Archive for the ‘Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of Imagine Heaven, by John Burke

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Imagine Heaven

Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You

by John Burke

Baker Books, 2015. 348 pages.
Starred Review

Imagine Heaven looks at accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) from all over the world, from various cultures, religions, and backgrounds — and shows how the accounts match what the Bible says about heaven.

I’ve been interested in near-death experiences for awhile. Most of the books I’ve reviewed on the topic were quoted in this book: Proof of Heaven, Heaven Is For Real, To Heaven and Back, and even the book where the author went to hell first, My Descent Into Death. (Reading my review of My Descent Into Death, it was apparently the book that got me started reading other such books.)

Author John Burke does stick with a strictly evangelical perspective in his interpretation of the experiences. I tend to think they give support to Universalism. But one thing that is striking, which I hadn’t noticed before, is how those who have experienced NDEs describe heaven using very similar terms with the descriptions in Revelation.

When I was in the middle of reading this book, my sister had a dream about our mother, who is in late-stage Alzheimer’s. She dreamed that they were climbing stairs together. My Mom was much better, happy and eager, and climbing the stairs. At the top, there was a door, and Jesus was at the door. Becky left Mom with Jesus, and Mom was so happy to be there. Reading this book, and a dream like that, reminds me that Yes, heaven is a wonderful place. Yes, what’s important is Love.

The highlight of many NDEs, for all who claim to have come near, is this mystical Being of Light who fills them with a love beyond imagination.

A common experience across cultures is that this Being of Light gives them a Life Review.

One of the greatest indications that the God NDErs describe is the God of the Jewish/Christian Scriptures is how they depict their life review in his presence. Despite vividly seeing all their deeds, good and evil, and all the relational ripple effects of both, they do not experience a Being who desires to condemn. They experience a compassion coming from this Being of Light.

The author looks at the work of other researchers:

Dr. Long talks about how the unified theme of thousands of NDEs is the importance of love first. Muhammad in Egypt said after his NDE, “I felt that love is the one thing that all humans must feel towards each other.

The book does go on about details — the “sea of glass, clear as crystal,” the “rainbow that shone like an emerald,” the streets of pure gold, like glass. The author throws in lots of interpretation — but with many valid conclusions.

For me, the book encouraged and uplifted me, reminding me that God is Love, that heaven is not something to fear, and that what’s important, in this life and the next, is Love.

johnburkeonline.com
bakerbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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The Jazz of Physics, by Stephon Alexander

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The Jazz of Physics

The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe

by Stephon Alexander

Basic Books, 2016. 239 pages.
Starred Review

I heard Stephon Alexander speak at ALA Midwinter Meeting last year. He speaks with passion about how his love of jazz gave him insights into cosmology. (Of course, I was disposed to like him, because when I got the book signed and showed him my prime factorization scarf, he liked it so much, he called over his girlfriend, an artist, from another part of the exhibits so she could see it.)

As a Black American with roots in Trinidad, Stephon Alexander knows what it’s like to be a minority in physics. This book also tells his story and how he was inspired to turn to science.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand much about the equations or the physics mentioned in this book. But the author’s excitement comes across as he explains how he discovered insights about physics in music.

During all the years of formal training as a scientist, I found myself trying to reconcile my passion for music with physics. I started to not only see how the act of doing physics research could benefit from musical analogies but how our physical world actually had a musical character. Aside from the few mentors, such as Chris Isham and Robert Brandenberger, who had encouraged me to blend the two, I felt pressure to keep these two worlds separate. Physics to some is about absolute truths encoded in rigid mathematics, and music is a language of emotion. Perhaps this tension would not have been a big deal had I known that in the early days of science, music and astronomy were inseparable. To the modern musician and scientist, this may seem preposterous, but to early people, who lacked the scientific tools we now have, music became an analogy for the ordering and structure of the cosmos.

The book talks about sound and vibration and how it relates to string theory. He talks about sonic black holes and cosmic background radiation. Especially interesting is how he arrived at a breakthrough in string theory and cosmology by thinking about jazz improvisation.

I may not understand the details presented here, but I understand passages like this:

Weaving music and physics into one avenue of thought has showed me how to use notions in music as points of access to various fields in modern physics and cosmology. Analogies have helped make the physics more accessible and stimulating.

It is wonderful to think of following the footsteps of our ancestors — the great ancient thinkers who sought to understand physics through sound, and sound through physics. Pythagoras played with hammers and strings to try to understand where the pleasures of music came from, while Kepler used his intuition that the universe was musical to make major advances in the fields of astronomy, physics, and mathematics.

He talks about how the analogies not only help explain physics, but they also help new discoveries be made.

This book is not only about the analogy between music and cosmology but also about the importance of musical and improvisational thinking in doing physics. Theoretical physicists exemplify John Coltrane’s approach to music. We use an arsenal of conceptual and mathematical tools that we practice through examples that were worked out by past masters, like Einstein and Feynman. Likewise, jazz musicians like Coltrane master their tradition throughout countless hours of practice. But for both the theoretical physicist and the jazz improviser, it is not enough to simply master the material of the past; discoveries must be made.

He ends the book by saying, “My journey to reconcile jazz with physics serves as a living example of how a small group of physicists, in the spirit of the jazz tradition, embraced me and allowed me to improvise physics with them, while challenging me to go beyond my limits.”

stephonalexander.org
basicbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting and had signed to me by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Thirty Million Words, by Dana Suskind, MD

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Thirty Million Words

Building a Child’s Brain

Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns

by Dana Suskind, M.D.

Dutton, 2015. 308 pages.
Starred Review

The thirty million words of the title refer to the number of words children hear from birth to 3 years of age. But that’s not the total number of words — that’s the gap between the number of words children from language-rich families hear and the number that children from language-poor families hear.

The number is based on a study done by Betty Hart and Todd Risley.

The data answered the paramount question: Was a child’s ultimate ability to learn related to the language heard in the first years of life? Three years of painstaking analysis left no doubt. It did. Counter to prevalent thought at the time, neither socioeconomic status, nor race, nor gender, nor birth order was the key component in a child’s ability to learn because, even within groups, whether professional or welfare, there was variation in language. The essential factor that determined the future learning trajectory of a child was the early language environment: how much and how a parent talked to a child. Children in homes in which there was a lot of parent talk, no matter the educational or economic status of that home, did better. It was as simple as that.

When they followed up with the children years later, the trend continued.

The essential wiring of the human brain, the foundation for all thinking and learning, occurs largely during our first three years of life. We now know, thanks to careful science, that optimum brain development is language dependent. The words we hear, how many we hear, and how they are said are determining factors in its development. The significance of this cannot be overemphasized since this window of time, if neglected, may be lost forever. When Hart and Risley looked at their data, the influence of early language on a child was unmistakable, the negative impact of a poor early language environment critical, including the effect on vocabulary acquision. Even more significant was evidence of the effect on IQ at three years of age.

Also important was what was said.

But quantity of words was only one part of the equation. While the number of words a child heard was important, imperatives and prohibitions appeared to stifle a child’s ability to acquire language.

“We saw the powerful dampening effects on development when [a child’s interaction with a parent] began with a parent-initiated imperative: ‘Don’t’ ‘Stop’ ‘Quit that.'”

Two other factors seemed to have an effect on language acquisition and IQ. The first was the variety of vocabulary the child heard. The less varied the vocabulary, the lower the child’s achievement at age three. The other influence was family conversational habits. Hart and Risley found that parents who talked less produced children who also spoke less.

This book is ultimately a book of hope, about teaching parents how important their words are.

The incredible power that helps nurture the brain into optimum intelligence and stability is parent talk. If the most profound mysteries of the brain are still to be discovered, that truth has already been revealed. And it shows you how smart the brain really is, because, in absolute evolutionary brilliance, it harnesses a plentiful, natural resource as the key catalyst for its own development. The process is so simple and hidden that you aren’t even aware it’s happening. You can’t sell it, you can’t store it, you can’t list it on the New York Stock Exchange, but a caregiver’s language is the essential resource of every country, every culture, every person, extending into every crevice of who we are, what we can do, and how we behave.

The book goes on to talk about how parent talk helps in every area of brain development.

But then it talks about how to turn this research into action. In the Thirty Million Words Initiative, parents are being taught effective ways to talk with their little ones.

I like the memorable Three Ts that parents are taught: Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns.

A little bit more about each one:

Of the Three Ts, Tune In is the most nuanced. It involves a parent’s making a conscious effort to notice what a baby or child is focused on, then, when it’s appropriate, talking with the child about it. In other words, focusing as the child is focused. Even if the child is too young to understand the words being spoken, even if the focus is constantly changing, Tuning In refers to a parent’s following and responding to a child’s lead. It represents the first step in harnessing the power of parent talk to build a child’s brain. If a parent is not Tuned In, the other Ts will not work.

The second T, Talk More, seems self-explanatory.

Talk More, which goes hand in hand with Tune In, refers to a parent’s increased talking with a child, especially about what the child is focusing on, not to him or her. While this may seem a subtle distinction, it is fundamental to the TMW approach. Talking More with a child requires a mutual level of engagement between the child and the parent. Like Tune In, it is another critical element of parent-child attachment and brain development.

And the final T puts it all together.

The final T, Take Turns, entails engaging a child in a conversational exchange. The gold standard of parent-child interaction, it is the most valuable of the Three Ts when it comes to developing a child’s brain. In order for the necessary serve-and-return of conversational interaction to be successful, there has to be active engagement between the parent and child. How does the parent achieve this? By Tuning In to what the child is focused on and Talking More about it. The key, whether a parent has initiated interaction or is responding to a child’s initiative, is for the parent to wait for the child to respond. That is what sets the stage for the critical Taking Turns.

The book goes on to talk about practicalities, and how this applies in many different ways and many different subject areas. But I like how nicely the content is summed up in the title alone.

As a children’s librarian, reading this book urges me to communicate these important principles to parents and helps me realize how important parent talk is, even from birth. I recommend this book for all parents, but also for anyone who works with babies or parents of babies. A powerful, hopeful message.

thirtymillionwords.org

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of How to Bake Pi, by Eugenia Cheng

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

How to Bake π

An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics

by Eugenia Cheng

Basic Books, 2015. 288 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Nonfiction

I have a Master’s in Math, so I love math books for a general audience. Besides, my math degree is very old by now, so a book like this taught me about a whole field of mathematics I hadn’t known about before. And it’s written by a woman!

She had me from the Prologue, where she debunks some math myths and begins with a recipe. Here are some parts I especially liked:

Cooking is about ways of putting ingredients together to make delicious food. Sometimes it’s more about the method than the ingredients, just as in the recipe for clotted cream, which only has one ingredient — the entire recipe is just a method. Math is about ways of putting ideas together to make exciting new ideas. And sometimes it’s more about the method than the “ingredients.”

Here’s about the myth that you have to be really clever to be a mathematician:

Much as I like the idea that I am very clever, the popular myth shows that people think math is hard. The little-understood truth is that the aim of math is to make things easier. Herein lies the problem — if you need to make things easier, it gives the impression that they were hard in the first place. Math is hard, but it makes hard things easier. In fact, since math is a hard thing, math also makes math easier.

Here’s talking about what it’s like to do research in math:

It’s true, you can’t just discover a new number. So what can we discover that’s new in math? In order to explain what this “new math” could possibly be about, I need to clear up some misunderstandings about what math is in the first place. Indeed, not only is math not just about numbers, but the branch of math I’m going to describe is actually not about numbers at all. It’s called Category Theory, and it can be thought of as the “mathematics of mathematics.” It’s about relationships, contexts, processes, principles, structures, cakes, custard.

Yes, even custard. Because mathematics is about drawing analogies, and I’m going to be drawing analogies with all sorts of things to explain how math works, including custard, cake, pie, pastry, donuts, bagels, mayonnaise, yogurt, lasagna, sushi.

True to her promise, she begins each chapter of her book with a recipe, and uses the recipe to illustrate the math about the recipe on the conceptual level.

Abstract Algebra was always one of my favorite fields of math, and Category Theory is a level of abstraction higher. What could be cooler than that?

But if the idea of extreme abstraction doesn’t get you as excited as it does me, think of it as math concepts explained through recipes. That conveys better how friendly this book makes the concepts.

She has analogies for almost everything. Here’s where she explains what abstraction is:

Abstraction is like preparing to cook something and putting away the equipment and ingredients that you don’t need for this recipe, so that your kitchen is less cluttered. It is the process of putting away the ideas you don’t need for the present purposes, so that your brain is less cluttered.

Here’s her explanation of proof by contradiction:

Imagine trying to “prove” that you really need to boil water to make tea. You would probably just try to make tea without boiling the water. You discover that it tastes disgusting (or has no taste at all) and conclude that yes, you do need to boil water to make tea. Or you might try to “prove” that you need gas to make your car go. You try running it on an empty tank and discover it doesn’t go anywhere. So yes, you do need gas to make your car go.

In math, this is called proof by contradiction — you do the opposite of what you’re trying to prove, and show that something would go horribly wrong in that case, so you conclude that you were right all along.

I think this book is truly beautiful. And I suspect it might provide glimmers to people who have never before seen beauty in math at all. If that’s not enough to appeal to potential readers, well, it has recipes.

basicbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Camino Divina, by Gina Marie Mammano

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

camino_divina_largeCamino Divina

Walking the Divine Way

A Book of Moving Meditations with Likey & Unlikely Saints

by Gina Marie Mammano

Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont, 2016. 178 pages.
Starred Review

Full disclosure: The author of this book is a long-time friend of mine. In fact, this past week I was writing my Project 52 post about the year I was 20, and the post included several pictures of Gina at Disneyland. We had invented the S.I.K. Club — a group that wasn’t afraid to be silly and whose theme was Joy. And a couple days after posting that, something Gina said in this very book blessed me.

Camino Divina is lovely. It took me a long time to read it, because I started reading a short section every time I go for a walk, and I usually only go for a walk two or three times per week. But it has added richly to those walks, and I plan to go through it again.

I’ll let Gina explain what she’s doing in this book, from the Introduction:

What is camino divina? Well, since camino simply means “road” and divina means “divine,” the pair of them together could be thought of as “the path of the Divine” or “the divine way.” It’s a merging of the Spanish camino and the Latin divina, a lingua marriage of sorts. In my vernacular, it just means taking a meaningful stroll out in nature, on a labyrinth, under the moon, with divine words laced in rhythm along with it.

She’s talking about taking a phrase with you and mulling it over as you walk.

This book is designed to take you on a journey — no, many journeys — of both outer landscape and inner landscape. The outer landscapes are all around you and can be explored through a well-planned or serendipitous trip, a pilgrimage to a sacred site, or a meandering somewhere in your own neighborhood. The pith, though, is found in the inner landscape. That is something you take with you wherever you go. It is your inner self, the very soul-housed uniqueness of time and space that you bring into the world and bring into your life’s experiences.

I’ve created twelve adventures that give you the chance to traipse into both of these realms — the inner landscape and the outer landscape. On each adventure I’ve paired you up with a spiritual guide whom I call a “saint” — a sage who has spoken inspiring words and ideas into my soul and out into the world. I’ve then chosen a theme that highlights one aspect of the featured sage’s wisdom and legacy, but by no means encompasses it. As you wander into themes like Amazement, Wildness, Darkness, the Liminal, the Surprising, or the Familiar, know that they can be explored not only with the saint associated with that particular theme, but with the others as well, serving as launching points for you to explore many other possibilities in your camino divina practice. When you’ve finished this book, I encourage you to create a list of your own “saints,” those whose words and thoughts have inspired — and continue to inspire — you.

Gina’s writing is beautiful — She’s a poet — and she opens windows into the words of these twelve writer-saints she’s chosen.

I’ve been walking with these meditations for months now, and they’ve opened my eyes. And I know if I make the journey again through this book, I’m going to uncover all new riches.

skylightpaths.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Rilke’s Book of Hours, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

book_of_hours_largeRilke’s Book of Hours

Love Poems to God

by Rainer Maria Rilke

translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
with a new Introduction by the translators

Riverhead Books (Penguin), 2005. 257 pages.
Starred Review

Although this book was published in 2005, our library recently purchased new copies of it, so I saw it on the Wowbrary list and checked it out. I liked it so much, I purchased my own copy and slowly went through it at the rate of a poem per day.

Anyone who has seen my Sonderling Sunday posts know that I love the German language and I love looking at the ways the German and English languages try to express the same thoughts. So this book, with the original German text on one side and the English translation on the other, is perfect for me.

This is poetry, so you’re not going to find a literal translation. I think I liked it better for that. Again, how best to express an idea, in this case a poetic idea, in each language?

I’d read a poem each day. First I’d read it in German and try to get the idea. Then I’d read it line by line with the translation and find out where I’d gone wrong.

The poetry is beautiful in both languages. Don’t let the subtitle throw you. Rilke has some nontraditional thoughts about God. But they do get you thinking and meditating about some deep thoughts.

This is the 100th Anniversary Edition, and there’s a reason these poems have lasted so long.

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Brave Enough, by Cheryl Strayed

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

brave_enough_largeBrave Enough

by Cheryl Strayed

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 135 pages.

I love quotations, as anyone knows who’s stumbled across my Sonderquotes blog. On top of that, Cheryl Strayed has already gotten many quotes on Sonderquotes from when I read her book Tiny Beautiful Things.

But you might not be aware that I’ve collected quotations since I was in high school. I’ve got a little notebook that holds index cards on which I’d write out quotes. So I was charmed by this story that opens Brave Enough:

At age twelve, when I came upon a sentence on page two hundred and something of Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Ring of Endless Light, I was so taken by it I had to stop reading. “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light,” I scrawled in semipermanent marker on the inside of my forearm, where it stayed for the better part of a week (and in my mind for the better part of my life).

I’ve been a quote collector ever since.

I so agree with this part:

I think of quotes as mini-instruction manuals for the soul. It’s my appreciation of their very usefulness that compelled me to put together this book. Not because I believe in my own sagacity, but because I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads — the one that says You can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t have. Quotes, at their core, almost always shout Yes!

This aims to be a book of yes.

And I start with a great big Yes to this at the end of the Introduction:

The best quotes don’t speak to one particular truth, but rather to universal truths that resonate — across time, culture, gender, generation, and situation — in our own hears and minds. They guide, motivate, validate, challenge, and comfort us in our own lives. They reiterate what we’ve figured out and remind us how much there is yet to learn. Pithily and succinctly, they lift us momentarily out of the confused and conflicted human muddle. Most of all, they tell us we’re not alone. Their existence is proof that others have questioned, grappled with, and come to know the same truths we question and grapple with, too.

There you have it. I went through this book one page per day, pausing to put especially good quotes into Sonderquotes.

This book contains lots of yes.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Thunder and Lightning, by Lauren Redniss

Monday, September 19th, 2016

thunder_and_lightning_largeThunder and Lightning

Weather Past, Present, Future

by Lauren Redniss

Random House, New York, 2015. 262 pages.
Starred Review

Thunder and Lightning is another Science Picture Book for Adults by the author of Radioactive.

As with Radioactive, which is a biography of Marie Curie, Thunder and Lightning is full of facts – but the most striking thing about it is the dramatic pictures.

I can’t really describe the pictures adequately, so I’m going to focus on the words here, but be aware that if this is a book you find interesting at all, you should check it out and see for yourself.

The author explores so many aspects of weather! Mainly she tells weather-related stories, but there are also many things about the science of weather. Some of the stories told include a cemetery washed out by a flood, the secret forecasting formula used by Old Farmer’s Almanac, people struck by lightning, a ship that sunk in fog, swimming from Cuba to Florida, devastating fires in Australia, a World Seed Bank in Svalbard, the ice trade on Walden Pond, and making rain in Vietnam. This perhaps gives an idea of the wide range of topics covered here, which all relate to weather.

The author relies heavily on quotes, which bring an immediacy to each story, each exploration.

Here are some things Arctic explorer Vilhjálmur Stefánsson had to say in 1921:

The daylight is negligible; and the moonlight, which comes to you first through clouds that are high in the sky and later through an enveloping fog, is a light which enables you to see your dog team distinctly enough, or even a black rock a hundred yards away, but it is scarcely better than no light at all upon the snow at your feet.

I think my favorite chapter, though, is Chapter 7, “Sky.” After fascinating ramblings and explorations on various topics, I turned the pages on “Sky” – and discovered 16 pages of paintings of sky. Lovely.

This book is surprising and hard to describe. Check it out and see for yourself.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/thunder_and_lightning.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Champagne for the Soul, by Mike Mason

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

champagne_for_the_soul_largeChampagne for the Soul

Rediscovering God’s Gift of Joy

by Mike Mason

Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, B. C., 2007. 190 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my sister Becky for recommending this book!

Here’s how the author introduces this book:

In October 1999 I began a ninety-day experiment in joy. I made up my mind that for the next ninety days I would be joyful in the Lord. Because this was an experiment, there was room for failure. If there were times when I wasn’t joyful, I wouldn’t despair or beat myself up. Rather I would gently, persistently return as best I could to my focus on joy.

So began (and continues to this day) the happiest time of my life. This book is the record of that experiment in joy, along with other thoughts on joy that came to me later. While I was astounded by the results of my initial experiment, I deliberately waited before writing a book. I knew my ideas needed time to mature, and more important, I had to see whether the new joy that had flooded my life would endure. Amazingly, it has. My original thesis turned out to be true: Joy is like a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows.

The book consists of 90 two-page chapters. Each one begins with a verse, and then some thoughts about aspects of joy.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until I was more than two-thirds of the way through the book that I decided to try a full-fledged experiment with joy myself. So my plan was to turn around and start the book over again.

However, today, the very day I finished reading the book, my church small group met for the first time since taking the summer off, and we were trying to decide what study to do this next season. I threw out the idea of using this book — and they immediately loved the idea.

So — I’m going to try an experiment in joy along with a close group of Christian friends! I think that’s going to add layers of richness to the experience.

And this book is a wonderful guide to bring along. There aren’t “study questions.” Mike Mason writes about his own experiences with joy, which I think will encourage us to think about our own experiences and share them with each other.

This isn’t a how-to book. More of a travelogue about one person’s journey with Jesus into a new experience of joy and encouragement for others who may choose to follow a similar path.

As I was reading, I found dozens of quotes I loved, and I’m slowly loading them into Sonderquotes. You can get an idea of the sort of thing the author focuses on by reading these.

Now, I’m happily writing this review having finished the book but knowing that I’m only on the beginning of my journey with it. And next time around, I’m looking forward to having companions traveling with me.

I should add that when I first approached the book, it was as a casual reader, figuring I’d read good thoughts about joy. When I decided to actually try my own experiment with joy — 23 days ago — it suddenly got more personal, more immediate.

Not to give spoilers, but here are some words from the Epilogue:

My experiment has been wildly successful. Joy has indeed become an ingrained habit of my soul — so much a part of me that it hardly seems possible that I lived without it for nearly half a century. Not only am I much happier now than ever before, but I know it’s possible to keep moving in the direction of joy and to have more and more of it. In the search for joy a certain point arrives where the balance tips in our favor. We find we’re no longer striving for happiness; we’re simply happy. It’s like getting out of debt: Without a fat mortgage payment to dole out every month, life takes on an entirely different feel. Difficulties still come, perhaps grave ones, but joy keeps flowing into the hurts like a self-renewing stream.

I highly recommend this book. While it’s fantastic casual reading, I’ve found my experience with it got richer the more seriously I took it. What are you waiting for? Dive in!

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Review of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by James Martin, S. J.

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

jesuit_guide_largeThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

A Spirituality for Real Life

by James Martin, S.J.

HarperOne (HarperCollins), 2010. 420 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank you to my friend Charles for recommending this book!

The title sums up the book well. This book takes a close look at how Jesuits approach life – and it applies to almost everything.

Charles recommended it as a good book for helping make decisions and figuring out your life path. I agree with him that it’s good for those things.

It’s a long book, and it took me a long time to read it, but it’s packed with good thoughts. The Jesuit perspective is a new one for me, yet from the same view of wanting to bring God into our lives. There are many good ideas and godly advice here.

James Martin begins the book by talking about Ignatian spirituality.

Ignatian spirituality considers everything an important element of your life. That includes religious services, sacred Scriptures, prayer, and charitable works, to be sure, but it also includes friends, family, work, relationships, sex, suffering, and joy, as well as nature, music, and pop culture. . . .

In Ignatian spirituality there is nothing that you have to put in a box and hide. Nothing has to be feared. Nothing has to be hidden away. Everything can be opened up before God.

That’s why this book is called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. It’s not a guide to understanding everything about everything (thus the Almost). Rather, it’s a guide to discovering how God can be found in every dimension of your life. How God can be found in everything. And everyone, too.

Here are the kinds of questions that are proper to Ignatian spirituality, which we’ll discuss in the coming chapters:

How do I know what I’m supposed to do in life?

How do I know who I’m supposed to be?

How do I make good decisions?

How can I live a simple life?

How can I be a good friend?

How can I face suffering?

How can I be happy?

How can I find God?

How do I pray?

How do I love?

All these things are proper to Ignatian spirituality because all these things are proper to the human person.

That summarizes well the kind of things this book looks at – things about life and guidance and decisions and direction, things about love and friendship and a relationship with God. Father Martin’s style is personal and friendly, like a brother sharing his walk and his insights. He maybe rambles a little bit, but that adds to the non-threatening, friendly style.

The author interweaves his insights and advice with many, many stories – from his own life and from the lives of friends and mentors and people he has counseled. He also includes some Jesuit jokes! These are not abstract ideas, but time-tested wisdom – as the subtitle says, this is spirituality for real life.

James Martin ends the book with a prayer of total surrender, of offering all we are and have to God.

Why am I ending this book with such a “hard” prayer? To remind you that the spiritual life is a constant journey. For me, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say that prayer and mean it completely. That is, I still want to hold on to all those things. And I’m not sure that I can say yet that all I need is God’s love and grace. I’m still too human for that. But as Ignatius said, it’s enough to have the desire for the desire. It’s enough to want that freedom. God will take care of the rest.

So together you and I are still on the way to being contemplatives in action, to finding God in all things, to seeing God incarnate in the world, and to seeking freedom and detachment.

The way of Ignatius has been traveled by millions of people searching for God in their daily lives. And for that way – easy at times, difficult at others, but always moving us closer to God – we can thank our friend, St. Ignatius Loyola.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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