Archive for the ‘Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Friday, June 8th, 2018

Option B

Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 226 pages.
Starred Review

Option B is a book about grief.

Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave died suddenly after they had been married only eleven years. This book is framed as the story of her loss and the hard road of recovery, but she’s extended the application to a look at how to build resilience in the face of adversity.

Yet try as we might to prevent adversity, inequality, and trauma, they still exist and we are still left to cope with them. To fight for change tomorrow we need to build resilience today. Psychologists have studied how to recover and rebound from a wide range of adversity — from loss, rejection, and divorce to injury and illness, from professional failure to personal disappointment. Along with reviewing the research, Adam and I sought out individuals and groups who have overcome ordinary and extraordinary difficulties. Their stories changed the way we think about resilience.

This book is about the capacity of the human spirit to persevere. We look at the steps people can take, both to help themselves and to help others. We explore the psychology of recovery and the challenges of regaining confidence and rediscovering joy. We cover ways to speak about tragedy and comfort friends who are suffering. And we discuss what it takes to create resilient communities and companies, raise strong children, and love again.

Right in the first chapter, she talks about important obstacles you need to overcome:

We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization — the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness — the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence — the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. The three P’s play like the flip side of the pop song “Everything Is Awesome” — “everything is awful.” The loop in your head repeats, “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful.”

Hundreds of studies have shown that children and adults recover more quickly when they realize that hardships aren’t entirely their fault, don’t affect every aspect of their lives, and won’t follow them everywhere forever. Recognizing that negative events aren’t personal, pervasive, or permanent makes people less likely to get depressed and better able to cope.

This book is best and most powerful in all the personal moments she shares about her own struggles after her husband’s death. Bringing in psychological research and other stories of loss does reinforce those lessons, but they almost feel canned in comparison.

And although the authors work to make the book applicable to building resilience in any adversity, I would most recommend it to people who are also dealing with the death of someone close to them.

Don’t shoot me, but I’ve long thought that in many ways divorce is worse than the death of a spouse. Reading this book reminded me that in many ways the death of a spouse is worse than divorce. Both are terrible, and in dealing with both you need resilience. But I’m not sure I would have liked reading this book when my divorce was fresh. Because she got to keep her good memories of her spouse, and they weren’t tainted by wondering when he stopped loving her. As she grew and healed to where she was ready to try to love again, she didn’t have to figure out how to stop loving her spouse, who was not the loving husband she thought he was. Her world was shaken — but in just similar enough ways, I think I would have envied her if I’d read this ten years ago. And been mad at her for not realizing how lucky she was but also been ashamed of myself for not realizing how horribly unlucky she was — in short, I think it might have added to my mess of emotions for being so close but so far from what I was going through.

However, ten years down the road, after reading this book, I’m almost ashamed to even compare my journey with hers. I think perhaps because I did work at falling out of love with my ex-husband and I truly don’t want him back any more, the grief doesn’t last as long. But the lessons of resilience that she points out will help you through whatever Option B you have to settle for.

I like the way she winds things up in the final chapter.

But just as grief crashes into us like a wave, it also rolls back like the tide. We are left not just standing, but in some ways stronger. Option B still gives us options. We can still love . . . and we can still find joy.

I now know that it’s possible not just to bounce back but to grow. Would I trade this growth to have Dave back? Of course. No one would ever choose to grow this way. But it happens — and we do. As Allen Rucker wrote about his paralysis, “I won’t make your skin crawl by saying it’s a ‘blessing in disguise.’ It’s not a blessing and there’s no disguise. But there are things to be gained and things to be lost, and on certain days, I’m not sure that the gains are not as great as, or even greater than, the inevitable losses.”

Tragedy does not have to be personal, pervasive, or permanent, but resilience can be. We can build it and carry it with us throughout our lives.

optionb.org
aaknopf.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 Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Tattoos on the Heart

The Power of Boundless Compassion

by Gregory Boyle
read by the author

HighBridge Audio, 2010. 7 ½ hours on 6 CDs.
Starred Review

I put this audiobook on hold after my sister Becky told me that her daughter’s college graduation had the best graduation speaker she’d ever heard – he even got a standing ovation. That was enough of a recommendation for me. I was not at all disappointed when I started listening.

I got the audiobook because while I’m on the Newbery committee, that’s the best way for me to get books read that are written for adults. And with all the Spanish words used in this book, it was nice to hear the author read it. He doesn’t use a lot of variety in voices, but that’s okay – it works with this book. But I ended up checking out the print version in order to pull out quotes for Sonderquotes – I kept getting blown away by his words and I wanted to remember them.

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that gives jobs to gang members and helps them get out of gangs and removes their tattoos. He lives in downtown Los Angeles, and has since the 1980s (when I lived in downtown Los Angeles for a few years) – and knows and loves gang members. He learns their names and knows them as people – and that makes a powerful difference.

The book is mostly stories, and they touch your heart. Something about seeing, through Father Boyle, that God sees and cares about gang members – helps me understand with my heart that God sees and cares about me. And not only does God care about me, He delights in me. Gregory Boyle shows that it’s possible to not only tolerate kids who are gang members – but even to see that they are delightful. Wow.

Here’s what Gregory Boyle says at the end of the Introduction:

In finding a home for these stories in this modest effort, I hope, likewise, to tattoo those mentioned here on our collective heart. Though this book does not concern itself with solving the gang problem, it does aspire to broaden the parameters of our kinship. It hopes not only to put a human face on the gang member, but to recognize our own wounds in the broken lives and daunting struggles of the men and women in these parables.

Our common human hospitality longs to find room for those who are left out. It’s just who we are if allowed to foster something different, something more greatly resembling what God had in mind. Perhaps, together, we can teach each other how to bear the beams of love, persons becoming persons, right before our eyes. Returned to ourselves.

He achieves these goals in this book. He does such a good job of putting a human face on the gang member for me – that it was unfortunate timing that I was listening to this audiobook at the same time the president called members of MS-13 “animals.” The contrast was huge. (Gregory Boyle, by the way, doesn’t name any of the gangs he works with, so as to not give the gangs that dignity. The people, however, he lavishes with dignity.)

The beauty of this book is watching Father Boyle treat gang members as delightful human beings. It’s obviously not easy, and comes with a lot of pain. At the time of writing the book, he had buried more than 170 people he cared about because of gang violence. Many of the stories he tells end with the tragic too-soon death of the subject of the story.

And the things he pulls out touch your heart. He talks about the “no matter whatness” of God’s love and God knowing us by name. You’ll see lives changed because someone showed compassion on an outcast – and maybe that will change your life, too.

Look for more quotes on Sonderquotes. I highly recommend this book.

highbridgeaudio.com
homeboyindustries.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 audiobook 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 This Is What a Librarian Looks Like, by Kyle Cassidy

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like

A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information

by Kyle Cassidy
with thoughts on libraries from Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, Jude Deveraux, Amy Dickinson, Amanda Palmer, Samira Ahmed, Sara Farizan, Jeff VanderMeer, John Scalzi, and more

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2017. 234 pages.
Starred Review

It’s no surprise I love this book. It contains photos of hundreds of librarians, with short quotations from them about their jobs. There are essays about the importance of libraries. Essays by famous writers about their experiences with libraries and other essays featuring notable libraries and the good work they are doing. In short, the subtitle says it well – this is a celebration of librarians and libraries and the vast depth of resources they bring to their communities.

I hope that non-librarians will look at this book and gain a new appreciation of all that modern librarians do. I already know all this! In fact, non-librarian friends and family, please read this book as a favor to me. You’ll understand all the better why I am so proud to be a librarian and see librarianship as my calling.

And yes, I have several friends featured in these pages – well, they are at least acquaintances and people I have worked with on committees. I’ve spoken and worked with them. Even had lunch with a few at conferences.

But besides that, this is a beautiful look at the wide variety of missions of librarians and libraries in American communities today.

Here’s how the author and photographer starts the book in the Introduction:

How can I help libraries?

That’s a question I never really thought about until recently. But now it’s something constantly on my mind, because libraries can use some help, and very often the people in the best position to do so are those of us who haven’t thought about them for a long time.

If you travel across America talking about libraries, you will meet some people who love them, some who are indifferent, and others who think they are a waste of resources. The functions that libraries serve are bound up with their communities; indeed, the two are symbiotic. The more love you put in, the more you will get out.

And here’s how he finishes the book in the Afterword:

There’s so much work being done in every community across the country by these people. This isn’t a book about America’s most significant libraries; it’s a book about everyday libraries doing everyday work. They’re just drops of rain in a thunderstorm, but together they work to make the ground fertile.

Wherever you are in America, there is a librarian fighting to get you something, whether it’s a computer, an audio book, a children’s book, a banned book, job skills, a citizenship test, a record deal, a movie to watch, a fishing rod, answers about thirteenth-century clothing, voter registration, local archives, a place to stay warm or cool or dry, a kayak on a breezy summer afternoon, or any of a thousand thousand other things. These librarians are fighting against incredible odds and against powerful forces and against ignorance and arrogance. They don’t even know you, but they’re getting up every morning, relentlessly building a colossus for you to stand on to see farther, reach higher, and achieve more. They’re fighting for your right to access information.

How can you help libraries?

What are you waiting for? Check this book out from your local library! If you need help finding it, I know someone who’d be glad to help.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/librarian_looks_like.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 The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

The Upside of Stress

Why Stress Is Good for You and How to Get Good at It

by Kelly McGonigal, PhD

Avery (Penguin Random House), 2015. 279 pages.
Starred Review

The same friend who recommended Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct to me also recommended The Upside of Stress. Even though I don’t think of myself as having a big problem with stress, I also hadn’t thought of myself as having a big problem with willpower – so this time, I put the book on hold right away, and was not surprised when it turned out to be outstanding.

We’ve all heard about the dangers of stress. Too much stress is bad for you, right? Well, this book looks more closely at that question. It turns out that if you think stress is bad for you, then it is. But if you focus on the upsides of stress – and there are many – stress can actually be good for you.

So all by itself, reading this book can make you healthier! You will learn about the many positive effects of stress, thus breaking the belief that stress is bad for you, thus ensuring it is not as bad for you.

On top of that, of course, you’re going to be much happier, the next time you’re in a stressful situation, when you start remembering the good it can do you.

Here’s how the author summarizes her purpose after she saw these new studies about stress.

So, my goal as a health psychologist has changed. I no longer want to help you get rid of your stress – I want to make you better at stress. That is the promise of the new science of stress, and the purpose of this book.

I like the way, in both her books, she bases everything on scientific studies.

It’s helpful to know a little about the science behind embracing stress for two reasons. First, it’s fascinating. When the subject is human nature, every study is an opportunity to better understand yourself and those you care about. Second, the science of stress has some real surprises. Certain ideas about stress – including the central premise of this book: that stress can be good for you – are hard to swallow. Without evidence, it would be easy to dismiss them. Seeing the science behind these ideas can help you consider them and how they might apply to your own experiences.

The advice in this book isn’t based on one shocking study – even though that’s what inspired me to rethink stress. The strategies you’ll learn are based on hundreds of studies and the insights of dozens of scientists I’ve spoken with. Skipping the science and getting straight to the advice doesn’t work. Knowing what’s behind every strategy helps them stick. So this book includes a crash course in the new science of stress and what psychologists call mindsets. You’ll be introduced to rising-star researchers and some of their most intriguing studies – all in a way I hope the reader can enjoy. If you have a bigger appetite for scientific details and want even more information, the notes at the end of this book will let you dig deeper.

But most important, this is a practical guide to getting better at living with stress. Embracing stress can make you feel more empowered in the face of challenges. It can enable you to better use the energy of stress without burning out. It can help you turn stressful experiences into a source of social connection rather than isolation. And finally, it can lead you to new ways of finding meaning in suffering.

She ends the introduction with big goals for her readers – and I have to say that this book really does move you in this direction:

Why would seeing the good in stress help in these circumstances? I believe it is because embracing stress changes how you think about yourself and what you can handle. It is not a purely intellectual exercise. Focusing on the upside of stress transforms how you experience it physically and emotionally. It changes how you cope with the challenges in your life. I wrote this book with that specific purpose in mind: to help you discover your own strength, courage, and compassion. Seeing the upside of stress is not about deciding whether stress is either all good or all bad. It’s about how choosing to see the good in stress can help you meet the challenges in your life.

Many of the interesting studies of stress looked at people’s biological response to stress. You’ve all heard of fight-or-flight, right? Well, that’s only one possible response to stress. We find different physiological changes in the different responses.

There are several prototypical stress responses, each with a different biological profile that motivates various strategies for dealing with stress. For example, a challenge response increases self-confidence, motivates action, and helps you learn from experience; while a tend-and-befriend response increases courage, motivates caregiving, and strengthens your social relationships. Alongside the familiar flight-or-flight response, these make up your stress response repertoire.

I think my favorite chapter was titled “A Meaningful Life Is a Stressful Life.” It turns out there’s a strong correlation between high levels of stress and engaging in meaningful activities – which shouldn’t actually be a surprise. But I liked the observation that just thinking about the meaning behind your stress – why you’re doing this – can increase the physical benefits of stress. One of the studies cited just asked students to write about their values – and this simple act let them see meaning for their stress.

Since that first study, dozens of similar experiments have followed. It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing problem drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a onetime mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.

I also loved this strategy of comparing your stress to what you would go through if you were climbing Mount Everest:

Everyone has an Everest. Whether it’s a climb you chose, or a circumstance you find yourself in, you’re in the middle of an important journey. Can you imagine a climber scaling the wall of ice at Everest’s Lhotse Face and saying, “This is such a hassle”? Or spending the first night in the mountain’s “death zone” and thinking, “I don’t need this stress”? The climber knows the context of his stress. It has personal meaning to him; he has chosen it. You are most liable to feel like a victim of the stress in your life when you forget the context the stress is unfolding in. “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest” is a way to remember the paradox of stress. The most meaningful challenges in your life will come with a few dark nights.

Of course this was good to hear while I’m in the middle of my year of reading as many books as I possibly can for the Newbery committee. So worth it! And just remembering that is sometimes all it takes to feel more able to deal with it.

The second part of the book talks about how to get good at stress. Here’s what that means:

Embracing stress is an act of bravery, one that requires choosing meaning over avoiding discomfort.

This is what it means to be good at stress. It’s not about being untouched by adversity or unruffled by difficulties. It’s about allowing stress to awaken in you these core human strengths of courage, connection, and growth. Whether you are looking at resilience in overworked executives or war-torn communities, the same themes emerge. People who are good at stress allow themselves to be changed by the experience of stress. They maintain a basic sense of trust in themselves and a connection to something bigger than themselves. They also find ways to make meaning out of suffering. To be good at stress is not to avoid stress, but to play an active role in how stress transforms you.

She focuses on learning to use stress to help you engage, connect and grow.

When you engage with stress, you realize that your physical response can help you rise to the challenge. That’s the challenge response in action. I love math, and I remember when I had a math test coming up, I’d be excited and ready to ace that test – my physical response helped me think even more clearly. (I thought of this example when she gave an example of an athlete getting ready to compete. That one doesn’t work for me, though it probably works for more people than my math test example.)

Okay, maybe that’s not the best example for everyone. So let me contrast it with getting up in front of a large group to speak. When I was a kid, that used to always, without fail, make me shake uncontrollably. So when I started feeling nervous, I’d then dread getting the shakes – which of course made the shakes all the worse. (This was a problem when playing in flute recitals, since my entire flute would shake.)

As a matter of fact, the first time I did not shake when getting up in front of a big group was when I gave a Chalk Talk as part of a math competition in high school. Yes, my senses were heightened and my heart rate was up. But in this case, since I was absolutely sure I knew what I was doing, it only made me more alert and able to do a good job. Even knowing nothing about mindset at the time – that shows that how I thought about it made a huge difference. You can think of it as nervousness and as proof that you’re inadequate, or you can think about it as excitement and an extra performance boost.

Viewing your stress response as a resource works because it helps you believe “I can do this.” This belief is important for ordinary stress, but it may be even more important during extraordinary stress. Knowing that you are adequate to the challenges in your life can mean the difference between hope or despair, persistence or defeat. Research shows that how you interpret your body’s stress response plays a role in this belief, whether you are worried about an exam, getting over a divorce, or facing your next round of chemo.

Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust: View yourself as capable and your body as a resource. You don’t have to wait until you no longer have fear, stress, or anxiety to do what matters most. Stress doesn’t have to be a sign to stop and give up on yourself. This kind of mindset shift is a catalyst, not a cure. It doesn’t erase your suffering or make your problems disappear. But if you are willing to rethink your stress response, it may help you recognize your strength and access your courage.

Having stress motivate you to connect is the tend-and-befriend response to stress. As I suspected, the research bears out that this response comes more naturally to women. When you’re in trouble, reach out to your community! Yes, it will help. (This is partly why church small groups are so effective. They give you a group ready to help when you’re under stress.)

The social nature of stress is not something to fear. When you take a tend-and-befriend approach, even contagious stress can be strengthening. As we’ve seen, caring creates resilience, whether the altruism is a response to rescue us from our own suffering or simply a natural reaction to the pain of others. A sympathetic stress response to another person’s suffering can spark empathy and motivate helping, which in turn enhance our own well-being. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be afraid to let others see the truth of our own struggles – especially when we need their support. In many ways, our transparency is a gift, allowing others to feel less alone and offering them the opportunity to experience the benefits of tending and befriending.

The final chapter was about using stress to increase personal growth. Yes! That chapter got me excited. I’ve come out of the worst time of my life – my divorce – and I feel like on the other side I’m much stronger and more resilient. I’ve grown. So this chapter resonated with me.

This wasn’t saying that terrible events aren’t terrible. Just that good can actually come out of them.

But as much as we want to avoid pain and suffering, it’s almost impossible to get through life without experiencing some trauma, loss, or serious adversity. If avoiding suffering isn’t possible, what is the best way to think about the experience? “Given that it’s happened,” Seery asked, “does it mean your life is ruined?” He thinks his work gives a very clear answer. “People are not doomed to be damaged by adversity.”

Here I turn to the belief that God has promised to work all things together for good. The author takes a secular approach, but she’s also saying that bad experiences can be redeemed by how you react to them.

This is a critical distinction, and one of the most important things to understand about how adversity can make you stronger. The science of post-traumatic growth doesn’t say that there is anything inherently good about suffering. Nor does it say that every traumatic event leads to growth. When any good comes from suffering, the source of that growth resides in you — your strengths, your values, and how you choose to respond to adversity. It does not belong to the trauma.

Here are some inspiring thoughts from her final reflections:

For most of its history, the science of stress focused on one question: Is stress bad for you? (Eventually, it graduated to the question, Just how bad is stress for you?)

But the interesting thing about the science of stress is that despite the overwhelmingly accepted idea that stress is harmful, the research tells a slightly different story: Stress is harmful, except when it’s not. Consider the examples we’ve seen in this book: Stress increases the risk of health problems, except when people regularly give back to their communities. Stress increases the risk of dying, except when people have a sense of purpose. Stress increases the risk of depression, except when people see a benefit in their struggles. Stress is paralyzing, except when people perceive themselves as capable. Stress makes people selfish, except when it makes them altruistic. For every harmful outcome you can think of, there’s an exception that erases the expected association between stress and something bad – and often replaces it with an unexpected benefit.

I like this personal observation:

When I committed myself to the process of embracing stress, I didn’t anticipate the biggest way it would affect my everyday experience of life. To my surprise, I started to feel a flood of gratitude in situations I would also describe as highly stressful. It wasn’t an intentional mindset shift; the gratitude just showed up. I still haven’t fully figured out why this was the biggest change for me, but it probably has something to do with what was most toxic about my experience of stress before I embraced it – a habit of resenting the things in my life that caused stress because I found the experience of stress so distressing.

For me, I’m reading this book at a good time – when my main stress is obviously from a good reason, and is very meaningful – being on the Newbery committee and trying to spend every spare moment reading. But I hope when tougher things come along, I’ll remember to look for the upside – and then the upside will actually become greater.

Got any stress in your life? I highly recommend this book.

kellymcgonigal.com
penguin.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/upside_of_stress.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 Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Paul Among the People

The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time

by Sarah Ruden

Pantheon Books, 2010. 214 pages.

I checked out this book because I’d read and loved the author’s book The Face of Water (written later) where she takes a fresh look at the translation of several biblical passages.

In this book, the author uses her knowledge of Graeco-Roman literature and culture to take a fresh look at Paul and give us the cultural context of his writings.

Now, I didn’t find this book nearly as pleasant as The Face of Water. The fact is that the context of Paul’s writings was rather horrible. Slaves were not really considered people. Homosexuality was commonplace – but the only one despised was the passive partner. Paul spoke against those who preyed on others, the people his culture thought were real “man’s men.” He was speaking against oppression, and not really from anything like the same context from which we look at those things.

But my summary doesn’t do this work justice. It opened my eyes – though not always in ways I wanted them opened. She examines Paul and pleasure, Paul and homosexuality, Paul and women, Paul and the state, and Paul and slavery. In the context of his own culture, Paul’s words take on a whole new aspect. He’s much less harsh – in fact, he’s speaking up against a harsh culture.

But I think my favorite chapter was the final one, “Love Just Is: Paul on the Foundation of the New Community,” where she looks at I Corinthians 13, “the Love Chapter.” There were plenty of insights I’d had no idea about (how the “clanging cymbal” relates to the cult of Cybele for example). I especially liked finding out that the list of qualities of love that begins in verse 4 (“Love is patient; love is kind….”) are all verbs.

It’s more or less a necessity of our language that the standard translations here contain a lot of adjectives. The Greek does not contain a single one. Instead we have a mass of verbs, things love does and doesn’t do. This is the ultimate authority for the saying “Love is a verb.” . . .

So manically verb-centered is the passage that Paul takes two adjectives and creates a one-word verb from each (neither verb being attested previously in Greek); and he creates yet another verb, in Greek a one-word metaphor….

If we take the meaning from the form, we could say that he is preaching, “You know the right ways to feel? Turn those feelings into acts and perform those acts, ceaselessly. You know the wrong ways to feel? Don’t, ever, perform the acts that spring from them.”

Pick up this book if you’d like a fresh look at the backdrop the Apostle Paul wrote from.

sarahruden.com
pantheonbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/paul_among_the_people.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 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire, by Greg Stones

Friday, May 4th, 2018

99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire

by Greg Stones

Chronicle Books, 2017.

Okay, this book honestly made me laugh out loud. I’d never noticed how many different ways stormtroopers die in the Star Wars movies.

And that’s what this book is about. It begins innocently enough:

Ninety-nine stormtroopers join the Empire.

We see a relatively calm picture of Darth Vader reviewing his troops.

But one by one and group by group, bad things happen to the new recruits.

One stormtrooper becomes bantha fodder….

One stormtrooper fails to shoot first….

One stormtrooper asks for a promotion….

Two stormtroopers underestimate a princess….

One stormtrooper doesn’t let the Wookiee win….

Thirty-six stormtroopers are stationed on Alderaan….

You get the idea. The illustrations are hilarious, too – with the joke often in the illustrations. (Sometimes we see an illustration showing a notable crash from the movie – with a stormtrooper in the way.)

Instead of page numbers, we’ve got a running count of how many stormtroopers are left.

The last lucky stormtrooper lives happily ever after… on the Death Star.

I’m afraid this may be the book that gets me to count stormtrooper deaths the next time I watch a Star Wars movie.

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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 Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Obama

An Intimate Portrait

by Pete Souza
Former Chief Official White House Photographer
Foreword by Barack Obama

Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 352 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve got a crush on Barack Obama.

However, like so many of my crushes, the biggest thing I admire about him is how much he loves his wife and how dedicated he is to her. At this rate, I’ll never fall for someone who’s available.

That sort of crush, though, encourages me by reminding me that faithful men who love and are committed to their wives exist. In this case, I’m also reminded that government leaders who honestly care about the people they’re serving and are trying to help people do exist. Even though he’s out of office, he still gives me hope by providing an example of someone who honestly cared about people and tried to do good things. (I don’t always agree as to what will be good – but it was obvious that’s what he was seriously trying to do. You can see it in these pictures.)

Okay, he’s also a handsome, classy man with a gorgeous family. And he’s adorably cute with small children. And not afraid to show emotion. And, yes, I enjoy looking at a book full of pictures of him.

And Pete Souza is an amazing photographer. Barack Obama says about him:

In fact, what makes Pete such an extraordinary photographer, I think, is something more than his ability to frame an interesting moment. It’s his capacity to capture the mood, the atmosphere, and the meaning of that moment.

Pete Souza has documented 8 years of history in a powerful and moving way. Here are some of his words from the introduction:

But in the 12 years I’ve known him, the character of this man has not changed. Deep down, his core is the same. He tells his daughters, “Be kind and be useful.” And that tells you a lot about him. As a man. A father. A husband. And yes, as a President of the United States.

This book represents the moments I captured of President Obama throughout his Presidency. The big moments and the small moments. Fun moments. Moments of crisis. Moments of laughter. Moments when I had to hide my own tears behind the viewfinder. Intimate family moments. Symbolic moments and historic moments.

I have had the extraordinary privilege of being the man in the room for eight years, visually documenting President Obama for history. This book is the result of that effort; I gave it my all. I hope that the photographs that follow, accompanied by my words, will show you the true character of this man and the essence of his Presidency, as seen through my eyes and felt through my heart.

Reading this book makes me a little bit sad, yes. But it also gives me hope – still – that it’s possible to have dignity and kindness and a servant’s heart in the Oval Office. May that day come again.

petesouza.com
littlebrown.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/obama.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 Real Love, by Sharon Salzberg

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Real Love

The Art of Mindful Connection

by Sharon Salzberg

Flatiron Books, 2017. 305 pages.
Starred Review

I’ll confess right up front that I don’t really feel like I used this book as it was intended – and yet I still got wonderful things out of it.

The book includes meditation exercises at the end of each chapter. They sound like great exercises. I didn’t take up meditation and didn’t do the exercises.

But the book also gave me profound things to think about and things to notice and encouraged me to be more mindful in my everyday life. I’ve got a big list of pages with quotations I’m going to post on my Sonderquotes blog – There’s so much wisdom here!

I hesitate to pick up a book with love in the title, since I live alone and am not in a relationship. This book isn’t just about romantic love, though. It’s about real love, the kind of love that touches your life every single day. Even lovingkindness for people you walk past on the street.

Here’s what the author says in the Introduction:

This book is an exploration of real love – the innate capacity we each have to love – in everyday life. I see real love as the most fundamental of our innate capacities, never destroyed no matter what we might have gone through or might yet go through. It may be buried, obscured from view, hard to find, and hard to trust . . . but it is there. Faintly pulsing, like a heartbeat, beneath the words we use to greet one another, as we ponder how to critique others’ work without hurting them, as we gather the courage to stand up for ourselves or realize we have to let go of a relationship – real love seeks to find authentic life, to uncurl and blossom.

I believe that there is only one kind of love — real love — trying to come alive in us despite our limiting assumptions, the distortions of our culture, and the habits of fear, self-condemnation, and isolation that we tend to acquire just by living a life. All of us have the capacity to experience real love. When we see love from this expanded perspective, we can find it in the smallest moments of connection: with a clerk in the grocery store, a child, a pet, a walk in the woods. We can find it within ourselves.

Real love comes with a powerful recognition that we are fully alive and whole, despite our wounds or our fears or our loneliness. It is a state where we allow ourselves to be seen clearly by ourselves and by others, and in turn, we offer clear seeing to the world around us. It is a love that heals.

And here’s the progression the book follows:

Our exploration begins with that often-forgotten recipient who is missing real love: ourselves. We expand the exploration to include working with lovers, parents, spouses, children, best friends, and work friends, divorce, dying, forgiveness – the challenges and opportunities of daily life. And we move on to exploring the possibility of abiding in a sense of profound connection to all beings, even those around whom we draw strong boundaries or have tried in the past to block. We may not at all like them, but we can wish them to be free (and us to be free of their actions defining us). This vast sense of interconnection, within and without, leads us to love life itself.

I am writing this book for all who find that yearning within to be happier, who dare to imagine they might be capable of much, much more in the matter of love. And I am writing for those who at times suffer in feeling, as I once did, unloved and incapable of changing their fate. My hope is that through this book I can help you cultivate real love, that beautiful space of caring where you come into harmony with all of your life.

Reading a little bit from this book each day left me inspired and energized. Check out the quotes I chose on Sonderquotes, and if those speak to you, there’s a lot more where they came from. This book is about becoming a more loving person.

sharonsalzberg.com
flatironbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/real_love.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 The Art of Storytelling, by Professor Hannah B. Harvey

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

The Art of Storytelling

From Parents to Professionals

(The Great Courses)

by Professor Hannah B. Harvey

The Teaching Company, 2013. 24 lectures on 12 CDs.
Starred Review

This is another one a friend recommended to me, but I didn’t actually put on hold until I heard him recommend it to someone else. I’d long thought I’d like to listen to one of the Library’s “Great Courses,” but wasn’t sure where to start. So when I heard this one highly recommended, I decided to start there.

One of the best things about listening to these lectures was that I began noticing, more than ever, how many stories fill my days. Shortly after I began listening to the course, a friend told me and a few other people the story of her daughter’s difficult pregnancy. She had us on the edge of our seats and rejoicing with her in the outcome – and I realized she’d done everything right in connecting with her audience and making us feel the emotions along with her. But I wouldn’t have even noticed it was storytelling if I hadn’t been listening to this course.

Now, this material is pretty obviously applicable to my job. After all, I conduct storytimes regularly! Though I do feel strongly about reading books in those storytimes, so I’m not going to switch over to the same form of storytelling she’s talking about – but so many of the ideas and techniques are applicable.

And it’s also applicable to something I’m doing lately – going to classrooms and talking about the Newbery Medal and what it’s like to be on the committee. Listening to that is helping me to focus on connecting with the audience and telling it as a story – not just as a list of facts about the medal. I was even on a county podcast, and the interviewer asked me *why* I would want to do this, and I floundered for a bit – and then thought of a story to tell that explains it – about that moment of thinking a book is so good, I wish I could tell the whole world about it. Being on the Newbery committee, I really get to do that!

But back to this lecture series, the subtitle says “From Parents to Professionals” – the lecturer very much believes this is applicable in board rooms and living rooms both – and I have to agree with her. What’s more, the more I think about it, now that I’m aware of storytelling principles, the more opportunities I am going to find to use storytelling to communicate more effectively.

thegreatcourses.com

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

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Review of Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Pastrix

The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Jericho Books, 2013. 206 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my friends Charles and Laura who gave me this book for Christmas after convincing me to read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s next book, Accidental Saints, which was a 2017 Sonderbooks Stand-out. I already had this book checked out from the library, but it was nice to have my own copy to keep and to mark the good parts.

The book is autobiographical, telling how the author went from being an alcoholic on the road to self-destruction to become a Lutheran pastor, or pastrix, as some call her to try to insult her. She has adopted and redefined the term to mean a female ecclesiastical superhero.

She first felt called to be a pastor when she was asked to give the eulogy when a friend hung himself. She looked around and realized this:

These were my people. Giving PJ’s eulogy, I realized that perhaps I was supposed to be their pastor.

It’s not that I felt pious and nurturing. It’s that there, in that underground room filled with the smell of stale beer and bad jokes, I looked around and saw more pain and questions and loss than anyone, including myself, knew what to do with. And I saw God. God, right there with the comics standing along the wall with crossed arms, as if their snarky remarks to each other would keep those embarrassing emotions away. God, right there with the woman climbing down the stage stairs after sharing a little too much about PJ being a “hot date.” God, among the cynics and alcoholics and queers.

I am not the only one who sees the underside and God at the same time. There are lots of us, and we are at home in the biblical stories of antiheroes and people who don’t get it; beloved prostitutes and rough fishermen. How different from that cast of characters could a manic-depressive alcoholic comic be? It was here in the midst of my own community of underside dwellers that I couldn’t help but begin to see the Gospel, the life-changing reality that God is not far off, but here among the brokenness of our lives. And having seen it, I couldn’t help but point it out. For reasons I’ll never quite understand, I realized that I had been called to proclaim the Gospel from the place where I am, and proclaim where I am from the Gospel.

What had started in early sobriety as a reluctant willingness to start praying again had led to my returning to Christianity, and now had led to something even more preposterous: I was called to be a pastor to my people.

This book is about that journey, and is filled with many stories along the way of people touched by God’s grace – including herself (not in a prideful way – when she really needed it).

There’s lovely stuff here, as well as convicting stuff. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a gracious person because she doesn’t claim to have it all together, to be doing everything right, or to have the only right way to God. Her writing helps me see God’s amazing grace manifested in and displayed toward all of God’s children in all their messy glory.

sarcasticlutheran.com
jerichobooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/pastrix.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?