Chocolate & Fiction

I don’t read much fiction. To put it in gustatorial terms, I simply make a pig of myself when I sit down with a novel. Much the same as I could do with cheap chocolate, the kind that’s leftover after Halloween, I tend to devour way too much in one sitting, whereas with non-fiction I can discipline myself to take my time and digest all the goodness. I liken fiction to cheap carbs, empty calories you grab to satisfy a craving. Non-fiction usually qualifies as protein or fiber or complex carbohydrates.

Nevertheless, every so often I cave in and enjoy a bit of chocolate – make mine smooth and dark, please. Dove or Ghiardelli will do quite nicely. As quickly as it’s gone, it is still worth every sweet second that the mellow taste and aroma offer.

While I tend to much prefer nonfiction, summer usually finds me indulging in some choice fiction picks. Every summer I usually read something by Jodi Piccoult; I read Handle with Care when I went camping with my sister and her kids. I enjoy the medical topics she explores, always in the context of a legal dilemna. When Mike and I went away a few weeks ago, I read Embrace Me, by Lisa Samson. And I just read The Help on Sunday afternoon. After being on the library waiting list for about four months for this book, a friend finally loaned me her copy. I started it around two o’clock and just finished it around seven-thirty (and there was a trip to the “store” with Mike in that span). A slightly controversial book about a very controversial book, I enjoyed this story very much, once I got past the inconsistent dialect (she fails to give the southern homeowners any dialect at all). It’s a good insight into the Civil Rights era of the 60’s, a time period we somehow never managed to make it to in my Christian high school history classes.

And now back to my regularly scheduled reading. I’m currently reading Sacred Chaos by a new-to-me author, Tricia Carey Rhodes. A good read but one that begs for slow, pensive attention. And I’m working on my list for fall, in anticipation of Katrina’s Fall into Reading challenge.

So what have you been reading this summer? Fiction or nonfiction? Anything good?

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Book Review: Evolving in Monkey Town

I agreed to review this book as part of a blog tour, mostly because it was one of the few nonfiction offerings on the list. I’m glad I did. While I’d love to say I read this as a totally objective reader, just reading someone else’s memoir, I found myself relating to some of the same struggles and doubts the author has experienced.

In a nutshell, Evolving in Monkey Town (so titled because she grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, home to the famous Scopes Trial of 1925) chronicles the faith journey of author Rachel Held Evans, from her upbringing in a Christian family and church, through her college years and beyond. It brought to mind fun memories of AWANA clubs and Bible drills. It also brought to mind some questions I’ve had along the way, and the slow realization I’ve come to in understanding that God is quite okay with our questions. Answers are great on a test, but in our walk with God, it’s often our questions that serve to connect us more deeply to God. How great of a relationship would you have with someone you already knew everything about?

Along the way, and in the midst of her doubts, Evans comes face to face with the Jesus of the Gospels – as she puts it, “God in Sandals.” This Jesus extends to her the same invitation he extends to us all – the invitation to live a radical faith. I appreciated her reminder that Peter’s challenge to always be ready with an answer was written to potential martyrs whose radical faith would most likely result in their death, and whose radical living would arouse curiosity. “This passage is not about fearlessly defending a set of propositions; it’s about fearlessly defending hope . . . !” How often have I tried to reduce my faith to a set of safe, definable propositions?

My favorite line in the book comes towards the end, where she says, “Love is bigger than faith and it’s certainly bigger tha works, for it inhabits and transcends both. (. . . still speaking of love) How ironic that the most important fundamental element in the Christian faith is something that is relative, something that cannot be measured with science, systemized with theology or managed with rules. . . . How lovely and how terrible that absolute truth exists in something that cannot really be named.”

Brilliant writing, admirable courage and a gentle spirit combine to make Evolving in Monkey Town a surprisingly worthwhile read. I’m glad it ended up on my list!

(FTC regulations require me to state that I received a review copy of this book, and was not otherwise compensated for this review).

Two Quick Book Reviews

I read two books recently which impacted me in surprising ways, so I thought I’d review them here quickly:

The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year by Jennifer Louden – I put this book on a library hold months ago and forgot about it. So it was a pleasant surprise when I finally got it from the library and what a joy to read such a refreshing book. The book could best be summarized as a way to do life differently. “This way of organizing, or, more accurately, of improvising, our lives is built on the knowledge that we are creating our lives through how we think, how we react, and where we put our attention.”

The first part of the book focuses on five key ways to live life more intentionally and with greater awareness: connect, feel, inquire, allow and apply. The second part of the book poses a few insightful questions for each week of the year. For example, “What am I most passionate about this week? What or who do I want to say no to this week?  What or who do I want to say yes to?” I’ve been copying a few of these questions into my planner and/or journal over the last 4-5 weeks. Not all of the questions resonate with me every week so I just pick the ones I want to focus on (or sometimes reword one to fit my thinking). Doing so has helped me live with greater awareness – a feeling of connectedness between what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. It’s a great resource for any woman who is tired of living life according to a “to do” list, just moving from one task or event to the next, and it’s a book I can see myself referring to again and again.

The other little surprise – another library hold – has been Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Art by Rice Freeman-Zachary. It’s a compilation of ideas from different artists on how to, well, make room for art! It’s not talking about decorating your office or studio so much as focusing on your mindset towards creativity. The art produced by the contributors is nothing like I’d ever do, but I think that’s a good thing perhaps, as it allowed me to focus on the ideas and suggestions they offer to make room for creativity.

Both of these books reminded me that life is exactly what we make of it. We can take what’s dished up to us each day and merely muddle through, or we can live life fully engaged in the process, and seeking to be aware of God’s work in, with and through us each and every day.

Book Review: Crazy Love

Francis Chan is a man obsessed – obsessed with (and possessed by) God’s love. The way God loves us doesn’t make sense at all – it’s crazy and causes him to do outlandish things like forgive people who wrong a holy God and turn their backs on his life-giving commands. Our only response should be to love him in return, a love that makes us seem crazy. But too often, Chan says, our response is more like a serving of lukewarm leftovers.

As I moved through the ten easy-to-read, difficult-to-do chapters of Crazy Love, I felt like Chan was inviting me to a gradual change in posture. Chapter One is entitled Stop Praying, in which Chan says we need to stop talking at God and simply start looking at God. He paints a picture of the sheer awesomeness of our Creator God, and sketches an image of insignificant man in contrast. Chapter Two reminds us of the fragility of this life, and the reality that, “in the movie of life, nothing matters except our God.” In the third chapter, Chan counters our insignificance and this sense of fragility with a long hard look at the outrageous love of God. From there, he moves on to our response to this great love. He challenges us to move from a tepid, half-hearted way of living and loving, to being obsessed. (Throughout the first few chapters, he points to several videos on his website which I highly recommend making time for).

Chapter Six was the turning point for me, where he reminds us that we need God to help us love God. “Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.” It’s not exactly news to me, but a truth that bears repeating again and again: I can’t transform myself.

The remainder of the book describes what it looks like to live this life of love. Here he takes an in depth look at Scriptural examples of this sold-out kind of love, followed by some amazing stories of crazy love in action today.

I found Francis Chan’s writing to be both unpretentious and full of vulnerable humility. I’d say it was an enjoyable read, but joy doesn’t exactly fit how I felt about this book. It was surprisingly soul-stirring, in a simple but deep way that still has me thinking. Chan’s thoughts seemed to tie in perfectly with a series our church is doing right now entitled Practice Resurrection – the reality being that Resurrection is more than a day – it’s a way of life. Each week we’re hearing stories of how different folks are practicing resurrection, and I’m wondering – what exactly does it look like for me to practice resurrection?

Spring Reading Thing 2010

It’s that time again – time to welcome spring by dusting off my bookshelves and gathering a pile of books to read over the next few months. There’s just something about motivating myself through some rough spring cleaning with the promise of a good book at the end of the day. As usual, I appreciate Katrina’s invitation to join in the 2010 Spring Reading Challenge.

I’m actually going to attempt to choke down a few novels over the next few months:

The Taking (Dean Koontz) – My husband recently decided he likes to read (after a 30 year hiatus) and keeps asking me to read this one. I think he thinks I’d like it because one of the characters is an author (seems to be a recurring theme in Dean Koontz novels, from the few jackets I’ve scanned). So I’m giving this one a chance but I cannot read it before I go to bed!

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson) – A friend gave me this one and I just started it today. Lots of good reviews so I’m giving it a chance too.

The Help (Kathrynn Stockett) – Another one recommended by a friend and I’m really looking forward to reading this one. But I hate to buy fiction and I’m like number 100 in line at the library waiting for this book, so we’ll see about this one!

My usual non-fiction lineup and my comfort zone:

Crazy Love (Francis Chan) – I started this last night in the wee hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t put it down.

The Forgotten God (another by Francis Chan)

The Life Organizer (Jennifer Louden) – I finally got this after waiting for four months for it to become available from the library. It’s a different way of looking at time management and organization, and what I’ve read so far has been really thought-provoking.

Self-Promotion for Introverts (Nancy Ancowitz) – Even mentioning the title of this book makes me a little nervous, so it’s obvious I much need to read this, seeing as I’m currently trying to promote my editing services.

A Two-Part Invention (Madeleine L’Engle) – It wouldn’t be a reading challenge without at least one MLE. This is her take on marriage and I’ve been looking forward to reading this for quite a while.

Sacred Marriage (Gary Thomas) – I read this one a few years ago but I’ve been wanting to reread it so I finally am.

Check out Katrina’s blog to learn more about the challenge and to join in (it’s not too late). And be sure to check out what some other participants are reading . . . it’s a great way to expand your reading repertoire!

Reflections on 2009

I love the word reflections. It brings to mind the verse in James where he asks what good is it if a man looks into the Word of God and doesn’t do anything with what he reads or hears. It’s sort of like that song, “You’re So Vain,” if all we do is gaze and not take any action as a result. What’s the point of reflection if we’re not going to do something with what we see?

After my previous post, a friend invited me to spend some time sharing with her about our experiences in 2009. This was a good challenge because it forced me to review 2009 in a little more detail. It was good to look back at some of the thoughts, books and even songs that influenced me over the past year and I thought I’d share some of my reflections as a way of wrapping up the year.

A few of the influential books I read this year:

A few of the thoughts that influenced my thinking this year (those not in quotes are either messages notes or my own questions for personal reflection):

  • “Never wait for a miracle. Go after your dream. Do your part to the very best of your ability and ask God to make up the difference. He won’t act until we step out in faith.” (from one of those inspirational page-a-day calendars, source not noted)
  • “You are offered the dream of a lifetime. Say yes!” (Chinese fortune – see why I like Chinese food, it’s inspirational!)
  • “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dwyer (from a colleague’s email signature line, and I would add . . . and you look at different things!)
  • How do I create environments where discovery and creativity can happen for myself and others?
  • Am I more concerned with keeping others from seeing the untransformed parts of my life than I am with allowing God to transform me?
  • “Each [changing life situation] gives us a chance to examine where God is in that experience and what gifts God is offering for our growth. (David Benner)
  • “Do a little more today than you think you possibly can.” (Dove wrapper – proves inspiration comes in many packages!)
  • Savor the goodness! (my sacred echo after reading Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg)
  • How does my life work connect me with the creative and redemptive work of Jesus?
  • “Encourage the deepening of your creative potential by anchoring it in your daily life.” (12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women)

Lastly, a few of the major life lessons I want to carry with me into the future: (and this question comes from Michael Hyatt’s post and was shared with me by a friend)

  • God always meets me when I move ahead in faith – the unknown is not so unknown, knowing God is already there.
  • I’m an introvert – I need to live into and accept who I am.
  • I can learn anything I want or need to; I don’t have to let lack of knowledge intimidate me or hold me back.
  • It’s my responsibility to look for opportunities to live into my strengths.

So here’s to 2009 – thanking God for a great year, full of rich learning and growth. There were, of course, tears and struggles along the way, but God wove them into the tapestry that was 2009 and I’m thankful for all that he brought to pass this year. Thanks for sharing the journey here with me.

2009 Fall Into Reading Wrap Up

It’s that time of year. No, not Christmas, although that is certainly coming. It’s time to wrap up my participation in Katrina’s Fall Into Reading Challenge. But this kind of wrapping is much to my liking!

Suffice to say, the operative word for my fall reading has been quality versus quantity. I was surprised that I only actually finished two books from my original fall list. But of course, my list morphed as I picked up and finished several others along the way, which I’ve noted below. And as usual, I’m partway through several other books but in keeping with the contest, I’ll refrain from mentioning those until I finish them.

From the original list:
The Good and Beautiful God – James Bryan Smith – finished and reviewed here.
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone – Jennifer Ferrari-Adler – finished as much as I could take of stories of people who cook and eat alone.
A homemade life : stories and recipes from my kitchen table – Molly Wizenburg – finished and reviewed here. Totally enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys either eating or preparing food, which would mean just about anyone!

Additions:
Escape from Cubicle Nation – Pam Slim
The Introvert Advantage – Marti Olsen Laney
The 12 secrets of highly creative women : a portable mentor – Gail McMeekin.

The best thing about the reading challenges for me are always the new authors I “meet” along the way. I realized I want to do better at reading a variety of genres; I so easily get stuck in reading ruts. Already I’m working on a list for the next few months. Planning my reading though always gives me a starting point, and for that reason, I’m always appreciative of Katrina’s reading challenges!