28 June 2012

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 7 - Most Underrated Book

1984 by Geo-ok ok...

Well, I haven't done an update from the challenge in a really long time, so I figured, no time like the present. Only when I sat down to type this out, I found myself stumped. A lot of the books I really love and appreciate are already well rated books. This then caused a momentary existential crisis. Do I know who I am? Do I think for myself? Or is everything I consider good and beautiful just laid out for me by "the man."

I've recovered from my slump when I realized exactly what I would do. I can't pinpoint an exact book, but there is an author who I feel is grossly underrated. Her name is Anne Bronte. Now, I know you know there is a third Bronte sister, but have you ever read anything by her? That's right, you haven't. Because for some reason (despite the fact that she's far superior to her sisters...and I am someone who loves the Brontes more than Austin, and I dearly love Austin) Anne Bronte's works have gone fairly unnoticed compared to her sisters' books.

My personal pet theory is that her books are a lot more solid and grounded than her sister's books. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are both almost magical and sweeping romances that are admittedly a little thrilling, particularly to the female soul. Not to mention their dark horse heroes who fascinate and repel us at the same time. Not so Anne's hero. He's a dreadful person and serves as a warning to young women not to fall for such rogues!...Ok, I should really stop talking like this. 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is her most notable work. So, assuming you actually knew her name, this is probably the one you would have heard of first (and the reason I refer to her hero in the singular). If you look it up you'll find critics decrying it as anti-alcohol propaganda and others praising it as a feminist landmark in the literary world. I tend to think reducing it to either of those, is not to do justice to Anne Bronte, but perhaps it's just time I read it again. Someone should appreciate it for what it is. A work of art and a great story.

27 June 2012

My Invented Country by Isabel Allende

     I read Isabel Allende’s My Invented Country: A Memoir with one of my “real life” book clubs. (For expediency’s sake I will call them The Church Book Club and The Library Book Club…this was for The Library Book Club) I picked it up with some trepidation since Allende was a name I had heard before with much praise for her writing skills and much warning about her inappropriate content.

     The book’s subtitle is A Memoir and it’s with good reason. I would summarize it as Ms. Allende’s opinion of Chile and everything else. She begins by explaining how much nostalgia is central to what she writes and how her plots and characters are born from a sense of nostalgia. Then she goes on to describe her early life in Chile and her eventual exile during the reign of Augusto Pinochet to Venezuela eventually ending with her marriage to her second husband, who she lives with now in California. In between the story of her life, the reader is treated (or has forced upon, depending on your personal convictions) Ms. Allende’s opinion of pretty much everything: Feminism, Language, Childhood, Marriage, Socialism, America. You name it, she has an opinion on it.

     Some of the ladies in my group were upset because they wanted to know more about Chile, but I didn’t find it upsetting. I think the nature of memoir is such that you get the facts according to one person. I’m not being a relativist here, but if you get two people in two different rooms who witnessed the same event, they may have the salient points, but the stories they tell will be vastly different. I found that she was rather honest at the beginning and the conclusion about how much this was life in Chile from her own perspective.

     I thought it was enjoyable how she mixed fact and fiction at random times during the book, so you weren’t even really sure how much of what she was saying was true. I wouldn’t have accepted this from an historian, but from someone writing her perspective on her own country and her own life, I actually found it sort of adventurous and interesting. What I didn’t particularly enjoy were her politics, particularly regarding feminism or her religious cynicism, found throughout the book. There was also a rather cheap shot at George Bush which to me is a bit of a tired joke. (Haw haw...our former President didn't do well speaking extemporaneously lolz rofl !!1!)

     I do have to give Ms. Allende credit for fairness in her comparing and contrasting of her old country, lost to her on September 11, 1973 with the coup of Salvador Allende and rise of Augusto Pinochet and her new country, America, gained on September 11, 2001, with the attack on the World Trade Center. She doesn’t just take the low hanging fruit of “stupid Americans” or “evil white males” that I think we tend to help perpetuate, but she’s honest about our flaws and about Chile’s flaws, from her point of view. And she is generous in her praise of both countries (she’s a little more biased in Chile’s favor, but I would be too were I born and raised there. I’m a little more biased in America’s favor, so I didn’t think it was a big deal). I also found the loss of country and gain of country, both on September 11th very moving.

     Also, I'd like to bring attention to the fact that Ms. Allende focuses a lot on her family and her community. This is actually something I really appreciate about South American and Mexican culture in general. There is an emphasis on the importance of family and community. And there is a sense of being grounded in something and coming from somewhere that I think we often take for granted. I found myself personally connecting with the unwritten rule that you never come to someone's house empty handed. My great-grandmother who emigrated from Mexico with her husband lived by the exact same rule. Ms. Allende's family in particular seems to be made up of some very eccentric and strange people, but in mainly harmless and endearing ways.

     I’m glad I read it. I found her writing style and humor very compelling. I think whether she wants to acknowledge it or not, God has given her a particular writing talent. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I cared more about her as a person, by which I mean, I have interacted with her other books. I felt the same way when reading Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood. I thought Ms. Dillard was funny and creative and a very talented writer, but I just wasn’t convinced I cared about her life because I hadn’t formed a relationship with her by reading any of her previous works. I think before I recommend her though, I’d like to read one or two of her books.

   I’d specifically like to read The House of Spirits which started originally as a long letter to her grandfather while Ms. Allende was living in exile. She found out he was dying and began to write to him in a burst of nostalgia. The letter eventually became the novel. I tend to think it’s a little sad that he never actually got the letter, but it does make for an interesting story behind the story.

26 June 2012

What's on Your Nightstand: July

What's On Your
Nightstand   I am pleased to report that most of the titles I posted in my very first "What's on Your Nightstand" post have been completed. The two non completed ones are C.S. Lewis's A Problem of Pain and Albert Camus's The Stranger. But I have stupendously good excuses for both. I'm reading The Stranger along with the folks at The Gospel Coalition and they aren't done. I'm reading the Lewis book with my friend Libby to discuss on our new blog. These things take time, and I probably shouldn't have put them on my "Nightstand" list. So, keep in mind that I'm still reading both of those titles even though they won't be added to this list.

Without any more explanation here are my next adventures into the literary realm:

  • Room by Emma Donahue: I know nothing about this title. It’s a book I’m reading for the Silver Falls Book Club, and that’s all I know. If it helps explain the book at all, I secretly call the lady who picked it “Our Sincere Liberal.” I mean that in a kind way. I like her a lot.
  • Juliet in August by Dianne Warren: I won this book from Goodreads, and I hope to finish it soon and get a review out. In the cover letter from the publishers there was a blurb by Ivan Doig praising Ms. Warren’s book. So, that seemed positive. The book has been released before under the name Cool Water. I’m a lot more drawn to Juliet in August aren’t you? It’s set in the small desert town of Juliet, Saskatchewan. Yes, in Canada. Did you know there were deserts in Canada? I did not. This was entirely new to me. Anyway, the story sort of revolves around this town and the people in it. It’s one of those “everyone has a story” books, which I find really interesting.
  • The Dragon Reborn (#3 Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan: Pretty self explanatory. The third book in that fantasy series I talked about last time. At this rate, by the end of the year I’ll be finished with them. Did you know they might be making a movie out of this series? It’s a good thing I’m finishing them now before the rush to put them on hold at the library happens.
  • Home by Marilynne Robinson: What can I say about Ms. Robinson. She has restored my faith in Christian fiction. She weaves a beautiful story and revels in the loveliness of our language. Yet at the same time she holds firmly to truth and right and even mixes doctrine in. She’s living proof that you can write truth and still have it be compelling and beautiful (Yes, William Young, I’m looking at you!)
  • Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon. I don’t know anything about this book, but Carrie reviewed it (I’m not linking because I don’t want to accidentally spoil a plot for myself) and Libby read it. Libby has been needing someone else to read it so she can discuss it with someone. So I’m obliging her.
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: Because C.S. Lewis quoted it in The Problem of Pain and because I just felt like it, and because books as good as that ought to be re-read.
  • Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand: I had no intention of reading this book until I read Unbroken by the same author and since it was one of my top ten favorite books of all time, I decided to check into this one too. 
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: Carrie's doing it. I use this excuse an awful lot it seems. hehehe...

And so, there you go! I can't wait to click around online and see what everyone else is reading in the upcoming month.What's on Your Nightstand is hosted monthly at 5 Minutes for Books.

20 June 2012

World War Z by Max Brooks

   These past two days I read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. I know what you are thinking. You are now completely skeptical of my reading habits, but please hold your judgment till the end.

     First, I’d like to get a few things off my chest. I enjoy scaring myself. I like scary movies (provided it’s actual thrills and not visceral repulsion I am experiencing) and I have a weakness for zombie movies in particular. So, when I first heard about World War Z I thought it would be scary and maybe a little cheesy and knew I would definitely read it. Plus, I had two friends who really enjoyed it and I try to get to things friends recommend. ("Try" being the key word there)

    Also I need to say as always, this review is not necessarily an endorsement unless you know how much you can handle. If you don’t like being scared, don’t read it. If you are sensitive to violence and swearing, don’t read it. There is quite a bit of bad language and I feel like it should be a gimme that a book with “zombie” and “war” in the title will be violent. 

     The actual book is set up as a series of interviews with survivors of the zombie war. The war has been over for a little over a decade now and Mr. Brooks plays the part of a reporter going around the world asking for survivors’ stories. From a Russian soldier to a suburban housewife in Texas, to America’s former chief of staff Grover Carlson (<-- Ho! Ho! Ho! See what he did there?) stories of the zombie war are collected. 

      I was surprised by how non-cheesy this book was. You almost forgot (aside from the actual zombie encounters) the improbability of the world being attacked by the living dead. It was actually more of a backdrop for Mr. Brooks’s social commentary. Now, with the cheap shot at Karl Rove (Grover Carlson) above, you can tell that I didn’t 100% embrace his social commentary, but it was interesting to see how much of our world he was able to capture. There were the noble and the villains. There was a disabled man who risked his life to keep his neighborhood safe at night and there was the scientist who invented a vaccine he knew didn’t work in order to get rich off of people’s fear. There was the suburban housewife who was able to save her child from a zombie with her bare hands, and the general who ordered his men to leave the civilians on their own. 

     World War Z also left the reader questioning how aware we are of what is going on. We know a zombie uprising is absurd, but how many other things do we hear about in our busy lives and turn a blind eye to because they happen somewhere else in the world, or they don’t concern us. I’m not here to guilt trip. I usually hate it when people do this, but it did make me think about how I don’t even know what the news headlines are right now. There could actually be a zombie outbreak and I wouldn’t know. I’m kidding. Kinda. Mainly. 

     Another issue the book discusses is governments not dealing with problems and covering them up instead. Now, I’m not going to get conspiracy theory here. I realize there are things for the sake of national security that it is probably good we don’t know about. But two examples did come to mind. The first is the HIV/AIDS outbreak in Russia. Russia is on track to have more cases of AIDS than most African countries, and their government refuses to acknowledge it. There was some talk from Mr. Putin in 2011 about the need for health reform, but it has so far proved to just be talk. 
     The next not everyone will agree with me, but it’s abortion in the United States. There are about 3,000 babies killed daily in the United States (yes, roughly the same amount of people killed in the attack on 9/11), and our government has decided that not only is that ok, but in some cases it would be wrong to NOTabort. We also use certain euphemisms to smooth over what is actually happening. We now use phrases like “termination” or “just a bundle of cells.” We mythologize it like it’s helpful and empowering to women. And we make this “choice” rather cost efficient too: It is roughly $450 for an abortion in the first trimester, and roughly $9,000 for a natural birth with no complications. Not that these numbers should be a surprise to Christians, but while reading the book I definitely thought of ways we cover up daily what we don’t want to think about. Nah-hah, Mr. Brooks, I bet you didn’t foresee someone using your book to discuss abortion, eh?
     *gets down from soap box*

     Ahem…anyway, I really did end up liking the book a lot more for the commentary and the exceedingly realistic depictions of human-nature, good and bad, than for the actual zombie part. In ways it reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984 (Oh no, Heather! Not that again) (You there! Quiet!). The characters in World War Z  were obviously much less one-dimensional than Julia and Winston, but the theme of the necessity of an alert people is very much the same. Both books have a bleak and futuristic setting born of a President who is more concerned with his election and power than his people (<--every president ever), a government willing to ignore widespread issues, and people who don’t pay attention. (Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”)

08 June 2012

A Woman's Wisdom by Lydia Brownback: Teil Zwei

Well, in all technicality it's part five, but this is the second post from me. I wrote a more in depth review of Lydia Brownback's A Woman's Wisdom for Carrie's blog. You should check it out, and then read all the other posts for this week. Mainly because this is your last chance to enter your name to receive a FREE copy of this book!

07 June 2012

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris

   For whatever reason, Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye has cycled back into my life. I find myself having conversations with friends about it and oddly, none of them have been positive. One friend suggested I reread it, thinking that with age and experience (<-- haw haw), I would have a different opinion. I reread it. I retain the same opinion. I found I Kissed Dating Goodbye to still be the helpful and honest book, I found it at fifteen or sixteen. And it’s a book still needed at a time when purity and commitment are rare. 

   Before I say a whole lot here, I need to point out that while I was writing this review I realized my notes were going on far too long for my readers to read, unless they are committed friends in real life, who will struggle through a ridiculously long blog post just for me. So, in order to hold the attention of my readers, and spare my IRL friends the sacrifice, I condensed my thoughts into two posts. Really this is quite a feat considering I have SO much to say about this book....and considering that I...just like to talk. Probably need this blog from Carrie actually.

   I’d like to begin by getting some misconceptions out of the way first. I feel like whenever I talk to people about this book, they quote Mr. Harris incorrectly or talk about one of his anecdotes and apply it in some way that I was fairly sure he didn’t mean it to be applied. If I can recall all of them I’ll attempt to set the record straight. (Now isn’t THAT bombastic? My small time blog post is going to be the DEFINITIVE answer on I Kissed Dating Goodbye…yes, Mr. Harris, you may now write me an e-mail and thank me for the good work I do on your behalf. Haha…I joke)

   At the time I Kissed Dating Goodbye was published, Mr. Harris was very young. He was younger than I am now, and I’m young. Some people saw this as presumptive and still others view this book as the final say in all romantic entanglements at all walks of life. I believe both of these are inaccurate. To the charge of presumption: please reread and listen to Mr. Harris’s tone. If it doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. He’s not “telling others what to do.” He’s sharing (aha! Look…I used “sharing.” Points for cultural relevancy!)  his life and his own experiences with friends. He’s challenging others to think about what they are doing and whether the values they accept are from the world or from the word. If we don’t allow our young people to challenge other young people, we are discouraging them from acting as a part of the body in holding one another accountable.

   Let me bring something out that I just said: “allowing young people to challenge other young people.” This is a man barely out of his twenties writing to other people in their late teens or early twenties. I hope I don’t’ step on any young reader’s toes when I say romantic relationships begun in the late teens and early twenties rarely end up in marriage and often end up in compromised purity, broken hearts, and hurt people. This is the group Mr. Harris addresses. He isn’t absolutely explicit in this (and there are DEFINITELY things that are helpful to read even now as an adult), but the book wasn’t written with a thirty-year old man with a steady job and a house in mind. One of the ways I know this is Mr. Harris’s continual refrain of not seeking intimacy before you can commit. Obviously, my hypothetical thirty year old man, is ready to commit. 

   Something else I feel needs to be pointed out is that the entirely semantic issue of “dating” v. “courtship” is completely overblown in discussion of the merits of failings of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. On both sides. There are groups who have taken the “courtship” movement so far that they think those who date might as well be living together. There are still others who refuse to listen to anything Mr. Harris says because he thinks dating is sinful. To both groups I’d like to bring to the front this quote from Mr. Harris: “The Bible doesn’t provide a one-size-fits-all-program for moving from friendship to marriage. Our lives are too different, our circumstances too unique, and our God too creative to have only one formula for romance.”[1]

   Some smaller issues are that some people accuse Mr. Harris of saying you absolutely cannot ever, under any condition touch one another before you are married. I read the whole thing. There is NO point in the book where he says this. The only place I’m guessing this is coming from is that he questions what right we have to act like we have access to someone’s body, if we are not married to them. And this is a fair question? When you are married you give one another access to your bodies. If you haven’t pledged this to someone, why are you acting as if you had? Mr. Harris never gives us a line like, “no kissing before marriage” or “only hand holding…anything else is out.” In fact, he says quite the opposite, “We have to understand purity as a pursuit of righteousness. When we view it as merely a line, what keeps us from going as close as we can to the edge.”[2] Don’t we all know this to be true? When given a rule, human nature will get as close as we can to the letter of the law, well before we embrace the spirit of it. Lydia Brownback in her book A Woman’s Wisdom addresses this problem in our relationships as well, “"Nowhere in Scripture do we read that sex is okay if you love someone enough. Nor do we find passages that address the oft asked question, "How far can I go before it's sinful?" To even ask this question is to reveal a divided heart.”[3] Later he gives practical suggestions of how one can avoid situations where there might be temptation, but he’s very clear when he says, “Rules by themselves won’t change our hearts, but once we’ve taken on a new attitude, protective boundaries can help keep us on course.”[4]

   Another misconception is that Mr. Harris insists on a chaperone at all times and that your parents basically dictate the terms and rules and direction of your relationship. This is never said either. Some of this stuff, I don’t even understand how it got to be a misconception in the first place. Mr. Harris’s comment on chaperones is actually quite negative. He mentions that when a person is dating according to the world’s attitude, they often pick up on things like, “don’t go anywhere one-on-one” and think that just adding another person will take the intimacy out of things. Again, the divided heart asking what is the least one can get away with. He then talks about how he didn’t appreciate being asked out by friends, only to realize that he was only there to play some kind of rule fulfilling role by being the “third person.” 

   When he talks about parental involvement, he explicitly calls it building a team. He suggests we ask our parents to be on our team. Why? Because they’ve been there and because they love you. Ideally if you are a Christian person with Christian parents, they can hold you accountable in your relationships, like they (again…ideally) do in everything. Now, he also takes into account that you may not live with your parents. Or you may not have a great relationship with your parents. Or your parents may not be Christians. He then suggests finding another (preferably older and wiser) Christian to bounce ideas off and get on your team. To me this doesn’t sound like anything revolutionary or unwise. 

   The only semi fair misconception I've heard is that Mr. Harris says you must be sure you know you will marry someone before you date them. Excuse me, court them. Woo them. Romance them. Seek a deeper relationship with them. Whatever you want to call it. This, isn't exactly what he's saying. I understand how someone would read the book at come away with that, but I think it's reducing his words by a lot. Almost to the point of misquoting him. He does suggest we take relationships more seriously than many people do. He does suggest you have a fairly good idea that you could seek something long term before you involve someone's emotions. But he never says, you must know you will marry someone before you seek something deeper with them. Again, Mr. Harris seems more concerned with the attitude than the "rules."

   So, when I came to the end of the book and found absolutely nothing upsetting or strange or ill advised, I was a bit confused. I don’t know what my friends were seeing that I missed. I have smart friends. I have godly friends. I have friends who do pursue righteousness and the knowledge of God and don’t want to live their lives like the world. I wonder if perhaps the reaction to the book from the more conservative section of Christianity (as in the people who rabidly embraced the concept of “not dating” and turned it into a NEW set of rules that will again just be followed to the letter and not the spirit), is perhaps closing my friends off to the actual message of the book. Mr. Harris in some of his own blogs now says that he still stands by what he wrote, but stands against the ways in which more legalistic minded people have taken his book and run with it. Perhaps it is the after affects that my friends object to?

   What is the actual message you might ask? Well, if you haven’t already read it or are in some way aware of it, I’ll be getting to this in part number two (which might not actually be consecutive by the way). The reason I did this backwards is that I figure most of my friends have read it or know about it in some way. At least in my little corner of Christendom, it was big. Also, the reason I reread it in the first place was because of its vilification in conversations with friends. So, in actuality, I was combing the book as critically as I possibly could and all I could come up with was the post above. However, if I have completely read this wrong, and you know something I don’t know, I’d love to hear your thoughts. In all fairness to Mr. Harris though, I feel like you should come with a quote from him and not from others tending to legalism who took his message too far.

[1] Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Sisters, Or.: Multnomah Books, 1997), page 205
[2] Ibid., page 91
[3] Lydia Brownback, A Woman's Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2012), page 142
[4] Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, page 117

05 June 2012

A Woman's Wisdom by Lydia Brownback

   In case you are an unfortunate soul who doesn't read my friend Carrie's blog, I recently reviewed Lydia Brownback's A Woman's Wisdom and it was posted today! Hop on over and give it a gander (incentive: she's giving copies away!) and if you like what you see, check out Carrie's overview of the book too. Also, stay tuned to her blog this week to see a little more in depth analysis of the book. It's a good one!