Book Reviews

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeSummary: After almost two weeks of reading, my children watched the 2005 movie last night. 

I have looked forward to my children being old enough that I started liking the books I was reading to them. Many of the books I read are still very young (my son just turned five, and my daughter is 16 months older.) In many ways, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is still too old for them. But I do think that this is one of the books that you do not need to understand every little bit to enjoy the book. We discussed it as we went on. I occasionally used different words when I was reading to if I knew they wouldn’t understand it. And they were still introduced to a lot of new vocabulary.

I do not know anything to say about the book other than when I read as an adult it is hard to believe that leaving the Beaver’s house is not until the 10th of 17 chapters (50% of the way through the book) and the children don’t meet Aslan until the 12th chapter (65% of the way through the book).

Breeder Cycle by KB Hoyle (all four books)

Breeder Cycle by KB HoyleSummary: A dystopian trilogy (with a prequel) that is both an enjoyable read and prescient. 

I have not been reading much fiction lately. But with my brain distracted by real life and less time since my kids are not in school right now, it felt like a perfect time to pick up KB Hoyle’s Dystopian series. About 18 months ago I read Hoyle’s fantasy series that started with The Six. I read the series quickly and loved the books. They were certainly in my list of favorite fiction books that I read in 2018.

Once I have a feel for fiction authors, I tend to try to read them completely blind. I had not read any of the descriptions of the series before picking it up. And as I finished each one, I just picked up the next without writing a post. At this point, I do not think it makes sense to write individual responses because this is a single story, told over four books.

The setting is roughly 200 years after two different mass devastation events. There is a single world government that is trying to repopulate the earth after the majority of the population died in a massive famine, a wide-scale pandemic or a third event that I will not reveal. The main character at the start of the first book is one of the breeders, Seventeen (later Pria). Other characters are quickly introduced and many of them continue through the series.

I am not going to give away plot details but a couple of notes. KB Hoyle has great plots. Hints are given, but I did not know where the story was going to end up as I was going along. I can also guess that a few people will be disappointed in how some of the first two books end, but remember, this is a single large story arc, keep reading.

Domestic Monastery by Ronald Rolheiser

Domestic Monastery by Ronald Rolheiser, OMISummary: Short book thinking about how we can arrange our lives to think about them as service to God.

This is a short book, about 90 pages and just under an hour as audio. It is cheap on both kindle and audiobook right now ($0.99 on kindle, $2.77 on audio). Sunday morning I could not sleep and after putzing around on social media for a while I put this on audio to listen to as I sat back and closed my eyes hoping to fall back asleep.

I don’t think I feel back asleep but I also need to read this again and it is quick enough I probably will later this week. Thematically, this is simple, some meditations from the head of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio about how people outside of the monastery can incorporate some of the practices and ideas of the monastery in a non-monastic setting.

There are good looks at being a parent and how parenting (or other relationships) primes us to sacrifice for others.  Also how there are seasons of life and looking at those seasons (or times of day) can be used to be thought of like the liturgical year or the prayers of the hours.

Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together by Lacy Finn Borgo

Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God TogetherSummary: A practical, story filled guide on how to have spiritual conversations with children.

I am approaching this with a definite perspective. I am in training to become a spiritual director (for adults), but I also have spent much of my life doing administrative and evaluative work for ministries for children. I am also am the stay-at-home/work-at-home parent, and my wife is an elementary teacher. I spend a lot of time thinking about children and how to serve them well.

I am reading this directly because I want to be a spiritual director. Still, parents, teachers, pastor, and many others that are interested in the spiritual life of children would also benefit. There are good theoretical discussions about children and spiritual matters that are approachable for almost everyone. And lots of practical examples.

Lacy Finn Borgo in Spiritual Conversations With Children is not adapting adult spiritual direction for children, but starting with children’s needs and their own developmentally appropriate modes of communication and building a practice of spiritual direction that is oriented around them. It is very much focused on a listening mode of spiritual direction. (She says at one point, children already have parents and other authority figures, the adult spiritual listener is there to listen to the children not correct them, or teach them.)

Accidental Preacher: A Memoir by Will Willimon

Accidental Preacher: A Memoir by Will WillimonSummary: A memoir about a man who became a pastor because of calling. 

I do not really know Will Willimon except through his book with Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens, and I read that nearly 30 years ago as a freshman in college. I really did not know what I was getting into, but I needed a change in pace and I tend to appreciate memoirs or elder preachers.

Willimon is funny. He knows he is funny and he likes to use self-depreciation humor, not just for effect, but also theologically. At the start of the book he has these two quotes

My story is a comedy, as opposed to a tragedy, not because my life is funny but because my life is having a happy ending due to God’s gracious choice to be God for us and choosing even the likes of me to be for God.

and

You can tell that Kathleen Norris is a Christian. As she wrote her memoir, she repeatedly reminded herself, “You’re not that big of a deal. The call is the big deal.” If my memoir makes me my life’s chief protagonist, me, the big deal, I’m the most miserable of writers. More interesting than my life are the hijinks of a vocative God who explains my life.

There is some real similarity between Hauerwas and Willimon in tone and history. Both seem to like to be cantankerous, getting riled up about things that both are really important and over things that seem odd to be riled up about to me. But because they are so serious about both their faith and their understanding of human and divine grace, there is a lot of inbuilt willingness on my part to allow for a bit of ‘grumpy old man’-ing.

Willimon was a pastor, the chaplain at Duke for 20 years and then a United Methodist Bishop. He seems to live as he preaches. And hold himself to even higher standards than he holds others. Willimon does keep others the center of the story. He grew up with an absent father (often in jail) and was seeking father figures. When he was young and in a confirmation class at church, he was supposed to get a picture taken with the other kids and the pastor. A woman organizing the picture chastised him for not having a tie. But the pastor gave a sense of grace.

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King JrSummary: MLK’s last book. One frequently quoted, but I wonder how much it is read.

It is probably trite to comment about how Martin Luther King Jr is commonly sanitized and made safe. Books like Radical King were designed to break him out of the confines of his dream. Books like  Bonhoeffer and King: Their Legacies and Import for Christian Social Thought are trying to make King useful for our current time by looking at him more holistically and comparing him to Bonhoeffer and others to make him more intelligible. But it is still helpful to read King directly.

The Radical King reprinted a whole chapter from Where Do We Go From Here, so I had previously read that chapter. And there is an enormous number of quotes here that are commonly shared. But there is much here that also is not widely shared. King had a unique vision. He was anti-war, radically anti-violence, for massive social changes, not just around race, but around economics and social cohesion as well. His radicalness was not despite his faith and prior experience, but because of it. He became more radical not because of his earlier successes, but because of what many perceived as a massive success, he saw as scratching the surface.

It is not that the Birmingham bus boycott or the Selma marches or the March on Washington were unimportant; those brought about the ability for people to have integrated transportation, voting rights, and national attention on segregation. But they did not bring about an end to the cultural belief in the superiority of white skin and culture. They did not solve the problems of massive poverty and inequality. They did not address the issues of empire and colonialism.

Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron (Chronicles of Pydain Book 2) by Lloyd AlexanderSummary: A second adventure for Taran and his companions. Taran sees the problems of seeking glory and honor and the weight of leadership. 

I have been in a bit of a reading rut lately. So many books I want to read theoretically, but I have been not finishing much while starting a lot.

I stumbled across The Black Cauldron because there was an update to the Kindle edition, which pushed it to the front of my kindle. Last weekend I read through it in two sittings. These children’s books seem so much simpler reading them as an adult compared to my memory of them as a child. They are not simplistic, but the plots are much less detailed than some modern children’s books like Harry Potter and certainly less than many adult fantasy books.

What I like most about Lloyd Alexander as an adult and I think what drew me in as a kid was how seriously he takes Taran and Eiloiwy. They are not just some kids, but they are unique individuals, and while they are flawed people, they can grow and change, be self-reflective, and do important things. Unlike some kids books that have the kids do big things because the adults are incapable, Alexander has kids and teens do extraordinary things because there are important things to be done. This isn’t a rejection of adults, but part of the maturing process of becoming an adult.

I am about halfway through a book on discernment by Thomas Green (Weeds Among Wheat) that I am reading for my Spiritual Direction class. Green suggests that often when thinking about discernment, we believe God is either the puppet master, who controls all the things, so discernment doesn’t matter. Or we think about God in deistic ways with God not being involved in the world at all. Green thinks a better social imaginary is God as the parent of adult children. There are times that a parent of an adult will intervene and get involved, but there are times when the parent of adult children will allow their children to make their own decisions and live with the consequences as part of the process of growing up.

The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today by Timothy Gallagher

The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives TodaySummary: Helpful, practical look at what the prayer of examen is, and its structure. 

I think I was first introduced to the idea of the Prayer of Examen by Richard Foster about 12 or so years ago in his book Prayer. Foster’s chapter on the Examen is about five pages and cannot go into the detail that an entire book does. I have attempted to do the prayer of examen over the years, but at least in Gallagher’s presentation, I have always been missing part of the prayer.

Early in the book Gallagher has a summary of the prayer:

Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.

Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.

Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this examen a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.

Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I look also for those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.

Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.

Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.

Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I prayerfully conclude the examen.

The Color of Compromise Video Study

The Color of Compromise Video Study: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in RacismSummary: A 12 part video study based on the original book.

I continue to think that The Color of Compromise is an excellent short introduction to the role of the church in historic racism in the US. I read the book originally last year.

I am not going to address the content here but only talk about the format. There are now several options. The book has paper, kindle (ebook) and audiobook versions. There is also an audio-only version of the video study and the video study on either DVD or digital format.

The video study is excellent. There are 12 sessions of approximately 20 minutes each. That is a large number of sessions for a normal small group (I think that 4 to 6 is usually ideal if meeting weekly or else people get distracted.) Because the sessions are about 20 minutes, you can watch more than one in a session. But to give adequate discussion time, you will probably want to schedule at least an equal amount of discussion as watching.

I have not gone back to re-read the book, but it felt to me like there were a few sections of the video study were explanations were tightened up just a bit or were a little clearer than in the book. That may have been the nature of watching a video, or just part of the editing process. There is detail that is not explored in the video that is in the book, but I do think that you can watch the video without reading the book and get the main points without any difficulty.

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie AndrewsSummary: Second, in what is probably a trilogy of memoirs, roughly covering 1963 to 1986. 

It has been almost exactly nine years since I read, and loved, Julie Andrews’ first memoir Home. That memoir of her early years in vaudeville and her time in the theater and the breakout roles on Broadway was well told and extremely well narrated. This memoir, Home Work, picks up with the filming of Mary Poppins, right where the first memoir left off.

I mostly listened to Home Work, with some occasional reading on kindle (I bought both on sale). The production of this audiobook did not use any music as the first one did, but that makes sense because the period is covering an era when Julie Andrews was mostly acting in film and then singing in variety shows or specials on TV.

The weakness of Home Work is an expanded version of the problems of Home, the detail. I am not sure how to avoid the issue as a writer. As a reader, especially as a reader that has not seen any of her movies between Sound of Music and Princess Diaries, the details about shooting and costars was not why I picked up the book. I am sure others are more interested in that portion of the book.

What was engaging about Home and was also present here is her introspection. Mostly she is opening herself up to the world and sharing what her life has been like. The level of drug abuse and alcoholism around her is tragic, with children, siblings, parents, her husband. She shares freely about her struggles of depression as well as the depression of her husband and many others. There are more than a few suicide attempts by those around her.

Home Work is a story of ‘more money, more problems’. Her first marriage ended essentially because both she and her husband were never together. After all, they were pursuing separate careers in the film world. She had long stints filming around the world, and he had long jobs designing films (so that even when they were working on the same movies, they were not working at the same time). Later, when she married her second husband, Blake Edwards, a director, and mostly working together on movies, they bought houses and boats and spent money taking care of dependent relatives so that they felt compelled to keep working. It was a bitter cycle; they had to work to pay for their lifestyle, but also had to pay for assistants and nannies and people to take care of their homes because they were working all the time.