Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 2013 Bookshelf

Fast Food Nation: The Dark-Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

Partially read.  Okay fine 1/3 of it got read.  I just couldn't do anymore.
Here's the deal.  This book is well-written, it's not even a dry read but rather interesting but the typeface was an 8 or 9 (i.e. the print was fairly small) and the words were crammed on to the pages and the book was THICK.  When I picked it up from the library I groaned slightly because I didn't expect it to be so...big.  I understand the topic is one that, when Schlosser wrote it, wasn't widely discussed so perhaps that is the reason for the length of his book.  But since publication we've had many other books written, documentaries made, etc so I'm fairly knowledgeable on the whole topic. So when you're late to the party sometimes the party seems a little boring.  That's what happened with my reading of this book. I didn't read it when it first came out and now?  Well now it borders on slightly boring.
What I did find interesting is Schlosser's use of one particular city to draw his examples and some research from.  That would be my home city of Colorado Springs, CO.  I had no idea he used it!  What's interesting is that at the time he was doing his research. etc I was living here already so I know the places he is referring to, etc.  I also found his history lesson of Carl's Jr start-up very interesting.  He also threw in a couple of other shorter history lessons of other popular fast food chains - i.e. MickeyD's, etc.  Those were interesting to read because I have seen docu's on McDonald's and in those docu's some of what Schlosser shares in his book is not on film.  So that was interesting to perhaps get a fuller story.
Where I stopped reading and finally gave up was in the chapter "Behind the Counter".  I was having a hard time getting through the chapter because of its sheer length - I felt like I was making no headway at all - and so I flipped through the remaining novel-length chapters and decided, based on their titles, that I knew enough all these years after this book has been published that I could just give up.  So I did. But I didn't give up because I hated the book which is a first for me.  If I abandon a book it usually is because it is such an utter waste of my time.  This time I abandoned mostly because I was too late to this party.




Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Alice LaPlante's book about an Alzheimer's patient is an interesting read.  Written from the patient's POV the reader is led into a mystery that seems to be unsolvable.
Dr. Jennifer White is an orthopedic surgeon that specializes in hands and her neighbor, and friend, has been found murdered with four fingers missing off her hand.  Jennifer is the number one "person of interest" except she has Alzheimer's that is fairly advanced.  Is it possible she killed Amanda and can't remember?  Jennifer's children and live-in caretaker struggle to keep Jennifer in her home and free from police investigation as she deteriorates.  The police are convinced Jennifer isn't as progressed in her disease as she is acting.  Her children and caretaker know otherwise.  But can Jennifer remember what may have happened with Amanda?  Will she remember?  And what happens when she does?
Told in Jennifer's voice we are privvy to her disease as it ravages her mind and body and as she time travels her life.  We get a detailed glimpse into the mind of someone who has Alzheimer's and it is sad and scary to say the least.  It is clear LaPlante did her research into this disease that is no respecter of persons and steals loved ones from their families.  Weaved in this look into the mind of Jennifer as Alzheimer's steals her away LaPlante presents a mystery to be solved.  It is an intriguing premise to use Alzheimer's as an alibi.  The book is written as one long conversation that Jennifer has with the many people who communicate with her. I didn't find it hard to distinguish between her voice and others but I can see how others may.  It was a good read, very intriguing and interesting.




Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna

There's a lot to say about this book. I'm not sure where to begin or what to say.  I'm giving it five stars for a couple of reasons.  1) It totally throws the Christian who was "birthed into the church", i.e. someone just like me, for a loop because it exposes practices that the Church engages in but aren't biblical and then 2) It was well researched and it was very thorough. It fills in the gaps of Church history that I suspect aren't evident in the textbooks seminaries have their students study in their Church history classes.
Here's my story to go along with the read of this title. In mid-2010 I left traditional church. I left, originally, for one reason and I left, I thought, temporarily.  But a funny thing happened.  The longer I was away from traditional church the more I started to see how unbiblical the practices were.  How neglectful it is of God's instructions.  How stifled the body at large was.  And then I got kinda mad. I was born into the church and I love God but I certainly did not love what I was witnessing and had witnessed over the years.  As I grew in my faith I also grew in understanding of expression of faith and it wasn't all adding up. This threw my family and friends into a bit of a tailspin, one of which we are just now starting to emerge from.  It's tough to take an honest, hard, open-eyed look at the Church and its practices that you've grown up believing are biblical and realize they aren't.  And it's perhaps in some ways even tougher on those who you are in relationship with.  Shortly after my departure from traditional church I came across some home church theologians and bloggers and started reading their blogs with interest.  One of them was Frank Viola. A huge advocate for worshiping as the early church did, Viola gave me some thought provoking things to chew on during that time and since.
This book will quite possibly offend the majority of practicing Christians. To them I say this, read the book and allow the "offense".  Read the book and get rubbed the wrong way but then be brave enough to let its historical examinations challenge you in your practices.  Have we, as the Church, ever really examined why we do what we do?  What is our motivation?  What is the history that led to this practice?  etc?  The answer is no.  We blindly allow tainted Church history to tell us that a practice is Godly when in fact many of our Sunday morning traditions are rooted in pagan practice!  And yes, there is grace and God can cover what started in evil with good but why should he have to when he has given us the blueprint for worship?  Why not follow his instructions for worship rather than ask for his grace to cover something that is rooted in paganism?  It makes no sense to me the more I study.  God already showed us how to "do and have" Church!  Why do we continue to complicate it, to make it stoic, unappealing, and lacking?  But I slightly digress...
Here's the deal. I know A LOT of people who go to traditional church and love Jesus with all their hearts and I believe God honors their worship of him.  I'm just imagining how zealous they would be if they worshiped him according to his blueprint and not man-made rules and traditions! Whoa, talk about a sincere revival within the body of Christ!  But again I am beginning to digress.
Viola and Barna are not saying that people who go to traditional church are pagans, unbelievers, etc.  They are saying that as believers we should know why we do the things we do and if those things don't line up with the word of God then we should consider changing them, especially if we claim to live life "by the Word of God" or "the Book".  And what they have done in this book is gone through history and searched out the origins of particular practices that have seemingly been penciled into the Bible by the Church!  They have taken the time and effort (all of it noted in footnotes for those who want to study for themselves) to seek out answers to the things we have blindly accepted.  For those who want to allow the offense of this research to prompt lash-out and/or criticism they address common arguments for the traditional church and other topics as needed and appropriate in each chapter.
It is true that Viola attends organic church and he even addresses that "movement" in this book.  He addresses the difference between organic church and home church and traditional church and even the similarities between home church and traditional church.  I appreciated that he wasn't just pointing out the "flaws" in traditional church but in home churches as well.  As a home church participant I found his inclusion good rather than offensive.
It takes bravery to look at Church and expression of faith honestly and admit that it isn't all biblical.  It takes even more bravery to put action to what you discover.  Be brave my fellow believer, be brave.




Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

I'm working my way through some of the "classics" that for whatever reason I never read while in school.  Originally I thought this particular book had been published after my turn in elementary and middle school but alas, I was actually a mere three years old when it was released.  Perhaps it just hadn't hit it's stride with elementary school teachers during my school years.  Regardless, it's considered a "classic" and a must-read so I decided to check it off that list.  :)
It's a super simple book to read, one hour for me start to finish, that tells a good but familiar story.  It seems to me that many books centered around the time period of this one always deal with friendships and loss.  It was a popular theme for books and movies for kids for quite some time.
Jess and Leslie are an unlikely friendship.  She's a bit of a tomboy and he's a bit of not one!  But she makes him feel normal and they build a make-believe world, Terabithia, where he is King and she is Queen.  Everyone needs a friend and because of Leslie's entrance into his world Jess finally has one. The book takes us through their adventures as friends and royalty in Terabithia and just as the reader is feeling the warmth of their friendship tragedy strikes and we are left feeling bereft.
What the story of Jess and Leslie teaches the reader is that friendship is important and necessary, it's okay to use your imagination, it's okay to listen to gut instincts, loss happens in life, we can move forward after loss and still grieve.
Paterson weaved a simple and lovely story in this particular title of hers.  This is her third title that I have read, seems she must be "popular" on my list even though I didn't realize it!




Thr3e by Ted Dekker

I'm a bit behind on the Ted Dekker "craze".  He's been around for years writing bestseller books but he's not my genre...or maybe he is and I just didn't realize it! So here's my first read of any of his titles.  A friend gave me a lot of his books and I'm starting to work my way through them.
In Thr3e, main character Kevin is being stalked by an old foe.  And this foe is out to kill.  Demanding a confession of sins from Kevin this foe, Slater, sends Kevin on a wild goose chase using riddles to solve in order to save lives.  Kevin's childhood friend, Samantha, joins the drama and together she and Kevin, with the help of FBI agent Jennifer, race against Slater's demands and threats.  What unfolds is a bizarre game of cat and mouse with Kevin's life ultimately on the line. Can they, will they, capture Slater in time?
Dekker has written 35 books to date and is very popular among the Christian faith because he has been able to write clean thrillers that still engage a reader with twist and turns but doesn't employ any graphic scenes, filthy language, or sex scenes. This particular book, written in 2003, was well-written and kept me turning pages.  I read 2/3 of the book in one night and finished the rest the next morning! Dekker was able, in my opinion, to keep the plot moving and the characters developing in a forward motion that kept me interested in the outcome.  He also made it enough of a mystery that I had a hard time figuring out the exact motive, etc. I personally like that because I like to think a little bit while reading fiction.  :) So it seems that perhaps some of Dekker's books fit within a genre I like to read and we'll see what else in the stack my friend loaned me will keep my attention.

Skin by Ted Dekker

So my second read of Dekker's titles reminded me of why I most likely don't read Stephen King either.  Skin is more what I believe is King's style and that's just not my thing.  To feel disturbed and slightly sickened while reading isn't my cup of tea.  That's not to say the books that King writes aren't well-written, he's a brilliant writer, but it's just not my thing.  Skin falls into that category.  It's well-written but I felt very unsettled while reading it.
The terror takes place in a small Nevada town named Summerville.  Through a freak storm five strangers are thrown together in what turns out to be a fight for their lives.  A mysterious man named Red is killing residents of the town and will only stop when these strangers follow his commands, which include killing each other.  The problem is that the residents of the town seem to be unaware of what these five can see and experience.  Wendy, Carey, Nicole, Pinkus, and Colt struggle to try and figure out what Red really wants while trying to convince the town residents they aren't insane.  But maybe they are. Maybe they are insane and are causing the terror themselves.  As the book cover states, don't trust that what you see is what you are actually seeing.
Dekker wrote a good thriller in Skin.  While the book and its story line disturbed me I stayed up really late finishing it because I didn't think I could go to bed not knowing how the book ended and sleep without having really strange dreams! And I didn't want strange dreams. So my rating has nothing to do with the execution of the story but rather my personal feelings about it.




A Different Kind of Normal by Cathy Lamb

If you haven't read Cathy Lamb's books you need to.  She is so good.  She is one of my absolute favorites! Her books are fantastic.  Lamb writes books that deal in reality with just a bit of magic thrown in. I love her titles.
In this book we meet Jaden Bruxelle who is a single mom of Tate.  Tate's birth was traumatic for Jaden and her family, she isn't the birth mom but her drug-addicted sister, Brooke, is.  Brooke walks away from Tate and her family and Jaden at 19 years old became his Mom.  Tate, over the course of his life, has had a lot of surgeries and medical care due to a condition he was born with.  Over the 17 years he has lived so far Tate has learned how to accept his condition and help others accept it as well.  He and Jaden, his Boss Mom, are surrounded by loving and quirky family.  Jaden's mom is the eccentric Nana Bird who insists that the family history is founded in a long line of witches.  The book is written from Jaden's POV with some of Tate's thrown in.  As Tate grows older and wants to do more Jaden has a hard time letting go enough to let him be a "normal" kid.  The book is about letting go and holding on all at once. The beautiful lesson in the book is that Tate teaches us that "normal" can be different and better.
Lamb's characters are heartwarming and quirky and clever.  Her books make me wish I could write fiction but since I can't I'm really glad that people like her do!  Lamb manages to make you feel like part of the family, the characters are fleshed out enough that you almost believe they are real.  The story line is relate-able with magic thrown in. And isn't that what we want in life?  Just a little bit of magic thrown in.




Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo edited by Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick and Christina Henry de Tessan

This book caught my eye in a local used bookstore as I browsed.  It caught my eye for a couple of different reasons.  One, the cover picture.  After having traveled to Italy and Greece last year the cover picture is a familiar and pleasing one for me.  Two, I am a horrible traveler and I have a love/hate relationship with it.  Why that would prompt me to read a book about travelers I will leave up to you to analyze, I'm not entirely sure myself.  :)
This is a real-life travel guide to locations around the world told by their visitors, namely women.  The reader is given glimpses into the solo travels of women to some familiar and not-so-familiar destinations.  Through their eyes and experiences we learn about the locale but more importantly we get a glimpse into what they learned about life and themselves while traveling solo.  And their lessons can be ours - to propel us to find our own lessons or to hang on to and assimilate into our lives.
It was a lovely book full of interesting moments and people.




Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

I picked up this book on a whim off the free table at work one day.  The title, cover art, and back cover description caught my eye.  It's a YA genre but I'm not above reading YA especially since my daughters are just about there.
Told from the POV's of three main characters: Ally, Bree, and Jack the reader is introduced to the world of stargazing and eclipse chasing.  Ally and her family own, live at, and run Moon Shadow Campground.  Ally loves it there and has no plans for life to be any different.  Bree and her family couldn't be more different, they love science and she loves fashion.  She has big time plans to make her mark on the world of fashion and as no plans for life to be any different.  Jack is quiet, reserved, talented, and failed science so got stuck in summer school.  He spends his time drawing and playing Game Boy.  He doesn't fit in with any particular group at school and spends most of his time alone.  He also has no plans for life to be any different.  The three of them come together at Moon Shadow Campground where 997 other people happen to arrive as well for a total eclipse of the sun. Throw in a couple of other characters and unlikely friendships form, bonds are made, and understanding is birthed in each of our main characters.  When it all comes down to it each of our characters discovers that they are a star in their own right and all they have to do is shine.
Mass writes a good book, at least this one.  It was super easy to read and the 3 different POV's made it interesting.  That could have gone poorly but she executed those transitions and stories well.  Mass is obviously a stargazer in her real life and her knowledge of the subject is evident, although not dry (thank goodness).  It was a huge element of the story so it was important she not half-ass it but nail it.  She nailed it. This was an enjoyable book to read.  I'm glad it landed on that free table. :)




"N is for Noose" by Sue Grafton
The adventures of private investigator Kinsey Millhone continue with "n is for noose".  This time she's on the case because her on-again boyfriend can't be.  She ends up in a strange town working a strange case.  After a lot of fruitless work she'd about to give up when someone decides to send her a message to quit while she's ahead.  But Kinsey is just stubborn and fearless enough to not take the message and double her efforts.  I'll give Grafton this one for the culprit. Who I thought it was turned out in the last few pages to be wrong.  Grafton's character Kinsey is starting to develop more and I find that interesting.  She's developing her personal life more and it's a good move. I'll keep reading the series because I'm oddly sucked into it even though I consider the books to be filler between all my other reads.




Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

This is the first of any of Merullo's books that I have read and I like it.  I liked his style.  It was a super easy read despite the length.  Without realizing it I started and finished the book in less than a day!  This is a testament to Merullo's writing, he keeps the writer engaged.
Otto Ringling (no relation thankyouverymuch) embarks on a road trip to his family home in North Dakota to settle his parents estate.  Originally planning to travel with his sister, she springs on him a different plan.  He and Volya Rinpoche, his sister's guru, will travel together.  Otto protests but fails and finds himself on the road with Rinpoche.  Throughout their travels Otto is taught some life lessons by Rinpoche that at first he resists but eventually considers and even accepts. There are several moments Otto experiences and several thoughtful stretches of time that struck a chord with me, in fact I think they would with most people living in America and trapped by the busyness of life.
Merullo writes a fictional account based on a non-fiction road trip.  Very intriguing how he weaves a real life adventure into a fictional account.  His road trip was real but it seems his passenger was not.  He drew from several readings and articles for Volya's part in his trip.  Merullo introduces the reader to several key trains of thoughts in non-threatening ways.  He describes a yoga experience in detail that makes the reader, who doesn't practice yoga, want to run from it and do it all at once. Merullo writes an intriguing and thought provoking story.




The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs has written an account of his attempts to live as biblically as possible. He did this with sincerity, not to mock or expose the flaws of religion.  A self-professed agnostic Jacobs became curious about religion after realizing that it plays a big part in our cultures and lives, whether we realize it or not.  So he embarked on a quest to learn all he could about the Bible and follow it to the letter as much as possible.  He didn't anticipate the lessons he would learn and the life changes he would walk away with.
Before starting his official year (this isn't his first quest that was year long in length, he also read the Encyclopedia from A-Z over the course of a year) he studied up by reading the Bible all the way through and making plans of how to go about tackling this project.  He gathered a team of spiritual advisers (Rabbi's, a retired Lutheran Pastor, etc) and prepared his family. His wife was hoping for something a little less intrusive in their lives but what can you do?  She's a good sport, btw, a very good sport.  Jacobs wonders if by years end will he still be an agnostic, an atheist, or a believer on some level.  Time, and experiment, would literally tell.
What I appreciated about Jacobs experiment is that he wasn't mocking faith, he was earnestly seeking out what it means to believe.  He was open to understanding and learning and because of that he did in fact walk away with some life changes and a greater understanding of faith.  It also helped that Jacobs is pretty hysterical and he writes so well that he is enjoyable to read.  Not too mention some of the things he did were downright gut-busting funny and at times I was laughing so hard I was crying! There's the key for the reader.  You can't pick up this book with a critical spirit, i.e. if you are a believer of God and you pick up this book because you want to rip Jacobs to shreds for "mocking" your faith then don't even bother.  We must be willing to let go of our critical spirits, as Jacobs was willing, and take a look at the Bible through the eyes of someone who is sincerely trying to understand.  And be willing to laugh a little, sheesh loosen up.  Laughing doesn't mean you are laughing at, just laughing with.
Sometimes those who don't know any better are able to shed some light on the practices we engage in with a profound insight that we are too bound up to see for ourselves. Jacobs came up with some good points during his experiment, they were good enough in fact for me to jot down because I wanted to think about them more!  Here's the ones I jotted down because I found them to be interesting insights coming from an agnostic that is willing to change.
On atheism: "It's hard to be passionate about a lack of belief ."  (page 98) Remember, Jacobs is agnostic so he's hovering on atheism and yet, after sitting in on a meeting of atheists he sees the flaws in no belief system. Very interesting. 
On creationism: "But even more powerful is this feeling: My life is more significant.  If the earth is ten billion years old, I'm barely a drop of water in the ocean that is the universe. But if the earth is six thousand years old, then I've been alive for a decent portion of the world's existence. I'm no bit player.  I've got a speaking part in the movie of life."  (page 107)  While ultimately Jacobs (SPOILER ALERT?) does not believe in creationism he ends up seeking out the sacredness and dignity of life.  He does realize that we hold intrinsic value and we are not inconsequential. 
On choice: "....it's part of a bigger theme I've been mulling over: freedom from choice.  I'd always been taught to fetishize freedom of choice.  It's the American way....But more and more I'm starting to see the beauty in a more rigid framework.  The structure, the stable architecture of religion."  (pages 142-143) The thoughts about less choice comes from an interaction he has with one of his Rabbi friends, Jacobs goes on the share an experiment done by researchers at Columbia and Stanford about choice.  When people are given too many options they shut down or choose in limited ways.  The conclusion was that too many choices are too overwhelming.  Religion, Jacobs discovers, removes the choices that lead to being overwhelmed and provide a structure that introduces less stress in life.  
On "generational consequences": "In Deuteronomy 5:9 the Bible says, 'I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.' I used to find this an appalling sentence.  Why should God punish my grandson for my sins?  It seemed outrageously un-American.  What about everyone being entitled to a clean moral slate?  And, yes, if you interpret this as a threat that God will smite your child with leprosy when you worship a carved idol, then absolutely, it's cruel. But I've come to appreciate it.  The trick is, you have to see the passage as a warning that your moral failings will affect your kids' ability to make the right choices.  If you beat your son, he'll be more likely to beat his son." (page 145)  Well, first of all I have to say it because it's come up a couple of times - God is NOT an American. *GASP* I know.  I know you may need a few moments to soak that in and adjust to the idea that he isn't.  But he isn't and so therefore what he says and asks of us isn't going to be "american" and will most likely offend our "americaness."  Okay, moving on. This excerpt is an example of how willing Jacobs was to explore differing beliefs or thoughts than his.  It makes me ask: Am I that willing?  
On worldviews: "I can't say why for sure - maybe the Bible has seeped into my brain, maybe there's an inevitable mental shift that accompanies parenthood - but I've edged away from extreme individualism. My worldview is more interconnected, more tribal."  (page 146)  A couple of side notes on this excerpt so it makes sense. One, his reference to parenthood is because he had just been discussing parenting and the generational consequences I referenced above. And as a parent I will say that I do think parenting changes how we view and think about things. For example, I used to scoff at the notion that "it takes a village to raise a child" until I realized it really does take a village.  Secondly, in his interview with the atheist group they had admitted that atheists hold very individualistic worldviews.  His comment about moving from an individual worldview to an interconnected one links back to that particular conversation he had.  Jacobs finds that religion gives him a deeper worldview, which is important to functioning in healthy ways in this world.  
On thought life: "The interesting thing is, the less often I vocalize my negative thoughts, the fewer negative thoughts I cook up in the first place. My theory is, my thoughts are lazy. They say to themselves, 'Well, we'll never make it out into the world, so why even bother?' It's more powerful than repression. The thoughts don't even form enough to require being repressed." (page 157) I love this insight.  LOVE IT.  Nothing needs to be said about it except if we all would practice this a little more we and the people around us would be happier, we would be more content in our lives, we would have healthier relationships.  
On commandments and absolutes: "I faced one of the many cases in which two biblical commandments butted heads: The commandment to refrain from gossip and the commandment to treat my wife as I would have her treat me.  I chose the wrong one.  I should have broken the ban against negative speech.  Even absolutism must have exceptions." (page 158) Sometimes commandments butt up against one another. In this case Jacob's wife was venting and needed some understanding from him and he chose to neglect her for the sake of something else. Wrong move. (Fortunately as I have already pointed out she was a super good sport the entire year.) Jacobs is right. Even absolutes have exceptions and most often that is true in the marriage relationship. I am of the opinion that it is not gossip or even negative speech when I am sharing with my spouse about a frustration or a hurt, etc.  He is my safe place as I am his.  He gets my heart even when I don't express it well. I know of couples who won't let the other even vent to them. This, I believe, is a detriment to their relationship.  If you cannot be honest with your spouse and trust them with your transparency then you are in a heap of trouble. God gave us the marriage relationship for all levels of intimacy to be experienced. If your spouse can't get you off the path of negative speech and adds to it then that would be one thing but most often a spouse can provide us understanding and a better, clearer perspective. 
On religion: "I thought religion would make me live with my head in the clouds, but as often as not, it grounds me in this world." (page 172) Religious people aren't flighty, stupid, fanciful, etc.  People of faith are grounded, intelligent (Jacobs discusses that surprising-to-him find in another part of the book and mentions it in the video I mention below this review), etc.  In fact, I believe Jacobs discovered that being religious actually enhanced his life with many things he discovered were lacking.  He became more "centered" and grounded as a person.  
On the Bible: "More and more, I feel it's important to look at the Bible with an open heart.  If you roll up your sleeves, even the oddest passages - and the one about edible bugs qualifies - can be seen as a sign of God's mercy and compassion." (page 176) Hey folks, I didn't say it - the agnostic did.  
On misusing the Bible: "It's not a particularly offensive sermon, but I will say that it has absolutely nothing to do with the Jubilee the Bible talks about.  The Bible's Jubilee year is about forgiving debts and returning all property to the original owner, about social justice, about evening the balance between rich and poor. Falwell's was about expanding his church." (page 262) And this is a perfect example of Pastor's misusing the commands of God to serve themselves.  The is a perfect example of how each of us has a responsibility to know and study God's word for ourselves and not rely on some dude, or dudette, standing on a stage and claiming to be the voice of truth for us.  Search out truth for yourself and stand up for God's truth, if an agnostic can then surely the believer in God should be.  
On forgiveness: "....made me realize my worldview is too much about quantification.  It consists of thousands of little ledgers.  Everything - people included - comes with a list of assets and liabilities.  When I forgive, I file away the other person's wrongs for possible future use.  It's forgiveness with an asterisk....When I first read the parable of the prodigal son, I was perplexed.  I felt terrible for the older brother. The poor man put in all these years of loyal service, and his brother skips town, has a wild good time, then returns, and gets a huge feast?  It seems outrageously unfair.  But that's if you're thinking quantitatively. If you're looking at life as a balance sheet.  There's a beauty to forgiveness, especially forgiveness that goes beyond rationality.  Unconditional love is an illogical notion, but such a great and powerful one." (pages 274-275)  It takes an agnostic to point out a truth about forgiveness?  Yep, it sure does.  Raise your hand if you are like me, and like Jacobs, and practice forgiveness with an asterisk.  Oy.  I got some changing to do, how about you?   
On Someone: "....can't see me.  But maybe something can. Something is keeping track of my life, of all of our lives.  My existence is not a meaningless collection of actions, so I should take seriously every decision. I don't know what the payoff will be, if anything.  But someone is writing this all down in the Book of Life." (pages 275-276) Whether we can admit it or not, like it or not, Someone is keeping track.  This became very clear to Jacobs as he lived out his quest.  It caused him to be more thoughtful of his actions, words, choices.  
On language: "So to be totally protected, I've scrubbed up on my vocabulary. My current curse words are: fudge, sugar, and shoot. When I say one of my new curse words, Julie [his good sport wife] usually responds with something like, 'Hey, Opie!  You goin' fishin' this mornin'?' or just whistling The Andy Griffith Show theme. She can mock me, but the weird thing is, I think my G-rated language is making me a less angry person.  Because here's the way it works:  I'll get to the subway platform just as the downtown train is pulling away, and I'll start to say the F-word.  I'll remember to censor myself. So I'll turn it into 'fudge' at the last second.  When I hear myself say 'fudge' out loud, it sounds so folksy, so Jimmy Stewart-ish and amusingly dorky, that I can't help but smile.  My anger recedes. Once again, behavior shapes emotions." (page 282) There's a reason why God told us to keep our language clean and Jacobs discovers, through trial and error, why.  There's no denying that language that isn't G-rated keeps emotions, usually if not always negative emotions, at a high level. Language that is clean and lacking vulgarity transforms. 

And those are just a few of the tidbits of wisdom that Jacobs unearths in his year long quest that I also found particularly noteworthy!

All in all the book, in my opinion, deserves its five stars for Jacobs writing, his ability to see through this experiment a whole year, and his willingness to learn and expand his thoughts.  If only I had that much gumption, if only we all did.

Here's A.J. on day 1 and last day of his quest:


Here is A.J. talking a little bit about his year living biblically.




The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Well.  Alrighty then.  This book gave me strange dreams.  I am certainly glad to be done reading it, but I do not regret reading it.
Ebershoff draws inspiration from a real-life account of Brigham Young's "19th" wife, Ann Eliza Young who committed apostasy in the later 1800's by leaving Brigham Young, divorcing him, and then going across America denouncing the Mormon church practice of celestial marriage.  She also abandoned her lifelong faith in the Mormon church.  He admits in the author's notes and acknowledgments at the end of this novel that while he used her auto-biography as inspiration he had to take a few liberties in order to create the story he had envisioned.  However, he did extensive research into the topic of plural marriage and so while some of his accounts are fictionalized they are all bearing a foundation of truth.  It was a well-written, engaging, well-researched book. It kept me turning the pages and I was never bored by its narratives.
The 19th Wife takes an old story of plural marriage and meshes it with a more modern day look.  The stories come together through a back and forth narrative featuring Ann Eliza Young and Jordan Scott, whose mother has just been jailed for murdering his fundamentalist polygamist father.  Jordan himself hasn't set foot in his hometown in 6 years, he was one of the infamous "lost boys". (Btw, the mormon/fundamentalist lost boys are an actual real thing that is happening today.  I've seen a docu and my friend's church in SLC ministers to these poor boys kicked out of their homes and families, it is VERY sad.) In the 19th Wife the reader spends much more time in the 1800's learning the story of Brigham Young, the Mormon church, and the "19th" (it is actually rumored that Ann Eliza was his 52nd out of 55th wife) wife.  Plural marriage is nothing, after all, but church sanctioned adultery meant to manipulate wives into allowing their husbands to indulge their flesh, not concerning themselves with lack of self-discipline, and be extremely neglectful of the hoards of children produced by these unholy unions.  In many cases, put to the law you will find severe cases of rape and incest.  It's disgusting.  And it's disgusting that it is still happening in pockets of America today, not too mention the very public one that we have made aware of through TLC's "Sister Wives".  Anywho, my passionate feelings on the topic cause me to digress (and perhaps you know now why I was having strange, and bad, dreams).  As Jordan tried to search out truth in strange Mesadale the reader is taken back in time to discover the first roots of celestial marriage and why it still exists today in factions.
The 19th Wife is a fascinating, if not disturbing, look at the history of the Mormon church and how it has all shaken out today through a fictionalized story. It's the part of the early Mormon church that they like to sweep under the rug and forget about but things keep coming back up.




A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi

A true life account of a love story that unfolded in Venice, Italy between an American and an Venetian.  Marlena De Blasi writes the story of her and her love's journey in this enchanting little book that may also begin the reader on a love affair with food as well as the idea of love itself.  De Blasi is a chef and speaks love through the taste buds.  The book caught my eye after I had visited Italy, and Venice, in 2012. I didn't get to spend a lot of time in Venice so I was curious to read an account of someone who had spent significant time there.
As a journalist and chef De Blasi was traveling Italy on assignment and was sent to Venice in the late 80's.  Her love of the city began with that trip and several years later on a return trip she caught the eye of "the stranger", Fernando, and he pursued her until she returned the affection (which truth be told didn't take too much pursuing!).  Through a whirlwind romance she moved her life from America to Venice to live with this man she barely knew yet knew.  The book chronicles their story from beginning until the next adventure awaits them in Tuscany.  De Blasi wrote a follow up book called, "A Thousand Days in Tuscany" which continues their enchanting love tale.
De Blasi writes well, she is full of descriptives and her narration is just right for my tastes, not too much detail and not too little detail. Her inclusion of food made my mouth water the entire way through the book and also made me miss the fresh flavors and foods of Italy.  She also demystifies Venice for the reader some but I didn't mind that, it's nice to know it isn't all roses and violins.  Venice is a city just like any, with residents who have lived there forever and find no romance in its watery streets, her Fernando was one of those residents. She was able to show him some lovely things about his own place of birth and he was able to help her walk through the realities of living as an American in a foreign, to her, country.  Their love story is special but also full of reality, which shouldn't all be that way?  



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