthiness

If you’re all caught up on the “Great British Baking” show (and you should be!), another fine British “reality” show streaming on Netflix is “Grand Designs.” The basic plot: each episode, someone wants to build a house that is super ambitious (for one reason and another). Hilarity ensues. Sort of. It’s actually really interesting–and has made me never want to build my own house. Still, it’s weirdly addictive, and the final projects are amazing.

Books, of course, and a couple of articles

I tended towards non-fiction and mysteries over the summer. Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home is a winsome new biography of Austen, out in time to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death. I’ve been enjoying Abigail Pogrebin’s My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew which details her year-long observation of Jewish holidays and her reconnection,in middle age, with her spiritual heritage . The latest Louise Penny novel arrived today (I recommend her highly–but start at the beginning of the series, now at 13 books); British bestseller Ruth Ware did not disappoint with her latest offering, The Lying Game (part Agatha Christie, part Donna Tartt’s The Secret History).

Plus, an article from the Harvard Divinity Bulletin by my perennial favorite, Marilynne Robinson, “Old Souls, New World.”

And another by the always wise Bryan Stevenson, “A Presumption of Guilt.”

Finally, some women you should meet

Living through this summer makes me think even harder about the stories we tell, what we commemorate. I want to write more about that in the coming months but for now may I introduce you to some extraordinary women, all of whom are worth knowing: the Splash Sisters (a group of senior athletes) and two amazing doctors, Audrey Evans and Ruth Pfau. It seems to me that Evans and Pfau (who died this month) are the kind of folk who actually deserve a statue. Out of their faith commitments, both women did enormous good in the world. I’ll let you watch the video of Evans’ life for yourself. As for Pfau–sometimes called (irritatingly, I think, as if there’s only room for one saintly person) the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan”–she worked as a doctor nun to eradicate leprosy and other diseases in Pakistan. In recognition of her work, she was accorded a televised, state funeral in Pakistan: the first Christian woman ever given this honor. You can read more about her here.


Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

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