Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Books I Read in November




The Fellowship by Sara Roberts Jones

This is the first time I’ve ever read a novel written by a friend, and that in itself made this book an exciting experience.  It’s an easy, fun, suspenseful read, and I tore through it in two days—fast enough I should probably go back and read it more slowly to develop a more thoughtful opinion.

Sara gave me permission to write an honest review, and I’m grateful for that!  I have tremendous admiration for her conceiving and writing this book.  I would so much rather be someone acting in the arena than criticizing from the stands, and in this book I feel like Sara entered the arena and made an important contribution.

This is the only novel, to my knowledge, dealing with the topic of spiritual abuse in the conservative Christian patriarchal context, and for that reason alone, I think it’s important.  It shows how easily Biblical concepts can be twisted and grace lost.  The story is a great example of dramatic irony—it’s a page-turner because the reader can clearly see the problems in the system that the main character herself is blind to.  The dialogue is realistic, and the characterization strong.

One quibble I had with the book is that the main character leaves an unhealthy system and then goes back in an attempt to help change it, when she herself has not healed enough to do that well.  I don’t think the book itself was encouraging this, and in fact shows how it goes wrong, but it was concerning to me.

I also wondered about the book’s target audience.  There’s a fair amount of irreverent humor.  The book also shows the main character and others rebelling (an important theme since overly strict systems often produce a backlash of rebellion).  However, I wonder if someone still in a strict system would reject this book as being irreverent and rebellious, instead of being helped by it to see their own unhealthy situation.

I hope Sara writes more novels, and if she does, I would definitely want to read them!

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

This was my “fun” book of the month.  If books were food, this would have been a slice of chocolate cake—enjoyable, but I would wither inside if this were all I read.  That said, this is a hilarious and heart-warming story.  JoJo Moyes is a talented author, and her plot pacing and characterization are excellent.  I felt really drawn in by this story, and I empathized particularly with the young single mom who main motivation in life was to do well by her kids.  But I also empathized with the characters with whom I have less in common—the teenage boy struggling to find his identity, the mathematically-inclined girl unsure about her gifting, and the businessman caught in a scandal of his own making. 

There were numerous laugh-out-loud scenes in this book, and it was easy to read in the ten-minute increments Brennan gives me these days.  (He’s nursing faster and less often, which means a lot less reading for me.  It’s hard to dig into a deep tome with such a cute distraction between me and the book!)

I would recommend this book because it’s enjoyable and well-written, but if it were made into a movie I would be probably be skipping a few scenes because of a little alcohol and drug use and sexual detail.  I feel like this is a “love covers a multitude of sins” kind of book, but I would recommend it with that caution, and only for older readers.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller

Tim Keller is one of my favorite speakers, and I really appreciated this little book by him.  It’s easy-to-read (I wondered if it was a sermon written out?) and very applicable—addressing how we act as if our ego is still in the courtroom, awaiting a verdict of approval either from ourselves or from other people, when in reality, as Christians, we are out of the courtroom, Christ has approved of us, and we can live in that confidence, serving others instead of expecting them to feed our craving for importance.  This book discussed how humility is not putting myself down, but instead focusing on God and others.  I would highly recommend this one.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Last year I started an earlier book by Brene Brown—Daring Greatly—and only got partway through before it was due at the library.  So I knew a little bit of her style and content before diving into Rising Strong.  This book unpacks the process of what to do when you are vulnerable and “dare greatly” but end up falling on your face—how do you “rise strong” after a failure?

Brene Brown is a fascinating author.  She wrestles with topics like shame and vulnerability, and though I think she’s a Christian of some sort, instead of writing from a Biblical perspective (knowledge by revelation), she writes from the perspective of an empirical researcher (knowledge by survey and data).  Her theories are based on the number of people she has interviewed who have experienced a fall in life and risen from it.

I think much of what she says fits right into a Christian worldview.  It’s like she’s working with pieces of a puzzle she has found through empirical research, and though she never delves into the Gospel like an author like Elyse Fitzpatrick would, the Gospel is the central puzzle piece that in many ways fits right into and connects with what she’s saying.

So even though I didn’t agree with everything, I found this book helpful on a personal level in a number of ways.  How do I deal with shame?  Do I operate from a perspective of scarcity or abundance?  (This made me think of the “life more abundantly” concept in Scripture.)  After I fail, do I believe I am unlovable?  (This made me think of how we can be secure in God’s love no matter how others react to us.)

How do I rise strong after experiencing a failure or tragedy?  Are my opinions of other people based on genuine understanding, or my own theories?

One concept I found particularly practical was to use the phrase “the story I’m making up” to share with others my perspective of a situation.  For instance, when Ben and I have a conflict, it almost always goes like this: (Sharing with Ben’s permission, by the way.)

1. Ben says or does something that bothers me—not intentionally to hurt me, but usually because he’s thinking about something else and doesn’t realize how something will impact me.
2. I take offense.
3. I share with Ben how and why I’m offended.
4. Ben feels personally attacked, and defends himself that his intentions were good, and he wasn’t trying to be hurtful.
5. I get more offended by Ben’s being defensive, and feel like he’s not understanding me.

And so it goes.  Don’t tell me you haven’t been here!  After reading Rising Strong (which I’ve asked Ben to read, too), Ben and I had a conversation that surprised both of us by not escalating into a conflict.  It went like this:

1. Ben did something with good intentions, but it really bothered me.
2. Instead of attacking him, I told him, “The story I’m making up about what you did is that ‘I’m a problem you want to fix, and you want to control me.’  I know that is not true, that wasn’t your intention or what you meant, but that’s how I feel and how it came across to me.”
3. This helped Ben not feel attacked, and since I’d already talked with him about the “story I’m making up” phrase, we were able to talk with each other and explore what Ben did and how he meant it, and also how I felt about it and why, without devolving into a hurtful conflict.  I was so encouraged at the end of our conversation that we had both understood each other. It was really helpful, and I hope we can use this “story I’m making up” phrase in the future to basically say: my feelings matter, your intentions matter, let’s talk about what happened without making assumptions or going on the offensive or defensive so quickly.

Whoa, this blog post is getting a bit long.  Really quickly, a couple others I finished the month with.  (They look a bit incongruous side by side … but then, this blog is titled eclectic for a reason…)


Isabella: The Warrior Queen

I think this is my attempt to prove to myself that three babies later, I haven’t melted my brain.  I’m not sure how well it’s going.  This is quite a tome—I’m halfway through and intent on sticking it out!  This is a biography of Queen Isabella, who ruled Spain in the 15th century.  (The one who helped fund Christopher Columbus.)  It’s a fascinating look at life in the Middle Ages.  So far I have a hard time wrapping my mind around how turbulent life was then!  Kirstin Downey seems like a good writer and researcher, and I’m enjoying this book even though I’m becoming increasingly grateful I didn’t live back then.

Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley

I am disappointed in this book, to be honest.  I only read the first few chapters, and I’m not sure I’ll continue.  I loved her book The Measure of Success about women’s work and ambition.  But this one, not so much.

She begins by giving an overview of feminism that highlights the anti-Christian strains in that movement.  I think she’s absolutely right—she clearly has done her research and has quotations to back her up.  But it troubles me that her sole focus is on what is wrong with the feminist movement, while she (at least not yet in the book) gives no space for talking about the serious problems feminism is correcting, or the things that feminism gets right. 

I found this frustrating that she, a single woman who is a leader in the workplace and a published author, is clearly enjoying some of the fruits of the feminist movement in her life, but only criticizes what specific feminist leaders like Simone de Beauvoir got wrong.

She really stepped on my toes on page 42 where she essentially ridiculed the idea that a 1950s suburban housewife in our American consumer culture could suffer boredom and depression.  She says this is “amusing” and writes, “I’m sure there are impoverished women in developing nations everywhere who would like to have such problems.”  To me, this quotation sounds like telling your kids to eat your broccoli because there are starving children in Africa.  The poverty of women in the third world doesn’t take away the genuine problem of boredom that a woman can feel if she is not allowed to use her gifts.  I wonder if this boredom is just something that the author herself has never experienced, and therefore isn’t empathetic to.  But I expected more from her.

I finally quit the book when one of the first few testimonies she shared as an example was of a brand new believer whose husband had an affair, and she felt the only way to honor him was not to tell anyone, but to go to her husband for counsel when she felt depressed about his sin.  Don’t get me wrong—I am so inspired by stories of reconciliation after adultery and have such respect for couples who have gone through that, but I feel like this particular testimony was encouraging unwise decisions about secrecy made by a new believer, when she would have been better not to gossip about her husband, but to get help from Church leadership and a good counselor.  I am really concerned the author picked this as an example testimony.

So that’s where I stopped reading, because I was getting more angry than encouraged.  What do you think, anyone who has finished the book?  Should I keep plowing through?  Does it get better?

So that’s what I read this month!  Coming up this month: The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, Why Christian Kids Rebel by Tim Kimmel, and The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller.

How about you?  Tell me if you have good books to recommend!

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