New Kindle Available for Pre-Order

screenshot_68Amazon released information about new kindle this morning (available for pre-order with delivery in early July). The new kindle replaces the Kindle Basic Touch (lowest end) Kindle. It keeps the same $80 price, but adds several good features and upgrades.

The best new feature is Bluetooth audio. Amazon removed text to speech nearly 5 years ago when it removed the speaker to make the Kindle a smaller device. With Bluetooth Audio, the kindle will connect to a Bluetooth speaker (widely available starting at about $10) and will read the book in a kindle voice. It is not clear from the description and other news reports if it will support immersive reading (audiobook narration synced to the kindle book).

Other features are more mundane. For the first time in five years, Amazon has the option of a white kindle. The new Kindle will also be 16% lighter (5.7 oz) to be the second lightest kindle after the $300 Oasis. The kindle will also be slightly smaller (9 mm shorter and 4 mm narrower). Also the storage increases from 2GB on the old Kindle basic to 4 GB on the new Kindle.

There are some new software updates as well (according to other news reports) that will also be rolled out to other kindles. One of these is making your notes and highlights easier to access through a direct email and export feature directly from the kindle.

Overall this is a solid update and a still very reasonable price for the low end Kindle.

Preorder here

How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy

A guest post from regular contributor Seth Simmons.
How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Richard WittHow Music Got Free is a totally fascinating account of the mp3 and how it almost destroyed the music industry.

The story begins with a history of the invention of the mp3 by a handful of German scientists. Through trial and error and years of research, they pursued and eventually perfected an algorithm for compressing music into a file 1/12 the size of standard digital audio. In an unexpected twist, the inventors’ original conception was to support streaming of music across the web–30 years before Spotify–but that idea was too far ahead of its time.

After the mp3 lost music technology’s first “format war” to a similar but inferior encoding method (the mp2)–it was designed by a competing group that outmaneuvered them politically–the nascent format staged a comeback through a number of steps (and mis-steps) that would both solidify its dominance and drastically reduce its money-making potential. The inventors licensed the technology to the NHL for use in broadcasting compressed audio of game commentary; they released encoding software to the web for free; they declined to register for a patent on the first mp3 player, thinking of it as simply a hard drive; they convinced Microsoft to license the mp3 for their media player, and thus got a small cut every time somebody bought a copy of Windows.

Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much by Faith Salie

Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too MuchThis review is by regular contributor Vikki Huisman.

I enjoy Faith Salie’s segments on CBS Sunday Morning and I’ve wanted to catch her on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”. I found her to be humorous and original; in that vein I was looking forward to reading her book “Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much”.

Salie shares VERY intimate stories from her past and how her need for approval dominated every area of her life.  I found her to be a combination of insightful and…just too much. She’s funny, introspective and very harsh on herself, almost brutal. I hate to use the word “appropriate” or “inappropriate” when it comes to a memoir but for me personally, I wish Salie would have left some stories out. The pain over losing her mother to illness is heartbreaking while the story of…shall we say a skill her brother taught her…were too much for me. Her personal antidotes swing wildly back and forth between serving the book and just flat out vulgar. I can overlook or not be bothered by coarse language or situations if it serves the overall purpose of the book (or film) but in the case of Approval Junkie, these chapters served no purpose.

Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ by Dallas Willard

I am reposting this 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $3.99.
Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of ChristSummary: An extended reflection on what it means to truly change through Christ’s power.

Dallas Willard is one of the originators of the modern spiritual formation movement.  Willard, and his protege, Richard Foster, have done much to refocus the Evangelical world on spiritual disciplines and intentional focus on spiritual growth.

Renovation of the Heart is the most comprehensive book I have read by Willard on the why and how of truly changing (and he means heart, mind and actions).  As I read the book, I kept thinking of Paul’s thoughts in Romans 7:15 about doing what he does not want to do and not doing what he wants to do.

Willard responds to this common frustration not by creating a five step program or some other silver bullet, but a fairly detailed discussion of what it means to really change.  This is a fairly dense book.  I spent more than three weeks working on it and really I am not sure how to review it.

On the positive side, there is real spiritual wisdom here.  On the negative side, there is a lot of rabbit trails and it could have been organized better.  I also listened to the book as an audiobook read by Willard himself.  He is not the best reader and I think even if he had been a good reader, this is content that should be read in print, not listened to on audio.

Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Wright Brothers by David McCulloughTakeaway: A reminder how (im)possible some of our dreams are. 

A few weeks ago I went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (the one at Dulles Airport). We only had a few hours, so we took the 2 hour guided tour of the museum. There we saw and heard about the plane by the former head of the Smithsonian that was both a friend to and competitor with the Wright brothers. That was what I needed to pick up David McCullough’s most recent book.

Almost everyone knows the basic story of the Wright brothers. Two bicycle manufacturer/mechanics became fascinated with the idea of flying and by themselves, without any real attention, constructed the first airplane. But it is the details that really are so fascinating.

The brothers were not as isolated as I thought. They were in conversation with many of the others that were working on airplanes. But the main difference seems to be that the Wrights were focused on experimentation and trial and not theory. The Smithsonian president that I mentioned was a friend of theirs, but he was also focused on theory. He spent a lot of money and effort, constructed an airplane and made a big production of its trial. Then when it failed he would start from scratch without really understanding what when wrong.

The Wright brothers started with gliders to understand how that worked. They watched birds closely to understand how they used air currents. The Wright’s built a wind tunnel to understand the theory  instead of just accepting the generally understood science (which was wrong.)

The brothers were conservative on their approach, only flying together once, more than a decade after their first flight so that there would always be one of them to carry on the work if there was a serious accident. But also conservative in other ways. They did the work themselves, they used their own money and did not accept any offers of support. They worked as their own mechanics and pilots and later business managers. (The last of which was probably a mistake.)

But other aspects of their lives were also interesting. They were bachelors for their whole life. Their sister also didn’t get married until her 50s and her marriage created a rift in the family. (Two other siblings married and moved away fairly early.) Their father was an author and bishop, but the brothers, while being very observant of the sabbath, did not seem to be that active with their own faith.

This is the shortest book I have read by David McCullough. I listened to it on audiobook from the library and McCullough narrated the book (as I prefer). McCullough is one of those historian authors that both understands how to write well and how to tell a story and the importance of doing good history.

Wright Brothers by David McCullough Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook 

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Reposting this 2012 review because the Kindle version is on sale for $1.99 as part of a kids’ daily deal. Full list of the daily deal books is here.

CoralineSummary: Coraline finds the perfect parents and life in a creepy children’s book.

Neil Gaiman is a force within the fantasy book world. Gaiman original was a comic book artist and writer.  He is best known for Sandman.  In the early 2000s Gaiman primarily became a novelist.  American Gods (and its semi-sequel Anansi Boys), Stardust, and the British Mini-Series/Novel Neverwhere all sold well and are well known.

But prior to Coraline, I have only read the adult books (but I have read all of his adult books.)  Coraline is a children’s book in a similar vein and style as Gaiman’s adult books.  Gaiman write dark novels that are heavily influenced by fairy tales and full of literary references.

Coraline is a 9 year old girl, who in defiance of her mother goes into a empty apartment in their building and finds another apartment that is an exact duplicate of hers, except better.  Her parents are there, sort of, and her room and toys and everything else.

But as with any creepy story, things are not as they seem.  Her ‘other parents’ have buttons sewed on there eyes.  The cat in her neighborhood can move back and forth between the worlds.  And in the ‘other world’ it can talk.  And it warns her to leave.

Once she escapes, she comes back to find that her real parents are no longer there.  Eventually she realizes that they have been kidnapped and she has to go save them. Unsurprisingly, with the help of the cat she does.

This is a creepy story probably appropriate for most 10-12 year olds. Its reading level is listed as 3rd grade and Gaiman says he read it to his six year old. As a read aloud it is probably appropriate down to 6 or 7 if the child likes creepy stories. It is roughly based on the idea of Hanzel and Gretel. Coraline finds the spirits of other children that have been captured before. And those spirits are dead. So be aware of the content warning.

Like many children’s books is revolves around the idea that the adults in their world are not able to save them. Coraline has to save not only herself, but her parents as well. I have heard adults complain that this common theme in children’s literature is anti-family. However, I think it is part of the growing up process. Children read about being independent before they are fully independent themselves.

Coraline is initially excited about her new family because she feels like her real family does not pay enough attention to her. But she soon comes to realize that her real family loves her for her, not for what she can do for them. In the end, Coraline returns to her family and is able to be a child again.  There is a sense of security that even if she does not feel all the time throughout the book, it is understood that she should have this security.

Coraline Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

Other Reviews of Neil Gaiman books

What It Means to Be a Man by Rhett Smith

Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is free.
What it Means to be a Man: God's Design for Us in a World Full of ExtremesSummary: Short, highly readable book that would make a great discussion in a teen or 20/30 something mens group.

The subject of what it means to be a man in the modern world fraught with difficulty.  We mix up ideas of gender, personality, aggression, control, authority, biblical understanding and more.

Rhett Smith, author of the highly recommended book, The Anxious Christian, and a family counselor tackles the concept of manhood in a very readable (and short) book that is perfect for discussion.

I (sort of) participated in an online discussion group about this book that Rhett hosted. (I am horrible with book clubs that reads a book slowly, I want to read it straight through and discuss it).

Rhett said that he intentionally kept the book short so that there would be little reason not to read it.  The shortness makes it great for discussion groups, but has less detail than I would like.

As a man that hates sports, has worked as a nanny, has a degree in social work (a decidedly female leaning profession) I bring some issues into the manliness discussion.  Manliness in a lot of the Evangelical world is more equated with Mixed Martial Arts fighting and uncontrollable lust.

Rhett focuses on what makes a man, fathering, introspection about real issues (depression, anxiety, loneliness, vulnerability, etc.) and the movement into becoming a better man.  I think the method and writing style lends itself to teen and young adult readers, but as someone in the decade of his 40s, I think most men will find value in it.

In many ways, I think older men will get more out of it, if they read it intentionally with one or more people of a younger generation.  Becoming a man is more about mentoring and development, then knowledge or skill.  So no one has achieved a perfect on their ‘man card’.  And part of becoming a man means helping others become a man.

Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth by Glenn Stanton

Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth by Glenn StantonSummary: Basic reminders that loving your neighbor includes LGBT people.

I picked up and read Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor because of Karen Swallow Prior’s review for Christianity Today. I finished it on Saturday morning, the day before I heard about the shooting in Orlando.

In many ways, this is such a basic book on being a decent human being and Christian that it is surprising that it needs to be written. But it obviously does need to be written. Glenn Stanton mostly does a very good job of presenting a conservative position on sexuality and marriage (he is on staff at Focus on the Family) while very clearly advocating a much more inclusive stance on actual friendship and love with LGBT people than what many Christians currently have.

It is clear that Stanton actually has a variety of gay friends. And he has those friends because he spends a lot of time with gay people. Part of that time is touring around with one of his gay friends debating at college campuses on the ethics of gay marriage. But it is clear from his stories and writing that he is actually trying to live out love of neighbor.

“Christianity is a hard calling because we are not only called to love others but to go further and love those who hate us. And if we are called to love those who hate us, we are certainly called to love those who disagree with us. And love is not conditional; you do this for me and I’ll do this for you.”

There were a few places where I think Stanton missed the mark. In a section where he was attempting to show the diversity of the LGBT movement by talking about different groups within the movement I think he over generalized a couple times in much the same way he was asking the reader not to generalize. But in context of the full book, if every Christian loved LGBT people as Stanton is illustrating, there would be far less problems.

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex Taunton

A guest post from regular contributor Seth Simmons.
The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex TauntonEverybody knows Christopher Hitchens by the prominent and public role he played in the culture as the bold and loquacious, unapologetic and often vicious defender of atheism and assailant of all forms of religion. But as Hitchens admitted a number of times in his own memoirs, he very consciously maintained two separate and distinct “sets of books” in his life. In documenting their unique friendship, Larry Taunton reveals and explores a heretofore unknown side of the famous polemicist.

After writing his famous book “god Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens gave an open invitation to debate anyone, anywhere. Many evangelicals took him up on the offer, sparking a few years’ worth of lively events all across the United States. Hitchens later wrote about being pleasantly surprised and impressed by his experience with the evangelical community–both in terms of their genuine likability and respectfulness, but also their intellectual power. Taunton is an evangelical Christian apologist who both debated Hitchens directly and also served as moderator for other debates. Hitchens and Taunton became good friends and, after the former’s diagnosis of cancer, went on two road trips together and studied the Gospel of John.

Water To Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd

Water To Wine: Some of My Story by Brian ZahndSummary: Christian maturity needs to be a real goal. But writing about that maturity can be difficult.

Brian Zahnd is a pastor of a large church that helped to start more than 20 years ago. I first read his book Beauty will Save the World (about the beauty and mystery of Christianity) about four years ago. Then two years ago I read A Farewell to Mars (about his movement toward peace, he does not like the term pacifism because of its political connotations).

Earlier this year Zahnd published Water to Wine, a very autobiographical look at how he found a fuller understanding of Christianity when he embraced the historic and sacramental nature of the Christian church. Zahnd is about 10 years older than I am and a pastor. But he is putting to words what I, and I think many others, are feeling. The evangelical or charismatic church that has lost its connection to the historic church and the church’s historic practices of the sacraments is a church that has lost its grounding.

Zahnd is careful in his book. He is not minimizing his history or how the church has helped many come to faith. But he is saying that for him, his faith needed something else in order to move to a more mature faith. Part of the difficulty here is talking about Christian maturity in a way that does not minimize people’s faith that are on their way to maturity but not there yet.