Category Archives: Book Review

What I’ve Been Reading

What kind of reader are you? Do you pick up one book at a time and read it cover-to-cover, or are you eternally picking at a few books at the same time? I used to be the first type. I read one book at a time, and almost entirely fiction. Then I got further into my education and just didn’t have time for much leisure reading. At the same time I discovered audiobooks and got an e-reader, so my reading style evolved. For example, I am currently reading 3 books: I’m listening to a non-fiction book about the Great Depression while I commute, picking at a psychology/self-help book about my son’s Myers-Briggs type, and just starting an e-book about Vietnam. On top of that, I’m half done with a children’s book in French that I have picked at for a couple years, and I read half of a book on pioneers before I had to return it to the library. I’ve also been reading some (clean) fanfiction when I just need something fluffy in my downtime. I’ve completed 42 books so far in 2018. It’s a far cry from the 100 I was hoping to read this year, but there’s still time to squeeze in a few more. Here are a few of the highlights.

 

Fiction:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – I like classic novels. I have a big list of classic novels everyone should read, and I’ve been picking at it for years. I dreaded this one because I’ve seen at least parts of the movie, and I was afraid it would be creepy. It’s not, and Kesey’s use of language is evocative. I ended up really enjoying the book.

 

Dune by Frank Herbert – Another off the classic list. It reminded me a lot of Star Wars (or should I say Star Wars is reminiscent of this book, since it was published first). It’s sci-fi, but not in an over-the-top nerdy way. I plan on working my way through the rest of the series and watching the movie some time.

 

I also read/listen to a lot of John Grisham legal thrillers and Debbie Macomber romances (again, clean), and this year I had my first taste of the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming.

 

Non-fiction:

As an historian, naturally I read a lot of history and biography/memoirs. This year I’ve read about the Romanov family, the modern first ladies, and the power of creativity. There have been a number of psychology/self-help books on my list this year, too.

 

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero – This was a fun one. Sincero spent years digging through self-help books and attending seminars, and this book is the concentrated knowledge of her experiences. It’s snarky and funny, and not at all pretentious. My one disappointment with this book is Sincero’s take on spirituality. Early in the book she says that the sooner we accept spirituality’s role in our lives, the sooner we can get past ourselves and start living the life we want. I thought, “yay! A funny, sarcastic self-help book that will also encourage my faith!” But alas, I was wrong. Sincero’s version of spirituality basically has God in the role of cosmic bartender, just waiting to open the tap for you once you have the right way of asking. It totally strips God of his power and all-knowing nature and makes us the authority in the universe. I just can’t devalue the creator of the universe like that.

But there was still so much good in this book. The most powerful part for me was the chapter on the things we say about ourselves. I came to realize that there were a number of things I said about who I was (I will never be a runner, I have bad knees, etc.) that once served a purpose. I started saying that I have bad knees to protect myself physically. But it also became an excuse in my life when it became part of my identity. I have been practicing a new identity. Now I tell myself, “I am a fit chick, and I’m getting stronger every day.” This reminds me that although I’m not where I want to be, I am making progress. It also helps me make good choices, because I identify as a fit chick, so I eat like a fit chick, read like a fit chick, and am committed to my workouts like a fit chick. It has been a very helpful part of my fitness transformation this year.

 

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg – After reading You are a Badass, this book came up as a recommendation. I listened to it on my library’s audio and ebook app, and I loved it so much that I bought a paper copy as well. If you’ve ever watched shows like Brain Games, where they explore the ways the human mind works, you will enjoy this book. Duhigg explores the physical/psychological workings of the human mind, specifically how we develop habits, and what we can do to alter our habits into practices that will be more beneficial.

There are fascinating stories in this book about advertising, retailers tracking spending habits, and what happens to people who lose their memories (spoiler alert: even when conscious memories are gone, habits and personality traits hold on and can be used to benefit the patients).

As far as practical application is concerned, this book taught me to look at my habits differently. When I feel stuck in a rut, I no longer just look at the behavior I want to change, but at what happens to trigger the behavior. Then I make a conscious decision to use that trigger to spark something different. It hasn’t revolutionized my world yet, but it certainly has created new awareness.

 

So that’s what I’ve been reading this year. How about you? Have you read anything great lately? Leave a comment with your recommendations!

The Trouble With Motivation

Ugh. Motivation. Why do you come and go? Why is it so easy to workout (eat healthy, work hard at my job, clean house, write blog posts, keep learning, etc.) some days, and other days I’d rather have my teeth drilled? I know you feel this way, too. The internet is full of motivational images and articles designed to keep us doing what we should. Yet some days the cat posters just aren’t enough…

I recently read (listened to on audio book) You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. Full disclosure: I don’t feel great recommending this book. And no, it’s not because there’s a minor swear word in the title. Badass happens to be one of my favorite words. The reason I can’t fully endorse this book is because of Sincero’s messed up version of spirituality.

Early in the book she encourages her readers to get over their aversion to the notion of faith and just embrace it, because the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can tap in to the power of it. I thought that was great. A snarky, badass-talking, self-help book that actually embraces faith? Yay! And then I heard her definition of faith. Whomp-whomp.

Sincero has a very New Age version of spirituality. Basically throughout the book she promotes the idea that there is this life force energy in the world, and the sooner you can get on the same wavelength, the sooner you can tap into its power. The main problem with this philosophy is that it reduces God to a cosmic keg of warm feelings, flowing cash, and good parking spaces, and teaches that all we have to do is tap into that keg and it will be at our disposal. In other words, it strips God of his sovereignty and puts us in the driver’s seat.

The reason I mention the book to you at all is because there was one part that has literally changed my life. In one chapter, Sincero talks about the things we say to or about ourselves that hold us back. For example, I have long said that I don’t run, and that I have bad knees. Sincero points out that we start saying these things because they come from a point of truth and they serve us in some way. I really do have trouble with my knees, and saying that served to protect me by excusing me from doing things that would put strain on them. But it also held me back. Because I firmly believed that my knees were, are, and always will be “bad,” I never thought I could get fit, or start running, or lose weight long-term.

Following the advice in Sincero’s book, I made a list of these things I say about myself. I considered each one and what purpose it originally served. I took the cheesy, self-help step of thanking those thoughts for serving me in some way, and then I re-wrote them in a more empowering way. So “I don’t run,” and “I have bad knees,” became “I am a fit chick, and I’m getting stronger every day.” The next step is to start embracing that new mantra not just as what I do, but who I am, and to let that new identity guide my behavior.

Now instead of seeing myself as a fat woman with bad knees who thinks runners are crazy, I see myself as a fit chick who reads about nutrition, tries new exercises, and is getting closer every day to having the strong body that matches my fitness-focused mind. It’s a matter of making choices from a point of power and opportunity instead of a place of failure and shame. And it’s working. I can say no to junk because I’m a fit chick and “we” don’t do that, instead of saying no in front of people because I’m fat and then eating junk when I’m alone. I even ran/walked a 5k this month!

I can’t wait to apply this mindset to other areas of my life, as well.
I’m a writer/blogger, and I have good things to say.
I’m a historian who adds value to the community.
I’m an advocate for the hungry, and I have the skills and resources to make a difference.

In what areas of your life do you lack motivation? What half-truths do you tell yourself that hold you back? What empowering identity can you take on instead? Leave a comment!

Book Review: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

On my commute, and when my family travels, we like to listen to audio books. Our recent trip to Seattle started with a legal thriller, and on the trip home we prepared for Easter by listening to The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. We didn’t finish the book on that leg of the journey, but I finished it that next week while I was commuting.

A quick summary for those of you who are not familiar: In the late 1970s, Lee Strobel was an avowed atheist raising a family and working as a journalist in Chicago. His world was shaken when his wife became a Christian. Strobel was angry that his wife was changing as a person, and worried that his marriage couldn’t withstand the tension. So he went on a quest to discredit Christianity with objective evidence, meeting with experts around the country to try and disprove the Bible. Along the way, Strobel discovered that the evidence for Christianity isn’t all legend and myth. In fact, he came to realize that it would take a bigger leap of faith to continue believing there is no god than it takes to believe. Strobel joined his wife in her newfound faith, and he eventually left journalism to be a pastor and author.

Each expert Strobel consulted is introduced to the reader with a thorough explanation of their education and expertise. As an historian, I appreciated the careful and objective way the Strobel and the experts evaluated the evidence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. They compare the gospel accounts to each other and other historical sources. They examine the translations of the Bible and how it has been handled over the years. They discuss arguments that skeptics have made over the years and how those arguments line up with the evidence.

The Case for Christ is not really about Strobel’s personal story. That is covered in the introduction, but the body of the book is dense with philosophy, history, and arguments of logic. If you have seen the movie of the same name, which tells Strobel’s personal story, you might be surprised to find that the book is very different. In the movie, the personal story is the main point and the investigation into the historical Christ is just a plot point. The book provides the in-depth research, and the personal story is just the motivation for the quest for information.

If you prefer fiction, check out the movie and take a pass on this book. But if you like to read nonfiction and enjoy arguments and philosophical debates, then this is a good one. It will lead you to a series of excellent resources as well. I haven’t read a lot of dense philosophy since graduating from College, but I enjoyed a taste of it again. It was also nice to see Christianity hold up to intellectual scrutiny. We’re too often reluctant to consider our beliefs as an exercise in both faith and facts. But God is real and alive, not some myth of ancient history, and he holds up to intellectual scrutiny!

 

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

I’ve been hearing about Bob Goff and his book, Love Does, for a while now. Some of my friends are crazy about it, and some of them have even met Bob and his wife, Maria. So a while back I bought the book and added it to my ginormous to-read pile. I finally decided to jump in and read it when Feed My Staring Children started a book club on Facebook. They asked interested parties to vote for a book from a list of suggestions. Since I had it on hand and had been meaning to read it, I voted for Love Does. Needless to say, it won the voting (because if it hadn’t, I would be talking about a different book this week!), and I’ve been picking at it for the last few weeks.

During his 1968 Presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy paraphrased George Bernard Shaw when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Bob Goff is that kind of guy. Goff doesn’t do the math, he doesn’t “count the cost,” he just jumps in and does. For a planner/organizer like me, his spontaneity and whimsy were both enviable and stress-inducing. Some of the stories, like the time his kids wrote to heads of state around the world and the family dropped everything and incurred incredible expenses to meet the many who invited them, felt so crazy I almost couldn’t believe they were real!

But as is usually true, I ended up reminded that it’s a good thing that the world is not made up entirely of people like me. Although I don’t share Goff’s whimsical nature or his “act first, figure it out later” mentality, I appreciate his message. He believes that when you love people, you act on it. And he’s not just talking about his friends and family – he’s talking about all humankind and loving like Jesus loved. And Goff’s active love for humanity has led him to do everything from hosting a spontaneous marriage proposal dinner for a stranger to freeing wrongfully imprisoned kids in Uganda.

Goff is a lawyer by trade, and while that seems like an oddly buttoned-down profession for a merry prankster, it works for their family. I’m sure it comes in handy on some of their adventures (like the aforementioned work in Uganda). It would be easy for someone in a comfortable and well-paying profession like law to sit back and feel satisfied that they are doing enough for humanity while sitting in a comfortable office. But throughout his book, Goff pushes the importance of having “skin in the game” – being personally, hands-on invested in others. He and his family live this out, and they want to take us along for the ride.

The book is light, fun, and has short chapters, yet is deceptively deep in its passion and theology. If you can get past the stress of his spontaneity, it’s really inspiring. Check out Love Does and say “why not.”

Favorite Quotes from the Book:

He (Jesus) said the people who followed Him should think of themselves more like the ushers rather than the bouncers, and it would be God who decides who gets in. We’re the ones who simply ones who simply show people their seats that someone else paid for.

We’re God’s plan, and we always have been. We aren’t just supposed to be observers, listeners, or have a bunch of opinions. We’re not here to let everyone know what we agree and don’t agree with, because, frankly, who cares? Tell me about the God you love; tell me about what He has inspired uniquely in you; tell me about what you’re going to do about it, and a plan for you life will be pretty easy to figure out from there. I guess what I’m saying is that most of us don’t get an audible plan for our lives. It’s way better than that. We get to be God’s plan for the whole world by pointing people toward Him.

Book Review: The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun

Recently I had the privilege of reading The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change. It is a memoir of sorts by Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, a global non-profit that builds schools and trains teachers in developing areas. Braun founded POP when he was in his 20s, and according to their website, they have built 380 schools since 2009.

But more than just telling the story of POP, The Promise of a Pencil takes an honest, vulnerable look at what Braun and his team did right and wrong as they created this organization from the ground up. It is enthusiastically written; it’s clear that in the six years between founding POP and writing his book, Braun has not lost one ounce of his passion for the organization and the work they do around the world.

Maybe it’s because my word for 2017 is “honor,” but one thing that particularly stood out to me was Braun’s commitment to family and his passion for making others feel valuable. The Millennials take a lot of flak, so it was refreshing to read about someone so young preaching the importance of personal contacts, written thank you notes, and honoring your elders. Braun claims that his passion comes from his Jewish grandparents, the hardships they faced, and their hard work to overcome that and build a new life for their family. He even dedicated his first school to his grandma.

I recommend this book for anyone who is passionate about global education initiatives. As I’ve said over and over again, opportunity is the only way to promote lasting change for the world’s hungry, and education is step one in giving people the opportunity to thrive and be self-sufficient. POP believes that as well, and they are on the ground, working with local education leaders and communities to build not only school buildings, but the infrastructure to see to it that kids in the communities where they build have the resources to gain an education for many years to come.

I would also recommend this book for people who work in the non-profit arena. My day job is at an NPO, I’m the Program Coordinator at a history museum. As I read The Promise of a Pencil, I found great tips and inspiring stories that I can use at our non-profit as well as inspiration for my personal work with the hungry through Food Shelf Friday. Braun gives practical information about things like fundraising, social media, and using the right language to turn donors into partners. If you work for an NPO or are interested in starting one yourself, this is a great resource.

Have you read The Promise of a Pencil? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!