Sunday, March 18, 2018

Walking (Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown)

This is the second time I have read this book, and I thought I had already reviewed it. However, I did not, and that may be a good situation. The first time I read this book, I read it as a novel directly after reading a fabulously well-written story. Bad spot to be in. Even when one brings her 'A' moves, if the one that came before was an A+, it's difficult to be valued for what you at number two brought to the game. The irony is that I do not remember the title or story of the book I read before this one. I do remember Sensible Shoes which made it all the more annoying when a friend kept asking me if I had heard of, bought, read this book. I told her three different times over the course of six months that I had. I finally decided to pick the book back up and read it again.

I'm glad I did. This time I read the book for what it is: a well-written story about walking through the spiritual journey of four women. Although as this same friend above also keeps saying, "It's not just a woman's book." Indeed, the stories of trying to be perfect, trying to help everyone, trying to escape our pasts, trying to navigate the storms of life apply to male and female alike.

I knew the first time around that the book was filled with a great deal of wisdom (from which I gained insight and changes), but the second time around I was surprised by how my opinion changed about the literary quality. Brown writes well. What takes getting accustomed to is reading a book of wisdom directly addressing spiritual journeys written in the form of a novel. Once I stopped attempting to pin the book down to a specific category, I could relate -- haha, I started to write "relax" and autocorrect popped up with "relate" so, yes, I could not only relate to the book, learn from the book, but also enjoy the literary quality of the book.

On the spiritual side, Brown does a great job of diffusing common misunderstandings about Christian spiritual formation practices, mostly through Charissa, a young married woman who is working on her Ph.D. in English literature. Charissa is caught between wanting an A (make that A+) from her professor and partaking in some unorthodox (to her) practice where she can't just check off her good behaviors on a checklist.

I gained even more insight and transforming changes -- drawing even more deeply into relationship with God -- with this second read.


Parents (of the four main characters) do not not come off too well in this book. I just now realized this.  That's a bit sad since this story development makes it seem as if parents totally mess up our lives and they're the reason we need transformation. Even the most wonderful parent in the world can not raise a child who never grows up needing to do some changing to grow! With that flaw in the story addressed, let's just say that one can learn what direction NOT to go from the parents in this book. (And, yes, sometimes our parents did cause issues just as we did or will cause in our children's lives. It would help our children tremendously if we could heal the hurts and avoid bending in the same direction as the parents in this novel or our own parents if that is the case.)


As mentioned above, this novel involves spiritual practices, and there are many from which to choose which makes this a book worth buying. I'll come back to it time and again as I would never attempt everything at once. One practice I've looked at before in my life, but came back to again this time, was how I view God. How one views God will drive my entire reading of the Bible and every aspect where God is mentioned to me, discussed with me, etc. One practice that came to my mind two Mother's Days ago happened because I was reading 1 Corinthians 13. Yeah, that chapter. The chapter read so often at wedding ceremonies instructing the couple to live this chapter out. I realized God has this love! With that in mind, whenever I read the Old or New Testament; whenever I or someone else is discussing God, if the picture of God that comes out of that reading or that discussion does not fit 1 Corinthians 13, I explore what is going on in my head. Where is my picture of God coming from? 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Transitioning (We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh)

Here's the argument I have been having with myself concerning this book: Is this simply a "beach read" or is it something more?

A "beach read" book can be read without thinking while basking in the sun, and the reader can count on a happy ending. Right now I have a particular friend in mind as I picture her squirming and my imagination hears her saying, "Don't do it. Don't you dig deep and make the ending anything but happy!"

Can I at least dig deep and tell you that you can still have your happy ending?

Here's something else about beach read books: they're predictable in that bad situations do not remain bad situations. The heroine Letty, who many Goodreads reviewers can't stand, has good people help her...and good people who have to admit that they are at least partly responsible for her dysfunctional life. In this novel, enormously stupid mistakes do not end in disaster, but then again, they don't end as though they never happened.

I was ready to label the book as a feel good book just because Letty and her son Alex are helped out of their messes. Then, I wondered at why I thought tragedy is more real than goodness. I know people like Letty. I want to help them out the way Letty's coworker, Rick, does and to be cautious about helping out the way that Letty's mom does (a mom with good intentions). I also know someone like Rick. She is a bartender; she knows how to cook; she has resources the way that Rick does. It would be easy to comment that wealthy people help Letty out, but then that means the reader has forgotten that poor people helped Letty out in the beginning of the novel. What if the goodness shown in this book is what reality truly can look like?

My friend, mentioned in paragraph two, can stop reading here so that we can stay friends. While I'm glad that the social issue of immigration is brought to our attention in this book, I have issues with a person with physical challenges being used to bring about growth in a main character. While Yesenia is more developed than characters like her used to be in novels; still...well, I can't say more without including some spoilers.

For those interested in the Enneagram, I find thinking about the Enneagram numbers of these characters intriguing. Letty's mom provides a good view of what helping (Enneagram #2) gone wrong looks like while Rick is a solid view of what good helping looks like. Alex tries to be a reformer, and just like an Enneagram #1 gone overboard, he makes a mess of things.

I chose "Transitioning" for the title of this review rather than "Grounding and Flying" or "Planting and Flying." Planting and Flying tying into the idea of the two characteristics our children need: roots and wings. Frankly, I'm not sure anyone has been given roots at the beginning of this novel. However,  transitions are plentiful in this novel. How we react to transitions directs our stories.

So many lessons can be gleaned from this novel. The challenge is not to swing far over to one side or the other -- being neither a "helicopter" parent constantly hovering nor being a military general to avoid having a child like Luna! Finding out what drives our children and encouraging them while helping them avoid the pitfalls. Is he a reformer? Is she a helper? Is he a performer? Is she an artist? Is he a researcher? Etc. (And, of course, switch the pronouns as needed.)

So many opportunities for social justice exist, I won't single out one. A good practice is to find what one is passionate about and get involved. It's also good to realize a person can not help out with everything. Be patient and loving with people who do not get on the same social justice train that you do. Let's support each other in the best way that we can, and know that it takes all of us to work on the parts that we can to fight against all the social injustice that occurs in the world today.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Keeping and Caring -- (Soul Keeping by John Ortberg)

The amount of days I spent reading this book neither indicates a massive size book nor an obtuse vocabulary. It is only 194 pages long, and the vocabulary is accessible (a well-used sentence in the book is "Huh?" in response to some weighty thought put forward by Dallas Willard).

In 2013 when Ortberg stepped in for Dallas, when Dallas's illness kept him from delivering the morning conference session, I heard Ortberg say, "I do Dallas for Dummies," not implying that we were dummies but referring to a set of books that turn scholarly topics into everyday language (Web Application Security for Dummies; Water Treatment for Dummies, etc.). 

So consider this a book on soul keeping in everyday language. It took me two and a half months to read because mostly I read this book in the evening right before I fell asleep. I'm not sure if that led to a disjointed feel to it or reading it while I was sleepy or the fact that I had been taught much of the material in the book. For someone who has never heard or read the teachings in this book, you are in for a life changing read as Ortberg writes so well of "What the Soul Is," "What the Soul Needs," and "The Soul Restored."

In the middle of the book, I might have given the book 3 out of 5 stars, even knowing how important the topic of the book is. However, by the time I reached "The Soul Needs Blessing" and "The Soul Needs Satisfaction," I revised that rating to 4 stars. This is the type of book I'm glad I own because I will keep coming back to it, knowing that I can get a refresher read in easily accessible language and thought.


This section after the line of hearts is my "Regrets that I have which I hope will encourage both myself and the reader to choose differently, knowing that we all will have regrets, but still knowing that maybe we can learn from each other's regrets."

Dallas Willard was asked if he regretted anything. He replied, "I regret the time I have wasted." To which Ortberg responds: "Huh? If there is any human being on the planet who has not wasted time, it is Dallas. I don't think he'd know what a television was if one hit him on the head...But I think, maybe, this time I know what he means...The reason our souls hunger so is that the life we could be living so far exceeds our strangest dreams...I watched him and thought of what a redeemed soul can be:
* To be able to say yes or no without anxiety or duplicity
* To speak with confidence and honesty
* To be willing to disappoint anybody, yet ready to bless everybody
* To have a mind filled with more noble thoughts than could ever be spoken
* To share without thinking
* To see without judging
* To be so genuinely humble that each person I see would be an object of wonder
* To love God" (190-191).

This section after the dotted line is my "spiritual formation practices" -- This book is filled with lots of great ideas to practice. I chose this one from page 166 as Ortberg quotes Dallas Willard:
"If you want to really experience the flow of love as never before, the next time you are in a competitive situation [around work or relationship or whose kids are the highest achieving or looks or whatever], pray that the others around you will be more outstanding, more praised, and more used of God than yourself. Really pull for them and rejoice in their success. If Christians were universally to do this for each other, the earth would soon be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God." 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Reading (The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George)

I love Instagram pictures of books, particularly the ones on white bedspreads. I love them, but it's not my reality. This is how reading on my bed looks like:

And, heavens, I could never add a cup of coffee to this mix! I'd have coffee everywhere!

I have been tempted to not rate this book, but then folks would think it is worth no stars (and some people would think that it needs to go into the trash for reasons I will explain). However, I decided to take the middle of the road path with 3 stars. Those who love this book are shocked, I'm sure. And, my readers will say, "How could you give your friend's book 4 stars and this book only 3 stars?" Um, she's my friend. More than that, my giving this book 3 stars will not hurt its sales. It's a best seller in a number of countries so let me delve into the whys and wherefores of my rating for The Little Paris Bookshop.

During chapters 1-7, I was in love. Monsieur Perdu, the main character, prescribes books for what ails one. Swoon! Such eloquent language, a mystery, books, what's not to like? Then, I felt like I was in a peep show, mostly an amazingly written, sensual peep show, which is why some readers will go out and immediately get the book, and others will think the book needs to be burned. Few readers sit on the fence with such scenes in books. Here's my take on it: I prefer my authors to read the Old Testament "Song of Solomon" twenty times and then write their sensual scene. I like discretion and in the elegance, don't allow common coarse words to pop in.

It's hard to tell with translations. Is the translator the elegant writer or the author? I was surprised to find out the author was German (I blame that bias on a stoic German neighbor). I was sure that she was French. Is the translator or the author to blame for putting one or two common coarse words in the midst of the elegance? Just as there are grades of coarse for sandpaper, so too, there are grades for words. These were not the coarsest of the lot but just enough to jar the flow of reading.

I did continue reading and two main characters left Paris! Perdu left someone I thought was a person of interest! I didn't mind traveling with Perdu and Max through the French countryside on Perdu's Literary Apothecary bookshop barge, but as another friend who read this book mentioned, the story begins to meander. This novel reminds me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (fictional pilgrimage through English countryside) and two other international books A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman and The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer.

The novel is also reminiscent of another river story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain, however, does a better job of piecing his adventures together. That is perhaps unfair to compare George with Twain (Samuel Clemens) since this is George's second book; still, I think it will give the reader a clearer picture of the story.

Another peeve of mine is the interruption of the story line with chapters from other characters. For the first time, I noticed that the "voice" of the writing did not change with the character change. Perdu's beautiful thinking continued when the novel switched to Manon! I've never noticed that before in a novel. Perhaps I've never noticed because the writing was so-so whereas the style is noticeable from the beginning of The Little Paris Bookshop. So to have Manon's voice sound the same as Perdu's voice unsettled the flow of my reading. Later in the book, Manon's journal does not sound so flawless. Then, again, Perdu's voice becomes more plain as well. Again, is that the author or the translator or the fact of what Perdu and Manon are going through?

Parts of this book shine out for me, the mystery, the heartbreak, the books, the relationships: definitely worth between a 3 and a 4 rating.


One of the things I do NOT regret is reading to my children. Just this past week, a friend in a poetry group passed out bookmarks printed with the following poem:

"The Reading Mother"

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a mother who read me tales
Of Gelet the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings --
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I, you can never be --
I had a mother who read to me.

Strickland Gillilan

Almost every spiritual formation plan includes reading scriptures every day. Here is a practice that may be new to the reader. Decide on one of the gospels of Jesus and read it straight through (or as close as possible for new parents). Mark is the shortest in case that helps! Something a young parent has now that I did not: the bible on a phone app. It is possible to get one of the gospels on the phone app (in anyone of the many versions) and read in those moments when you are holding the baby and can't set him or her down because then the child will wake up. Sneak in an uninterrupted few moments of just enjoying the Jesus story without studying it, without making notes, just letting being around Jesus sink in. Read with the eyes of love that Jesus has for you.


NOTE: I finally added a partial list of the gift books shown in the post "Gift Books on the Top Middle Shelf..." See the comment section on that same post linked here.