Books I read in October

This is the first month this year I haven’t completed any books for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, but I’m on my last book, and listening to an mp3 LibriVox recording during the twelve minutes on my exercise bike weekday mornings, which means it takes quite a while to finish a book. Of course, having finished the rest of the books in the challenge, I have more time to read other books.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a book I’d been planning on reading for over a year. It’s long, however, and when I browsed through it on the college bookshelf, it didn’t look like a light read. I finally decided to read it when I was working on a speech for Toastmasters on making choices. I’m not sure how much it helped with the speech (the purpose of which was to include humor), but it was fascinating reading, and not at all dull or heavy. Other readers might disagree, of course, but I found it very enjoyable – in part because I really enjoy learning new things, and learning how our minds work is one of those meta-topics that relates to absolutely everything else.

Also while working on the speech, I came across references to The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz, and since that ended up being the specific topic of my speech (that choosing from among fewer options can make us happier), I was pleased to find the book in the library, and read through it in two or three days. I had read several articles, including one by Barry Schwartz, discussing that topic, so the ideas were not new but it fleshed them out more, and helped me decide how to structure my speech.

I had come across Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions by David A. Croteau while browsing at christianbook.com, and decided I had to buy it to find out more. Some of the misconceptions I had learned about over two decades ago, such as the details surrounding Jesus’ birth, and others identified by Croteau I had never heard in any church. What may be most valuable from the book is not the specifics of the forty “urban legends” but the awareness it gives of how easily we can be misled – and mislead others – by relying on what we heard someone say that was heard from someone somewhere, without examining the Scriptural and cultural context to see if it is true. Croteau also provides resources for further study of each one that he discusses. My husband is reading it now, and considering it for use in one of the Bible studies he leads.

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald is a book I grabbed off the library shelf while preparing for a business trip and wanting some light reading in the hotel room in the evenings. Based on the title, I was expecting it to be time travel. Instead, Nora is fixed in time just as much as the rest of us, but because she died – sort of – as a young woman, she keeps coming back to the spot in Grand Central Station where she died, on the anniversary of her death, at the same age as she was then. She remembers what has happened each time, but physically she never ages, while the man who meets her and falls in love with her does. I prefer the historical fiction aspects of it to the romance part, especially as neither of the main characters really makes me feel I know them all that well.

Since I was on the business trip, I didn’t get to meet with the library book club last month, but I read the monthly selection anyway, The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan. It was interesting to see another side of WWII that we don’t usually hear about, though some of the details, especially those only tangential to the main story, were less interesting. I had not realized the scope of the Manhattan Projects, how many tens of thousands of people were involved, yet most of them had no idea what they were really working on.

Having just finished that book, I decided to follow it up with Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. This book gives a much clearer idea of what was really going on, and deals primarily with people who did know what they were building, plus some who didn’t know the details but were determined to steal them. Kiernan’s book had mentioned some of the security measures taken, but this book helps understand why they were taken – and how, despite all that security, the designs for the bomb were nonetheless given to the USSR – and why. It also gives much more information on the effects of the atomic bombs, both in terms of physical destruction and the social and political effects for decades afterward.

Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed by D.A. Carson was another book I found at christianbook.com. I had read a book by D.A. Carson over twenty years ago, while traveling to one of the churches that interviewed my husband for his first call as a pastor. Carson has written a lot of books, and I don’t remember which that one was, but I remember thinking he was good at explaining theology and its importance, and that I would like to read something else by him. This book happens to be very short, only three chapters, and even so it cannot cover the subject as thoroughly as one might like. But I think He does a good job of explaining the range of uses of the word “son” in Scripture (including some so figurative that the word “son” is not even used in the English translation, such as “son of the bow” meaning arrow), the expectations of the “son of David” who was to come, and then what it means to say Jesus is the Son of God. One interesting point he addresses in the last chapter is the controversy (which I had not previously been aware of) over whether to use the term “Son of God” in Bible translations for Muslim populations, where they may take it to mean that God had a sexual union with Mary (similar, perhaps, to Greek myths where Zeus had affairs with mortal women).

I picked up Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins when browsing in the library, thinking that I might have read something by this author before, and that it looked like it might be interesting. It turned out that I was confusing Kristan Higgins with some other author with a similar name, but it was a very enjoyable book. I liked the fact that it was set in on an island in Maine, with the protagonist’s mother being a very self-sufficient, no-nonsense woman. My father had a cousin who lived on an island in Maine, and while I wouldn’t say she was just like this mother, there were enough similarities that I could imagine the character clearly. The island where my father’s cousin lived was much smaller, but it too could be reached only by ferry (or other boat), and while I enjoyed visiting, I can understand how someone growing up there might be eager to get away after high school. Even aside from the setting, I enjoyed the story and the character development, and the fact that the romantic element, while present, did not take over the story.

I read The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels, which someone on goodreads.com had recommended, at the same time as the book by Kristan Higgans (I typically keep one book at work to read during lunch, and read a different book at home, so I don’t have to keep carrying it back and forth and possibly leaving it behind in one place or the other). While I typically do not have much trouble keeping the different books I am reading apart in my mind, this time it did get a bit confusing. Both books deal with a woman in her 30’s who has returned to the town where she went to high school, having to deal with people who knew her then. Both towns are on the water (this one is on a river), so boats are involved. Both include a man whom the woman was in love with in high school, and whom she has not seen or heard from since then. Other than that, they are very different books, but for a while I did have some trouble remembering who was who. While I did not read this one for the PopSugar Reading Challenge, it would have fit “Your favorite prompt from a past PopSugar Reading Challenge” which would be “A book that involves a bookstore or library.” Books play a central role in the novel, sometimes as a way to connect people who love them, and sometimes as a way to keep one’s distance from them (by preferring to surround oneself with characters from books). I had not read a lot of the books that are particularly mentioned, however, and had not particularly enjoyed most of those I had read, so I did not relate to the main character in that regard as much as I had thought I might. The characters, on the whole, are not developed all that well, and some aspects of the story strain the reader’s credulity. But any book that speaks of the power of books to shape us has a lot going for it.

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