Friday, August 21, 2009

A few book reviews

... and a bouquet of zinnias, too... because they're just so lovely.

I hate making book recommendations, plain and simple. Because... what I might enjoy thoroughly, another may find absolutely dismal. And while I may struggle through the pages of a particular text, desperate to finally reach its end, that same person may place that same volume atop his/her "favorites" list. Tastes are so personal, and finding spare time-- amidst the hustle and bustle of daily living-- to savor a new book is so very rare, that I know I don't want to be disappointed when I finally plop down on the sofa for a few minutes of literary escape. That being said, I'm going to step out of my comfort zone here and actually recommend a few titles, just in case anyone might be interested :)

Over the past few months I've worked my way through a few of the selections on my book list, and lo and behold, I've enjoyed the process thoroughly. Unfortunately, I haven't found the time in the past few weeks to tackle any more books on my list because I've been up to my eyeballs in juvenile American history (frantically researching for history lessons this fall.) But when I was reading for pleasure, I followed a principle set forth by my mother-in-law. She suggested that I set a daily goal-- she started with 25 pages per day-- and this idea worked wonders for me. I must admit there were some days when I just didn't get a chance to read, but I tried-- I really tried-- to tackle at least 25 pp/day, and quite often I was pleasantly surprised to find the time to eek out a few pages more. So thanks, Moggie, for the tip-- it really works!

So, without further ado... here we go:

Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. We'll start off easy :) I never read this book in my younger years, but after seeing it atop many children's reading lists, I assigned it to my eldest. As he worked his way through and as he shared a few opinions regarding the basic plot of the story, he got me hooked; I needed to read it for myself. Now, for any who know me well, I'm an animal lover to the max, and I've learned over the years that animal-themed movies/books/documentaries are inevitably painful... the cute and cuddley guys just never win. And as a result, I always end up crying. A lot. So it's just easier to stay far, far away from such selections. Now, with that in mind, I set out to read this particular book, keenly aware that I would-- most likely-- be crying any minute. Amazingly enough, I only cried a little. But the tears were so worth it. This story is about a dog and her boy... a loyalty and devotion greater than any other... the bonds of love and a determination to never-give up, not even against
insurmountable odds... in search of the way back home. It's a must-read, truly. Even for grown-ups :)

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle is a delightful glimpse into a small town life in the south of France. Mayle and his wife have just purchased a 200-year old home in Provence, and month by month, he takes us along... as they meet their very quirky neighbors; as they explore and appreciate the delicious fresh food markets and the many fabulous eateries; as they learn firsthand that obtrusive house guests, erratic weather, and workmen who ascribe to their own timetable are just part and parcel for their new surroundings. This book is fun-- I promise, you'll laugh out loud. And when you're done, you'll be desperate for a trip to Provence!

Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? by Gary L. Thomas. If you're looking for a 10-step program or a check-each-item-off-the-list sort of approach to a better marriage, this book is not for you. If, though, you're looking for something more, something deeper, something real.... you need look no farther. This book, Sacred Marriage, is a call to holiness. It's a call to a deeper walk with God. It's a call to sacrificial living. By seeking the Lord's presence more intently and by obeying Him more fully-- by allowing Him to transform us as individuals-- Thomas suggests that our marriages, in turn, will inevitably begin to reflect the selfless, never-ending, always-forgiving love as demonstrated for us in the person Jesus Christ. Very excellent. Very thoughtful. Definitely worthwhile.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. I originally added this title to my list because I saw it mentioned repeatedly on many "favorites" lists, and after seeing it everywhere, I figured it must be pretty good (it is a Newberry Award winner, after all). At the time, I didn't realize that it's a sci-fi title (or at least in my library it is)-- that alone might have turned me off because sci-fi is not my cuppa. Anyhoo-- I decided not to let this detail deter me. After reading it quickly, I can honestly say that it does not sit atop my favorites list, but it was thought-provoking and certainly a worth-while read. The plot, you ask?? What happens when a community-- in an effort to provide its members with simple, pain-free lives-- decides to strip away all freedoms, all choices, and all defining characteristics & traits in favor of Sameness?? Hmmm.... read and find out.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A timeless classic about life in a small Alabama town and the challenges a small family endures along the way. I don't remember caring for it the first time around (way back in junior high :), but this go round I enjoyed it immensely.

The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns... without a doubt, the most challenging, thought-provoking book I've read in a long, long time.

You know, over the years, I've read a lot of books that fall under the "Christian Living" banner-- books designed to aid me, a believer in the risen Christ, to live a life more fully abundant, more fully abandoned, more fully obedient to Him and His Word. And while all have proven helpful in one measure or another... while all have helped me apply biblical truth more readily in my daily life... none... not one... has spoken to me more clearly than this one. When Jesus called us to be His followers, He did not call us to a life of luxury... to a life of easy living. No, He called us to be His hands and feet... to reflect and embody His gracious love to a lost and dying world.

Between the covers of his book, Stearns tells his story (briefly)-- how God called him out of his prestigious position as CEO of Lenox to become the new President of World Vision U.S.-- and then entreats his reader to consider this question (as he himself was forced to consider over 10 years ago), "What does God expect of us?"

Embracing the gospel, or good news, proclaimed by Jesus is so much more than a private transaction between God and us. The gospel itself was born of God's vision of a changed people, challenging and transforming the prevailing values and practices of our world. Jesus called the resulting new world order the "kingdom of God" (see Matt. 12:28; 19:24:21:32, 43:and Mark 1:15, among others) and said that it would become a reality through the lives and deeds of His followers. Jesus asked a great deal of those who followed Him. He expected much more than just believing He was God's Son. He challenged them to embrace radically different standards, to love their neighbors and their enemies, to forgive those who wronged them, to lift up the poor, and to live lives of sacrifice...

... we are the carriers of the gospel-- the good news that was meant to change the world. Belief is not enough. Worship is not enough. Personal morality is not enough. And Christian community is not enough. God always demanded more. When we committed ourselves to following Christ, we also committed to living our lives in such a way that a watching world would catch a glimpse of God's character-- His love, justice, and mercy-- through our words, actions, and behavior. "We are... Christ's ambassadors," wrote the apostle Paul, "as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:20). God chose us to be his representatives. He called us to go out, to proclaim the "good news"-- to be the "good news"-- and to change the world. Living our faith privately was never meant to be an option (pp2-3).

If you don't read any other book this summer, please... read this one. It's that good.


gretchen said...

Now all we need is a cup of (take your pick - cocoa for you, coffee for me), a few quiet moments to chat ;) and time to do it... so when are you available? ;)

Anonymous said...

Reading is, by far, my favorite pasttime. I am so glad you are able to find a little time for youself to indulge, and as you have found out to learn, even in tiny snippets of time. I plan to take you up on the last book. Moggie