Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Review of Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve

What the Numbers Reveal about the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing

by Ben Blatt

Simon & Schuster, 2017. 271 pages.

In the final paragraph of this book, Ben Blatt tells us:

The written word and the world of numbers should not be kept apart. It’s possible to be a lover of both. Through the union of writing and math there is so much to learn about the books we love and the writers we admire. And by looking at the patterns, we can appreciate that beautiful moment where the pattern breaks, and where a brilliant new idea bursts into the world.

Anyone who reads that paragraph and knows anything about me will understand that I loved this book. It’s a big data approach to literature, a statistical look at good books.

Seriously, what the author did here was take a huge amount of digitized texts from the classics (award-winning books or books on “best” lists) and from bestsellers and (for comparison) from fan fiction. Then he ran the numbers, asking a wide variety of questions. And discovered some fascinating things.

Do great writers actually use fewer -ly adverbs? Can you tell the difference between books written by women and books written by men simply by the words used? Can you figure out who really wrote a book, the big-name author or the coauthor? Do people follow their own advice (such as leaving out exclamation points and getting rid of “very”)? Are bestsellers getting dumber? Do Americans write “louder” fiction than British writers? Who uses the most cliches? And the one hinted at in the title: What are a writer’s favorite words?

You can probably learn something about what makes good writing from these insights, but mostly they’re just a lot of fun to think about. Who knew, for example, that Danielle Steel has begun 46% of her books with a sentence that refers to the weather? Or that Neil Gaiman’s favorite word is “unimpressed”? But that wouldn’wwwt have made as good a title.

SimonandSchuster.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/nabokovs_favorite_word_is_mauve.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 A Message of Hope from the Angels, by Lorna Byrne

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

A Message of Hope from the Angels

by Lorna Byrne

Atria, 2012. 183 pages.
Starred Review

After I read Lorna Byrne’s biography, Angels in My Hair, about how she has been able to see angels all her life, I liked it so much, I ordered two more of her books from Amazon.

This one isn’t autobiographical, but it passes on to the reader things angels have told her. And yes, this book is especially about Hope.

Here’s a section from the first chapter:

Hope brings a community together to make things better, and when it does, I see people get brighter, shine more, and then they can go on to achieve greater things. People who believe things can be changed for the better are beacons of light for us – and need to be supported.

Hope can be given to others. It gives strength and courage, and then hope grows. We all have a part to play in growing hope. In the past, people looked to leaders of churches, communities, businesses, countries to provide a vision of hope for the future, but now many of our leaders are struggling. They are failing to see all the ways in which we can make our world a better place to live.

The angels have told me so much about hope and how much we have to be hopeful about, and have showed me so many different ways in which they help to give us hope.

When I reread that section, I thought, “No wonder this book uplifted me so much!” She covers many different things in this book, but the overall message is that we are loved unconditionally, and there are angels all around us, ready to help.

I’ll quote from a few sections that especially struck me.

One section I liked was where she talked about teacher angels.

Sometimes, on a sunny day, walking through the grounds of the university near where I live, I see students sitting on stone seats opposite the library or sitting on the grass studying, and I see teacher angels with some of them.

Teacher angels always seem to be holding something – a symbol of learning that is relevant to whatever they are teaching. Sometimes they are holding a book or a pointer or a board with writing on it with the words constantly changing. I once saw a bricklayer’s apprentice with a teacher angel who had a trowel in his hand. Teacher angels exhibit the mannerisms we associate with teachers.

I have often seen a teacher angel standing in front of a student, book in hand. The book would look similar to the one the student was working with and seem to be open at the same page. Occasionally I see the teacher angel turn to another page and I smile, knowing that the teacher angel is having difficulty with his student, who is finding it hard to make progress. I have seen teacher angels gently stretch out their hands and touch a student gently on the head with one finger, trying to get the student’s attention. Most of the time this seems to work, but sometimes not. Teacher angels never give up, though, and never lose their patience. I have seen teacher angels blowing on a student’s book and making the page turn, or causing a strong breeze, which blows some of the student’s books and pens onto the ground. That is the teacher angel trying to bring the student’s attention to a particular page or subject, or to simply stop them daydreaming. Teacher angels work very hard to get their students’ attention.

I am always amazed at how few people have teacher angels. After all, all they have to do is ask their guardian angel for help with whatever they are learning and their guardian angel will invite a teacher angel in. In the college I know best, only about one student in ten has a teacher angel with them.

This bit encouraged me in thinking about my many Empty Nester friends:

You can also ask for a teacher angel to help someone else. Just ask your guardian angel for a teacher angel to help the person. Many parents have told me that they have asked for a teacher angel to help their children with their studying – this is so much better than fretting and worrying.

Another special angel she talks about is the Angel of Strength:

When you are exhausted or feeling physically challenged by a task, you can call on the Angel of Strength and ask for his help. He is one angel, but he seems to be able to help many people at the same time. He won’t stay with you, but will come and help you for that particular task where strength is needed.

She concludes the chapter about the various types of help she’s seen angels give with this reflection:

Angels are such a sign of hope. There is always an angel that can help us, regardless of what is going on in our lives. All we have to do is ask. You don’t need to know what angel to ask for; just ask, and your guardian angel will call in the help you need. Isn’t it wonderful to know that there is such an abundance of help there? To me it seems so strange, and sad, that so many people don’t make use of this gift.

I loved the chapter about prayer angels. Here are some sections from it:

I talk and ask the angels to help; I ask the angels to intercede, but I don’t pray to them. I pray only to God. Prayer is direct communication with God.

No one ever prays alone. When you pray to God, there is a multitude of angels of prayer there, praying with you, regardless of your religious faith or how you are behaving. They are there enhancing your prayer, interceding on your behalf and imploring God to grant your prayer. Every time you pray, even if it is only one word, the angels of prayer are like a never-ending stream flowing at tremendous speed to Heaven with your prayers….

I know it’s hard to believe that I see hundreds of thousands of angels of prayer flowing like a river toward Heaven, bringing a person’s prayers and presenting them at the throne of God. But that is what I am shown; it’s as if angels of prayer bring every bit of the prayer – every syllable that is prayed for – up to Heaven. When the person stops praying, the flow stops, but as soon as the person starts to pray again, the stream of angels of prayer resumes.

I loved this part, too:

Every time I go into a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple – or any other holy place – I see hundreds of angels praying, quite aside and separate from any angel of prayer. It doesn’t matter what religion the place belongs to – if any. Whether it’s a building or a space outside, even if the place is no longer being used for prayer, it is still a holy place, and there will be angels there, praying to God.

She talks about a lot of things I’d certainly never thought about this way, but that actually make sense put this way, and encourage me to have confirmation that such things exist and someone has seen them. The grace of healing is one of these.

Each and every one of us has the grace of healing within us – and it is a wonderful gift God has given us. I see it at work every day. It’s beautiful when I see a mother or father holding a child in their arms and comforting them. The child might have a physical hurt, like a scratched knee, or an emotional hurt like sadness, but the parent, usually unbeknown to himself or herself, is pouring out the grace of healing. It is wonderful to see the grace of healing flow from the parent to the child and to see the child stop crying and go back to playing happily.

There was a whole chapter about angels encouraging us to enjoy life.

I’ve said elsewhere that I hate the question, “What is my destiny?” It seems to imply that life is about one or a few big tasks or goals. My understanding from God and the angels is that each and every one of our destinies is to live life to the fullest. This means living every minute of every day to the fullest and trying to be aware and conscious of every moment and, where possible, to enjoy them all. Your life is today. It’s not yesterday or tomorrow. It’s now. This moment….

In seeing beauty around you, you will appreciate life more, and recognize more the beauty that is within yourself. Appreciating beauty helps you to slow down, and the more beauty you notice, the more beauty you will see. Much of the time we just don’t notice what is around us. We are lost in our thoughts or fail to give any importance or value to the idea of seeing beauty.

Yet another beautiful chapter is called “No one dies alone.” She’s had experiences with seeing people die – and she sees those souls gently being held by their guardian angel and surrounded by other angels, and surrounded by love.

I can go on, and it’s tempting to talk about every single chapter. But this gives you the idea. Lorna Byrne’s words are inspiring and uplifting.

The American edition (which I read) has an appendix at the back with a particular message of hope for America. However, it made me a little sad. This edition was published in 2012, long before the election of our current president. It tells how she sees special gathering angels, gathering people from all over the world, sending them to America. She says that she’s been told that America has a special purpose.

We need to start to pray together. I have been told that praying together is the cornerstone of creating a peaceful world. For far too long religious differences have been a cause of discord and war. Ordinary Americans praying together will allow people of different religions to get to know and understand each other. It will help them to lose their fear of one another, to see just how much they have in common, and to become friends.

I have been told that the first place that big numbers of people of different religions will start praying together regularly is America. This is one of the reasons that the American gathering angels have been bringing people of all religions to this country. It is a part of America’s destiny to help bring all religions together. America will serve as a role model: a beacon of hope for the world. From America this form of praying together will spread across the world, helping to unify peoples and to build world peace.

You can see why this discouraged me in our current climate. However, the chapter does continue with stories of seeing the Angel of Hope working extra diligently in America. I’m going to choose hope and choose to believe that in the big picture, people will listen to God through His angels and forces of good will win out.

And I can’t think of a better way to bolster hope than to read this book.

lornabyrne.com
SimonandSchuster.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 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Dear Fahrenheit 451, by Annie Spence

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life

by Annie Spence

Flatiron Books, 2017. 244 pages.
Starred Review

Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You know I have to start my review emulating you, but of course you realize that I won’t do as good a job with it as you did. So basically, you’re giving me a sense of inferiority right from the start. I should probably hate you for that, but instead I feel all fangirly, impressed with your wit and cleverness and knowledge of books.

You asked me (“Dear Reader”) in your last letter a few questions, so the least I can do is continue the correspondence.

Did you make me want to reread a book I broke up with long ago? Well, is it fair to answer that you made me want to watch a movie again? One of my favorite parts in here was your letter to the library in Beauty and the Beast. I love when your author admits: “But the main reason she’s my favorite is you, Library. You’re so golden and glorious, towering over everyone with your endless rows of books. To be Belle for a day!” Oh yes!

But alas! I must admit that your author revealed, in many times and in many ways, that her taste is quite different from mine. Most notable was her letter to The Hobbit, where she explained “We just want different things.” Kind of mind-blowing to reject The Hobbit! But in a backhanded way, yes, that made me want to reread that wonderful book. (Oh! And The Time Traveler’s Wife! Yes, I want to reread that now.)

Did I keep notes of all the reading you suggested and now have a gabazillion books on your list? Well, I did put a couple of books on hold. And checked out Nikki Giovanni’s Love Poems (Wow!). But, see above, I discovered your literary taste is somewhat divergent from mine. Nothing personal. We just want different things. On top of that, I’m about to commence a year of reading children’s books for the Newbery Medal, so I’m trying to pare down my other-books-I-want-to-read list. I honestly don’t have time to let you distract me.

Do I want to know where I can get a copy of The One-Hour Orgasm? No, I do not. But your writing about the things you find on the public library shelves, and the books that need to move on, made me laugh out loud with recognition.

Ah, this perhaps explains why, despite my negative answers to your queries, I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. You reveal your author’s passion for books and let me enjoy her witty book references, clever book flirtations, and observations from a Library Insider.

And I have to say, I soooo agree with you about The Giving Tree! Your author gave it to a boy she loved in high school. I gave it to a boy I loved in college – and married him. As you say, “Do you want to guess how that went, Giving Tree? Want to guess who was the tired old stump at the end of that book?” Would you believe that I actually burned the copy I gave him? You are spot on correct about that one, Dear Fahrenheit 451.

I will make a confession: You were on hold for another reader – and I didn’t turn you back in right away! (I know, shocking behavior in a librarian!) Although I check out far more books than I can ever read, turning in books that someone else wants is something I faithfully do. But I was more than halfway through reading you, and you were just plain fun! So I selfishly kept your company for myself.

And I would very much like to quote you from so many different places. The clever letters of love and of good-by. And the handy-dandy reading lists at the end. So very much fun to read, whether I take the recommendations or not, honestly.

But, as I said, I didn’t turn you in immediately when I should have, and I’m feeling guilty about that. I need to finish this review and send you on to the next reader. But first I will say that anyone who loves books or reading or libraries will find something to love about you.

With Much Affection,

Sondy

flatironbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/dear_fahrenheit_451.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 Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, by Ada Calhoun

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give

by Ada Calhoun

W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 192 pages.
Starred Review

Maybe I shouldn’t have picked up this book. My own marriage ended badly. I tried hard to keep it from falling apart, but finally figured out that if one party really wants to get out, one person can’t knit it back together by themselves. Now I’d like to get married again – and this book reminds me of that. It also reminds me that I don’t actually want some nice man to get divorced just so he’ll be available! I don’t actually want the sort of man who doesn’t try hard to stay in his marriage. And I don’t wish divorce on anyone. So in a way, thinking about what makes a marriage isn’t necessarily a place I should go right now!

But – the book was so much fun! And really does speak truth. Though I agree with the author that you wouldn’t necessarily want to point out these truths at the wedding of a dewy-eyed bride and groom. They’ll find out soon enough.

Here’s how she explains the book in the Introduction:

Now in the second decade of my second marriage, I can’t look newlyweds in the eye and promise they’ll never regret marrying. (Well, not sober. Maybe this is why weddings correlate with binge drinking.) I adore my husband and plan to be with him forever. I also want to run screaming from the house because the person I promised to love all the days of my life insists on falling asleep to Frasier reruns.

“The first twenty years are the hardest,” an older woman once told me. At the time I thought she was joking. She was not.

And this is why I don’t give wedding toasts – because I’d probably end up saying that even good marriages sometimes involve flinging a remote control at the wall.

She’s got some good insights.

The main problem with marriage may be that it’s not better than the rest of life. Suffering occurs in marriage because we think it will be different – purer, deeper, gentler – than other relationships. We expect our partners and ourselves to be better – more patient, more faithful, more generous – than we are. We believe ourselves exceptional, first in the depth of our passion and then in the breadth of our failure.

I like this take on it:

By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being – what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.

But most of the book isn’t just musings. It’s also stories – stories from her own married life. And these stories do lead to musings, and truths, and some good thoughts about what marriage has to offer these days. She doesn’t offer a particularly religious perspective, so I wasn’t sure I’d really think I’d find them applicable – but she does offer a practical perspective. What does marriage do for you? This is worth thinking about, and she approaches it in a humorous way.

She finishes the Introduction this way:

Such are the thoughts I keep to myself, sitting in rented folding chairs, watching friends begin their married lives. To the newlyweds, I say congratulations, and I mean it sincerely. To say out loud the rest of what I’m thinking would be bad manners. And so I’ll say it here instead.

wwnorton.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.

What did you think of this book?

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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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 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.

What did you think of this book?

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

regentpublishing.com

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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 Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

men_explain_things_to_me_largeMen Explain Things to Me

by Rebecca Solnit

Dispatch Books, Haymarket Books, Chicago, Illinois, 2014. 130 pages.
Starred Review

I’m afraid most intelligent women need to hear nothing more than the title of this book to give a knowing smile. Rebecca Solnit starts the essay with a particularly stunning example of a man who knew nothing about a topic Rebecca had written a book about, trying to explain things to her. He even mentioned an “important book” she should have read, which it turned out he had not actually read but had read about in the New York Times Book Review. This was the book she had written.

I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.

Yes, people of both genders pop up at events and hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

Now, she does make clear that she’s not talking about all men, nor even the majority of men. But there are men out there who don’t respect women’s knowledge or opinions and feel they automatically have more important things to say. My first Master’s degree was in mathematics, and I always felt like I had to prove myself. And always, I must admit, took great delight in getting higher scores than my male classmates on math tests – which was more about me than about them. But where did I get the idea I had to prove myself?

The rest of the essays in this book talk about other ways women are silenced and marginalized. There’s also some discussion about marriage equality in that context.

The phrase [“marriage equality”] is ordinarily employed to mean that same-sex couples will have the rights different-sexed couples do. But it could also mean that marriage is between equals. That’s not what traditional marriage was. Throughout much of its history in the West, the laws defining marriage made the husband essentially an owner and the wife a possession. Or the man a boss and the woman a servant or slave.

Another essay is about a powerful international figure who raped a hotel maid in his luxury suite – and how that can be a metaphor for many things.

The opening essay begins with what is really a humorous scene. But this is not a humorous book. Overall, it’s about feminism and how we’ve made progress, but there is still progress that needs to be made.

Rebecca Solnit will make you think and consider and speak.

rebeccasolnit.net
TomDispatch.com
haymarketbooks.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 Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life, by Harold S. Kushner

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

9_essential_things_largeNine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life

by Harold S. Kushner

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 169 pages.
Starred Review
2015 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Other Nonfiction

The wise rabbi who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People is 80 years old, and he has some wisdom to share with the world.

Even though I’m not Jewish, I can see the deep wisdom in most of the “essential things” Rabbi Kushner talks about. I have a few minor disagreements with some theological points. (Most notable is that I do think thoughts can be sinful even without actions. What does he do with the commandment “Thou shalt not covet”?) But overall, I find myself filling this book with post-it notes marking outstanding quotes. May we benefit from his years of experience and his wisdom.

In the first chapter, he talks about the influences that shaped and changed his view of God from the theology he was taught as a child.

More than anything else, my half century of congregational service and my dozen or so books have been dedicated to reformulating that traditional theology. I’ve done this not to protect God from bad theologians and people’s righteous anger, but to rescue people who need God from having to choose between a cruel God and no God at all.

An idea I liked very much indeed was found in the second chapter, “God Is Not a Man Who Lives in the Sky.” It is that when someone tells you he is an atheist, you can respond, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in; maybe I don’t believe in him either.”

He talks about many versions of God which he doesn’t believe in and concludes that chapter:

The God I believe in is under no obligation to be the kind of God we would like Him to be, or even the kind of God we need Him to be. Begging Him, bargaining with Him, even living by His mandates will not cause the rain to fall and give us an abundant harvest, nor will it cure our disease or help us win the lottery. God’s role is not to make our lives easier, to make the hard things go away, or to do them for us. God’s role is to give us the vision to know what we need to do, to bless us with the qualities of soul that we will need in order to do them ourselves, no matter how hard they may be, and to accompany us on that journey.

The remaining chapter titles will give you an idea of the topics covered in the other Essential Things: “God Does Not Send the Problem; God Sends Us the Strength to Deal with the Problem,” “Forgiveness Is a Favor You Do Yourself,” “Some Things Are Just Wrong: Knowing That Makes Us Human,” “Religion Is What You Do, Not What You Believe,” “Leave Room for Doubt and Anger in Your Religious Outlook,” “To Feel Better About Yourself, Find Someone to Help,” and “Give God the Benefit of the Doubt.”

Check Sonderquotes for some bits of wisdom. If you like what you read, I do recommend this book. Read one Essential Thing each morning, and you’ll be uplifted, encouraged, and motivated.

Rabbi Kushner closes with “A Love Letter to a World That May or May Not Deserve It,” which is simply beautiful. The first paragraph talks about all he and the world have been through together. Then he says:

But with it all, I choose to love you. I love you, whether you deserve it or not (and how does one measure that?). I love you in part because you are the only world I have. I love you because I like who I am better when I do. But mostly I love you because loving you makes it easier for me to be grateful for today and hopeful about tomorrow. Love does that.

There. Simply typing that out made my day suddenly much better. Rabbi Kushner is right. And there are many more wise gems where that came from.

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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?