Thursday, April 8, 2010

Remembering Isaac

To find next month's book, scroll down to the bottom of the post.

At today's meeting we discussed our reading of Remembering Isaac by Ben Behunin. Because one of our members knows the author, she was able to ask him questions about the book (a big Thank You here to Ben, who answered these questions while on a much deserved Spring Break trip with his family). Which served as a great way for us to discuss the book.

These are the questions and his responses:

Rexburg Readers: Who do you relate to more as the author? Isaac or Jake?
Ben Behunin: I often say that Jake is who I am now and Isaac is who I hope to be when I grow up. I like to think I am becoming more like Isaac, but then I get upset and yell at my kids and want to kill someone in my ward, and I realize how far I have to go.

RR: What influenced you to create Niederbipp? Is Niederbipp a real place?
BB: Niederbipp---ahhh. the place we all want to be--a place where everybody knows your name. Niederbipp is a real town in Switzerland, not far from the town in Germany where i apprenticed after my mission. I always liked the name and used to tell my kids stories about a boy named Niederbipp. My mission president told me once when we were driving past the exit sign on the autobahn that if he were to have another son, he would name him Niederbipp.

The town that I describe is actually the town of Tiengen, Germany--at least to a large degree. this is where I returned after my mission to apprentice with Irene Adeler, a german potter I baptized while a missionary there. The pottery shop is on Zubergasse, just off of Hauptstrasse where the main fountain bubbles up natural spring water. I lived in this town for a total of 9 months and fell in love with its charm and character. I toook a lot of artistic liberty with much of the layout of the churchyard/cemetery. I am realizing I have a rather active imagination. I can see this town out on the banks of the Allegheny in PA, but unfortunately, it is not there, yet. I regularly get emails from folks planning trips to PA and wanting directions to this most unusual town. My general response is, it's hard to get there from here.

RR: Niederbipp seems like a pretty idyllic place, why is Jake having such a hard time making up his mind?
BB: I think we all have the problem Jake has, don't we? We all live in pretty idyllic places, yet many of us wish we were somewhere else. Paradise is always on the other side of the rainbow, the other side of the fence, or the other side of the world. We don't recognize the beauty and uniqueness of what we have until we stop and begin to open our eyes. This is not really a book about an ideal town, it is about making our town ideal--it is about reaching out to others and being a good neighbor. it is about overcoming selfishness. Jake doesn't learn what he has in Niederbipp until he clears his eyes of the selfishness that comes naturally to him--and all of us. We can all be doing something more to make our community more of a paradise instead of waiting to move on the the next better place, wherever that is. Paradise is all around us, we just have to discover it and do our part to make it paradise for others--Only in selflessness can we see these things--can we see that life is good

RR: We can see how pottery has influenced your writing - How has writing influenced your pottery?
BB: The work of creativity is a language with many dialects. Maybe it is many languages with many dialects, but I have learned that they all relate to each other--they all tie in somehow with each other. My writing has obviously been influenced with my work with clay, but my clay work has become much more meaningful from my writing. Objects never really say anything until you breathe meaning into them--then they can become a symbol. A beehive is just a place where bees live until you look for symbols and discover all that a beehive can represent--see book 2. As I have written, I find myself looking for meaningful symbols in my work. I have always enjoyed making bowls since I began my work in clay, but as I have thought about it since writing, there is much significant meaning behind a bowl. It is open, both to receiving and letting people take from it. A bowl, I think, is also the most basic instrument of nourishing our bodies. We can to do without plates or mugs if we have a bowl that can function as both. People throughout the world and throughout time have used bowls as part of their daily rituals of nourishing themselves and their families. As Thoreau would say, anything beyond necessity is vanity.

That probably sounds like a man talking--I know women like to collect dishes. I think the writing has made me conscious of many other things with my pottery. We all want to remembered after we are gone. I have always been concerned about legacy, knowing that my pottery is going to be around, in one form or another, for millennia. I am careful about what i make, knowing I will be judged accordingly. Maybe we all need to think more about legacy. I think our world might be better if we did--if we thought long-term.

Several years ago when I first got Arthritis, I began making tiles that have sayings on them. This, in part, was done in an effort to help us remember the simple things in life. One of my favorites can be seen on my website- It says, "Be still and know that I am God."

RR: Do you know an Isaac? What influenced you to create the characters you write about? are they like anybody in your life?
BB: Do I know an Isaac? To me, Isaac is very much a Christ figure, so yes, I suppose I do know an Isaac. In the Old testament, the sacrifice of Isaac was a type for Christ. Isaac knew what he knew because of the sacrifice he made--his will, his wife, his life--It is only after we lay upon the alter of sacrifice our offering that we are able to live the higher life. I know many people who know this from experience--who have lost or given up much in life in order to grow. We all have to sacrifice what we have for the potential of what can be--ie. marriage, children, missions, careers, etc. I am not really answering this question, but I will say that we all know people around us who know great wisdom, gentleness and love because of the sacrifices they have made in life. It seems it all begins with being willing to give up our will to a higher power. that is the hardest step, but from it comes love, wisdom, understanding, peace, happiness--all the good things is life have a cost. So, I don't know how to answer the question as stated, but I hope this is a good substitute. I might also mention that the name of my printing company that I formed when I self-published, Abendmahl Press, is a German word. Literally translated, Abendmahl means evening meal, but it also the word for sacrament in German. The wheat and the grapes are symbols of the sacrament--symbols of the greatest sacrifice the universe has ever known.

RR: Why did you decide to self-publish? What would you tell other aspiring writers about self-publishing?
BB: After studying the market and the economy, I self published because I realized i could either jump in with both feet or wait three to five years for things to recover. Most good literary agents receive 50-60 query letters every day, six days a week, fifty-two weeks a years. That is literally more than fifteen thousand a year and yet they only sign 2-4 new authors a year. I didn't like those odds, so I never wrote even one query letter. I was also told that no publisher would be interested in spending the time to put my book together like I wanted it with all the doodles, the flip book, etc. So I figured I would go for it, and after i sold several thousand copies, I might attract the attention I needed from a big publisher. So far, I have sold about 11,000 copies, combined, of the first two books. We were saving up to built onto our home, instead, I spent $65K last year printing, editing, and laying out my books. My wife has been amazing. She has really pushed me to do this. Without her full support, I know I couldn't have done this.

Self publishing is becoming increasingly easy to do, but there are lots of people losing their shorts--anyone will take your money. Print on demand is a bad deal. If you want to self-publish, do some serious homework and spend some time talking about it with a dozen people who have. Never go into the book business with the illusions of becoming just wont happen and you will have thousands of books in your garage for the rest of your life. I am just now breaking even with my financial investment, but I don't know if my time will ever be compensated. I realize this book was my sacrifice, my Isaac. It was what i had to lay on the altar to know my God. For that, it is worth it. Monetarily, it may never be what people would consider a good investment. Life has to be about much more than money.

Overall we all liked the book. We generally agreed that the book made us all want to be better people and we appreciated the themes of positive values, legacy and the general sense of morality of the book. Many of us felt inspired to be more supportive of the local craftsmen around us. We found that we wanted to know more about the back stories for some of the lesser characters. The greatest disappointment for most of us was that there didn't feel like there was a big enough resolution at the end. All of the biggest questions were still left up in the air. We are looking forward to reading book 2, Discovering Isaac.

Thanks to everyone for making our daytime meeting work this time! We will go back to an evening meeting for our next event! :)

For those who wanted the roll it is:

Lion House Rolls

2 T dry yeast (2 pkgs)
2 C warm water
1/3 C sugar
1/3 C melted butter (can substitute margarine or shortening)
2 1/2 tsp salt
2/3 C nonfat dry milk
5 - 6 C flour
1 egg

Combine yeast and water in a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. In mixer - put sugar, shortening, salt, dry milk, 2 C flour, and egg - mix to combine. After yeast has bubbled up, pour into mixer with the rest of ingredients. Beat together until VERY smooth. Add 2 more C flour, one at a time, very slowly and beat until smooth. Start adding 1/2 C increments of flour until it reaches the right texture and is mixed in. Cover and let rise until triple in size. This could take up to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the temp where you are raising the dough.

Once dough has tripled in size remove from bowl and place on a greased, or lightly floured surface. Let dough rest 10 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out (the dough won't keep springing back on you). Roll out dough and cut or mold into desired shapes. Let rise again. Brush tops with melted butter or egg wash before putting in the over (I skip this when doing the orange glaze). Bake at 400 degrees for 10-20 minutes or until browned the way you like.

Orange Glaze
2 1/2 C powdered sugar
1/3 to 1/2 C orange juice
(you can add some lemon zest to give it an extra zip)

OK...there it is. I have two Lion House cookbooks and the roll recipes in each differ slightly, but both work equally as well - both recipes seem to be pretty forgiving too which is helpful if you are a novice baker like me! Or just use your favorite dinner roll (probably not bread though) recipe and add the glaze.

Next month's book: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom copies can be found at the Madison Library, B&N, Amazon,, etc.

Links related to Remembering Isaac:

Ben's Pottery Website
Ben's Blog
Remembering Isaac Website

This post subject to editing if there are other significant things that need to be added. :)


  1. I really enjoyed this book and the discussion along with it. I like books that make me think and make me want to be a better person. I can't wait to read the second book.

  2. It was a good book! Great pick Leslie. I also loved the rolls so I'm glad you posted the recipe.

  3. What a way to start off book club! SUPER BOOK. I was inspired by it. Thanks!

    And those rolls were delicious!