Tag Archives: non-fiction

2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 5

The final 6! I read a lot of amazing books in 2016. 

Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

In this intriguing book, Sayers tackles the “analogy” of God as Creator and takes a deeper look at what it means for humans, who create, to be made in the image of God. This was a good but very challenging read. I didn’t always understand the definitions or logic and often had to re-read passages. However, like with Chesterton, I came away with a greater understanding and desire to know more. Sayers’s approach to the Trinity is intriguing and it offers an interesting glimpse into the creative process. Overall, this book is definitely worth the effort. 

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico 

At 48 pages, this is another charming children’s book that really stuck out this year. The Snow Goose is the story of a hunchbacked painter and a young girl who bond over a wounded snow goose. This book is surprisingly adult (not in content as much as depth) yet beautiful enough to read to children. Gorgeous art and an emotionally real plot. Though somewhat predictable, it is also sweet and noble.

For the Love of My Brothers: Unforgettable Stories from God’s Ambassador to the Suffering Church by Brother Andrew

For the Love of My Brothers picks up where God’s Smuggler ends and represents the expanded vision of Open Doors Ministry during/after the fall of communism. Though “dated” in some regards (I was age 3 and 5 respectively when this book was written and then updated), the book doesn’t feel obsolete. It was a great reminder of all God accomplished and continues to accomplish in the lives of believers across the world. Though I read a couple Brother Andrew books this year, I particularly appreciated this one because of my 2015 visit to Eastern Europe. 

Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis

Lewis received thousands of letters from children and this volume contains some of his answers. I found it immensely satisfying. Lewis’s letters are encouraging, instructive, and occasionally just about mundane things like the weather. There is a delightful amount about Narnia in this book. I love how often Lewis encourages children to write their own Narnia stories. He also answers lots of questions about the Narnia books (yay! More Narnia! Fangirls rejoice!) Even outside of Narnia, though, I was really surprised and impressed by how intelligently Lewis wrote to children. He peppers his letters with references to other books and texts. Truly worth reading and owning. 

The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man by J. Budziszewski

An interesting  and challenging analysis of politics and Christianity. Budziszewski has two particularly intriguing chapters critiquing liberal and conservative viewpoints. However, the entire book is worth chewing over. I love his strong, pro-life arguments. Readable and worth the time, even if there are moments it feels “dated” and occasionally dense. One of those books I really enjoyed but I don’t expect most people to. 

Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer

It is very possible that I have lost all perspective and objectivity when it comes to Heyer. Even books I previously gave 3 stars I have been tempted to up to 5. I really, really love her writing and characters. While Beauvallet probably isn’t in my top 5 Heyer Reads, it is still pretty high up there. This is a grand, romantic, swashbuckling adventure set in the Elizabethan era. “Mad Nicholas” Beauvallet is a privateer and favorite of Queen Elizabeth who falls for a Spanish lady and determines to woo her, even if it means traveling through Spain where there is a price on his head. I was charmed to find the stereotypical Heyer characters out of their usual Regency setting and I liked the cameos from Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth, and Mary Stewart. Not perfect but certainly charming enough to win my heart.

 

 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The 5-star, best of the best, reads from 2016! 

The Iliad by Homer

It is always difficult to rate a classic, but this is a super-duper classic. THE classic. A lot annoyed me in this story and I was often bored or grossed out, but the humanity captured is truly amazing. Many of the struggles, desires, emotions, and even insults thrown back and forth are recognizable and relevant today. This is a messed up story, but it is a also a story of coming to terms with grief and life and honor. It is incredible. My favorite “character” was Diomedes. I can’t believe I had never heard of him before! He was awesome! There is a reason this story has remained such a favorite for so long.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

I had some pretty high expectations for Bonhoeffer and, remarkably, it lived up to them. Bonhoeffer is great, not only because it is the story of the pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but because it incorporates WW2 history, theology, and the story of Germany in the early twentieth century all at the same time. I especially enjoyed the quotes from Bonhoeffer. I am going to have to read more by him. This book may be thick but it is worth it. Highly recommended for lovers of history and anyone who wants to learn more about a fascinating, relatively unknown and unsung hero of WW2.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens 

Despite being ridiculously long and occasionally mindbogglingly boring, this book was wonderful and hard to put down. There were moments I loved it and moments I hated it. However, in the end, loving or hating, I really enjoyed David Copperfield and it might surpass Our Mutual Friend as my favorite Dickens novel. You can never tell what will happen next. There were a lot of characters but it was surprisingly easy to keep them straight. I like how everything was tied up and how everything comes around. The description on the audio book says, “tragedy and comedy in equal measure.” That is this book in a nutshell. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. And in the end, it is totally worth the 34 hours, or 900 some pages, or whatever else it takes to get through it. Go Dickens!

Poems by C.S. Lewis 

Did you know Lewis was a poet? He was a really good one, too. In general, I don’t read poetry but this volume gave me a better sense of why people like it. Poetry can be bite size brilliance. These were utterly profound but applicable and memorable. My favorites were “Pan’s Purge”, “Reason”, and “The Country of the Blind.” Some of Lewis’s poems are silly. Some are profound. Quite a few confound me with allusions to things I know nothing about. He writes about angels and nature, love and Dwarfs. Well worth finding. 

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka 

I like this book because I could enjoy it just as it was, as a story, and yet also enjoy it as a classic literary work revealing human nature. I like Gregor and the love he has for his family, a love eventually worn down by self-absorption and then flipped again in his last moments. I actually liked his family as well with all their passivity, self-absorption, and laziness. Basically, they are horrible humans, but they ring true. The way they behave towards Gregor felt completely natural and realistic. Kafka makes a brilliant point about human dependency and how we let things control our whole lives. Fascinating stuff! 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

Another Dickens novel! This timeless Christmas tale was even better than I expected. The book is simple and yet timeless. I don’t know what else to add because you probably already know about Scrooge and his nocturnal visitors, this story is part of our common culture. I thought I knew it. However, it has more depth than I realized. If you haven’t read it for yourself, I recommend doing so. 

Common Sense by Thomas Paine 

The historical significance of Common Sense alone argues for a 5 star rating. Highly readable, this pamphlet references natural law, legal theory, historical precedent, and Old Testament narrative. It made for an enjoyable read and provides insight into what fired up our Founding Fathers. I was pleasantly surprised by this one! 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

This year I read 168 new books – here are some of the best! See any favorites? 

Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy by Alli Worthington 

Alli Worthington is a woman who knows about busy…something that becomes evidently clear as she tells her story as an entrepreneur and mother of 5 boys. However, she also knows about finding peace in God and the joy of doing what you are designed to do. In this quick but deep read, she talks about the importance of stepping away from cluttered schedules and maximizing your time doing what you were designed to do. Very inspiring and worth the time to read.

7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas 

In this companion book to 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness,  Metaxas provides the biographies for seven, Godly women who impacted the world: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks. I found 7 Men somewhat dull, but I really liked these biographies. I especially appreciated what a diverse group they were. 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A sweet, wonderful book set in WW2 England. 9-year-old Ada has a club foot and is emotionally and physically abused by her mother, so when her brother is sent to the country for protection from the bombing, she decides to sneak along. They end up in the home of a depressed woman who needs them as much as they need her. I really enjoyed the realism and pace of this book. The character change was well done. Really good historical fiction. 

Overrated: Are We More In Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? by Eugene Cho

This book was seriously convicting. Are we more in love with the idea changing the world than the reality? Cho is very open and vulnerable about his struggles in this area. He calls out his own motivation first and foremost. In doing so, he calls out me. He calls out Millennials. He calls out all of us who genuinely want to make a difference…but often by being in the spotlight instead of doing the work. I particularly appreciate how firm Cho is. He calls it how he sees it and seriously challenges the way we view what making a difference really means. I highly recommend this one. 

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

When their headmistress and her odious brother are suddenly poisoned, the students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls have a decision to make. Do they alert the police and return to their respective homes, or carry on as if nothing happened? They opt to bury the bodies. Unfortunately, hiding murder is not easy, especially when the murderer is still at large! This is a fun, Victorian tale of murder, mayhem, and most inconvenient situations. A great part of the book’s charm comes from the 7 main characters who have very distinct personalities. Good for middle school on up! (And especially good for adults like me who just love a fun, farcical story.) 

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan 

In this book, comedian Jim Gaffigan writes about being a Dad, raising 5 kids in a 2 bedroom apartment, and dealing with the stigma of having a “big” family. As the eldest of 5 kids, I found this book HILARIOUS. I was in public when I read it and people kept staring because I was laughing so hard. Gaffigan may come across panic stricken half the time, but he clearly loves his family. A very funny, clean, and enjoyable read. 

Valiant by Sarah McGuire 

A re-telling of the Brave Little Tailor, Valiant is the story of Saville, a girl who dresses as a boy and takes her Father’s place as tailor to the King. When she learns that an army of giants are about to attack the city, she goes out and manages to trick them into leaving. Suddenly everyone things she is a hero! But can the courageous tailor save the kingdom from an even greater threat, the Duke and his larger than life army? I loved Valiant! It had a developed heroine, satisfying relationships, and lovely writing. Definitely one I plan to re-read and recommend. 


2016 Reading Challenge – The Moving Ones

Last year, I had a post designated for the the most “mind blowing reads” of 2015. I was planning on doing that again this year. However, what stands out most from this year isn’t the non-fiction that made me think, but the books (fiction and non-fiction) that made me feel. Each of these books left a lasting impression on my mind. All the 5 star reads I will share over the next few days arguably have a claim on this list (they did make 5 stars), but these were the ones that came immediately to mind. Without further ado, I present you:

Emotionally Moving and Character Shaping 5 Star Reads from 2016:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles 

This American classic is a dark, coming of age story set during early WW2. It is the story of Gene, a brooding introvert, and his friend, Phineas, the outgoing and favorite boy at school. This book is full of emotions: hatred, love, friendship, and jealousy. It was poignant, melancholy, and left me slightly breathless by the end. I’m glad I didn’t read this one in school because I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did on my own. Also, while they are often compared, I immensely preferred this one to Catcher in the Rye.

Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society by Dorothy L. Sayers

A 75 page booklet consisting of two essays: “Are Women Human?” and “The Human-Not-Quite-Human.” Sayers did not write or speak much about feminism but in this work she lays out her opinion about the role of women in society. Sayers’s main point is that men and women have more in common than not and that each should do what they were designed to do. If a woman enjoys and is good at business, she should be a businesswoman because that is what she was made to do. However, if a woman desires to be a traditional housewife, she should do that because that is what she was meant to do. The same standards apply to men and women equally. While these are hardly groundbreaking concepts, Sayers’s brevity and snark offer an exceptional and thought provoking look at what it means to be human in today’s society. 

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

661 pages, but worth every word. At first glance,this Depression-era novel is the story of Willie Stark, an initially idealistic politician who amasses power and uses ruthless methods to get what he wants. However, this is equally the story of the men and women around Willie, especially his right hand man and the narrator of the book, Jack Burden. I’ve already written about how much I love Jack; the truth is, I enjoyed all the characters in this book. They are multilayered and even characters with only one or two scenes have color and depth. Rarely, though, do characters only have one scene. They always seem to come around as the story weaves a tighter and tighter plot towards the final, emotional conclusion. The writing style is beautiful and poetic and the plot is thought provoking and full of character change. Definitely my favorite book from 2016. 

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton 

Chesterton is utterly brilliant and reading him is like thinking on a different level. This is a book on theology and orthodoxy and Christianity; it is a convulsion of ideas and pictures about stories, worldview, and the role of joy in the Christian’s life. I didn’t always agree with Chesterton but I was challenged to think more deeply about why. He writes in a clear fashion that makes abstract concepts understandable, yet deals with subjects so profound I could read this book ten times and still gain something new. Here is one popular quote to illustrate – “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

All Quiet on the Western Front by  Erich Maria Remarque

They were Germany’s Iron Youth, but as WW1 drags on 19-year-old Paul Bäumer and his friends become more and more disillusioned and embittered by war. What will become of men trained only to kill? I found this book so beautiful. Difficult. Thought provoking. Introspective. Painful but real. The narrative isn’t “exciting” necessarily and the whole story seems to drift from moment to moment, but in doing so it reflects the characters and their outlook. Their lives have been stopped and now drift with the war. I love the mercy and realism, the camaraderie and sorrow. The war created one good thing – their friendship – and then destroyed it with all the senseless death. So poignant. My second favorite read from this year.


The Peculiar Way I Read

One of the things I regularly do on this blog is post “Reading Updates.” In these, I mention 5 or 6 books I am currently reading  and my thoughts on them. However, I have not completely explained what I mean by “currently.” While occasionally I pick up books at random (‘I was reading Book A but then while cleaning my room I found book B so I decided to read for a while’), my grouping of books on this blog actually reflects a much more specific and purposeful pattern I have developed over the years. This pattern helped me grow as a speed reader and has been instrumental in holding my attention span through thick, non-fiction books. What is my secret?

I read 5 books, 1 chapter at a time.

Stick with me.

When I was around middle school, I read a book called The Anybodies by N.E. Bode. It was a very memorable book with a variety of colorful characters. However, what stuck out to me most was a scene where Fern (the main character) is asked to read to her grandmother. Her grandmother has an odd way of reading…she reads 3 books at a time, 1 sentence at a time. Basically, she picks up book A, reads the first sentence, then book B, reads the first sentence, Book C, first sentence, then back to book A, second sentence, book B, second sentence, etc.

I decided this was a marvelous idea. I had to try it! Shockingly, it didn’t work as well in real life as it did in fiction. Books aren’t really designed to be read one sentence at a time. I experimented with one paragraph at a time. Similar results. However, when I tried one chapter at a time, it worked wonderfully. 3 books at a time seemed too short. 7 proved too many. In the end, I decided 5 was a good median. (Not that I always hold to 5. Depending on thickness and size, I might add or subtract books from that number.)

Basically, my reading goes like this. I read a chapter in Book A, set it down. Pick up Book B, read a chapter, set it down. Pick up Book C, read a chapter, etc. It is mentally satisfying because I make it through more books than I normally would, and intellectually gratifying because cross-reading genres often presents similar themes I would not normally have noticed. I like that it holds my attention span. No matter how well written or interesting a book, my brain runs away from prolonged focus on one idea. It is much easier to step back and see the “big picture” when I’ve spread that big picture over several books.

Some other thoughts. Overall, this style of reading works a lot better with non-fiction than with fiction. I rarely am so engrossed in a non-fiction work that I decide to finish it instead of switching to the next book. With fiction, that happens frequently. Also, fiction relies more heavily on a continual narrative, whereas each non-fiction chapter tends to be a contained thought, or next step in the idea, and not as difficult to go back and forth with.

There are some downsides to this style of reading. For one, it is hard to travel anywhere. One book fits in my purse, but not five! I tried fixing this problem by getting a Nook, but I don’t find e-readers as satisfying. Another problem is that it involves a lot of brain power. I usually try and tackle thicker, more challenging books when I read them in this pattern because I know I will find it more difficult to read them cover to cover. However, I’m not disciplined enough to consistently keep up the intellectual work, so usually I will finish my handful of hard books, and then respond with a Young Adult fiction binge. 

Like anything, this is one my cycles of interest; it comes and goes. However, I suppose it is a rather unique way of reading. For me, it is just another fun way of engaging with the written word. If you are a big picture person (or a little ADHD…), I recommend giving it a try!