27 February 2012

30 Day Book Challenge: Day Three- Your Favorite Series

Oh my goodness, is it Monday? Is it still 2012? Am I still blogging? I feel like I have emerged from a gigantic pile of work/home responsibilities and can now breathe! What a lovely feeling. I've also noticed that all of my blogs are too long. I tend to skim overly long blog posts, so I imagine a couple of you are doing the same. I'm going to really concentrate on keeping these and the What I Read this Week posts semi short and snappy.

This one will be pretty easily answered because I don't have a favorite series. I actually don't think I've finished very many series..es. Serii? (How does one pluralize that correctly?) The most recent one I finished was the Harry Potter ones, and while they are enjoyable I'm not sure they'd qualify as "favorite." I'd like to say Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series because, honestly, I used to LOVE them. But I realized the other day that I could only remember really really enjoying them. I don't necessarily remember the actual books.

I'm just going to give this to The Chronicles of Narnia because I love religious imagery, and I love C.S. Lewis. It's kind of a gimme, and honestly it's been a long time since I've read those too (but not for long as 2012 is my year of Lewis! haha!), but I feel like this is the best stab at the answer to this question. How's that for a post that says very little? Perhaps you should tell me YOUR favorite series and that would maybe jog my memory. Or it would help me gather little facts about my readers...not to mention some book suggestions. I never tire of those.

24 February 2012

Reading to Know Book Club: Running Away To Home by Jennifer Wilson

First off I apologize for my silence and my need to forego (at least this week...I hope not the next) both the book challenge and the what I read this week posts. Work has been busy. Very busy. I don't really need to go into this too deeply because...I'm not getting paid to do this blog so...hah! No excuses for me!

Next, I had to do this post because I signed on to a book club that I am currently being very lax about. I think because it's online I tend to put it off. It's much easier to stand behind a screen and say, "Oh I just didn't have time to finish this," than it is to stand in front of 8-10 ladies and say, "Oh I just didn't have time to finish this."

That being said, the book pick for this week was by "the other Carrie" (as opposed to my friend Carrie). It was Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson. This is what Carrie had to say about it, and this is what the other Carrie had to say (I really loved that she agonized over the decision. I have the same thoughts when I have to recommend a book. It's a shivery thing).

Reading to Know - Book Club

I didn't finish it. But I plan on it! So far, I love it. I love love love love it! Like both of the Carries have noted there is a fair amount of alcohol consumed. Also there is a lot of crude language. Both of these I chose to overlook. I'm a little ashamed that I didn't even think much about the alcohol use until I noticed the Carries talking about it. I did notice the language. The author doesn't make any claim to being a believer, so I just sort of...pushed it to the side. I can't say it didn't bother me, because it did. (And some of the things the children said I would never have dared to say to my parents) I want to just add that caution up front because I don't want people to think my rave has completely ignored that aspect. The excessive drinking and swearing are noted.

That being said, I love travel books. Another secret dream I have (aside from the adventure loving mountain climbing woman I dream that I am) and one that is perhaps a leettle more attainable, is to be a travel writer. I went abroad one time. Ok twice. But it was to the same place (Berlin, Germany) for two weeks. Do you believe in love at first flight? I most definitely do. Traveling the world, meeting different people, eating wacky food, staying in crazy hostels, and getting paid to write about it all sounds like the most delightful thing in the world. So, I have had a blast reading the work of someone I basically want to be when I grow up.

The book is about a family who want to grow together through adventure, and who want to simplify their "middle American lives." So, they go to Croatia. The mother and narrator, Jennifer Wilson, is in a search for her ancestors who came from Croatia. Her family comes with her and lives for a year in the tiny town of Mrkopalj (apparently pronounced MER-ko-pie...those Eastern Europeans really do not like their vowels). The story is an honest account of a family who learns the importance of community and family. Jennifer Wilson's voice is humorous and very open. She conceals nothing of her initial culture shock, and the reader is invited to join her as she learns to adjust to her new life and re-evaluate what is important.

Aside from the personal emotional draw of the book I did enjoy the re-evaluation Wilson and her husband went through during the financial crisis. They had all the "things" we are privileged to have, but they wanted to find what was really important. The part that stood out to me the most was when Ms. Wilson and her husband actually had to sit down and talk again, and she almost felt awkward!

Also, the emphasis on community is fabulous, and something we are probably lacking in America. We have really big houses (I mean compared to the rest of the world). We have home entertainment systems (why leave the house?). We have cars that take us outside our neighborhood (all of my friends live over an hour away...at least!). And has anyone noticed the porch sizes on newer houses compared to older houses? The nice thing about how non-modern Croatia is, is that Croatians still understand what it's like to live in community. The neighbors not only know eachother and are involved in one another's lives, but they take care of eachother. They even have a term "first neighbor" which basically means, the one they trust the most.

Something else I really liked was Ms. Wilson's honesty. She tells a story we can believe. It's not just that her family packed their bags and slid right into the simple life, living off the land, embraced by the entire village, and experiencing immediate harmony. She talks about the good and the bad. She discusses the transition from being "closet shy" to learning how to make friends as an adult. She spares no feelings in her initial experience in Mrkopalj, so much so that you almost think that her plan is completely crazy. Her family had to work to adjust. She had to learn to not be more relaxed. Together they had to learn to love eachother and the little town of Mrkopalj.

Another personal attraction to the story was the characters. I'm a sucker for quirky characters. I just love weird people. Not the weird "kill you in a dark alley" people, but just eccentric and quirky people. Stories about people who are so different from the people around me just have some bizarre fascination for me. Running Away to Home was not lacking in quirky characters. There was the misogynist director of tourism, who gave the Wilsons only one total fact a tourist should know. There was Jennifer Wilson's first friend, Pavice, who told the whole village presumably about Ms. Wilson's "female problems." Not to mention the Wilsons themselves, who seem like funny and adventurous people who could keep you laughing for a while.

Now, truth be told I'm only three-quarters of the way through, but I'll actually probably finish it tonight, and if I completely change my mind in the last quarter I'll let you know. But really, so far, I do think it's a great book. I would issue the same cautions about the drinking and the swearing that the Carries did, but keeping that in mind, I recommend it.

17 February 2012

What I Read This Week

1. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart: We read this for bookclub, and this may be a contender for at least best book of the year, if not one of the best books I've ever read. I don't even think I could say enough good things about this book in a tiny little reviewlet (because my reviewlets have always been tiny right?). Mild Spoiler Alert (although I don't think I say anything that can't be found on any online descriptions): The story centers around four children (more or less alone) of differing skills and a mysterious stranger named Mr. Benedict who takes them under his wing and prepares them for a dangerous mission. The children must work together to fight for the rest of humanity, who are unaware that their minds are being controlled.
First off, this book is clever. Mr. Stewart is just a clever, funny person. He seems like he was well read and just has a love of wit and words. So, that alone should be able to capture your imagination and your heart as you read this.
But, as an added bonus, the book is absolutely BURSTING with Truth. There is an overt love for truth both among the children and Mr. Benedict. And the bad guys are clearly opposed to truth. Also, as my friend Carrie so wisely brought out, the children themselves are a picture of the church. Each child has unique skills that he or she must use to fight for truth and to overcome evil. Anyway, I loved it and if I keep going this post will be turned into a review of just this book, and that isn't what it's supposed to be. But yes, five stars. Go read it. Go BUY it. It's worth it.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett: Yup, another Pratchett. I've already reviewed this (in case you didn't notice the link) so I won't say anything here.

Cover Her Face by P.D. James: A few months ago I had a major shift in my life. I went to bed as a confirmed hater of Country Music and woke up loving it. I'm not kidding. It was the most rapid strange switch in opinion I've ever had. Recently I've had another. I woke up one day and realized I liked mysteries (I should stop sleeping...clearly I change too much). I have heard about P.D. James for a while, but I haven't liked mysteries until...well, a mere few weeks ago.
That all being said, I really liked this. It's a mystery so I'm not sure there is a whole lot to discuss, but it's a well written mystery. How can I tell this? Well, I didn't guess the end. I was sharing with my book club friends the other night. It's particularly hard to find a book that stumps me. This one did. Also it was (in the main) fairly clean except for, I believe some swearing. It's part of a series called the Adam Dalgliesh series which I plan on continuing.
Adam Dalgliesh is the detective and you don't get to know a whole lot about him. I'd like to know more, which is why I already have the next one. James does do a good job of filling out the rest of her characters though, they aren't wooden as some characters in mysteries tend to be. The plot is a young woman of ill repute (she's an unwed mother) comes to work at an Upperclass manor. She manages to get herself out of the good graces of many of the people in the house, and one morning is discovered strangled. Many people by this time had a motive and it's up to Mr. Dalgliesh to figure out who was the killer.

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett: This is another in the Tiffany Aching series. It was just ok. I have read better. It's basically Tiffany coming of age, learning what is important. Granny Weatherwax (who I've mentioned earlier) plays a bigger role in this book which makes sense, as she's the Head Witch (which they actually don't have because Granny Weatherwax said that they don't have Head Witches). Something I did appreciate was some of Granny's advice to Tiffany is "things aren't important. People are." I find the advice practical for more than just witches.

15 February 2012

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

This book was advertised as young adult. If it's a young adult book, than it should probably be for much older young(ish) adults. It was actually a tad on the scary side for me, and I've been out of the young adult stage for, well, long enough. I've talked about Terry Pratchett before and I don't feel the need to do it again, other than to say he's actually pretty darn clever, and I'm glad I we are acquainted.

The Amazing Maurice is a cat who has a simple scheme worked out with a pack of rats who have eaten some chemical substance that has given them thoughts and words and intelligence. Somehow Maurice (without eating the chemicals) also has the gift of thoughts, words, and intelligence (wonder how that could have happened). Maurice and the rats go from village to village accompanied by "a stupid-looking-kid" named Kieth. The rats "infest" the villages and Kieth (marketing himself as a piper) is payed to play his pipes and get the rats out. This scheme goes on pretty well until they come to the town of Bad Blintz.

Something is happening in Bad Blintz. It's not just a rat plague. It's not just the fact that the rat catchers are goons who are running a dog vs. rat rink in the town's underbelly. It's something the rats have never known before. Evil. It's up to Maurice, Kieth, the rats and Malicia (the mayor of Bad Blintz's daughter who is far too attached to stories) to save the town.

I can't give very much more than that away. It is a little scary, but a well told story. Like all Pratchett tales it ends happily. The good guys always win, which sometimes is very reassuring. There are good characters and a great deal of humor.

Something I did notice about many of Pratchett's novels (The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents not being an exception) is how he takes big questions and incorporates them into his books. I'm unsure of Mr. Pratchett's faith, or even if he has any. After reading the first in his The Science of Discworld series (which I don't plan on finishing), I don't think he is a believer. He does; however, put some thought into questions like "life after death" and many of his characters have a firm attachment to Truth. There is an interesting conversation among the rats about their own thoughts. One of them wonders what happens to the thoughts when they die. Throughout the conversation it is established that thoughts are not in "the green wiggly bit" (pardon...his words not mine) which are the guts, nor in the "pink bit" (the brain). So, when an educated rat dies, where do his thoughts go? The question is never settled, but it's an important question.

Another side issue that I thought about (I don't know if Mr. Pratchett actually intended this) was, the rats couldn't really ever be rats after they received the power of reason and speech. Maurice also has a struggle over the fact that he'll never really be a cat. They have developed rules, and a conscience, and a knowledge of something that was "evil." The rats and Maurice had become, in a way, human. Reason and speech have been given to human beings for a reason: Dominion. Books that have magical intelligent animals are fun and sweet and great for developing a child's imagination, but The Amazing Maurice takes this to a whole new level of reality. What IF animals could reason? What if animals could really know good and evil? There is a profound difference between men and animals. Man was indeed specially created.

As you can tell I think too much about what I read, but I don't think it's a bad thing. I liked the book. I give it two thumbs up, but I wouldn't give it to anyone very young, regardless of where the library shelves it.

14 February 2012

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 2: A Book I've Read More than Three Times

1984 by George Orwell.

Who didn't see that one coming. I'd talk more about it, but I'm going to use this title again for this challenge where I will go into why it is important to me. For now you will have to settle for this...

It's a dystopian novel set in the future (?) where an authoritarian government under the personality cult of "Big Brother" has taken control. Adapted by George Orwell from a similar novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (it's not as good as 1984), the story takes us into the life of Winston Smith, a silent resistor of Big Brother. Winston and his rebel love interest Julia, eventually join a group bent on the destruction of Big Brother and....well, if I tell you anymore, the excitement will be lost.

Did I mention this was a dystopian novel? It's not a pleasant read, but for it's time and in certain ways for our time, it's an important book. Which is why I have read it over three times. I'm not going to tell you how many times I've actually read it, but I'll tell you this: My test for whether or not I'd read particular books of the bible enough times (think Lamentations or Leviticus or Numbers) was by comparing the number of times I'd read them with the number of times I've read 1984. Yes, that's a little depressing to admit, but since you ought to know that the Bible is the most important book in my life, you now know how important 1984 is to me as well.

I was a little annoyed though that there wasn't a second runner up. I don't re-read enough. C.S. Lewis would be ashamed. There are books I've read twice, but not three and over. It's really just The Bible and 1984. I guess this is something I'll have to work on then.

What books have you read more than three times?

11 February 2012

30 Day Book Challenge - Day One: Best Book Read Last Year

And the winner is....1984 by George Orwell!

Ok, I'm kidding. I thought about doing that, but that wouldn't exactly be fair since I read it nearly annually, and it would be the best book I read every year.

This was actually a lot harder than I thought once I went back to view my list of books I read in 2011. I think I have to go with A World Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. I've already written a review here. So, I don't think I need to say anything more about it. Everyone should read it though. I'm serious. Everyone.

I had a few runners up that I could talk about though. I very nearly picked What is the What by Dave Eggers. This is the account of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee to Ethiopia (and eventually America) during the First Sudanese Civil War. The book is sold as a work of fiction, but Deng is a real life refugee, who is now a public speaker to bring awareness to the plight of a post-conflict Sudan. He was a very young man when the events of the book took place, and due to the nature of memory he decided not to market his story as non-fiction.
The story opens with Deng being robbed in his temporary home in Atlanta Georgia. The book skips back and forth in time to Deng's childhood in Sudan and Deng's adult life in America as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
This isn't a pleasant book, but it's a book I don't think anyone should skip. There is quite a bit of violence (one should expect this...from a book about a war) and some amount of language. There is also an incredible story of a young boy making his way across a war torn country in constant danger of losing his own life and the lives of the other boys who come with him. It's definitely one of those eye-opening reads that make you so thankful for what we have and more compassionate to those less well off.
One note of negativity though: It's called The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng but it really ought to be called The Biography of Valentino Achak Deng. It's written in his voice (supposedly) but it's definitely written BY Mr. Eggers. I'm not sure what I thought about that...

Also in the running was America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro-Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge. Listen, don't knock it till you try it. And don't try it till you are a football fan (I realize some of us will have to wait till the second coming when your minds will be redeemed, but still...). This book charts the rise of the National Football League's slow encroachment on baseball as America's sport and it's march into the hearts and minds and television sets of modern day Americans. Beginning in the 1920s, the book takes us through the NFL's early struggles to get off the ground in a world skeptical of the drama and violence of a pro-football league and much more comfortable with the saner world of college ball. Some of the early characters in the shaping of the world of pro-football like Pete Rozelle, Bert Bell, Wellington Mara, and George Halas. The book takes the reader through the lean, mean 1980s where the NFL very nearly fell apart due to scandals, infighting, and lawsuits, and up through the present day.
There are so many things I learned from this book! There is a link between the popularity of the television and the rise of the NFL, which produced a game more suited to television. This made complete sense in my mind, but it wasn't something I put together until after read it. Also, I learned that the very first time hotels in Florida was when a team came to Florida with African-American players, and the coach insisted on keeping his team together. At the forefront of equality between players was coach Paul Brown ( founder of the Cincinnati Bengals and coach of the Cleveland Browns back when the Browns were good) who only wanted good players on his team regardless of color.
I could continue raving about this book, but I have a feeling I've already bored about half (if not all) my readership. ANYWAY...I can't endorse this enough.

I read many other good books last year, but I couldn't think of anymore that I'd tout as GREAT or BEST books I read last year. I'd love to hear the best ones you read last year and why.

10 February 2012

What I Read This Week

It's that time again. Hopefully this time it won't be as long as the last WIRTW post, particularly because I have three books without a whole lot to say about them. Ok, enough chatter. Let's get to the books!

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett: Isn't that a lovely title? I should probably admit before I go on that I'm a pretty big Terry Pratchett fan. I have a guy friend who had tried for YEARS to make me read his works and I kept putting it off by saying that I don't really like Sci-fi. (<--lie I have been telling myself for a very long time) Anyway I finally agreed to try two or three of his books (10-15 later...) Ok, so I don't actually know the exact number, but it's a lot. More than I'm comfortable admitting.
Terry Pratchett's fictional world is a disc balanced on four elephants balanced on a turtle in outer space somewhere. Inside this Discworld are several different towns in which different series take place. His characters are humorous and at times you can definitely catch glimpses of actual people you may know. His humor has at various times been compared to a blend of Dickens and Wodehouse. I actually don't think that's far from the truth. Dickens is known for hilariously stereotypical characters and Wodehouse for just his dry punchy wit. Both of these elements can be found in Mr. Pratchett's work.
Carpe Jugulum is part of his "Witches" series, set in the town of Lancre. I'd like to note here that the witches don't actually practice witchcraft per se; they practice what is termed by one of the witches as "headology" (that is, they are basically just very good at understanding how people are). Lancre has been invaded by a troop of modern vampires. These are vampires who have overturned the old silly notions of garlic and holy water and are now invincible....or are they? It's up to Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Agnes Nitt (Lancre's three witches) to save the town and the king and queen. Anyway, it's really funny, but if you don't like sci-fi, you just won't like the books. And I wouldn't say the books are squeaky clean, so just be aware.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett: Yes, you should probably get used to the name. This one was a young adult book. I think he has written four young adult titles. Yes, I'm probably going to read them.
Tiffany Aching is the granddaughter of a witch of The Chalklands (presumably another town of the Discworld, but one I hadn't encountered before). She may have inherited the gift of "headology" from her grandmother, and in this book she becomes aware of it. It isn't called headology in this book however, it's called First Sight (seeing what is really there and not just what you want to see) and Second thoughts (honestly I kind of forgot what this was). With the help of The Wee Free Men (or the Nac Mac Feegle) who all have Irish accents and serve as Tiffany's guardians and the comic relief, Tiffany sets out to rescue her infant brother Wentworth who had been kidnapped by the queen of Fairyland.
One of the Nac Mac Feegle is named "Not-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-A-Bit-Bigger-Than-Wee-Jock-Jock" (apparently names are scarce among the Nac Mac Feegle) and that's really all I should have to say, because I just think that's really funny.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis: I have to throw a serious book in each time to keep you all on your toes. Most of you know (or ought to know) that I am trying to read through everything ever written by C.S. Lewis in a year. Honestly, I'm not clipping along at the rate I'd like to, but it's hard when you have so much Terry Pratchett to read. I'm kidding...I'm not really using that as an excuse. But ANYWAY...
I'm still digesting this book. I finished it today, and I'm really not sure what I think. It's a work of fiction. The narrator has a dream where he ends up on a trip to heaven with various other souls. With the help of the Scottish minister George MacDonald, playing the Beatrice to the narrator's Dante, he makes his way around what I believe is the entrance to heaven. Throughout the book he watches the ghosts he travels with encounter shining people (the saved) and have conversations. The shining people are trying to convince the ghosts to come further into heaven in order to be saved. Almost all refuse, and the narrator relates all of their different reasons.
This is a problematic work because a quick reading would make one think that Mr. Lewis is bordering on Universalism. It seems that he is teaching that, if not all people go to heaven, than there is a chance for the damned to enter heaven even after death. This argument is used by Rob Bell and his supporters to back up his most recent book Love Wins.
I don't think this is what Mr. Lewis is saying at all, but I am trying to work on why I think this. I am probably giving him far too much benefit of the doubt just because I'm a fan, but it doesn't square up at all with his remarks in his own prologue and some of the closing paragraphs of the book and with his later writings. More to come on this one though. I recommend this book wholeheartedly because I think there is so much in it, but you have to get past the setting which is, I admit, rather uncomfortable.

Well, ok, this one wasn't that short either. I think let's just all agree that Heather talks too much and move on. It was a good week. I hope for an even better one next time.

09 February 2012

30 Day Book Challenge

My friend Libby found this on someone's Tumblr and was kind enough to pass it on to me. Each day you write a post about whatever is listed by the day. You can write a review of the book or you can just state your reason for writing it down. It just sounded like fun and an excuse to talk about me! blog more often.
Like all things done in Heather style these days won't be consecutive. I just don't like to be tied down to a system, man! or I'm lazy...
Day 01 – Best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – A guilty pleasure book
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – The first novel you remember reading
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Book that should be on hs/college required reading list
Day 16 – A book you would recommend to an ignorant/close-minded/racist person
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Book turned into a movie and completely desecrated
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – The book that made you fall in love with reading
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book that makes you cry
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

Aaaaand, check back here soon for the best book I read last year. I already know what it is going to be, and it's fabulous. :-)

06 February 2012

Something to Chew on with Rob Bell Pt. 3

"And then there are others who can live with two destinations, two realities after death, but insist that there must be some kind of “second chance” for those who don’t believe in Jesus in this lifetime. In a letter Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, wrote to Hans von Rechenberg in 1522 he considered the possibility that people could turn to God after death, asking: “Who would doubt God’s ability to do that?

Again, a good question.

And so space is created in this “who would doubt God’s ability to do that?” perspective for all kinds of people–fifteen-year-old atheists, people from other religions, and people who rejected Jesus because the only Jesus they ever saw was an oppressive figure who did anything but show God’s love.” ~Rob Bell


"If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie...And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself [II Timothy 2:13]. It is as impossible for God to save without faith as it is impossible for diving truth to lie...

It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some in the hour of death or after death so that these people could be saved through faith. Who would doubt God's ability to do that? No one, however, can prove that he does do this. For all that we read is that he has already raised people from the dead and thus granted them faith. But whether he gives faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise every sermon, the gospel, and faith would be in vain, false, and deceptive, since the entire gospel makes faith necessary." ~Martin Luther

I know I know....I keep sending out these little teasers. It's really because I have nothing to say about Mr. Bell that hasn't already been said. I just recently read it, and felt the need to clear up some minor misunderstandings. Like, oh you know....BLATANTLY misconstruing Martin Luther's words to back up your beliefs!

03 February 2012

What I Read This Week (Friday Special)

My friend Libby started posting what she read every week with short snappy "reviews" (reviewlets?) about them. I think this is a good idea, and also alleviates the burden of wanting to talk about a book, but not wanting to spend a WHOLE lot of time with it. I'm not going to actually give up my full length rants and raves, but I'd like to do this on a regular basis in order to keep me posting. So, without further ado:

1. Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen: Now, before you all decide I've lost it and turn from me in order to restore my soul from the devil, I want you to know that it was for book club and the discussion is being led by my zumba partner. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was NOT a romance novel. It did have some explicit scenes I don't personally enjoy reading. It was funny, but I was laughing when I thought I probably shouldn't be actually laughing. It's a revenge story, so I really shouldn't give too much away. But I actually don't think you should read it anyway so *spoiler ahead* Charles Perrone attempts to kill his wife, Joey by pushing her overboard. She miraculously survives, and spends the rest of the book with the ex-cop who found her in the sea, planning revenge on her husband. There are various quirky subplots, one (which I actually kind of liked) was the story of Charles's bodyguard Tool. Tool is a former ruthless crew boss turned bodyguard hired by Charles's boss (a farmer whose questionable farming methods are killing the Florida everglades) to protect Charles from mysterious happenings (perpetuated by Joey). Tool's redemption comes when he meets a kind old lady dying of cancer who he meant to steal drugs from, but ended up loving her as a mother. Another sub-plot is the detective assigned to investigate the disappearance of Joey Perrone. He is a former Minnesota native, who desperately wants to go back to Minnesota since he hates Florida. He also keeps two pythons (yay!) to the chagrin of his fellow apartment dwellers.
Lest I make this story sound too funny to miss, I want you to know that there are countless explicit sex scenes and language that would make a marine blush (no offense marines!). So, if you are a clean reader...as I tend to be SKIP THIS BOOK!

2. Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery: Ahhhh, this was more like it! I almost finished this book in one evening. That's not necessarily an endorsement, but it DOES show how enjoyable I found it. The book is mainly made up of letters from Anne to her beloved Gilbert. Anne took a year (few years?...now I'm forgetting) and taught at Summerside High School. She takes up residence with two widows and their maid Rebecca Dew. All of the characters are just as exasperating and funny and quirky and cute as most of Montgomery's characters. Anne's biggest obtacle at Windy Poplars is the town's biggest most influential family: The Pringles. Unbeknownst to Anne, she took the position of schoolteacher away from a Pringle, thus earning her eternal enmity from the clan. She eventually wins them over, but in a very amusing way, and this book I'd like everyone to read so I won't tell how. I know I'm a minority in this, but I LOVE books that are written like letters! So, this one was a keeper.

3. Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery: Anne and Gilbert are finally married. This was very exciting to me since I almost yelled at Anne when she tore off the necklace Gilbert had given her in Anne of Avonlea. Ok, maybe I did actually yell...out loud...and worried my little sister. They have moved to Four Winds Harbour where Gilbert has begun his medical practice. A new cast of characters is paraded through. My particular favorite is Leslie Moore who married an awful man at her mother's request. Her husband, Dick is currently suffering from amnesia due to a loss at sea. He lives with Leslie and is no longer terrible, but she is now tied to someone she doesn't love....or is she? Read this book to find out! That sounded like a terrible commercial, but that was a nice little side story. This book is heavy (for Montgomery) which means it does deal with many real life tragedies but in soft enough ways that you wouldn't worry too much about a young person reading it....or yourself. I feel like I've admitted enough that I am a clean reader.

4. Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery: I know. Another Montgomery, but you all knew I was doing this reading challenge anyway. This one was apparently written well after the first five books, and I kind of thought it showed. Not that I liked it any less. I loved it! There was just a tangible gap. Anne is almost a little less in the spotlight, though she and Gilbert do have some "conflict." The focus has shifted onto Anne and Gilbert's children and their different personalities. Another good one!

5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Lest you worry that I only read fluff, I read this book. This book will leave you breathless and a little overwhelmed, but it's good. It's the heavy stuff we probably should think about. It's a bildungsroman (if I might be so bold) set in Nigeria at a time of unstable political climate. I didn't actually do much research on dates, and it's not entirely clear the exact dating of the book was supposed to be. It doesn't matter that much because it is a novel about change really. Fifteen year old Kamibili and her brother, Jaja are children of a wealthy and well-respected business and newspaper owner named Eugene and his wife (their mother) Beatrice. Eugene though a prominent member of the Catholic church and a generous and respected man in the community, is perpetuating a reign of terror in the walls of his home. In attempts to save his children, he punishes them in horrifying ways. The story tracks the growing up process of Kambili, and while her country breaks free of tyranny, we watch her do the same.
There are things I don't like about this book. Like, the abuse. If you are wondering how bad this gets, it's pretty bad. If you have a more sensitive nature and know you aren't going to be able to handle it, or if you are a young-ish person, I'd recommend waiting or just skipping. It's not so bad that the message of freedom can't redeem it, but it's there and it's something to be aware of. Also, WHY does every religious dad in every book or movie have to be the worst person ever? I wonder if people's conception of "religious people" would change if there were kinder, gentler (particularly male) examples in the media. I, being a Christian, and knowing what the bible teaches about works-based salvation, question whether Eugene was actually saved, but non-christians reading this book might say, "Yep, yep...we knew it all along. Those Christians!" It's frustrating.
There are also many things I do like. The story itself is beautiful through its starkness. There is a message of hope and freedom in it. There is also a religious figure who is loving and God-honoring who never ends up compromising his own faith. There are also no sex scenes. Hooray for a contemporary book with no sex scenes! I'd say proceed with caution, but proceed.

Wow, remember how this was supposed to be short and snappy and reviewlet-like? So, maybe I can't stop myself from talking a lot. It's my blog...so there! Hope you enjoyed reading!

01 February 2012

Thoughts on Blog Comments, Pt. 2

for Emily

Today I’d like to focus on the “All Critique is Bad” commenters. Like the Grammar Correctors, the ACBers live among us. In fact they are the very people my friend Emily was concerned about when she challenged my last post.

This seems to be a plague especially among Christian blogs. Go to any blog right now that mildly to harshly questions or criticizes: The Shack; Rob Bell; Modern Art; Jefferson Bethke; Contemporary Christian music; or Mark Driscoll. Regardless of how well-written/caring/pastoral/scripturally supported the critique is, there will inevitably be one commenter claiming that All Critique is Bad.

The ACBers can be split up into several different camps:

  1. The misapplication of Matthew 18 people. Example: “If you have a problem with The Shack’s depiction of God’s love as a mere fallible human interaction, why don’t you actually GO to William Young. That’s what the BIBLE says to do. It’s right in Matthew 18.”
  2. The “My Goodness! You’ve spent a lot of time on this” people. I don’t feel like this one needs an example. But they all have fabulous other suggestions of how the bloggers could have spent their time (i.e. “you could have been evangelizing to youth in your neighborhood” “you could have been baking goodies for the homeless” and “you could have been spending time with your family”).
  3. The “Wouldn’t It be Better to Pray” people. Example: “What? You think Jefferson Bethke is calling for a general abandoning of the church? Don’t you think it’s a better idea that you pray for him, instead of lambasting him here.”
  4. The “It sounds like you need to get out of your theological box” people. Example: “You believe Jesus was serious when he talked about everlasting punishment. That’s not what Rob Bell said. You should stop seeing the world through your filter.”
  5. The “Judge not lest you be judged” people. Example: “I’m not going to judge you or anything, but religious people like you are so horrid and judgmental.”
  6. The “You are mean” people. Example: “How could you say all this publicly? You must be a mean person. I will pray for you.”

The good news is they are all wrong. Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” It’s pretty clear all over the bible that we are called to hold each other accountable, and that God instituted the Church as the guardian of orthodoxy and truth.

The bad news is that they will never ever ever go away. Basically the only way to deal with the ACBer is to find some form of amusement in their comments.

They are correct in being concerned with how we handle critique, whether in giving or in receiving. I am particularly bad at receiving. Part of the human condition, I suppose. I’m pretty good at giving. Also, part of the human condition. What we all should be concerned about is whether or not we are critiquing someone because we care about them and about others they may be influencing. We shouldn’t be concerned with the actual act of criticizing. After all, as seen in the Proverbs passage, it’s something we should actually be engaging in. The motives and not the act should be of utmost concern. With that in mind:

  • The Matthew 18 passage refers to brother to brother (sister to sister; sister to brother; brother to sister) sin. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15 ESV)This is a private sin. When William Young presented the literate world with a faulty, small, mawkish view of God’s love, he wasn’t merely offending the one pastor that critiqued him. He was offending God. Part of the job of a pastor is to uncover false teachers.
  • I laugh every time I see this one. I laugh to cover up the cartoonish sad trumpet sound that I imagine every time I see this "waah waah waah waaaaah." I guess we are supposed to assume that this particular brand of ACBer is evangelizing, ministering, and/or spending time with their family every waking moment of the day. This is both ludicrous and condescending. Stop using this!
  • Assumption is never a good idea. This brand of ACBer not only would like you to know how pious he is, but assumes he is the only one being pious. Instead of writing a blog attacking someone, he’d rather pray for them.
  • This is a weird one. Let’s for an instant assume that there are a bunch of actual physical boxes and 99 of them contain poison and one contains fresh air…also the world is about to blow up a thousand nuclear plants and we will all die if we don’t choose the right one. Now, assume for a minute that there are a couple people already in the fresh air box and they are telling you to join them, and they give you some arguments as to why you should believe their box is the one to pick. What if you replied, “Well, I’m not going to believe you because it sounds like you are stuck inside your particular box and refuse to leave it.” That would be pretty silly wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t you rather examine their argument to see if there was any truth in it? It’s the same for this ACBer complaint, although usually not quite so extreme. Who cares if someone is firmly in one theological box? Examine the box, not the person.
  • Another misapplication. It’d like to counter it with John 7:24 where Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Yes, Jesus told us to judge. He didn’t say to judge unfairly, and he didn’t say to condemn. He said judge with right judgment. That really ought to be the end of the story.
  • 6. I don’t feel like dignifying this with a response.

Yes, that was long. I would apologize, but the only other option is to actually comment back to people like this and I find doing so incredibly useless. Especially as the comments are on other people’s blogs and I don’t feel like I have any jurisdiction. This was one of those itches that desperately needed to be scratched. Thank you for indulging me. Beware the ACBer!

Just so I don't get any heat for this for the record: I have much respect for Mark Driscoll. I'm not grouping him with the other people, it's just an example of someone people can't allow any questioning of. Also, after hearing some more regarding the views of Jefferson Bethke, I have realized that he is not calling for an evacuation of the church. I just find it odd that there are evangelicals that other evangelicals think cannot ever be questioned. The Shack and Rob Bell I feel no shame over. In fact I don't even feel bad for not feeling bad over not feeling shame.