Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cold Tangerines

I first discovered Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist last year, at Christmas time, in a church bookstore. I was attracted by the bright orange cover and even more intrigued when I read the description of the book. Later that week I was in another bookstore and I decided to look and see if they had Cold Tangerines in stock. They did and this time I couldn't resist, I had to buy it and start reading it immediately.

The first chapter of Cold Tangerines changed my life (and I am not being dramatic). Shauna's own reflections on life helped me realize that I had been living my life in fast-forward mode, always focused on the future, and always waiting for the next big life event to happen. I was stuck in that mindset that a lot of us get into, thinking: when I graduate from college life will finally begin, when I get married life will begin, when I have a full-time job life will really begin. In reality, life is happening every second, all around us, and if we stop and focus in the moment we can immensely enjoy every second of life.

The first chapter of Cold Tangerines helped me to realize the beauty and value of everyday life. And the rest of the book was also a joy to read. I read one chapter a day, kind of treating it like a devotional (although it was not written to be one). Sometimes that was hard because I wanted to read the whole book at once, but I made myself read one chapter a day so that I could really reflect on the message in that chapter.

Today, I am so excited to say that I recently had the wonderful opportunity to get to ask Shauna Niequist, the author of Cold Tangerines, a few questions, via email. So, please enjoy getting to know Shauna a little better...and thank you Shauna for participating! I strongly encourage everyone to read Cold Tangerines - it is a great book and you will not be disappointed!

What is the most important thing you want people to take away from Cold Tangerines?

When I hear people say that they saw themselves in moments or lines of Cold Tangerines—their feelings, their families, their experiences--that’s a huge compliment to me.
That’s what I wanted: for people to see little moments in their own lives as beautiful and special and enough. It’s not about my life; it’s about life, and mine is the one I know how to talk about. But it’s all there in each of our lives—beauty and challenge and hope and adventure.

What inspires you when you're writing?

When I’m living well, everything inspires me. What I mean is that if I’m taking care of myself-- reading great books, sleeping enough, spending time with people who restore me and challenge me and make me laugh, then all the world is inspiring….and if I’m running too fast, not connecting well to the people I love, or living for the to-do list, then it all looks flat and gray, and I can stare at the blank screen for what seems like days. It’s a good motivator for me to live well, as if living well was not reward enough in itself.

Your book is classified as a "devotional,” yet there are very few Scriptural references. Did you feel led to write a devotional or, in your mind, is this book classified as something else?

I’m surprised that the book is categorized as a devotional. It wasn’t written to be a devotional at all, but rather a collection of essays threaded loosely together with a theme.

One of the tricky parts of Christian publishing is that most Christian authors are pastors, and most of their books have an instructive purpose, so it’s easy to think that all books published by Christian authors are instructive, pastoral, or devotional. The same is not true in the wider publishing industry—essentially, writers are just that: writers. I’m a writer, not a scholar or a pastor.

On the topic of scripture, I would say that the writing of the book was deeply undergirded by scripture, meaning that I used it as a guide and anchor as I wrote, in the same way that I use it as a guide and anchor in my daily and devotional life. I made the decision, though, to write in a more story-oriented way as opposed to a more teaching or devotional style for several reasons.

 First, and most centrally, I made the choice because there are many people who are drawn to stories about spiritual things who are not open to a more conventional devotional, and it’s very important to me that this book is a bridge, or a hand reaching out to those people. My prayer is that as they grow and become more comfortable with spiritual language and themes, they will read more and more “weighty” devotional or instructive books. This was never meant to be that kind of book.

In the same way, I believe, that God makes each of us different, He gives each of us a song to sing. This is my song to sing, and if I pretended to be a theologian, or a pastor, or a prophet, or an exegetical expert, I’d be faking it, and the song I was made to sing would go unsung.

 Certainly, when I do teach in a church setting, which is fairly rare, I do use scripture the same way most pastors do, but my primary role is as a storyteller.

There may be a time when I write more specifically about scripture. I’ve been very interested lately in Esther and Joshua and their lives. I’m always drawn to the beauty of the Psalms and Ecclesiastes. I love Hebrews. Who knows?

What is your favorite part about being a mother?

Maybe the kisses. Maybe the way Henry says “beeeoooowww!” instead of “meow.” Maybe the smell of his neck right after he gets out of the bath, or watching my husband play with him, or learning how to be a mother by watching my mother, or watching both our extended families swivel and shift because of this new little life.

My favorite moments might be the moments just Henry and I share, when we read books or put together puzzles, both laying on our stomachs on the living room rug.

 And there’s just nothing in the world like when they fall asleep in your arms. A few weeks ago, we were out on the boat, and Henry missed his usual naptime, so on the way home, with the hum of the engines and the wind whipping past us, he snuggled up on my lap and absolutely passed out, a hot, sweaty little bundle.

Were you writing to a specific audience? Were you writing to/for yourself? Or for both?

I was writing for people who love language and image and story. I love those things, so it was really a goal for me (whether or not I accomplished it) to write satisfying, high quality prose. And I was writing as a friend. There have been books that have affected me and when I was finished, I felt like I had met a friend. That’s what I wanted. I wanted people to feel less alone, to feel like they’re not crazy for having questions or for being jealous, and that they’re not crazy for wanting to believe that life, and particularly life with God, is extraordinary and rich and worth loving and devoting yourself to.

What are some of your favorite books, or what books do you recommend?

On Writing

The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron

Bird by Bird Anne Lamott

On Writing Well William Zinsser

Reading Like a Writer Francine Prose


A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway

Traveling Mercies Anne Lamott

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver

Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert

The Glass Castle Jeanette Walls

Recent Fiction

The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffeneger

The Post Birthday World Lionel Shriver

A Thousand Splendid Suns Khalid Hosseini

Song of the Exile Kiana Davenport

On Food and Cooking

How to Eat Nigella Lawson

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook Ina Garten

My Life in France Julia Child

Comfort me with Apples Ruth Reichl

On Faith

Take this Bread Sara Miles (I, Melanie, have read this book and it is great!)

Everything Must Change Brian McLaren

Looking for God Nancy Ortberg

Everything Belongs Richard Rohr

The Alchemist Paolo Coelho

What can you tell us about Book Two?

I’m working on a collection of essays called Bread and Wine about faith, family, friendship, and food—the spiritual and relational significance of sharing meals together, of gathering at the table together. Bread and wine are two of the most central, common items on out tables, and they’re also the traditional communion elements. I want to explore both those things: what happens around our own tables, and how communion and community unfold in all different ways.


John Y said...

very interesting. i'll have to check it out. great post. we need to get together soon.

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing. Very interesting. I guess I should put that one on my reading list. And some of her other favorites. =)

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Have a nice day!