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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

…I think this might actually be the case.

Sad, isn’t it?

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I haven’t blogged in quite a while. Not that I don’t have anything to say, it’s just hard finding time to sit down and write it. I’ve been busy writing, working, and doing the husband thing, but I think the real reason I haven’t sat down and blogged is because I’ve been reading. A lot. I’m going to try to get back into my blog rhythm, and I’ll do that by going over some of the books I’ve been reading since the new year along with my 25 word review of each one keep in mind that hyphenated words are considered one-word…).

What is the What by David Eggers – Emotionally-charged novel fictionalizing the bitter life of an unfortunate Sudanese refugee. Troubling and touching. Demonstrates injustice at home and abroad. A bit long. Liked it. (4 out of 5 stars)

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama – Refreshingly honest and open-minded. Stresses his views but sympathizes with his opponents. Though it was a bit vague, it made me a bigger fan. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. Absolutely the most convicting book I have ever read. The kind of book you wish you never read because of its implications. Makes Jesus proud. (5 out of 5 stars)

90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper – Interesting true story about a man who dies and goes to Heaven, and then lives. Compelling story. Very encouraging. Makes me a little skeptical though. (3 out of 5 stars)

Fallen by David Maine – Retelling of the Adam-Eve-Cain-Able story that is fascinating on so many levels. Makes it come alive and gives characters depth. Very efficient use of language. (5 out of 5 stars)

Struck by Geoffrey Bromhead – Playful novel about science, obsession, and a man continuously struck by lightning. Humorous and inquisitive. Falls a bit flat at the end. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Day Shift Werewolf – Clever play on monster stereotypes and explores the benefits of not fitting in. Laugh out loud funny. Lacks a cohesive central plot, but that’s ok. (3 out of 5 stars)

So, that’s what I’ve been doing lately. I don’t always feel up to writing lengthy book reviews, Maybe I’ll make a habit of 25 words reviews…

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Thunderbolt Kid coverBill Bryson’s new book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is a memoir about growing up as a baby boomer in the very heart of the country – Des Moines, Iowa.

Many Bryson fans – myself included – associate his books with massive undertakings that stretch his physical and emotional limits, often resulting in hilarity and insight.  Previous undertakings include hiking the Appalachian Trail, backpacking across Europe, exploring the Australian outback, road tripping across America, and visiting non-profit groups in Africa.  By contrast, Bryson admits that in Thunderbolt Kid “what follows isn’t terribly eventful.”  The book is essentially a collection of anecdotes and stories organized thematically, that weave together to recollect a  fondly-remembered childhood in the climax of American prosperity.

Bryson has always been known for his wit, and he gets a real chance to showcase it here.  Aside from maybe I’m a Stranger Here Myself, this may be his funniest book to date.  The fact that there is no real narrative never really gets in the way because the reader will likely be spending so much time laughing.  Byson hilariously explores the small town shops he frequented, the monotony of farm living, and, as the title implies, his creation of a superhero alter-ego.

The other thing that always fascinates me about Bryson is the extensive research that he puts into the smallest details.  He will tell you that he loved comic books as a kid, tells a funny story, and then proceeds to back up his claim that comic books were popular with a ridiculous amount of statistics regarding comic books sales, surveys, and studies.  And it’s like this with everything: baseball, nuclear testing during the cold war, farming, and so on.  It adds a slight level of depth and makes it just that much more interesting.

Rating: 4 stars (Out of 5)

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I’m Very Excited

I recently did a review of David Maine’s The Preservationist, a fascinating re-telling of the story of Noah’s Ark and the flood.  I woke up this morning to find that Mr. Maine himself had commented on my review.

And for some reason, that made me feel a little giddy.

Read it here.

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There are two things I want to share tonight.

The first is a wonderful quotation from Margaret Feinberg, which was spoken to Shawn Stutz in conversation:

“The only way you’ll make money with writing is by writing ransom notes.”

The point is simple – writing is a passion people follow because they love it, not because it’ll get them rich.  But on the other hand, making some money from writing would be nice.

Which leads to the second thing I would like to share:

If you like fantasy, check out Claudia Newcorn’s Crossover: Krisalys Chronicles of Feyree.

Claudia is my editor at Stanislaus Magazine, and she just recently released her first novel.   She is a terrific writer, and I recommend that anyone interested in fantasy, anyone who knows someone interested in fantasy, anyone interested in buying a Christmas gift for someone who liked fantasy, anyone who’s interested in supporting Central Valley authors, and anyone who wants to avoid getting kidnapped should pick this book up.  Visit her website for more information regarding the book, the author, and where to buy it.

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The Only Road NorthThe story of Erik Mirandette may be familiar to those of you who have been tracking with Mars Hill for a while.  Erik is a native of Grand Rapids, MI, who decided one day that he wanted to go out and help people.  Several months later he found himself in Morocco helping West African refugees who were abandoned and abused by the government.  After his service there, he decided that he wanted to make an epic journey through Africa, seeing the land and helping people on the way.  The result is The Only Road North: 9,000 Miles of Dirt and Dreams, his memoirs of the fateful dirt bike trip that took him, his younger brother Alex, and his best friends Kris and Mike, from Cate Town in South Africa to Cairo, Egypt .

The book tells an unimaginable story.  The gang manages to come out alive from numerous situations that would kill just about anyone else.  They survive bandit country in Kenya; they pass through militias and armies unharmed; they break down in jungles uninhabited, lion-infested jungles only to be rescued by a traveler going the same direction of them; they narrowly escape elephant and AK47 attacks alike; and they come out unscathed from numerous road accidents (including a head on collision with a van!).  The boys travel through eleven countries, helping out with nonprofits and aid groups every chance they get.  They are living life to the extreme, and every chance where they come out alive seems to be a miracle.  The group is continuously amazed at how God pulls them through every situation, guiding them every step of the way.

All of that changes in Cairo.  A day before they are set to fly home, a suicide bomber sets off a bomb right in the middle of the group.  Alex, Erik’s brother, is killed.  The others barely escape with their lives.

Thus, Erik’s external journey becomes an internal one.  As he moves from hospital to hospital with death glaring over his shoulder, Erik finds himself asking questions that shake the foundation of his faith: Why would God carry us all this way just to let go of us at the last minute?  Is this really part of God’s plan?  Why did it have to be Alex?  These are questions that Erik can’t answer.  None of it makes sense.  He only finds solace in the fact that Alex’s life was well-lived, and that he tried to do what he could to help out the world with the life he was given.

Though not terribly well written, the book shook me.  The story is tragic, to say the least, and it does raise profound questions about God’s plan.  Sure his death may have led many people to Christ, but it’s still never easy to let go of someone you love, especially when they die as senselessly as Alex did, and the pain really comes through in Erik’s story.

Ultimately, the book ends much like the book of Job – no answers are given, but God’s glory is revealed.  Erik recounts their Moroccan refugee ministry and how it is thriving, and how Alex’s life, though short, was used by God to help people.  And he finds comfort in that.

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Surrender or StarveI’ll admit that when I bought Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea, I was a little misled by the title.  Since it was located in the travel section and it has the word travels in the title, I assumed it was a travel book, which it is not.  It is a look at the complex causes and consequences of the infamous famine in the Horn of Africa in the 1980’s.

Now this is a subject that I know nothing about, so I won’t pretend to here.  I know nothing about whether or not Kaplan’s arguments are sound or how biased he is (I get the feeling he’s very biased), but there is one point he repeatedly made that deserves attention – donating money and food to countries like Ethiopia during the famine may not have been the best action.  Kaplan argues that we in America were bombarded with television images of starving Ethiopians, and out of guilt we poured out large amounts of money to send them ridiculous amounts of grain, and that while this is good and well, we took little to no time to look at the politics of the region.  Had we have done so, Kaplan argues, we would have realized that much of the starvation had less to do with drought and more to do with ethnic persecution, price control efforts in a communist country, mass resettlement of peasants, and overall mismanagement of state resources.  Furthermore, more of the money we sent to Ethiopia was used to fight the multiple rebel factions (who were more aligned with American ideals that the Ethiopian government was) and civil wars than to feed hungry people.  Thus, Kaplan suggests that the best thing to do would be to act politically and dismantle the corrupt system instead of sending food to relieve our own guilt.  Kaplan uses this model in neighboring Sudan and Somalia to show that by refusing to get involved politically, we created a void that was filled by the Soviet Union, who in turn helped sustain the oppressive system that is causing the problem.

Like I said before, it wasn’t what I expected, but it made me think nonetheless.

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