Books: Call the Midwife

October 2, 2016

Tomorrow is our monthly book club meeting, and I just realized I had not written a post on last month’s book, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. It’s not a book I would have thought of reading otherwise (mostly as I hadn’t heard of it before), but it was an enjoyable and fascinating read.

It is a view not only into the world of midwifery, but also into the lives of people living in postwar London Docklands. Worth recounts the stories of a wide variety of people, both the nuns (she lives and works at the convent of St. Raymund Nonnatus) and the women they serve and their families. There are a number of memorable characters, especially Conchita Warren and her very large family.

It is also a view into a historical era that exists now only in books and in memories. The slums have since been torn down and families moved elsewhere, ending a way of life that was very hard but that had its positive aspects also. The practice of medicine has changed a great deal since then also, so some of the practices of the midwives in the book seem strange to us in the 21st century. (I had never heard of boiling urine before, to test for pre-eclampsia.) Read the rest of this entry »

Books: I Am Malala

October 1, 2016

The 2016 Reading Challenge I have been working on includes reading a political memoir. Several times I browsed the Biography shelves at the library, trying to find one that looked at least half-way interesting – and preferably fairly short. But all the volumes I saw with names I recognized from the political area looked quite hefty, and I found it unlikely that they had that much to say that would interest me. Looking through some online book reviews confirmed my suspicion that books of this genre tend to have little value or lasting appeal.

Fortunately I discovered that the same website that lists the Reading Challenge also lists books to read to meet the challenge. And in the political memoir category, the recommendation was I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. I vaguely remember news reports from 2012 when she was shot, and later in 2014 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but I had not really followed the stories much at that time.

This sounded much more interesting than reading about some politician taking advantage of temporary fame to publish a book, perhaps in the hope of not being forgotten quite as quickly as most. Besides, I always enjoy learning about other countries and their culture and history, and learning a different perspective on the world and life in general.

Malala’s story is very interesting. Some reviews criticize the quality of the writing, but all agree that the story makes the book well worth reading. We learn about Malala’s childhood, her family, and her father’s commitment to education for both boys and girls. We learn about the beauty of her homeland and about various traditions that shape the people’s lives. And of course, we learn about the coming of the Taliban and the way most people were too afraid to speak out against them, even while realizing that they were not the champions of righteousness that they initially appeared to be. Read the rest of this entry »

My kind of lawnmower

August 21, 2016

When I was little, my nickname within our family was Piglet Moon. At one point it was lengthened to Piglet Moon Who Likes to Help Daddy with the Grass. Not that I actually went by that name on a daily basis – I’m not sure whether anyone actually called me Piglet Moon very much. But I was at that age when children actually do enjoy helping with house and yard work.

Daddy used an electric mower, which to me was loud and kind of scary. I think anything loud was scary to me at that age – I was particularly scared of some public toilets that flushed very loudly. I probably also had absorbed some of my mother’s fear of what could happen if something went wrong with powered tools and appliances. I do remember at least once that my father ran over the mower’s electric cord while mowing and sliced it in two. I wasn’t sure whether one could be electrocuted that way, but I didn’t want to find out.

When I was big enough to push a mower, I decided to haul the old reel mower out of the garage. It hadn’t been used in a long time and it was probably a bit rusty, but it did cut grass, as long as the grass wasn’t too high. And there was no noise, and no cord to worry about. Eventually I also learned to use the electric mower, and discovered it wasn’t so scary. But I retained a liking for the quiet and simplicity of the reel mower.

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Reading challenge books

August 19, 2016

I read a lot, so I can check a lot of books off the Reading Challenge 2016 without really trying. I read the books I would read anyway, then go through the list and check off books that fit. A book set in Europe? I’ve read at least a dozen recently.

A murder mystery? I’ve read several this year. A science fiction novel? I don’t read as much science fiction as I did when I was younger, but that’s not because I’ve lost interest, only because the genre pumps out so many books each year that it’s hard to know which ones are worth reading. (When I was growing up I simply read all the science fiction I could find.)

But some books on the Reading Challenge are … more of a challenge. A romance set in the future? I hadn’t known that futuristic romance was a category of novels. But I discovered there were lots of choices, and I selected Naked in Death by J. D. Robb. I don’t care for romance novels in general (I read several one year as a teenager, then decided they were the literary equivalent of cotton candy), but as it was also a murder mystery, it was not a bad read. (Not that I’ve gone looking for any of the sequels to read next.)

A book written by a celebrity? I take very little interest in celebrities, since what they’re known for is generally not the quality of their writing. But I found a couple of books in the biography section of the library, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future  by Michael J. Fox and Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. They both count as celebrities, but if I can count Michael J. Fox as a comedian, then I can check off a book written by a comedian also. (And I found one website that does list Fox as a comedian.)

Fox’s book is one of the shortest I’ve read (but I had already checked off book you can finish in a day), and appears to be addressed to high school graduates, one of those gift books you give young people to provide a bit of wisdom as they head off into the wider world. There’s not a whole lot there, but it’s good as far as it goes, and it’s definitely entertaining – as one would expect from someone like Fox. Plus it’s interesting to learn a bit about the person behind the characters of popular TV shows and movies.

I found Carrie Fisher’s book less entertaining, perhaps because I don’t care for her style of humor. The book was adapted from her one-woman stage show, and several reader reviews on point out that it probably works better as a stage show than a book. I knew next to nothing of Fisher prior to reading the book, other than that she played Princess Leia in Star Wars, and I was curious about what it was like to be part of those blockbuster movies.

Fisher tells very little about Star Wars. Probably she’s tired of being known primarily as the person who played Princess Leia (she begins the one chapter about Star Wars by saying the George Lucas ruined her life). But also the book seems to focus mostly on being part of a dysfunctional family, substance abuse, and mental illness, and while her celebrity from Star Wars may have contributed in some ways to her problems (celebrity rarely seems to do good things for people, however much non-celebrities like the idea of fame), it wasn’t a central part of the story she was trying to tell.

While I found most of the book pretty forgettable, I found myself thinking about what she says in her Author’s Note at the end. She is baffled how there can be so much stigma with regard to mental illness, since living with manic depression takes a lot of courage. “Not unlike a tour of duty in Afghanistan.”

One category on the Reading Challenge that I struggled with was first book you see in a bookstore. I love bookstores, but in my experience the books that are placed most prominently are rarely ones that I want to read. And the very first books are often the clearance books in the entryway. So I tried to walk into the bookstore without actually noticing any titles in the entryway.

It didn’t work. I couldn’t help seeing a copy of For All Time by Jude Deveraux placed front and center as I walked in. Oh no! A picture of a bridal gown on the cover. I did not want to read a romance by a popular romance writer.

But short of making another trip to the city to visit the bookstore again (I love bookstores, but we don’t get there often), reading Deveraux’s book was the only way to meet the Reading Challenge requirements. Fortunately I read good reviews of it online, and as a bonus it turned out to have a time travel element, which I always appreciate. I could have done without the romantic clichés, some plot elements were pretty far-fetched, and I read reviews claiming historical inaccuracy in the time-travel episodes. But for a book I didn’t want to read, it was pretty good.

Books: Counterfeit Gods

July 31, 2016

I came across a quote from Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods while doing some Bible study. I’m not sure now what that quote said, but it impressed me enough to get Keller’s book from the library.

I have often heard in sermons that idols are not just statues of gods that people bow down to, but anything that takes first place in our lives instead of God. Money is often given as an example of something that can become an idol. But while that makes sense in the abstract, it is difficult to identify specific examples in people’s lives where something has become an idol, except in some more extreme cases.

Keller provides a definition of an idol, or a “counterfeit god” as he calls often it, that is clearer to me. “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” Or, even clearer: “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'”

Keller goes on to use various Bible stories to illustrate ways that people make an idol of children, romantic love, money, success, or political power. I’m not sure I agree with his interpretation of these Bible stories in every case, but he provides a new way of looking at some of them and of relating them to modern life.

Finally, he suggests ways we can identify the idols in our own lives. He suggests that we ask ourselves

What do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?

  • How do you spend your money?
  • How do you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes?
  • What are your most uncontrollable emotions?

I might have preferred that he spend more than the last five or so pages discussing how to replace idols with Christ. But the book, after all, is about “counterfeit gods,” not about how to know and worship the one true God. People have to recognize the counterfeits before they can turn from those to the truth, and there are certainly abundant resources out there for people who want to know God better.

Books: Me Before You

July 30, 2016

Me Before You is the sort of book I would never have picked up on my own. Even knowing it would be the subject for discussion at our monthly book club meeting on Monday, I put off starting it until two days ago. Something about the cover photo of a beautiful young woman and a handsome man staring into each other’s faces just put me off somehow. And that title – sounds like some character is obviously self-absorbed though I didn’t know who it would be.

Note: it’s pretty hard to say much more about the book without giving some hint of the ending, so if you haven’t read it and want to read without knowing what will happen, stop here.

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Books about WWII

July 30, 2016

I don’t know if there are more novels these days set in World War II, or if I just happen to be coming across them more, but I recently finished three of them, each told from a very different perspective.

Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, by David Robbins, follows the experiences of two American non-combatants from when they come ashore at Omaha Beach. Joe Amos Biggs is an African-American who left college to enlist and who longs to be able to fight alongside the white men. Ben Kahn is a chaplain who had fought in the trenches in World War I, whose son is a B-17 pilot shot down over France and now MIA, and who is motivated by desire for revenge on the Germans. Occasionally there are also passages told from the point of view of “White Dog,” an American pilot shot down over France, who prefers the comfortable life he has found as a black marketeer in occupied Paris to rejoining his comrades in arms.

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